Dolphins planning for aggressive push in free agency

From left: Linebacker Brian Orakpo, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, cornerback Antonio Cromartie, wide receiver Torrey Smith and offensive lineman Orlando Franklin.

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The Miami Dolphins are clearly planning on making a big push in free agency with their recent purging of their roster at several key positions.

More specifically, it appears the majority of their cap space savings will be used immediately with the news Sunday that Miami has reportedly come to terms with top free agent target Ndamukong Suh.

Suh dramatically enhances Miami’s defensive squad, but the team still has needs at linebacker, cornerback, running back and wide receiver — among others. Finishing 8-8 for two straight seasons and with the team’s front office desperate to make a meaningful playoff push, there’s no question that the stakes are high to improve the roster.

"A lot of the progress we make will be every day," Executive VP of Football Operations Mike Tannenbaum said in January. "It’s going to be small steps, about getting stronger and faster in the offseason, but there are a lot of high-character guys on this roster that care about football deeply.

"When we assess our needs, we’re going to look at the offseason as a continuum and, when there is opportunities, be in free agency, trading up in the draft, trading back in the draft, whatever we think is in our best interests, we’ll move quickly to try to improve the team."

Simultaneously, the team must also weigh whether or not to retain their own free agents in what looks like a crowded market that could represent true upgrades at positions of need should they look elsewhere.

With teams already free since Saturday to begin contract negotiations with the agents of pending free agents, let’s take a look at five free agent targets that could help Miami get back to the playoffs.

1. DT NDAMUKONG SUH

Ndamukong Suh.

A once-in-a-lifetime talent, the most dominant defensive tackle in the NFL attracted significant interest from several NFL teams but it appears that Miami has won the Suh sweepstakes by outbidding all other suitors.

Why he’s valuable: The 28-year-old is a four-time Pro Bowler and a huge presence on the field. His skill and talent is unquestioned. He’s also durable, having missed just two games in his five-year career.

Why the Dolphins need him: Only time will tell if it was a wise investment, but he is undoubtedly a game-changer in his prime that opponents will fear. He will instantly upgrade several facets of the defensive unit in an elite line that also features Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon. Miami is placing a heavy premium on defense in all-out effort to avoid another slump over the course of the month of December as it has the past two seasons.

What he could cost: We won’t know for sure until Tuesday’s expected official announcement, but ESPN’s Chris Mortensen is reporting the six-year mega deal to be worth $114 million with $60 million guaranteed, making him the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player. Should the Dolphins lock up that much money to one player when there are so many other positions of need? Many would unquestionably say yes because of just how dominant Suh is.

2. LB BRIAN ORAKPO

Brian Orakpo.

The three-time Pro Bowler is widely regarded as one of the best in his position and he could come at an affordable price after a so-so 2014 campaign that ended nine games early because of a torn pectoral muscle. He notched a team-leading 10 sacks along with 60 tackles the previous year, however, and at 28 he’s far from finished and will look to bounce back from a rough year. 

Why he’s valuable: Has amassed 171 tackles, 40 sacks, and six forced fumbles over the course of 71 games, all starts, in his career. The talent is unquestioned, the injury concerns are valid but he could be locked up at an affordable price precisely because of this.

Why the Dolphins need him: They need an excellent pass rusher and Orakpo is a true threat. Miami has been on the hunt for a solid linebacker unit for a while now and Orakpo could be a huge boost.

What he could cost: The franchise tag placed on him last year by the Washington Redskins cost them more then $11 million for one season. Expect that to be sliced in half this time around.

3. CB ANTONIO CROMARTIE

Antonio Cromartie.

There could be bigger, sexier names on the market for flashy cornerbacks but the Dolphins can’t afford to spend big at every position. Cromartie represents a clear upgrade but could be convinced to join the Dolphins at an affordable price with the promise of plentiful playing time and a large role. 

Why he’s valuable: Cromartie has notched at least three interceptions in each of his last six seasons in the NFL and recorded a Chargers franchise high with 10 in 2007. He’s only missed one game in his nine-year career and was named to his fourth Pro Bowl after notching three picks and 12 passes defensed in 2014.

Why the Dolphins need him: Another year, another cornerback needed to pair up with Pro Bowler Brent Grimes. With the release of talented but aging Cortland Finnegan last week, Miami clearly has a need for a starting caliber cornerback.

What he could cost: A deep cornerback market could drop his price, but he is still expected to command around $4 million yearly.

4. WR TORREY SMITH

Torrey Smith.

Smith is the real deal at a position in which the Dolphins need some stability and consistent production from. He amassed 213 career receptions for 3,591 yards, 30 touchdowns and a 16.9 average per catch in his four years with the Baltimore Ravens and he’ll be moving on to the highest bidder for his talents.

Why he’s valuable: A genuine deep threat that hasn’t missed a game in his pro career, Smith notched a career-high 11 receiving touchdowns last year despite playing alongside star receiver Steve Smith.

Why the Dolphins need him: Miami needs a wide receiver on the same page as quarterback Ryan Tannehill. If they indeed are parting ways with Mike Wallace, and with Brian Hartline gone as well, they’ll need a top-flight veteran to pair with second-year receiver Jarvis Landry.

What he could cost: If there is deep interest in Smith, as there should be, his asking price could escalate up to $8 million annually. But a crowded market for receivers could drop that price tag.

5. G ORLANDO FRANKLIN

Orlando Franklin.

Franklin, 27, is an elite player at his position that can play at both right tackle, which he played in his first three pro seasons, and left guard, his position in all 16 games last season. His versatility and steadiness will attract interest from many teams eager for his services.

Why he’s valuable: One of the top available offensive linemen out on the market, Franklin’s production speaks for itself and is an excellent pass protector and run blocker. Has been a steady force in his four seasons with the Denver Broncos.

Why the Dolphins need him: Miami did well to fortify their offensive line last season but they need another quality player in the mix. A return for the former University of Miami standout could benefit both parties.

What he could cost: Franklin could be looking for a deal anywhere between $5 to $7 million annually.

FINAL THOUGHT

Suh’s arrival addresses their biggest need, but it also raises high hopes and expectations. Of more immediate significance, it also means Miami will have to drastically cut spending elsewhere.

Stay tuned, this will certainly get interesting once teams are free to officially sign players beginning March 10.

You can follow Surya Fernandez on Twitter @SuryaHeatNBA or email him at SuryaFoxSports@gmail.com .