Miami Dolphins 2014 Free Agency Preview: Offensive Line
Dolphins Free Agency Preview: O-Line
With NFL free agency looming, the Miami Dolphins and their new GM Dennis Hickey must decide where they can afford to spend during the 2014 offseason. One unit Miami will undoubtedly splurge on is the offensive line.
With four of the club's five starters along the offensive line headed for free agency, the Dolphins won't have much of a choice but to drop a significant amount of coin, especially considering last year's group was statistically the worst in franchise history.
The Dolphins could wait to rebuild the line during the draft, but it would be too much of a risk to trust four rookies with starting positions. While Miami will almost assuredly select at least one offensive lineman on the first or second day of May's draft, it will likely need to nab a proven veteran or two via the open market.
With $32 million of projected cap space despite substantial hits from the handsomely compensated additions of the team's 2013 free-agency spending spree -- most namely Mike Wallace, Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler -- the Dolphins will be able to at least invest in a starting tackle or guard. But with players like Brent Grimes, Chris Clemons, Randy Starks and Paul Soliai all slated for free agency, the Dolphins' flexibility isn't quite what it appears.
Once Miami has retained those players it deems it's unable to live without, there will be much less cap space to work with. Needless to say, Hickey will need to make wise decisions when it comes to signing free-agent offensive linemen, showing wariness of overspending out of desperation. With that said, it will be absolutely pivotal that Hickey demonstrates urgency and aggressiveness to improve the line -- qualities former GM Jeff Ireland failed to embody when it came to the line last spring.
Let's preview some of the decisions that face the Dolphins along the offensive line this offseason, focusing on which linemen they should or shouldn't retain and which linemen they should target in free agency.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.
A league-high and team-record 58 sacks. A franchise-low two rushing yards in a game. The NFL's 26th ranked rushing attack. It all describes the ineptitude of the Dolphins' offensive line in 2013.
Both tackle positions were a disaster at some point during the year. Right tackle Tyson Clabo drastically improved during the second half of the season, but he led the entire league in sacks conceded after the first six games. On quarterback Ryan Tannehill's blindside, Jonathan Martin struggled mightily before switching to the right side after the Dolphins traded for Bryant McKinnie. Shortly after that, Martin went AWOL. McKinnie provided leadership to a line and a locker room that desperately needed just that, but he wasn't able to provide reliable protection.
At guard, Richie Incognito was decent -- albeit in a scheme that didn't suit his strengths -- but was ultimately suspended for the final eight games of the season after Martin accused him of bullying. Nate Garner and Sam Brenner showed some promise replacing Incognito at left guard, but neither was able to lock up the spot moving forward. John Jerry was often sound in pass protection at right guard, but he was probably the most inept run blocker on the line and doesn't possess the athletic ability that the zone-blocking system requires.
Even center Mike Pouncey had somewhat of a down year. Pouncey earned a trip to the Pro Bowl on reputation but graded negatively as a run blocker according to Pro Football Focus.
Overall, it was a pitiful performance on the field and an embarrassment off of it. Seeing three or four new faces along the offensive line in 2014 will feel like a breath of fresh air for Dolphins fans.
Position: Right guard; Age: 27; FA type: Unrestricted; Priority: Low
Position: Right tackle; Age: 32; FA type: Unrestricted; Priority: Medium
Position: Left tackle; Age: 34; FA type: Unrestricted; Priority: Medium
Position: Left guard; Age: 30; FA type: Unrestricted; Priority: Low
Position: Right tackle; Age: 25; FA type: Restricted; Priority: Low
Position: Guard; Age: 29; FA type: Restricted; Priority: Low
Re-Sign, Let Walk or Tag
According to Pro Football Focus, Jerry was the 13th least efficient run-blocking guard in the entire league among qualifying linemen at the position. At nearly 340 pounds, Jerry is far from an ideal fit in the Dolphins' zone-blocking scheme. He's solid in pass protection but doesn't have the athleticism to pull or engage assignments in space. It's time for Miami to move on.
Verdict: Let Walk
Of the four linemen who finished the year as starters but have expiring contracts, Clabo is probably the most qualified to be retained. After giving up eight sacks during the first six games, Clabo bounced back to the tune of allowing only three sacks the rest of the way. He was actually the Dolphins' second most reliable offensive lineman after Pouncey at season's end. If Hickey doesn't have the resources to find four new starters along the line this offseason, bringing back Clabo on a one-year deal would provide a short-term fix at right tackle until a long-term answer can be found. Doing so would be a risk, though, as Clabo could return to the revolving door status that plagued the line during the first six games.
Verdict: Let Walk
McKinnie played well initially with the Dolphins after he was acquired in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens, but he really struggled down the stretch. He reportedly played with a torn meniscus for much of the season which may help explain his shortcomings to a degree. But it's quite evident that he's not the above average left tackle he used to be. Far from it, in fact. Pro Football Focus ranked his efforts in Miami 65th among 76 qualifying offensive tackles. If McKinnie is willing to re-sign as a backup, Hickey should consider allowing him to bolster the team's depth at the position. If not, he shouldn't even entertain the thought.
Verdict: Let Walk
Owner Stephen Ross has already gone on record saying Incognito won't be back with the Dolphins. PR issues aside, Incognito hasn't been a very good fit in Miami ever since Philbin instituted a zone-blocking system.
Verdict: Let Walk
The Dolphins have enough work cut out for them attempting to replace four starters. Acquiring solid depth for those starters might be too much to ask. Yeatman has been a project of the Dolphins for the past three seasons and shouldn't be given up on quite yet.
The former first-round pick didn't see the field in Miami despite all of the team's issues up front. That should be concerning when it comes to Watkins' prospects of developing into a serviceable player down the road. But he'll come cheap, and like I mentioned above, the Dolphins need depth.
Keep, Cut or Renegotiate
Position: Guard/Tackle; Age: 29; Years remaining on contract: 2; 2014 salary: $1.6 million; 2014 cap hit: $1.79 million; Total bonuses: $25,000; Dead money: $333,334
If Hickey would like to create more cap flexibility this offseason, he could look into cutting Garner or renegotiating his contract. Garner has a $1.79 million cap number in 2014, which is the 16th highest on the team. That isn't an absurd amount or standing by any stretch, but it's a bit on the high side for a non-starter. Garner isn't just any backup, though. He's as versatile as they come with the ability to fill in at guard, tackle or center. It's difficult to go through a full 16-game season and not suffer an injury on the offensive line. For that reason, Garner is worthy of his salary.
Potential Free-Agent Targets
Position: Left tackle; 2013 team: Kansas City Chiefs; Age: 29
The Dolphins were in discussions with the Chiefs for Albert last offseason but never pulled the trigger on a trade that would have likely shipped a second-round pick to Kansas City for the seasoned left tackle. Albert isn't an elite tackle, but he's a solid one, especially in pass protection where he only conceded four sacks in 2013. The Dolphins are already rumored to be interested in pursuing Albert during free agency.
Position: Left tackle; 2013 team: Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens; Age: 26
Many consider Albert to be Miami's best bet at left tackle on the open market, but Monroe is three years younger and arguably better. According to Pro Football Focus, Monroe was the NFL's 12th best offensive tackle in 2013, giving up only four sacks and grading as a much better run blocker than Albert. The Ravens will likely make a strong push to re-sign Monroe, though.
Position: Offensive tackle; 2013 team: Cincinnati Bengals; Age: 28
As primarily a backup during his first four years, Collins cracked the Bengals' starting lineup in seven games this season, producing a positive grade in every game according to Pro Football Focus. Overall, the site ranked Collins as the league's 24th most efficient tackle. He has experience playing left and right tackle which makes him a potential fit at both positions in Miami.
Position: Offensive tackle; 2013 team: Baltimore Ravens; Age: 27
Oher has steadily regressed after a promising rookie year. He has experience at both left and right tackle, though, and could return to form with a change of scenery.
Position: Right tackle/right guard; 2013 team: St. Louis Rams; Age: 25
With the ability to play guard or tackle on the right side, Saffold would give the Dolphins some adaptability come draft time.
Position: Center; 2013 team: Cleveland Browns; Age: 28
Yes, the Dolphins are already set at center, but Pouncey might have a higher ceiling at guard and briefly played there during training camp last summer. Signing Mack and moving Pouncey to guard is highly unlikely, but it's a potential fix the Dolphins should consider.
Position: Right guard; 2013 team: Kansas City Chiefs; Age: 25
With the experience and ability to play in a zone-blocking scheme, Asamoah would be an excellent fit in Miami. As Pro Football Focus' 20th ranked offensive guard, he would certainly be an upgrade over Jerry on the right interior.
Position: Left guard; 2013 team: Denver Broncos; Age: 27
Beadles was a mediocre lineman for the Broncos in 2013, but he fits the Dolphins' scheme better than the options at guard they currently possess.