The Miami Dolphins and GM Dennis Hickey have numerous priorities this offseason — nabbing two athletic guards, drafting a productive between the tackles runner and keeping what was a solid secondary in 2013 intact to name a few. But no need outweighs finding reliable protection on quarterback Ryan Tannehill‘s blindside.
It’s a need that should have been equally as pressing last offseason. Instead, the Dolphins entrusted Jonathan Martin to man left tackle despite his struggles at both tackle spots as a rookie. As a result, Martin conceded seven sacks in just seven games.
The Dolphins replaced Martin at left tackle with veteran Bryant McKinnie in Week 8, but improvement at the position wasn’t substantial. McKinnie also surrendered seven sacks, although it took him 10 games to do so. The 14 sacks Martin and McKinnie combined to allow were more than any full-time starting left or right tackle gave up in 2013. It was a big reason why Tannehill was sacked 58 times — more than any other quarterback in the league and in franchise history.
It’s also a big reason why it’s difficult to gauge how good Tannehill really is. Without at least mediocre protection, there is no way of knowing if Tannehill’s struggles are of his own doing or the consequence of a leaky offensive line. Thus, giving the young quarterback a chance to show who he really is in 2014 is absolutely imperative.
Therefore, the Dolphins don’t just need a quality left tackle, they are desperate for one. That’s why it’s not surprising to hear that Miami is planning on pursuing Branden Albert and Eugene Monroe if both blindside protectors hit free agency, which Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reported on Tuesday night.
Miami clearly wants to address the need in free agency instead of May’s draft. With the No. 19 overall pick, there is no guarantee that a surefire starting left tackle will fall in the Dolphins’ lap during the first round, and with so many quality prospects expected to be on the board when they’re on the clock, Hickey undoubtedly wants to keep his options open as opposed to letting the team’s most crucial need force his hand.
Texas A&M‘s Jake Matthews, Auburn‘s Greg Robinson and Michigan‘s Taylor Lewan all are expected to be selected before the Dolphins pick. Second-tier options like Notre Dame‘s Zack Martin, Alabama‘s Cyrus Kouandjio and Virginia‘s Morgan Moses will likely be available but all come with huge questions.
The Dolphins might not have a choice but to throw a lucrative contract at a veteran free agent tackle — at least if they hope to enter the 2014 season with some confidence in the offensive line.
Albert and Monroe headline the free agent class at the position and not surprisingly, the Dolphins’ wish list. Although Miami would like to chase both in free agency with the hopes of landing one, it’s unlikely that both tackles will actually be available.
According to numerous reports, the Baltimore Ravens have made re-signing Monroe a “priority” this offseason and view him as a “long-term” solution at left tackle. It’s hard to argue against either sentiment. Monroe is only 26-years-old and was ranked by Pro Football Focus as the 12th-most efficient tackle in the league this past season.
If Monroe hits the open market, he should be the Dolphins’ No. 1 priority. But if he doesn’t, as expected, Hickey won’t mind settling for plan B in Albert, who the Kansas City Chiefs reportedly have no intentions of retaining.
Albert is three years older than Monroe, only graded as Pro Football Focus’ 28th-overall offensive tackle and would come with some durability concerns. Needless to say, the fall off between Monroe and Albert is significant. Still, Albert graded as Pro Football Focus’ 11th-best pass protector in 2013 and only conceded four sacks. He would be a considerable upgrade.
With potentially near $40 million of cap space, the Dolphins have the resources to win a bidding war. But they would likely be overspending for an above average, not elite, left tackle who could be entering the back nine of his career by doing so.
For those reasons, signing Albert would be a risk, but the Dolphins might be too desperate not to.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.