Monroe, Jones-Drew among possible free agent targets for Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins are expected to be impact players during free agency for a second straight season.
New general manager Dennis Hickey will have nearly $40 million in cap space to try and fill significant holes or upgrade key positions on both sides of the ball for a team that disappointed last season in finishing 8-8 and squandering a playoff berth.
The Dolphins must rebuild an offensive line around returning center Mike Pouncey. They also need to figure out how they will address the interior defensive line and linebacker units.
Defensive tackles Randy Starks and Paul Soliai and safety Chris Clemons seemingly will test the free-agent market. It’s possible, if not likely, none of the three return. Hickey also must decide if he can upgrade the linebackers who include two players (MLB Dannell Ellerbe, OLB Philip Wheeler) signed by ex-GM Jeff Ireland last year.
Miami’s offseason got off to a good start earlier this week, when Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes was re-signed to a four-year deal. Focus now expands to include opponents’ free agents, who can sign with a new team beginning Tuesday.
Here’s a look at five free agents the Dolphins might target.
1. T EUGENE MONROE
The 6-foot-5, 310-pound Monroe replaced Bryant McKinnie at left tackle for the Baltimore Ravens — a move that led to McKinnie landing in Miami for the second half of last season. The Ravens had acquired Monroe in a trade with Jacksonville. Turning 27 in April, Monroe had been considered a possible recipient of Baltimore’s franchise tag but that wasn’t to be. He’s talented and durable, having missed just three games in five years.
Reason to sign: He’s widely considered the best lineman available. The Dolphins not only need two starting guards and tackles, they need a strong left tackle to protect Ryan Tannehill’s blindside and help avoid another league-high sack-filled season.
2013 salary: $3.8M
Other free agents at that position: Branden Albert (Kansas City), Anthony Collins (Cincinnati), Zach Strief (New Orleans)
2. G GEOFF SCHWARTZ
The 6-6, 340-pound Schwartz is an interesting case. He didn’t become a Chiefs starter until in late November, but arguably was Kansas City’s best linemen during the last six games. He received a plus-18.6 grade from Pro Football Focus. He also can play tackle.
Reason to sign: Miami’s revamped offensive line will need to show improvement in both run and pass blocking. Plus, Schwartz can play tackle if needed. He’s looking for a multi-year deal, but still shouldn’t command top dollars.
2013 salary: $700,000
Other free agents at that position: Jon Asamoah (Kansas City), Zane Beadles (Denver), Chad Rinehart (San Diego), Willie Colon (New York Jets)
3. T LINVAL JOSEPH
The 6-4, 323-pound Joseph appears to be everything you want in an interior defensive linemen. He successfully battles double teams, allowing others to penetrate. He can stop the run and also pressure the quarterback himself. He was Pro Football Focus’ No. 21 defensive tackle last season.
Reason to sign: Although it had been assumed Soliai or Starks would return, it’s quite possible both free agents will leave Miami. Joseph is only 25 and would complement Jared Odrick, who can be a free agent after next season.
2013 salary: $630,000
Other free agents at that position: Henry Melton (Chicago), Jason Hatcher (Dallas), Jonathan Babineaux (Atlanta)
4. S JAIRUS BYRD
Byrd, 27, would give the Dolphins a much-needed playmaker in the secondary. He has averaged 4.4 interceptions and 2.2 forced fumbles in five seasons. Signing him, after securing Grimes at one corner, would form one of the best defensive backfields, especially if fellow safety Reshad Jones rebounds from a subpar 2013. A lucrative deal will be required.
Reason to sign: The Dolphins likely will not re-sign Chris Clemons, so they’ll need to find a quality replacement. Why not the player generally considered the top-rated safety available? His experience also could be an added benefit if ’13 draft picks Jamar Taylor or Will Davis gets a chance at corner opposite of Grimes.
Other free agents at that position: T.J. Ward (Cleveland), Donte Whitner (San Francisco), Antoine Bethea (Indianapolis), Louis Delmas (Detroit)
2013 salary: $6.916M
5. RB MAURICE JONES-DREW
The veteran will turn 29 in March. That could mean Jones-Drew won’t cost as much as some other free agent runners. He might accept a incentive-laden deal, something that probably would be attractive to Miami. The NFL’s leading rusher in 2011, Jones-Drew can make up for any deteriorating skills with drive and know-how.
Reason to sign: The Dolphins need to upgrade the duo of Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas. True, the Fins might benefit more from a fullback or a skilled blocker to pick up blitzes. But signing Jones-Drew for less money than a younger runner, or a rusher with less mileage, could allow Hickey to spend money elsewhere.
2013 salary: $4.95M
Other free agents at that position: Ben Tate (Houston), Rashad Jennings (Oakland), Darren McFadden (Oakland), Andre Brown (New York Giants), Knowshon Moreno (Denver), LeGarette Blount (New England), Toby Gerhart (Minnesota), Ahmad Bradhshaw (Indianapolis)
Hickey got off to a great start by re-signing Grimes, but the GM will be on the clock and under great scrutiny during free agency and the draft. He must secure at least two free-agent offensive linemen to avoid replacing Ireland in the — hearts? — of Miami fans. Securing a quality defensive tackle quality or safety also would be wise.