The Miami Dolphins are desperate for a left tackle. That’s no secret to anyone familiar with the franchise.
After the Dolphins conceded a league-worst 58 sacks in 2013, Dennis Hickey‘s first major project as a rookie GM will be remodeling the offensive line. Every position but center needs replaced. And even center accompanies question marks as Pro Bowler Mike Pouncey is expected to be suspended by the NFL for his role in the team’s bullying saga.
But the first domino to fall in the rebuilding effort will be finding a quality left tackle to protect third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill‘s blindside. The Dolphins would reportedly like to address the issue in free agency in order to allow themselves more flexibility during the draft.
Eugene Monroe and Branden Albert have already been discussed as possible solutions with Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reporting that Hickey will pursue both in free agency. However, Monroe is more likely to re-sign with the Baltimore Ravens than hit the open market, and Albert will likely demand to be paid like an elite left tackle despite only being above average.
There is another free-agent option that the Dolphins should consider. His name is Anthony Collins. As a member of the Cincinnati Bengals, Collins was primarily a versatile backup during his first five seasons in the league. But in 2013, Collins was given the keys to the starting left tackle position for seven games and didn’t disappoint.
He did a phenomenal job of keeping quarterback Andy Dalton clean. Of those offensive tackles who played at least 500 snaps in 2013, Collins was one of just three who didn’t allow a sack. He also only conceded one quarterback hit and 13 hurries. Contrarily, Jonathan Martin and Bryant McKinnie combined to allow 14 sacks, 16 quarterback hits and 38 hurries at left tackle for the Dolphins.
Overall, Pro Football Focus ranked Collins as the league’s 24th-most efficient offensive tackle in 2013 — four spots above Albert. Collins is almost exactly one year younger than Albert as well and wouldn’t come with the mileage or durability concerns that have raised questions about Albert’s stock.
Collins was a better left tackle than Albert in 2013. He’s also younger, healthier and cheaper. Why exactly isn’t he the Dolphins’ No. 1 priority in free agency?
First off, he could be. We have no idea who the Dolphins are really targeting on the market, and reports that Hickey will go hard after Albert could be nothing but a smokescreen.
Secondly, there are some potential drawbacks to signing Collins. He was one of the league’s most reliable offensive linemen in pass protection this past season. But seven starts in 2013 and only 18 starts during his first five years is an incredibly small sample size when it comes to investing long-term in a left tackle. Collins has yet to sustain himself as a quality blindside protector for the duration of a 16-game season.
Albert, on the other hand, has started 83 games as a pro — 58 more than Collins. There are concerns regarding Albert’s long-term outlook given his injury history, but the Dolphins know what they would be getting initially: An above average left tackle who would provide significantly better pass protection than what Tannehill was subjected to in 2013.
Although Collins would be more of an uncertainty, his upside is still higher considering his play in 2013 and estimated price tag. While Albert will likely demand $8-$9 million per season, Collins will likely only require a deal that pays him half that. According to ESPN’s Bengals blogger Coley Harvey, “it probably shouldn’t be a surprise if negotiations hover around or just above the $4.5-million-per-year mark” to sign Collins this offseason.
Although the Bengals would like to retain Collins, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported on Feb. 10 that they are prepared to let him test the market and potentially walk if another club is willing to overpay.
There’s no guarantee that Collins would emerge as one of the better left tackles in football if handed a full-time starting gig in Miami. He’s more proven than any rookie prospect the Dolphins could potentially select in May, though, and would come much cheaper than Albert, a tackle he was better than in 2013.
Assuming Monroe returns to the Ravens, Collins should be the Dolphins’ target at left tackle this offseason.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.