The Miami Dolphins did enough last season to show some people they’re a team on the rise. They just hope those people include impact free agents.
The Dolphins will head into the March 12 start of free agency armed with about $40 million of salary-cap room. They’ll get an idea then of how realistic it will be next season to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and just the second time since the start of the 2002 season.
After free agency, the Dolphins, who went 7-9 last season, will have the No. 12 pick in the April 25-27 NFL draft. They’ll hope to build upon a solid draft last season, which included taking quarterback Ryan Tannehill with the No. 8 pick.
Here’s a look at how Miami’s offense looks as free agency looms:
Ryan Tannehill: The Dolphins hope Tannehill will provide them with the stability at quarterback they’ve desperately been seeking since Dan Marino retired after the 1999 sesaon. His rookie season offered glimpses of his talent, but questions still remain. Tannehill completed 282 of 484 passes (58.3 percent) for 3,294 yards with 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. His downfield passing was not impressive but it remains to be seen if that’s because he lacked big-play weapons at wide receiver.
Matt Moore (free agent): The Dolphins likely will need to find another backup for Tannehill. No doubt they’ll try to bring in another veteran who can offer Tannehill pointers and take over at times if Tannehill gets hurt or the sophomore jinx surfaces.
Pat Devlin: There’s no evidence yet he’s ready to take over if something were to happen to Tannehill. He figures to remain the third-stringer.
Final Analysis: Tannehill should continue to improve. But the Dolphins might be hardpressed to find a backup as good as Moore, who led them to a 6-3 mark to close the 2011 season and who came off the bench when Tannehill got hurt last October to steer the Dolphins to a 30-9 win at the New York Jets.
Reggie Bush (free agent): It remains to be seen if he’ll be back for a third Miami season. Bush, who rushed for 986 yards last season after gaining 1,086 in 2011, had told FOX Sports Florida last November of his desire to return and lead the Dolphins to the Super Bowl. But the Dolphins may be unwilling to meet his salary demands.
Daniel Thomas: The second-year man was a disappointment last season, his yardage total dropping to 325 after he had gained 581 as a rookie. If Bush departs, he will be candidate to be the regular back, but it’s unclear whether he could handle that role.
Lamar Miller: The former University of Miami gained 250 yards and had a sparkling 4.9 yards-per-carry average as a rookie. Pass blocking, though, is still a problem for Miller. But he might have more upside than Thomas as a potential Bush replacement.
Jorvorskie Lane: He did what the Dolphins needed him to do last season as a rookie. He’s a solid blocker and receiver with a fine work ethic.
Final Analysis: The Dolphins can’t break the bank, but they should make a strong effort to retain Bush even if he was plagued by inconsistency last season. He provides some big-play ability on a team that has few playmakers.
Brian Hartline (free agent): He had a breakout season, catching 74 passes for 1,083 yards. The drawback is he’s not much of a deep threat. Still, Hartline was a pleasant surprise in 2012.
Davone Bess: Bess, who caught 61 passes for 778 yards, has recovered after missing the final three games due to a back injury. Like Hartline, Bess is mostly a possession receiver. But he’s been very consistent since entering the NFL undrafted in 2008.
Rishard Matthews: After being taken in the seventh round last year, he showed some flashes as a rookie. Matthews, who caught 11 balls for 151 yards, is worth getting a longer look.
Marlon Moore (free agent): It’s largely inconsequential whether Moore, who has caught 12 passes in three Dolphins seasons, will return.
Final analysis: The Dolphins should re-sign Hartline. It would be a shame for them to see him go considering the steady improvement he’s made in four seasons with the team. Still, the Dolphins need to do whatever it takes to bring in a deep threat to help out Tannehill. One possibility could be drafting California’s Keenan Allen with their No. 12 pick.
Anthony Fasano (free agent): He’s one of the NFL’s most underrated tight ends. Fasano caught 41 balls last season for 332 yards and is a decent blocker.
Charles Clay: He’s a solid all-purpose guy, used at fullback at times. But it would be too much to count on him as the regular starter at tight end if Fasano doesn’t return.
Michael Egnew: A bust after being taken in last year’s third round. He only got into the final two games of the season and did not catch a pass. But the Dolphins insist it’s too early to give up on him.
Final analysis: The Dolphins should look to re-sign Fasano. It’s doubtful they’d be able to land anybody better in free agency.
Jake Long (free agent): Along with Bush, the left tackle is Miami’s most pivotal free agent. The No. 1 pick of the 2008 draft made the Pro Bowl after each of his first four years, but didn’t in 2012 after missing the final four games due to a left triceps injury. Long might ask for more than $10 million a season in free agency, which could be too much for Miami’s liking.
Richie Ingognito: The left guard was named to the Pro Bowl although he really wasn’t worthy. Got in as a late replacement. Still, he’s a solid pro. Desperately wants to overcome his reputation for being a dirty player.
Mike Pouncey: The center is a strong future Pro Bowl candidate. He stepped in as the starter in 2011 as a rookie and has been getting better ever since.
John Jerry: The right guard has battled weight problems. In the preseason, He was called out by coaches for being fat on the HBO show “Hard Knocks.” But Jerry eventually did get in better shape and did a reasonable job as a starter.
Jonathan Martin: Moved into the starting lineup at right tackle as a rookie and got better as the season progressed. Martin, who protected Andrew Luck at Stanford, is a smart player and a building block for Miami’s future.
Nate Garner (free agent): He replaced Long as the starting left tackle for the final four games and did not distinguish himself. He’s a free agent and might leave.
Final analysis: The Dolphins shouldn’t overpay Long, who has been wearing down in recent years due to injuries and could be in decline. Some believe Long, who turns 28 in November, mostly had continued to make Pro Bowls due to reputation.
The Dolphins were hardly spectacular last season on offense, ranking 27th in the NFL in scoring at 18.0 points per game. So turning it around is not going to happen overnight.
Still, the Dolphins need to do whatever they can to help Tannehill. That includes getting him at improvement at wide receiver while making sure that potential losses of Bush and Long don’t handicap his development.