The Miami Dolphins quickly nabbed a reliable left tackle by signing Branden Albert at the dawn of free agency. One week into the new league year, though, and the opposite tackle spot remains a huge question mark.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was sacked 13 times thanks to protection breakdowns by his left tackle in 2013, which was a big reason why rookie GM Dennis Hickey was willing to pay Albert $25 million guaranteed. But Tannehill was brought down an additional 12 times on sacks conceded by his right tackle. That’s a difference of only one sack, yet the Dolphins haven’t displayed the same urgency upgrading at right tackle as left tackle thus far.
If the Dolphins want to equip Tannehill with an ideal environment for growth in 2014, identifying a quality starter at right tackle is absolutely imperative. And if they covet a line that is truly adept at running a zone blocking scheme, snagging a big man who can move is also in order.
An answer, however, won’t be easily had. The free agency market no longer offers a surefire starter after Zach Strief re-joined the New Orleans Saints.
Donald Penn recently became available after his release from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he isn’t an ideal fit in Miami’s zone blocking system. Tyson Clabo could be signed as a stopgap solution for the second consecutive year, but he will be 32 in November and could easily revert back to the tackle who allowed eight sacks during the first six games of 2013.
Ryan Harris, who the Dolphins reportedly have expressed interest in, is younger than Penn and Clabo at 29 and is also a better fit in Miami’s blocking scheme. He hasn’t proven himself as a consistent starter despite six seasons of experience, though.
With so few options on the market, Hickey and the Dolphins might be relegated to finding a right tackle during May’s draft. Zack Martin, Morgan Moses, Jack Mewhort and Billy Turner are among those potential fits. All could potentially fill Miami’s void at right tackle for years to come. Not one of them would be a sure thing, though.
After the disaster of an offensive line that conceded 58 sacks in 2013, the Dolphins are in no position to risk Tannehill’s health or future by handing the spot to a rookie. Whoever the rookie is should have to earn it.
That brings us back to the free agency market; more specifically, Ryan Harris. Signing Harris likely wouldn’t be a move that is met with consensus approval from the club’s fanbase. Harris has underwhelmed as a starter in the past and a strength deficiency is primarily to blame.
Unlike many other available veterans, though, Harris is suited to play in a zone scheme. The Dolphins might be desperate for a starter at right tackle, but they shouldn’t resort to acquiring any more power blocking types. If they are going to run a zone blocking system, they need to run it right. Harris would be a piece who could help the effort.
For as unimpressive as Harris has been on film, he’s been relatively decent in pass protection — a fundamental requirement for the opening. In 974 pass protection snaps since 2010, Harris only allowed seven sacks. By comparison, former Miami tackles Bryant McKinnie gave up seven sacks in his first 386 pass blocking snaps, Jonathan Martin surrendered seven in 306 pass blocking snaps and Clabo conceded eight during his first 215 pass blocking snaps this past season.
A solid athlete who is capable of giving Tannehill a clean pocket, Harris would be a nice fit in Miami even if he’s brought on as merely a backup. At the very least, Harris would provide the Dolphins’ offensive line with competition and depth, and as of right now, it has neither at right tackle.
With no proven commodity available on the market or during the draft, the Dolphins should invest in a free agent and a rookie at right tackle this offseason. Doubling up would significantly improve the team’s chances of landing a dependable starter at the position, and the competition that would ensue could breed an answer.
At this point, the Dolphins’ best play seems to be signing Harris and selecting one of the aforementioned rookies or a similar prospect on day one or two of the draft. The need is too pressing to only do one or the other.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.