Thursday, May 28, 2009

Reader Question: RB/NT replacements

It's time for another question I received from a reader.

Are Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams free agents next year? If they are, do you think that the Dolphins would draft a back in the first few rounds in 2010? Also, can you give an update as far as a possible rookie backup for Jason Ferguson. I saw that they had a couple of young guys in camp but haven't heard anything else.

As far as Ronnie and Ricky's contract situations go, Ronnie is in the final year of his 5-year rookie contract while Ricky is also in the last year of his contract.

If the team does not extend his contract, Ricky will become a free agent after this season. However, Ricky recently said that he only plans to play two more seasons before retiring. That means that the Dolphins would only have to offer him a one-year extension if they want to hold on to him. Free from having to make any kind of long-term financial commitment to him may tip the scales toward Miami extending him so he can finish his career with the Dolphins.

Ronnie's situation is up in the air at the moment because it hinges on whether the league and the players' union can agree on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. If no new deal is agreed on, 2010 becomes an uncapped year, and only players with six or more seasons would be unrestricted free agents. All other players whose contracts were expiring would become restricted free agents, Ronnie included.

To recap: Without a new CBA, Ronnie becomes a restricted free agent. With a new CBA, Ronnie becomes an unrestricted free agent.

As far as drafting a running back high in next year's draft, that depends on a lot of things. Obviously, if Ronnie becomes a restricted free agent, the team will probably sign him to a one-year tender offer. If he becomes an unrestricted free agent, the team might just decide to let him go and get younger. Obviously, that would upset a lot of fans, but the facts are facts, and it's undeniable that running backs start declining after age 28, not to mention that Ronnie's already had one major injury and while he's been very good at times, he's not elite. I don't think many running backs are worth huge money, and it would be tough to justify handing a huge five or six year contract to Brown during or after this season. Now, if we could get him to sign a more reasonable three or four year extension, I'd definitely be in favor of that.

Drafting another RB in 2010 also depends on whether Ricky re-signs, how Patrick Cobbs progresses, and whether Lex Hilliard or Anthony Kimble show any promise. As it is now, I can certainly see the desire to get a replacement RB in the system soon, but there's still too much up in the air to tell if next year is the year to do it. It's important to remember that most college RBs adjust to the NFL quicker than almost any other position. So it's not as if a young RB is going to need lots of time to mature on the bench.

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As far as the nose tackle position goes, I surmised after the draft that the coaches must have regained some confidence in Paul Soliai after his strong finish to last season since they didn't draft a NT prospect. I was extremely high on Soliai after we drafted him, and I'm not ready to give up on him yet, but it's clear the team shouldn't be solely relying on him to backup and replace Ferguson.

Joe Cohen was a young guy they brought in last year, but I think the UDFA they signed this year, Louis Ellis, has more potential to stick around. Here is SI.com's Draft Analysis of Ellis:

Ellis is a physically talented lineman who was an outstanding small school player, and he possesses the skills to make an NFL roster. If he does what is necessary off-the-field to become a better football player, he could stick around the NFL for a while.

He may need a season on the practice squad, but he has definite upside.

The bottom line is that the depth behind Jason Ferguson is really scary right now because it is so inexperienced and unknown. It will be important to keep an eye on Soliai, Cohen, and Ellis throughout training camp to see if any is stepping up.

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