AFC East: Branden Albert
But even with Clabo on board, the Dolphins' biggest offseason question remains: Who is Miami's starting left tackle?
Clabo played right tackle nearly his entire career with the Falcons. He also started 10 games at right guard in 2006. But asking a 31-year-old veteran to make a tough switch with a new team and a new offense is probably asking too much. That makes 2012 second-round pick Jonathan Martin the favorite to protect quarterback Ryan Tannehill's blind side.
Is Martin up to the challenge? He played left tackle in college but was inconsistent as a rookie when filling in for the injured Jake Long. Martin's lack of strength and inexperience are two major questions. It's vital that Martin steps up his game in Year 2, which would allow Tannehill to also make the jump in his second season.
The Dolphins whiffed on their best chances for a pure left tackle this offseason. They didn't draft a left tackle, they failed to land Branden Albert in a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs and free-agent Bryant McKinnie re-signed with the Baltimore Ravens. It's also curious that the Dolphins passed over free-agent right tackle Eric Winston, who was a star at the University of Miami.
The Dolphins signed who they felt is the best right-tackle option, but they are taking a risk with Martin potentially on the left side. Martin's development is one of the biggest keys to Miami's success this upcoming season.
But the Dolphins still need a quality player to protect quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s blindside. Will the Dolphins still draft a left tackle or facilitate a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs for veteran Branden Albert?
Miami still has one second-round pick and two third-round picks at its disposal Friday. There is tremendous value still available in these rounds. But many of the top offensive linemen are already off the board.
Albert is a proven commodity, but he could require a second-round pick and a large contract extension. Although a lot can change Friday, Ireland didn’t seem too optimistic after the first round.
“Well, the Kansas City deal I can say is nowhere right now and neither is the [Davone] Bess one,” Ireland said. “Information gets out, but sometimes they’re not what they appear.”
If trade talks fall through and the Dolphins plan to draft a potential starter at left tackle, they must act fast. Scouts Inc. ranks Florida State’s Menelik Watson (89), Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s Terron Armstead (85) and Colorado’s David Bakhtiari (72) as the best available offensive tackles. There will be mostly projects available after the second round.
There is a lot of momentum for this trade to get done in the next 24 hours. The Chiefs hold the No. 1 overall pick and are expected to take one of the top two left tackles: Luke Joeckel or Eric Fisher. The third-rated tackle, Lane Johnson, also is expected to go into the top 10 and would not be available to the Dolphins.
It’s no secret that Miami is desperate for a left tackle. Instead of giving up multiple picks to move up, which I did in this week’s blogger mock draft, the Dolphins may feel it’s best to give up a second-round pick for an older, proven left tackle.
Albert, 28, has 71 career starts in five years for Kansas City but has never been to the Pro Bowl. The Dolphins have been very aggressive in free agency. Albert currently has the one-year franchise tag and reportedly wants $8 million or $9 million per season.
- Pros: Albert’s skills fit in well with Miami. He’s started 71 games the past five years and is a former first-round draft pick. Reportedly, Kansas City was willing to lower its asking price to Miami’s lowest second-round pick, which is No. 54 overall. That has jumpstarted trade discussions between the two one week before the NFL draft. Albert lives in Miami and is very comfortable in the area, which is important. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill also needs a reliable, blindside protector after four-time Pro Bowler Jake Long left Miami in free agency. Kansas City is expected to take a left tackle with the No. 1 overall pick, which makes Albert dispensable. For a low second-round pick, the move makes sense from a football standpoint for the Dolphins. Albert is more proven than any left tackle Miami could get in the draft, especially in the second round.
- Cons: The Dolphins would lose more than a draft pick in a swap with Kansas City. Albert, who is currently on a one-year franchise tag, is seeking long-term security and wants a big contract extension. Miami entered the offseason with more than $40 million worth of cap room. But sizable contracts for free agents Mike Wallace, Dannell Ellerbe, Philip Wheeler and Brian Hartline lowered that number significantly. Albert would be another big contract to add to Miami’s list during this busy offseason. The Dolphins’ cap will be tied up even further for the next few years with this 2013 free-agent crop. Is it worth losing a draft pick and paying a large extension to fill the offensive tackle position? We are about to find out in the next week.
Overall, this is a tricky decision for the Dolphins. Some may feel Miami would be better off drafting a younger left tackle (Lane Johnson?) who will be more affordable. Others may opt for the sure thing in Albert, even if it impacts Miami’s salary cap for the next few years. This is one of the toughest decisions Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland will make this offseason.
The Kansas City Chiefs are reportedly seeking a second-round pick in this year’s draft and an additional pick in 2014 for starting left tackle Branden Albert, according to Schefter. Albert was recently given the franchise tag by the Chiefs, but they are also the favorites for Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel with the No. 1 overall pick. So Kansas City is looking to move Albert.
But is the asking price too much for Miami?
The Dolphins have the draft capital and cap space to work out a trade with Kansas City. Miami is looking for a replacement at left tackle for former No. 1 overall pick Jake Long, who signed with the St. Louis Rams. However, Albert would be costly.
Not only would Miami have to trade a second-round pick and an additional pick next season, Albert is looking for a sizable, multi-year extension. The Dolphins just handed out big contracts to receiver Mike Wallace and Dannell Ellerbe in free agency. A third to Albert would further tighten Miami's salary cap for the next 2-3 years.
The Dolphins have more cost-effective options currently on the free-agent market, such as offensive tackles Eric Winston and Sebastian Vollmer. Both play primarily on the right side. That means Dolphins 2012 second-round pick Jonathan Martin would be a candidate to move to left tackle. But with this option, the Dolphins would keep their two draft picks and sign a starting offensive tackle at a more affordable rate.
Miami general manager Jeff Ireland has been free spending this offseason. But at some point the Dolphins need to pull back and tighten their pocketbooks. Albert is a good player, but the compensation and ensuing contract extension may be too costly for Miami.
Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: history in that spot.
The Bills' top pick is No. 3 overall. Here are the past seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL teams in parentheses:
2010: DT Gerald McCoy (Buccaneers)
2009: DE Tyson Jackson (Chiefs)
2008: QB Matt Ryan (Falcons)
2007: T Joe Thomas (Browns)
2006: QB Vince Young (Titans)
2005: WR Braylon Edwards (Browns)
2004: WR Larry Fitzgerald (Cardinals)
ANALYSIS: Some sexy picks have been made in this spot. None of the players have been out-and-out busts, although character concerns have overshadowed a couple. Only McCoy and Jackson haven't been selected for at least one Pro Bowl. Fitzgerald is an elite receiver, arguably the best in the business. Edwards can be a dangerous playmaker when not dropping passes, which he didn't do last year. Ryan is an emerging star. Young has been a lightning rod, but he did win rookie of the year and has gone to a pair of Pro Bowls. Thomas is a star blocker with four Pro Bowls on his résumé already.
The Dolphins' top pick is No. 15 overall. Here are the past seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL teams in parentheses:
2010: DE Jason Pierre-Paul (Giants)
2009: LB Brian Cushing (Texans)
2008: G Branden Albert (Chiefs)
2007: LB Lawrence Timmons (Steelers)
2006: CB Tye Hill (Rams)
2005: LB Derrick Johnson (Chiefs)
2004: WR Michael Clayton (Buccaneers)
ANALYSIS: This is a region of the first round where picks can break either way. There have been solid players drafted here, but no superstars. Cushing was a rookie of the year, but his career has been tainted by performance-enhancing drug usage. Clayton made an immediate impact with 80 catches for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie but hasn't caught more than 38 passes since. Johnson has been a solid linebacker for Kansas City, while Timmons has been an influential member of Pittsburgh's defense the past two seasons. Hill has been the biggest disappointment. He has been with four teams, starting 25 games.
New England Patriots
The Patriots' first-round picks are Nos. 17 and 28 overall. Here are the past seven players taken in those spots, with their NFL teams in parentheses:
2010: G Mike Iupati (49ers) and DE Jared Odrick (Dolphins)
2009: QB Josh Freeman (Buccaneers) and G Eric Wood (Bills)
2008: T Gosder Cherilus (Lions) and DE Lawrence Jackson (Seahawks)
2007: DE Jarvis Moss (Broncos) and T Joe Staley (49ers)
2006: LB Chad Greenway (Vikings) and TE Marcedes Lewis (Jaguars)
2005: LB David Pollack (Bengals) and DE Luis Castillo (Chargers)
2004: LB D.J. Williams (Broncos) and CB Chris Gamble (Panthers)
ANALYSIS: Results have been mixed with these slots, but the 28th pick actually has found more starters than the 17th in recent years. Freeman showed signs of developing into a future star last year, and Cherilus has started 40 of his 43 games at right tackle. Williams and Greenway have been regular starters. But Moss and Pollack didn't work out. In the 28th slot, Odrick is the only one who hasn't been a regular starter. Injuries detonated his rookie season.
New York Jets
The Jets' top pick is No. 30 overall. Here are the past seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL teams in parentheses:
2010: RB Jahvid Best (Lions)
2009: WR Kenny Britt (Titans)
2008: TE Dustin Keller (Jets)
2007: WR Craig Davis (Chargers)
2006: RB Joseph Addai (Colts)
2005: TE Heath Miller (Steelers)
2004: RB Kevin Jones (Lions)
ANALYSIS: What strikes me is that all seven selections not only are offensive players but also ball handlers. Perhaps teams in the back of the draft feel they can gamble a little bit and try to hit big on a skill position. Whatever the reasoning, it seems to have worked. This has been a successful spot. Jones and Addai rushed for 1,000 yards as rookies. Best appears to be the Lions' running back of the future. Miller and Addai have gone to Pro Bowls. Britt was the Titans' leading receiver last year. Keller is one of the NFL's better tight ends.
|Paul Jasienski/Getty Images|
|Jerod Mayo joined New England's defense as a rookie and contributed right away.|
At this time last year, educated experts and draftniks were predicting the New England Patriots, despite the need, would not draft an inside linebacker with their seventh overall selection.
Their logic was the player taken with such a premium pick would need to make an immediate impact, and Bill Belichick's 3-4 defensive system was too much for a rookie to absorb right away.
The Patriots traded back three slots and tabbed Tennessee inside linebacker Jerod Mayo. He started all 16 games, led the Patriots with 139 tackles and earned defensive rookie of the year honors.
So Mayo proved the theorists wrong.
Or did he?
Boston Globe reporter Christopher L. Gasper writes Mayo, contrary to production, wasn't the master of his domain. Mayo told Gasper he never fully grasped Belichick's complex system and relied on athleticism to mask his lack of awareness.
"To be honest, I feel like I can get so much better," Mayo said. "Last year I felt like the season I had was OK, but I felt like I could have made so many more plays, big plays especially. I've just been watching the games from last year and [working] in the weight room, just trying to get better and learn from these vets."
Mayo amassed tackles, but he didn't produce many game-changing plays. He had zero sacks, zero interceptions and one forced fumble.
"Playing linebacker, those are the types of things that you're expected to do -- make interceptions, force fumbles and things like that," Mayo said. "That's one aspect of my game that I'm looking forward to improving this year. The expectations I have for myself are to do those things, and that's what I expect to do this year."