Free agency is fast approaching (the FA period begins on March 2), and it will undoubtedly prove to be a critical period for the near and future success of the Dolphins. It will be necessary for Cam Cameron to bring in a few guys capable of making an impact on either side of the ball, but there is no need (and more importantly not enough cap room; John Clayton at ESPN reports that Miami has $13.1 million in cap room heading into free agency) to bring in a bunch of FAs or to overspend on any one of them. FAs can be a good boost to a team with an existing foundation, but it is difficult to base a team's foundation on free agents. Doing so at the expense of the draft will usually lead to failure. So, while the temptation to trade up in the draft to obtain some coveted first-rounder may seem like a good idea, it is not worth sacrificing the ability to stockpile the young talent that will make this team a contender down the road. There are no quick and easy panaceas.
That being said, let's take a look at the moves that are available to the Phins in free agency, and which ones are worth exploring:
Quarterback: While the most important position on the field may be an unsettled one for the Phins right now, the answer certainly does not lie in free agency. Aging journeyman Jeff Garcia showed flashes of brilliance after taking over for an injured Donovan McNabb, but overpaying for a 37 year old stop-gap QB would be unwise. Trade options like Jake Plummer and David Carr would not improve the talent already on the roster. As long as Daunte Culpepper continues to get healthy, he should be able to win the starting gig. The QB position is not one that the Phins should be spending precious FA money on. However, I do believe Joey Harrington will be cut to save cap space (he has a $3.5 million cap number), clearing the way for Miami to draft a QB prospect.
Offensive Line: Right behind QB, the O-Line is the most important aspect of a football team. It requires precise coordination among all five players, and poor play from any one man can sabotage the efforts of all the rest. It will be important for Miami to continue its trend under OL coach Hudson Houck of improving OL play. Of course, Houck can only do so much with the talent he is given. While a top-tier line cannot be built entirely through free agency, Miami can certainly make a move to acquire at least one solid starter and perhaps some depth. It is my belief that upgrading at the left tackle position (the most important position on the line) is not possible through free agency. Any upgrades will be minuscule. This is because teams simply don't let dominating or even above-average left tackles hit the market - they are too precious a commodity. The available free agents, the recently released Luke Petitgout and Leonard Davis, define mediocrity. A strong effort should be made to re-sign Damion McIntosh. While certainly nothing spectacular, the talent available would not be a significant upgrade. Re-signing McIntosh will bring some stability to the line and Miami will avoid overpaying. Going after a top-notch guard like Kris Dielman makes a lot of sense. He is a high-end linesman who would bring some tenacity to the Miami line. Also, he has worked with both Cameron and Houck while in San Diego. If Miami were to go after one top-notch player in free agency, it should be Dielman.
Running back: Regardless of what happens with Ricky Williams, Miami should not consider spending any significant money on a RB. Ronnie Brown has proven that he can be a feature-back, so paying for a free agent like Chris Brown or Ron Dayne seems worthless. I don't think they would bring anything to the table that Sammy Morris didn't have. Both Morris and Travis Minor are unrestricted free agents, so if Williams were to return as I believe he will, then one of them will become expendable. They are both core special teams players, but Morris provides better RB depth. Either way, Miami seems set at the RB position.
Wide receiver/Tight end: GM Randy Mueller has said that he wants to add speed to a relatively slow Miami receiving corps. The idea is a good one, but the options available may not make it feasible to accomplish. Chris Chambers, Marty Booker, and Wes Welker all posted adequate stats this season, but the fact is that Miami needs a game-changer at wide-out. Ironically, I think that Chambers can be that player. He has shown what playing in the slot can do for his performance, so it amazes me why he is always lined up outside. Unfortunately, Welker is not built to play outside, so all of his snaps came from the slot. If moving Chambers back to the slot position means getting rid of Welker then perhaps that is what needs to be done. However, I love Wes Welker and the guts he has showed on the field. Not only did he lead the team in receiving this season, but he offers a level of utility not often found in players. It would be a shame to have to part ways with Wes. Perhaps moving him to the fourth receiver position, while concentrating more on his return duties would work out well. Free agent options include Donte Stallworth and Kevin Curtis. The free agent WR pool is shallow with Stallworth representing the best of the bunch. He's certainly worth a look, but if teams get into a bidding war over him, Miami should steer clear. I don't see the need to spend any free agent money on the tight-end position.
In relation to the WR corps, Realfootball365 posted an article arguing that Miami's wide-outs are not as bad as people make them out to be. I generally agree, but every effort should be made to move Chambers to the slot position.
If you saw a theme with my analysis, it's that Miami should not overspend for any of the mediocre players that will be available. Priority should be given to adding solid depth and perhaps targeting one high-end player at a position of need like Kris Dielman.
Tomorrow I'll look at the possible defensive free agent moves that Miami can make. Happy Presidents' Day!