It is still early in the offseason, but not too early that we can’t identify the Miami Dolphins’ top need. The Dolphins desperately need offensive line help after giving up a franchise record 58 sacks, and with five out of the eight Dolphins’ lineman who played significant time likely not returning to the team, it’s not just poor performance the Dolphins need to replace. The Dolphins need depth and skill along the offensive line.
Today, we are looking at offensive tackle, specifically on the left side of the line. The Dolphins started the season with Jonathan Martin at LT and eventually traded for Bryant McKinnie after Martin’s struggles on the left side became clear. Martin had played on the right side nearly his entire rookie season.
Martin will likely never play for the Dolphins again despite reports, and even if he does return, he will likely never play left tackle again, which is considered to be a top five premium position in the NFL.
So, what options are the Dolphins left with at one of the toughest positions in football?
The 34-year-old McKinnie was capable as a starter, but gave up a sack in every game he played with the Dolphins. McKinnie, who provided veteran leadership and helped solidify the Dolphins’ offensive line in the midst of the bullying scandal, could return to the team as at least a backup. McKinnie could also provide a stop-gap option while a younger tackle is groomed on the right side, similar to the Jake Long/Martin situation in the 2012 season.
The NFL Draft
The Dolphins own the 19th selection in the NFL Draft. That is not an ideal position to select an elite tackle, especially a left tackle. The Dolphins will likely need to trade up to be in position to nab one of the top three elite tackle prospects, Greg Robinson, Taylor Lewan or Jake Matthews.
This is unlikely though, as Dolphins’ new GM Dennis Hickey is inexperienced with trades, being only a personnel man nearly his entire stint with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Hickey and the rest of the Dolphins’ draft war room will likely be keeping an eye on the second-tier prospects like Cyrus Kouandjio, Zack Martin and Joel Bitonio.
Kouandjio may be off a lot of team’s draft board after his physical showed an arthritic knee. Martin is a versatile player who might be best in the NFL as a guard. Bitonio impressed scouts at the combine with his workouts. Bitonio was a top -five performer in all drills besides the bench press.
Every guy outside of the top three is a risk on the left side and may eventually find a home on the right side of the line, if not they will be kicked inside to guard. The Dolphins need guard help as well, but capable guards can be found later in the draft. The Dolphins’ first pick needs to be a solid left tackle prospect, unless Miami takes advantage of…
NFL Free Agency
The Dolphins have a few options in this department, but they could dwindle fast as free agency approaches and teams begin negotiations with their free agents. As it stands today, there are four top-tier veteran left tackle options for the Dolphins to choose from. Jared Veldheer, Eugene Monroe, Branden Albert and Jordan Gross are all solid left tackles in this league and all have pros and cons.
Veldheer missed the first 12 games of the 2013 season after tearing his triceps, which could mean he comes at a cheaper price though.
Monroe, who is only 26 years old and one of the best LTs in the NFL, was traded to the Baltimore Ravens for chump change, which led to McKinnie being dealt to the Dolphins. Monroe has been said to already be in talks to re-sign with the Ravens, but even if he does hit the market he won’t be cheap.
Albert, who the Dolphins nearly traded for before the 2013 season, would be another expensive pickup. Left tackle is not a position to be frugal with though, and Albert is a versatile tackle who can also play guard.
Gross is 33 years old but is the most seasoned, experienced and consistent. Gross has been playing at a high level for years and went to a Super Bowl in his rookie season. Signing Gross would only patch up the left tackle position and buy the Dolphins time to find a younger starter.
Danny Williams is an NFL writer for RantSports, follow him on Twitter @DannyWeeumzNFL