10 Needs Miami Dolphins’ New GM Dennis Hickey Must Address This Offseason
10 Needs Dolphins' New GM Must Address
After getting spurned by numerous candidates, the Miami Dolphins finally named a GM on Sunday morning, settling for Dennis Hickey. Considering that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Hickey's former employer -- were a 4-12 team in 2013 and didn't consider him for their GM opening earlier this month, many Dolphins fans are disappointed with owner Stephen Ross yet again.
In fairness to Hickey, though, all of Miami's candidates were unproven. Only Brian Xanders had previous GM experience (although he never had full control), so Hickey could certainly turn out to be the right hire. He just won't sell any tickets or get pessimistic Dolphins fans to stop complaining right off the bat. All Hickey can do is put his head down and get to work on tweaking a roster that could be a solid offseason away from emerging as playoff-caliber.
I tend to believe that the talent of Miami's roster was overrated by Jeff Ireland apologists and Joe Philbin antagonists. Yes, the Dolphins' coaching staff left much to be desired in 2013, but the roster possessed the worst offensive line in the league and perhaps its worst linebacker corps as well.
Both groups were huge reasons why Miami stumbled to an 8-8 season. But with a promising young quarterback in place and some talent at the skill positions, the Dolphins aren't exactly miles away either. A beneficial offseason of signings and draft selections could be enough to put Miami over the top and into the playoffs.
Now that Hickey has been named GM, it's time to start previewing the Dolphins' offseason. Let's begin that process by ranking the top 10 needs that Hickey and the club must address.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.
Cornerback was actually one of the Dolphins' strong suits in 2013. Brent Grimes was one of the top shutdown corners in the game, as evidenced by his No. 2 overall ranking at the position by Pro Football Focus. Nolan Carroll and Jimmy Wilson were much improved from previous years as well. On top of that, Jamar Taylor and Will Davis are waiting in the wings after being selected in the second and third rounds of last April's draft.
Some important decisions must be made at the position this offseason, though. Grimes and Carroll are free agents and the often-injured Dimitri Patterson's contract might be voided. Hickey and the Dolphins must re-sign Grimes or place him with the franchise tag, and should probably part ways with either Carroll or Patterson.
9. Big Wide Receiver
The Dolphins have a considerable amount of money invested in the wide receiver position headlined by Mike Wallace's $17 million cap number in 2014. Signing a free agent receiver is likely out of the question. Hickey should look to the draft, particularly the middle to later rounds, to snag a big, large-catch radius receiver.
Miami doesn't own a legitimate red-zone target at the position, and could certainly use one next year. The contract of Brandon Gibson may also need to be addressed. Gibson is due $2.7 million in 2014, while Rishard Matthews, who was nearly as effective in the slot, is only scheduled to make $570,000. If Hickey can collaborate with cap specialist Dawn Aponte to restructure Gibson's deal, the Dolphins might have a little more money to play with this offseason.
8. Defensive Tackle
Randy Starks and Paul Soliai, who have both been mainstays as dominant interior defensive linemen in Miami for over half a decade, are scheduled to hit free agency this offseason. The Dolphins will likely re-sign one of the two and part ways with the other.
Given how porous the club's linebacker corps is, keeping a quality defensive line intact will undoubtedly be a huge priority. Expect the Dolphins to actively shop for defensive line help in either free agency or the draft to add depth behind Jared Odrick and either Starks or Soliai.
7. Seam-Threat Tight End
The emergence of Charles Clay was vital to any success the Dolphins offense had this past season. Clay was one of the league's most productive tight ends for the majority of the year. That doesn't mean Miami is set at the position, though. Far from it, actually. Clay is only 6-foot-3, so the Dolphins could stand to gain from adding a taller, seam-threat tight end in free agency or the draft.
The club is also in need of a more reliable in-line blocker at the position. Hickey might consider re-signing Dustin Keller, who appeared poised for a big year before shredding his knee during the preseason, but the former Purdue Boilermakers player is similar to Clay in many regards and there is no telling how well he'll bounce back from such a gruesome injury.
6. Weakside Linebacker
Outside linebacker Philip Wheeler turned out to be a huge bust during his first year in Miami. According to Pro Football Focus, Wheeler graded as the worst 4-3 outside linebacker in the entire league.
He was frequently burned in coverage, often missed tackles and struggled to disengage from blockers when attempting to stop the run. The Dolphins must find a way to improve at weakside linebacker, whether it be adding competition or cutting Wheeler altogether.
5. Left Guard
The Dolphins' makeshift offensive line started three players at left guard in 2013. Richie Incognito began the year there, and although he lacked the ideal skill set for a zone-blocking scheme, he was fairly solid in that role before his suspension for alleged bullying. Nate Garner and Sam Brenner filled in for Incognito after the suspension. Each had bright moments but were ultimately subpar starters.
With nearly the entire offensive line to remodel, settling for likely mediocre play from Garner or Brenner at the spot in 2014 is an option. In order to improve the league's 26th-ranked rushing attack, though, Hickey should aim to find a starter from elsewhere.
4. Right Guard
Right guard John Jerry's contract has expired. Even if it hadn't, the Dolphins would still have a pressing need for a new right guard. Jerry was a solid pass protector on the right side, but struggled to provide push as a run blocker and didn't have the athleticism to effectively pull.
Expect Hickey to let Jerry walk this offseason and to target his replacement in free agency. If the Dolphins are going to have success as a zone-blocking offense, nabbing two athletic guards will be in order.
3. Right Tackle
Right tackle Tyson Clabo did a drastic 180 when he returned to the starting lineup in Week 9 after a brief benching. After arguably being one of the league's most penetrable offensive linemen during the first six games, Clabo became Miami's second-most consistent lineman during the final 11.
His contract is up, though, and re-signing him at 32-years old would be a risk. Free agency or the draft could yield a more reliable starter.
2. Running Back
The Dolphins' inability to run the ball consistently in 2013 can be attributed to a leaky offensive line more than anything else, but that's not to resolve Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller of blame. Neither ran with the consistent explosiveness that the Dolphins needed.
The jury might still be out on Miller, who needs to be evaluated behind at least a mediocre line as opposed to a completely inept one, but the ship has sailed on Thomas. He's still under contract, but he could easily become a training camp causality if Miami adds a productive complement to Miller in the draft. The Dolphins could particularly use a power runner who is capable of making a living in between the tackles and is also sound in pass protection.
1. Left Tackle
The most important position on the offensive line is always the quarterback's blind side. Ryan Tannehill was the victim of inconsistent protection all season at left tackle. Although trading for Bryan McKinnie fostered some improvement, the former Miami Hurricane struggled down the stretch.
McKinnie is 34 years old. He's not the long-term answer and if he continues to decline, he won't be a band-aid option for much longer either. Look for the Dolphins to target a left tackle prospect early in the draft if they don't sign a veteran like Branden Albert in free agency.