AFC East: Miami Dolphins

The NFL draft is just a few weeks away and anticipation is growing for teams around the league. The Miami Dolphins hold the No. 19 overall pick and still have some well-defined needs.

Most projections have the Dolphins drafting an offensive lineman in the first round. It is currently the team's biggest need. But in ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr.'s latest mock draft, he did not go in that direction for the Dolphins.


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The Miami Dolphins and New York Jets continued their intense, AFC East rivalry last season. Both teams split two meetings and finished with identical 8-8 records.

These are the two teams most project will compete to push the dominant New England Patriots for the top spot in the division. But the Jets made a significant move on Wednesday, adding former Pro Bowl running back Chris Johnson to their offense. Johnson joins receiver Eric Decker and quarterback Michael Vick as three free agents looking to add a dynamic offense to the defensive-oriented Jets.

With Johnson now in the fold, are the Jets a clear No. 2 in the AFC East? Should Dolphins fans be worried?

We asked Miami fans on Twitter to weigh in on the new-look Jets with “CJ2K.” The reaction was mixed.

 
The Miami Dolphins selected the highest-rated defensive player in the draft last year in defensive end Dion Jordan. Miami and former general manager Jeff Ireland made a bold move to trade up nine spots with the Oakland Raiders to get the former Oregon star at No. 3 overall.

Joseph
Jordan
But Jordan’s first year was not what the Dolphins expected. Jordan finished with just 26 tackles and two sacks.

So how does Jordan -- last year's top defensive prospect -- rank with this year’s top defensive player: Jadaveon Clowney? ESPN.com’s Dolphins blog asked resident scout Matt Williamson this week about the Jordan-Clowney comparison.

According to Williamson, Clowney ranks ahead of Jordan coming out of college.

“If Jordan came out this year, he wouldn’t be the third overall pick,” Williamson explained. “Jordan is not Clowney. There was a really weak draft at the top [last year].”

Many consider the 2014 draft to be one of the deepest in years due to the record amount of juniors who declared this year. Jordan also left after his junior season but proved to be a raw prospect. Miami’s coaching didn’t quite know how to use the freakish athlete. They made him a backup defensive end to use on third down and he also became a key member of special teams.

Jordan did not appear to be an ideal fit for Miami’s 4-3 defense last season. Miami’s coaches were nervous about playing him against the run on first and second down. Jordan must add strength to his thin frame in order to be an every-down player. Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said recently at the NFL owners meetings that they plan to get Jordan on the field more in 2014.

“For him to survive in a pretty base 4-3, Jordan needs to be Von Miller and not Jared Allen,” Williamson explained. “Miller plays off the line of scrimmage a fair amount. They drop him in coverage a lot and he rushes the passer on third down. Maybe that’s who Jordan should be.”
Jamar Taylor, Dion Jordan and Will Davis AP Photo, Getty ImagesJamar Taylor, Dion Jordan and Will Davis made a minimal impact as rookies.
Most of the attention over the next three weeks will be focused on the 2014 NFL draft, as each team tries to shape its present and future by identifying the right college players to fill needs.

But for the Miami Dolphins, success or failure this season will depend more on the development of the 2013 draft class. Few teams got less production from their rookies last year than Miami. Only the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks had fewer snaps from first-year players -- and those teams, which competed in Super Bowl XLVIII, were stacked with established veterans.

The Dolphins, who faltered down the stretch and finished 8-8, did not have that luxury.

It's time for Miami's second-year players to come of age during an important time for many within the organization. Head coach Joe Philbin is entering an important third year after going 15-17 his first two seasons, and there could be a lot of change next year if the Dolphins aren't successful.

Most of Miami's top picks -- including defensive end Dion Jordan, offensive lineman Dallas Thomas and cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Will Davis -- basically had red-shirt seasons in 2013, thanks to injuries, inconsistency and lack of confidence from the coaching staff. That lack of production was one reason why the Dolphins failed to get to the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year.

"They got less than anybody in the league out of their draft class, and they had high picks. That's a huge issue," ESPN.com NFL scout Matt Williamson said. "But if that group, the corners and especially Jordan, can play up to what Miami thought they were and what most people thought they were, the Dolphins could rebound."

"We have a lot of hope for the draft class from last year," Philbin said at the NFL owners meetings in late March. "A lot of them have been back early, working. You want to see development throughout the course of an individual player's career, but I think all of you guys would agree you usually see a significant jump between Year 1 and Year 2. These are guys we thought highly of a year ago when we drafted them.

"They had some injury issues that kind of curtailed their development in Year 1. So I'm excited about working with them, developing them and seeing them progress here this season."

The 2013 draft class was one point of contention last year between Miami's coaching staff and the front office. Philbin didn't feel his rookies were ready to take on larger roles. Jeff Ireland, then the Dolphins' general manager, believed in the talent of his draft picks and felt they were not being used properly. Jordan, the No. 3 overall pick in 2013, was perhaps the biggest example.

Due to offseason shoulder surgery, Jordan missed time in training camp and the preseason. He never found his footing in the regular season and he fell behind veteran defensive ends Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon and Derrick Shelby.

Williamson described Jordan as "a ridiculous athlete." He has immense potential but spent most of the season as the third or fourth defensive end and on special teams. He was involved in 321 snaps and had a disappointing 26 tackles and two sacks.

There have also been offseason trade rumors involving Jordan, which Philbin has denied. Miami's head coach expects Jordan to have a larger role in 2014.

"We feel like with a full offseason, with more time devoted to his fundamentals, he will have a better grasp of the position he's playing," Philbin said. "We do want to do a better job with the numbers, rotating him in. ... We want to get him more snaps on first and second down. "

The Dolphins also are counting on young corners Taylor and Davis, who were drafted in the second and third round, respectively. Both had injury setbacks last season and played a combined 104 snaps.

Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes will occupy one starting job, and Taylor and Davis will compete with veteran free-agent acquisition Cortland Finnegan for the other spot. Finnegan, a former Pro Bowl corner, is the favorite to start due to experience. But Philbin is not going in with any preconceived notions.

"I want to see the best player, whoever can help us win football games," Philbin explained. "Whoever performs the best should be the starting corner."

Miami got most of its rookie production last year from unlikely sources. Fifth-round kicker Caleb Sturgis proved to be the Dolphins' best rookie acquisition last season. He beat out longtime Miami kicker Dan Carpenter in training camp and led the Dolphins with 111 points.

The Dolphins also had decent production from undrafted rookie guard Sam Brenner, who made four starts and played 274 snaps. Brenner stepped up following the suspension of guard Richie Incognito in Miami's high-profile bullying scandal.

Brenner's production highlighted the fact that Thomas, a 2013 third-round pick, was too green to step in and be productive. Thomas was rotated between guard and tackle in training camp and never got comfortable in either position. Thomas must find a home at this season in order to provide quality depth.

In fact, it will be vital for Miami's entire 2013 draft class to find roles and contribute next season. The Dolphins used nine draft picks last year, and most have yet to make an impact.

"The Dolphins have a young quarterback [Ryan Tannehill], so they need to build a real core for the long term," Williamson said. "They need last year's draft and this upcoming come to build around Tannehill. They don't need to live for today. A strong core is more important than winning it all this year, although that philosophy can get you fired in Miami if you're 6-10."
The Miami Dolphins have approximately $16.4 million in salary-cap room remaining. But the team is at the point where they are bargain hunting in free agency and preparing for the NFL draft.

Miami spent big in free agency during the first week, and that included its $47 million contract to Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert. But the key portion of that contract is guaranteed money, and according to ESPN Stats & Information, Albert got the second-most guaranteed money in free agency this year with $26 million.

The Dolphins clearly are heavily invested in Albert protecting the blindside of third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill. These two players will be closely linked together in the success of Miami’s offense next season and potentially beyond. Miami allowed a franchise-record 58 quarterback sacks last season, and Albert is expected to reduce that number.

Albert has a tall task of stopping the opposing team’s best pass-rusher on a weekly basis. But he is being compensated well for his services.

Albert’s guaranteed money is only surpassed by Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd, who received $26.3 million in guaranteed money after leaving the Buffalo Bills for the New Orleans Saints this offseason. New Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib was slightly behind Albert with $25.5 million in guarantees.

MIAMI -- The Miami Dolphins added depth to their receiver group by signing free-agent Damian Williams Thursday to a one-year, $800,000 contract, a source told ESPN.com.

Williams, 25, is a former third-round pick of the Tennessee Titans in 2010. He caught a career-low 15 receptions for 178 yards in 10 games last season.

The Dolphins are searching for healthy veteran wide receivers to add depth behind starters Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline. Backups Brandon Gibson (knee) and Armon Binns are both coming off season-ending knee injuries.
We are about one month away from the 2014 NFL draft, when the Miami Dolphins will be on the clock with the No. 19 overall pick. The Dolphins still have some well-defined needs despite making several upgrades in free agency.

Several players in recent weeks have been linked to the Dolphins at No. 19. But ESPN.com draft expert Todd McShay provided his latest projection for Miami on Thursday, and it’s not a player you would expect.


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The 2014 season is important for many within the Miami Dolphins' organization. One of those people facing plenty of pressure to perform this upcoming season is third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Tannehill
Tannehill was drafted No. 8 overall in 2012. Since then he is 15-17 as a starter and has never posted a winning season. Tannehill has shown flashes of ability but has been unable to end Miami's five-year playoff drought.

ESPN NFL analyst Keyshawn Johnson caught up with Tannehill during the Adidas football shoot in Los Angeles. Tannehill knows this is an important third season to prove he's the long-term solution in Miami.

"It's huge. I have to make a big jump, I'm aware of that," Tannehill said. "I’m putting in the work, putting in the time to get myself physically ready, mentally ready and learn this new offense that we’re going with this year. So there is still work to be done.

"But I look for a big jump in myself, both in production and wins. That’s what we ultimately play for is wins. So, I’m excited to see what this team does."

The Dolphins finished 8-8 last season and missed the playoffs by one game. Tannehill and Miami's offense sputtered down the stretch and scored just seven points in the final two games. That led to the firing of offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, who was replaced by Bill Lazor.

Miami made several additions to help Tannehill in free agency. The Dolphins added Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert to improve pass protection and new tailback Knowshon Moreno to provide a spark in the running game.

But the Dolphins' season will sink or swim with Tannehill's development. ESPN analyst and former NFL general manager Bill Polian believes Tannehill needs to make quicker decisions.

“He needs to get the ball out of his hands more quickly to hit open receivers,” Polian said on ESPN’s “NFL Insiders” Wednesday. “In doing that it will increase passing-game efficiency and eliminate some of those league-leading 58 sacks.”

In case you missed it, here is my full column on Tannehill entering Year 3.
The Miami Dolphins are sixth in the NFL thus far with 10 new players in free agency. First-year general manager Dennis Hickey continues to make over the roster following last year’s disappointing 8-8 season.

The Dolphins still have flexibility to make a move in free agency. Miami is currently $16.46 million under the salary cap, according to NFLPA records. The Dolphins have 62 players under contract.

Only six teams have more cap space than Miami. The Cleveland Browns ($30.8 million) and New York Jets ($26.2 million) lead the way in salary-cap room. The Dolphins are second in the AFC East with money left available to spend.

What does this mean for Miami? Don’t expect the team to go on another spending spree. The Dolphins made their choice to spend big on players this offseason such as left tackle Branden Albert ($47 million) and defensive tackle Earl Mitchell ($18 million). The remainder of free agency will be spent bargain hunting.

Miami still has several well-defined needs, such as guard and right tackle. The Dolphins also could use depth at several positions such as safety and linebacker.

They also need to keep space available for this year’s rookie class. Miami has seven selections in next month’s NFL draft, including the No. 19 overall pick.
The Miami Dolphins hosted former Marshall offensive tackle Garrett Scott for a pre-draft visit on Monday, according to a source. Scott, who is listed at 6-foot-5 and 294 pounds, was a three-year starter for the Thundering Herd.

Scott played guard and tackle in college. The Dolphins often are intrigued by players with position flexibility, especially on the offensive line. Each team gets 30 pre-draft visits, and Scott could be a target of interest for Miami later in the draft.

The Dolphins have already made significant changes to their offensive line this offseason. They signed veteran guard Shelley Smith and offensive tackles Branden Albert and Jason Fox in free agency.
 

The much anticipated release of three-time Pro Bowl running back Chris Johnson took place on Friday. The former Tennessee Titans star was cut by the team after failed attempts to make a trade.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter had an interesting nugget that the Miami Dolphins were one of several teams trying to acquire Johnson in a trade this offseason. ESPN.com Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky also writes the Buffalo Bills and Dolphins were teams with the most interest.

Here are some thoughts on what this means for Miami:
  • Despite public comments on the contrary, the Dolphins were not happy with their tailbacks from last season: Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas. Miami general manager Dennis Hickey and coach Joe Philbin were asked several times in the past three months about the position, and the company line has been “We like our running backs.” But behind the scenes, the Dolphins were clearly trying to maneuver for an upgrade.
  • Along those lines, the Dolphins wound up signing former Denver Broncos starting running back Knowshon Moreno. He’s not nearly as dynamic as Johnson. But Moreno brings certain elements to Miami such as proven short-yardage success and being strong in pass protection. Miami's interest in Johnson most likely decreased after signing Moreno. But it will be interesting to see if interest in Johnson will pick up now that he's a free agent.
  • Nearly the entire AFC East had interest in Johnson. The Dolphins, Buffalo Bills and New York Jets all reportedly engaged in trade talks with the Titans. These are the three teams trying to catch the AFC East champion New England Patriots. Johnson is the type of player who can help close the gap in the division. I think the Jets would be the best AFC East fit at this stage.
It has been a busy offseason for the Miami Dolphins. Coming off a disappointing 8-8 season, the Dolphins made several changes in the front office, by hiring new general manager Dennis Hickey, and within the coaching staff, by hiring new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor.


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The Miami Dolphins continue to bargain hunt in free agency. The Dolphins will host free-agent wide receiver Nate Burleson on Thursday, a league source confirmed to ESPN.com.

Steve Wyche of the NFL Network first reported the visit.

Miami has solid depth at wide receiver. But it’s clear first-year general manager Dennis Hickey is looking to add as much competition as possible across the roster. Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline are Miami’s starting receivers. But Brandon Gibson, who is returning from injury, Rishard Matthews, Armon Binns and others are competing for roles.

Burelson, a 12-year veteran, caught 39 passes for 461 yards and one touchdown with the Detroit Lions last season. He’s also suffered various injuries each of the past two seasons.
New Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Jason Fox developed a reputation as being "injury prone" during his four-year stint with the Detroit Lions. It’s not the kind of title you want to have in the NFL.

Fox
But Fox, 25, said Wednesday during a conference call with the Miami media that his multiple injuries are behind him. The Dolphins signed Fox to a one-year contract to add depth on the offensive line.

“Obviously, that’s in the past,” Fox said of his injuries. “I mean, I started 47 straight games at [The University of] Miami. I had some bad luck early in my career, but that’s over. I feel 100 percent healthy.”

Fox will have a chance to compete at right tackle this season. It’s a thin position that currently includes career backup Nate Garner and unproven 2013 draft pick Dallas Thomas. The Dolphins also may add a top draft pick to the mix next month.

Injuries are what kept Fox out of the lineup in Detroit. He was on pace to win the starting right tackle job last year with the Lions before getting hurt last fall.

Fox returns to Miami, where he was a star player for the Hurricanes. He's another piece added to the mix of the Dolphins' makeover on the offensive line.

“I’m very comfortable with South Florida; I consider it a second home for me,” Fox explained. “Obviously the main reason was the Miami Dolphins. I’m just so excited to be here. The offensive line presents a great opportunity for me to compete.”

According to Fox, he’s comfortable playing in a zone-blocking scheme, which will be the foundation of Miami’s offensive line. The Dolphins are trying to build competition at right tackle, but Fox must stay healthy in order to make a difference.
The Miami Dolphins invested $3 million this season in tailback Knowshon Moreno to boost their 26th-ranked running game. Due to his production last season and experience, Moreno is projected to be the Week 1 starter in Miami.

Moreno
But former longtime Indianapolis Colts general manager and ESPN analyst Bill Polian is not impressed with the signing. Polian graded Moreno as a “C” free agent.

Here were Polian’s comments on ESPN.com’s free-agent tracker:
“Solid contributor, but not a No. 1 back. I think most of his success from 2013 was a function of the system. His acceleration to the hole is the reason for the speed minus. The rest of his game is good, he just doesn't hit the big plays you need from a No. 1 RB.”

As Polian mentioned, many believe Moreno was a product of Denver Broncos’ system. He was a former first-round bust until future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning arrived in Denver. Those same large running lanes will not be there in Miami.

The Dolphins are expecting Moreno to be their No. 1 option to help third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas could not get the job done last season. Miami is hoping at least one of those two players will improve their game in a complimentary role.

It was a tough free-agent market for running backs. Moreno is coming off a career year where he rushed for 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns. But Moreno said he only talked to the Dolphins before signing a one-year contract last week.

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