We're about to start getting some clarity. Perhaps the most important offseason in Dolphins' history reaches yet another level Wednesday with the start of the NFL's new calendar year and with it the beginning of free agency.
Tighten your seatbelts, it figures to be quite a ride.
We know the Dolphins have plenty of money to spend in free agency. What we don't know is how they plan on allocating it. The last few months since the 2019 season concluded have been a time for careful evaluation. You know there is a plan in place, a plan formulated by the brain trust of this team, starting with General Manager Chris Grier and Head coach Brian Flores and including both of their staffs.
Now, beginning Wednesday, we'll start to see that plan unfold. Priorities will become clear. The mindset will become evident. Between free agency and the draft in late April, these are the most crucial weeks of the offseason. The seeds that are planted in March and April will have everything to do with what we see in September and October. There's no scoreboard this time of year, but you better believe there are winners and losers.
We know this team has plenty of glaring needs. We know the resources are in place, both with a league-leading 14 draft picks and with salary cap space reportedly just south of $100 million, to fill most of those needs. What we don't know is how aggressive they will be in free agency and in what direction they will take.
The Dolphins certainly have enough money to be major players if they so choose. They put themselves in this enviable position by making some hard, though necessary, decisions last season. They accumulated assets. They changed the blueprint. They took a long overdue step back to reset their priorities. All of that, coupled with a 5-4 finish, only heightened the anticipation of what this offseason could produce.
But even with all that money to spend, you get the sense listening to Grier that he is going to be prudent, that the players he pursues in free agency will be far more about long-term solutions than short term fixes. This has been the focus all along. Build a team that can sustain. Find a nucleus that has lasting power. Sign players whose best days are not in the rearview mirror.
That's the approach I expect will continue in free agency. There are plenty of enticing options out there, players who can no doubt step in and make an immediate difference. Grier and his staff have undoubtedly done their homework. I personally expect an aggressive approach with the players they target, but one tempered by the reality that breaking the bank for one or two players is not the desired route. Been there, done that.
With all of that in mind, here's a quick rundown by position of where things stand heading into free agency and the areas that will likely generate the most attention:
- Quarterback: The Dolphins appear very comfortable moving forward with Ryan Fitzpatrick as their veteran quarterback. And why wouldn't they be after what we saw from Fitzpatrick last season? No doubt there are some tempting names out there, but many of those are short-term solutions and as stated it's the long-term answer the Dolphins are looking for, undoubtedly in the upcoming draft.
- Offensive line: Upgrades are essential. I wouldn't be surprised between free agency and the draft if the Dolphins added five or six new lineman. There are some intriguing options in free agency, a group of twenty-something players who fit exactly what the Dolphins are looking for. A tackle? A guard? A center? They are all in play in free agency.
- Tight end: The emergence of Mike Gesicki over the second half of last season has lessened the need in free agency, though I wouldn't be surprised if the Dolphins made a run at a big, physical tight end to help the running game.
- Wide receiver: This is the one position on the team that appears pretty well set, and if there is an addition to be made this offseason, you would think it would be in the draft where the group of receivers coming out may just be the deepest and most talented in years.
- Running back: Many have the Dolphins drafting a running back with one of their three first or two second round picks and that makes plenty of sense. But don't be surprised if they make a move in free agency as well. The group that finished last season is young and inexperienced. A veteran presence could prove invaluable, certainly one with a productive resume.
- Defensive line: The Dolphins need pass rushers. The sack totals from last season tell you all you need to know, especially from the defensive ends. I fully anticipate that this will be an area of high priority both in free agency and the draft. Elite pass rushers are tough to come by. Outside of quarterbacks, they'll probably be the most costly proposition in free agency. This is where that extra salary cap space could really help. As for defensive tackle, the Dolphins are in good shape with Davon Godchaux and Christian Wilkins, but you can always use more quality depth.
- Linebacker: Some promising options emerged last season, players like Vince Biegel, Sam Eguavoen and Andrew Van Ginkel, but this will always be a position of need given the flexibility and complexity of the defense Flores and staff likes to employ. Certainly a linebacker with pass rushing skills could fit in nicely.
- Secondary: Just about everything is in play here and that means cornerbacks and safeties. The Dolphins found some keepers last season in what amounted to a season-long talent search, and I'm anxious to see how, for instance, cornerback Nik Needham or safety Eric Rowe builds on what they accomplished. But you can't have too many quality defensive backs and the Dolphins could use some more experience back there, certainly with the anticipated release of safety Reshad Jones.
It all begins on Wednesday. Roughly six weeks that could very well reshape the direction of this franchise. Yep, it figures to be quite a ride.