Among those positions the Miami Dolphins are expected to address in free agency is free safety.
Chris Clemons was solid opposite Reshad Jones in 2013, ranking as Pro Football Focus’ ninth-most efficient coverage safety. No safety in the entire NFL gave up fewer yards per coverage snap than the 0.20 yards Clemons conceded on average. But with his contract expiring this month, the Dolphins will have the opportunity to replace him with a more adept playmaker.
Clemons rarely makes mistakes, but the game-changing plays he produces are few and far between. Since 2009, Clemons has only registered four interceptions in 72 games. This is likely a key reason why the Dolphins have reportedly told Clemons to test the open market and come back to them. If accurate, Miami is open to retaining Clemons but obviously doesn’t feel that he’s irreplaceable.
Irreplaceable, no, but Clemons would still be difficult to supplant, especially considering the 2014 draft class doesn’t boast any can’t-miss-prospects at the position. Expect the Dolphins to address the need in free agency but refrain from entering a bidding for the highly coveted Jairus Byrd with the need to nab a cornerstone left tackle in order.
One option the team has already expressed interest in is former Detroit Lions safety Louis Delmas. The Dolphins hosted Delmas, who attended North Miami Beach High, on Friday and are reportedly “very interested” in making him the defense’s new free safety.
A handful of other teams have also visited with Delmas or have rumored interest in acquiring him, so the Dolphins’ pursuit may prove futile. Also keep in mind that GM Dennis Hickey could be attempting to gain leverage in negotiations with Clemons by exemplifying the ability to replace him.
Assuming that Miami’s high interest in Delmas is valid, though, should he actually be the choice to replace Clemons in the secondary?
If the Dolphins are simply looking to add more of a playmaker to pair with Jones, Delmas would undoubtedly be an upgrade. Delmas’ three interceptions in 2013 alone were as many as Clemons has generated over the past three seasons combined.
While swapping Clemons out for a more capable ball hawk is a nice objective to have, the Dolphins must make sure not to sacrifice quality in the other aspects of the position to do so. According to Pro Football Focus, Delmas was the league’s 27th-best safety in overall efficiency in 2013, only seven spots lower than Clemons.
However, Delmas is known for being more of a risk-taker than Clemons in coverage. In Detroit, Delmas allowed 313 yards and four touchdowns in coverage this past season. By comparison, Clemons only conceded 127 yards and two touchdowns. Although the two had different roles on different defenses, Clemons is thought to be more reliable in center field.
Still, the drop off in coverage isn’t significant enough to scare the Dolphins away, especially considering Delmas would likely compensate by producing more interceptions than Clemons. As a more capable defender in run support, Delmas could also be more of an interchangeable safety with Jones.
If the argument was purely a matter of on-field performance, Delmas would be a solid addition to Miami’s secondary. There’s no guarantee that he would emerge as an upgrade over Clemons, but he possesses the potential to become just that.
Unfortunately for Delmas, his stock as a free agent isn’t swayed by his on-field performance alone. A degenerative knee condition that troubled him as a Lion and was likely the biggest reason why he was released will likely plague him for the duration of his career.
The Lions and Delmas took proactive steps to fight the issue, like monitoring his practice reps and installing a $25,000 hyperbolic chamber in his home, and Delmas played in all 16 games in 2013 — the first time he did so in five seasons as a pro. But it’s an unpredictable issue. There’s no way of knowing with any real certainty how Delmas’ knees will hold up with age. He’ll only be 27 years old in April, but he’s likely seeking a long-term commitment of some sort.
Delmas was rumored to be one of the Lions’ emotional leaders over the past several seasons. The Dolphins could certainly use more of those. But they also need players who can be relied upon to be in the lineup and on the practice field week in and week out. Delmas, unfortunately, can’t be.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.