AC in the AM: Where Dolphins Stand As Free Agency Begins


The plan is in place. It will start coming into focus today. It has taken hold in the weeks since the regular season concluded. Now it's about seeing it through, about turning words and visions and carefully defined priorities into actions and about making the kind of decisions that are imperative as the Miami Dolphins enter the most critical two-month stretch of the offseason. 

Welcome to the wild, wacky, unpredictable world of NFL free agency. With today's 4 p.m. start of the NFL calendar year, with the new salary cap in place and with so many teams ready to pounce on roster-altering moves, things figure to get heated in a hurry.

If numerous reports are true - keep in mind, nothing can be official until today -- the Dolphins will trade wide receiver Jarvis Landry to the Cleveland Browns for a couple of draft picks and acquire former Rams defensive end Robert Quinn in another trade involving draft picks. They also plan on releasing several prominent veterans, most notably - according to numerous reports - defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh The moves started on Tuesday when linebacker Lawrence Timmons was released. 

Those were the headlines coming from South Florida in the final days before free agency began. But you know there are plenty more headlines to come and, with so many teams searching for upgrades, the competition could be as compelling as a Sunday afternoon in October. Well, almost. 

See, the Dolphins can't afford to sit still. Not when you're coming off a 6-10 season. Not when the needs exist on both sides of the ball. Changes are in order. The right chemistry is essential. There is a nice core of young players on this team, players who have a chance to be special, many of them from the past two drafts. But what the Dolphins need to do now is add to that core and supplement it with some smart free agent additions. To achieve that, though, some painstaking moves are required. 

That's why paying Landry his asking price simply doesn't make sense when you take into account the big picture. If he were the final piece, or one of the final pieces, the argument would have been different. But you just can't pay a slot receiver, even perhaps the best one in the league, $15.8 million this season when there are so many other glaring needs, when two or three quality players can conceivably be signed for the same amount of money. 

I'm happy for Landry. He'll get the money he wanted and the potential of long-term security. He deserved that after 400 catches in his first four seasons. But it just didn't make sense with the Dolphins. Sometimes circumstances dictate that both sides simply need to move on. Unfortunately, this was such a case. 

The same goes for Suh, if reports are indeed true that he will be released. Nobody wants to lose a player of that caliber. But in trying to build a team capable of sustaining success, the type of money that Suh commands just doesn't make sense. 

What these anticipated moves will do is provide the Dolphins with additional flexibility. They will have more cash to spend on free agency. They will have, based on reports, an additional fourth round pick from the Quinn trade to add to the nucleus of the young talent already on the roster. They can maneuver more freely and be aggressive when the situation arises.

We are already seeing signs of that as reports surfaced Tuesday linking the Dolphins to a pair of receivers: Danny Amendola from the Patriots and Albert Wilson from the Chiefs. Two quality players. Two potentially important additions in light of the expected trade of Landry. See, as we move forward, we need to hold back judgment until the process is well underway. We need to see how the plan unfolds and how the Dolphins utilize the resources available to them. 

If recent history is an indicator, and it usually is, the next week or so will be telling. This is when the top free agents come off the board, when the urgency is the greatest and the movement is usually the swiftest. I expect the Dolphins to be players, but prudent players, focusing on sensible investments. Keep in mind, though, you don't build a team through free agency. You simply use it to supplement your most glaring needs. The draft will always remain the overriding barometer for long-term success. The Dolphins clearly have embraced this notion. 

Five other thoughts as 4 p.m. today rapidly approaches:

o Assuming it is consummated today, the trade for Quinn certainly makes plenty of sense. How many chances do you get to acquire a proven pass rusher in the prime of his career? That's the bottom line here. Get better. Get deeper. Add Quinn to an already talented pass rushing mix and some intriguing possibilities exist, certainly in long yardage situations. 

o The first order of business today is dealing with the $177.2 million salary cap. This is part of the master plan in which I talked about earlier, a plan carefully crafted by Executive Vice President Mike Tannenbaum, General Manager Chris Grier, Head Coach Adam Gase and their staffs. Some veteran players, as discussed, will be released. Others could have their contracts restructured. You've got to make the pieces fit. You have to make the dollars work. It's an essential part of the NFL landscape. 

o The Dolphins enter the new NFL calendar year with 16 unrestricted free agents, many of whom they would like to bring back. This is one of the many important storylines surrounding this team as free agency begins. The brain trust of this team has dissected every crevice of this roster since the season ended. There have been a lot of late nights at the training facility. We're about to get a clear indicator of some of the things they have learned. Already Tuesday we heard reports that safety Walt Aikens, one of those 16, would re-sign with the team. 

o The exact needs of this team will become much more evident once some of the salary cap related moves are made. But from my perspective, the most glaring of those needs are, in no particular order, tight end, linebacker, offensive line and back-up quarterback. 

o The ideal scenario, as Tannenbaum, has mentioned on several occasions, is to fill as many of those needs in free agency in order to provide additional flexibility in the draft. You always want the luxury of taking the best overall talent on your draft board regardless of position and free agency can help assure that. 

It all officially begins today so sit back and take a deep breath. Things are about to get awfully interesting.

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