Andy Cohen: Master Plan Beginning To Unfold

Posted Mar 15, 2013

Taking a close look at a busy first week of free agency and how the Dolphins have become the talk of the league.

Only a few days into free agency and the pieces are coming together.

It is already clear that the Dolphins are major players in free agency and you get the feeling that things are unfolding about the way General Manager Jeff Ireland had hoped. A big-play receiver. Another quality receiver. A couple of young, talented linebackers. A tight end capable of stretching the field.

The Dolphins are a much better football team today. And the real intrigue now centers on what will happen next. I can’t pretend to read Ireland’s mind on this, but I can tell you that he continues to explore every possible avenue to upgrade this team. And the more players he signs in free agency, the more intriguing options he has with those five draft picks in the first three rounds.

Yes, it’s just the beginning. There is a lot more work and many tough decisions ahead. But what a beginning it has been.

Friday’s news was the signing of former Jets tight end Dustin Keller and former St. Louis receiver Brandon Gibson. Similar to the other signings, Keller and Gibson are in their 20’s and offer a skill set that fits exactly into what the Dolphins are trying to become on offense: More diversified. More big plays. More touchdowns. Before too long, you may not even recognize yesterday’s Dolphins.

Keller is a gifted receiver with excellent speed. The Dolphins know all about that, seeing Keller twice a year. And while I liked Anthony Fasano, Keller is a far more polished receiver with far more big-play abilities.

Can you see it now? Keller sprinting down the middle of the field in one-on-one coverage, the defense aiming most of its attention at Mike Wallace on the outside. Hmmm. This is the dilemma Coach Joe Philbin wants the opposing defense to have. Who do you focus on? Where do you slant your coverage? You take away one option and another one is streaking down the field.

Gibson is more of a possession receiver. He has excellent hands and is coming off a very good season. He will fit nicely with Wallace, Brian Hartline and Davone Bess.

This is all part of Ireland’s master plan. Keep the parts that work. Replace other parts with upgrades. Diversify the offense. Give Ryan Tannehill enough talented targets to open things up and to get a true indication of his long-term potential. Ireland, you see, wants to give Tannehill every resource possible to succeed. He’s well on his way to doing that.

Let’s review for a minute what already has happened.

• Even before free agency began the team was active, making sure that Randy Starks, Matt Moore, Brian Hartline and Chris Clemons all remained in the fold.

• The Dolphins sign the best receiver in free agency in Mike Wallace. This was a huge coup. A player with Wallace’s big-play ability just doesn’t come along very often. Yes, the Dolphins paid Wallace a lot of money. But that’s what this market dictates and if you want to make a difference, if you want to upgrade your team in a hurry, you have to be bold.

The more I think about the Wallace signing, the more I like it. I’ve watched tape of him. I’ve seen what he can do in the open field. I’ve seen defenders with the right angle on Wallace still come up empty because they simply can’t match his speed. You can teach a lot of things in this league; you can’t teach speed.

• The signing of a pair of young linebackers in Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler may not seem as sexy as the signing of Wallace, but don’t undervalue the impact that these two players can have.

Ellerbe was one of the great steals of the early free agent period, a player the Baltimore Ravens did not want to lose. Just as Wallace is a playmaker on offense, Ellerbe is a playmaker on defense. I expect that you will see his impact on this defense right away. The way he covers tight ends. The way he runs down running backs. The way he makes life miserable for quarterbacks.

Wheeler has similar skills and showed his productivity a year ago with the Raiders, finishing with more than 100 tackles. I’m not sure how this is going to all fit together. But with the defensive line already one of the strengths of this team and now with two young, playmaking linebackers to add to the mix, it’s hard to imagine this front seven not being a formidable unit.

• Friday’s deal with Keller fills an important hole and gives the Dolphins another key piece. He’s had some pretty good games against the Dolphins, caught some pretty big passes. Can’t wait to see him to do the same to his old team. Gibson, meanwhile, has been on the Dolphins radar for a while. Suddenly, the four-receiver set has some interesting possibilities.

So let’s take a deep breath for a minute and look at the early scorecard: Two receivers, two linebackers and a tight end. All young. All fast. All, you can make the case, with their best football in front of them.

More needs? You betcha. You just know that Ireland isn’t going to stop here, that he sees the blueprint of a playoff team and he still has more work to do. But how can you not admire what he has done so far?

The entire league is taking notice of what the Dolphins are doing. They see a general manager who is operating with confidence and creativity and the same type of drive and determination that he wants his team to have. They see a carefully devised plan that continues to unfold. They see a team that is clearly tired of losing seasons.

Yes, the Dolphins are on the move. That, after only a few days of free agency, has never been more evident.

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