NFL DRAFT NEEDS: AFC EAST Bills | Patriots | Jets OVERVIEW
Miami took a step back in their second season under the watch of Executive VP Bill Parcells and head coach Tony Sparano. The Dolphins finished 7-9 in large part due to an inconsistent defense and an inexperienced quarterback under center. They already made a splash in free agency by signing linebacker Karlos Dansby to a five-year, $43 million contract, then added a dynamic weapon to Chad Henne's arsenal as well.
The Henne era began earlier than expected when Chad Pennington went down with a season-ending injury in Week 3. The young quarterback led a passing attack that ranked 20th, averaging 198.1 aerial yards per game. One offseason goal was to continue to surround Henne with weapons. The Dolphins scratched that off the list Wednesday when they acquired Brandon Marshall from the Broncos in exchange for their 2010 and 2011 second-round picks. Marshall's a big, physical receiver who gives Henne a true No. 1 target. The rest of the offseason plan is to continue by building through the draft.
The Dolphins own nine selections in the draft. They hold picks No. 12, 73, 110, 173, 174, 179, 212, 219 and 252. The highest priority will be strengthening the defense.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Dolphins have needs at every level starting in the middle of the front three. Jason Ferguson's been the run-stuffing nose tackle vital to the success of Miami's 3-4 defense the past two seasons and was re-signed, but he missed seven games with an injury last season and will be 36 years old in November. To make matters worse, he'll be forced to sit out the first eight games of the season while serving a suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances. Paul Soliai filled in at nose tackle last season, but he isn't a legitimate starter.
At linebacker, the Dolphins lost their top two sack artists in Joey Porter and Jason Taylor. The pair combined for 16 sacks last season. Parcells has a history with edge-rushing linebackers, most recently DeMarcus Ware with the Cowboys. The impact Ware's had on the Cowboys defense is very apparent, and Miami should be in the market for a disruptive defender to play a similar role.
Miami needs to upgrade a secondary that ranked 24th against the pass in 2009. They invested first and second-round draft picks in Vontae Davis and Sean Smith last season. Both had solid rookie campaigns and should be staples in the secondary for years to come. The problem lies at free safety, where Gibril Wilson was a huge disappointment and a liability in pass coverage in '09. He was released in the offseason. Chris Clemons was a rookie and is the only free safety currently on the roster. A safety with coverage skills would be a welcomed addition to this group.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None
TRANSITION PLAYER: None
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: QB Chad Pennington (re-signed for one year at $2.5 million), DT Jason Ferguson (re-signed for one year), CB Nathan Jones (was not re-signed, signed with Denver), CB Will Allen (was not re-signed)
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: RB Ronnie Brown (received first-round tender at $3.97 million), TE Anthony Fasano (received original-round tender at $1.176 million), LB Quentin Moses (received original-round tender at $1.101 million)
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: K Dan Carpenter (received one-year tender and signed), WR Davone Bess (received one-year tender and signed), TE Joey Haynos (received one-year tender and signed)
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: QB Chad Pennington, DT Jason Ferguson, K Dan Carpenter, WR Davone Bess, TE Joey Haynos
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: WR Brandon Marshall (via trade with Denver), LB Karlos Dansby (signed for five years at $43 million), G Richie Incognito (signed for one year at a max of $1.35 million), T SirVincent Rogers
PLAYERS LOST: WR Brennan Marion, LB Jason Taylor, LB Joey Porter (signed with Arizona), LB Akin Ayoldele, S Gibril Wilson, CB Nathan Jones, CB Will Allen
NOSE TACKLE -- Jason Ferguson's back for another season, but he turns 36 in November and will miss the first eight games of the season while serving a suspension. A two-gap nose tackle's an essential piece of a 30 front. The Dolphins must find a long-term replacement at nose tackle to ensuring the success of their 3-4 defense and keep blockers off high-priced inside linebackers Karlos Dansby and Channing Crowder.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER -- Jason Taylor and Joey Porter, two of the team's top three sack leaders in 2009, left in free agency. The Dolphins need a young edge-rushing linebacker to pressure the quarterback and continue the effectiveness of a defense that totaled the third-highest number of sacks last season. Karlos Dansby was signed to a big contract in the offseason, but will likely play inside next to Channing Crowder. Cameron Wake will be in the mix too, but more depth is needed.
FREE SAFETY -- Gibril Wilson was released after a disappointing performance last season in which he struggled against the pass. A young free safety with coverage skills is a desperate need. Miami doesn't necessarily have to address the need with a high draft pick considering the depth of this class.