The Dolphins did spend a draft pick on linebacker Jordan Tripp, but Tripp is best suited to play outside linebacker. It’s also hard to envision a scenario where Tripp plays a sizable role in the linebacker rotation in 2014.
The team had free-agent signee Dannell Ellerbe play the MIKE position in 2013, and he was abysmal – Ellerbe, along with Miami’s front seven as a whole, ranked 24th in the NFL at stopping the run.
This is in contrast to the 2012 season, which saw the Dolphins rank a respectable 13th at stopping the run.
Which begs the question, should the Dolphins be on the hunt for a middle linebacker in free agency?
This is where Jonathan Vilma’s name pops up. The former University of Miami linebacker, and veteran of 10 NFL seasons, is a free agent deep into the month of May.
Vilma doesn’t have any interested suitors at the moment for a couple of reasons. For one, he’s 32 years old. The second reason is he missed the entire 2013 season except for one game due to a knee issue. Vilma actually debuted in November of last season, before re-injuring his knee in his first and only tackle of the season.
There is also the whole issue of Vilma’s role in the Bountygate scandal in 2012, in which he apparently offered $10,000 in cash to anyone who knocked quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2009 NFC Championship Game. This is an issue because new general manager, Dennis Hickey, has clearly placed an emphasis on character and team leader guys. Five of Miami’s eight draft selections were players who were team captains for their college teams.
However, the Dolphins can’t lose anything by signing Vilma.
The Bountygate scandal was an isolated incident in Vilma’s career. Outside of his role in the scandal, Vilma doesn’t have any other noticeable negative marks on his track record.
Though he hasn’t played a full season since 2010, Vilma has experience on a championship team (2009 New Orleans Saints) and was considered one of the best middle linebackers in the game for a seven-year period. He was named to the Pro Bowl three times between 2005-2010, led the NFL in combined tackles during the 2005 season, and was named AP Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2004.
The Dolphins need a veteran linebacker over the middle who can lead the team on the field and make sure to adjust the defense properly based on the opposing offense’s formation. This is something that Ellerbe and the Dolphins’ other linebackers failed to do in 2013.
Vilma will be a zero-risk signing for Miami. If Vilma’s injury issues reoccur, Miami can simply release the veteran linebacker. Because Vilma doesn’t have a market for his services due to his age and injury history, the Dolphins can sign him to a non-guaranteed deal.
The Dolphins should sign Vilma and bring him back to the place where he first made his name while playing for the Hurricanes – South Florida.