Though the Dolphins still have holes to address at guard and right tackle, the franchise has addressed a number of positions through free agency with seven major free agent signings — cornerbacks Cortland Finnegan and Brent Grimes, guard Shelley Smith, safety Louis Delmas, defensive tackles Earl Mitchell and Randy Starks and left tackle Branden Albert.
The Dolphins had the fifth-most cap space entering the free agency period with about $35 million available. They utilized that cap space to fill out their starting defensive tackle duo, found a starting safety to replace free agent Chris Clemons, re-signed their top cornerback from last year and found a blindside protector for franchise quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
The team has made a splash through free agency, with the Dolphins possibly adding a veteran running back such as Knowshon Moreno or Maurice Jones-Drew over the next week or so.
The franchise is certainly trying to improve upon its 8-8 season when the team fell one win short of clinching their first postseason berth in five years. The question is, which of the Dolphins’ seven major signings will have the biggest impact for the team in 2014?
Simply put, Finnegan was a signing for depth purposes, and he’s past his prime at the age of 30 years old. Smith was also signed for depth purposes with the hope that he could possibly show the ability to start for the Dolphins at guard. He started two games last season for the St. Louis Rams.
You can automatically rule out those two players from this debate.
That leaves Grimes, Delmas, Mitchell, Starks and Albert.
As important as it is to have quality players at the safety position, cornerback is the most important position on defense outside of a pass-rushing defensive end in today’s pass-happy NFL. That automatically places Grimes over Delmas, even if Delmas is a quality young safety. Grimes will be the Dolphins’ top corner for the second straight season.
Mitchell and Starks will likely start at defensive tackle for the 4-3 defense of the Dolphins, with Paul Soliai having signed with the Atlanta Falcons.
Albert will be depended upon to provide stability and protection for Tannehill, who was sacked an NFL-high 58 times in 2013.
Both Grimes and Albert will have a big impact on the Dolphins’ fortunes for 2014 and beyond, but it will be Albert who will have the biggest impact for the team in 2014.
Grimes had a fantastic season in 2013, being named to his second Pro Bowl last season. He aided the Dolphins’ defense in ranking eighth in scoring and third in passing touchdowns allowed. Despite this, the team only had a one-game improvement in the win column from 2012 to 2013.
Because of the Dolphins’ major Achilles heel being none other than along the offensive line, Albert will make the biggest difference of any of Miami’s signings in 2014. The franchise left tackle was named to his first Pro Bowl in 2013 and ranked as the 11th-best tackle in pass protection.
For an offensive line that allowed 58 sacks in 2013, Albert’s presence and production will be the difference between the Dolphins being a non-playoff team and one that will be a playoff-team come January.