Miami Dolphins: 2014 NFL free agency

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.

 
The Miami Dolphins made another acquisition to their receiver corps Thursday evening. The team signed veteran receiver Damian Williams to a one-year, $800,000 contract, according to a source.

Williams, a former third-round pick spent the previous four seasons with the Tennessee Titans. His best year was in 2011, when he caught 45 receptions for 592 yards. However, Williams caught a career-low 15 receptions for 178 yards in 10 games last season.

With that in mind, let's update Miami's depth at wide receiver:
The Dolphins have plenty of depth with eight wide receivers. The team signed Williams, Cone and Rios in free agency. Gibson and Binns also are returning from a pair of season-ending knee injuries.

Wallace and Hartline are locks as starters. Matthews, Gibson and Williams will all compete for backup roles in new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor's scheme. Barring injury, Binns, Cone and Rios will compete for roster spots.
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.
 

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.
The Miami Dolphins are having a busy offseason signing free agents. But how good are these players?

ESPN.com’s Dolphins page is tapping into our NFL Nation reporters to get a full scouting report on Miami’s newest crop of free agents.

ESPN.com St. Louis Rams reporter Nick Wagoner shares his thoughts on new Dolphins cornerback Cortland Finnegan and guard Shelley Smith:
“Finnegan got off to a great start in his first year with the Rams, picking off three passes in his first three games to open 2012. It was mostly downhill from there. He battled soft tissue injuries for most of the rest of his time in St. Louis before an eye injury ended his 2013 season early. He's a great locker room-presence but has long relied on savvy and toughness because he's only an average athlete by NFL cornerback standards. Much of that athleticism has seemed to dissipate and savvy and toughness only goes so far.

“Smith is a bit undersized but what he lacks in size he makes up for in quickness. He's at his best as a run blocker, especially when he can use his athleticism to get to the second level and is best used in a zone-blocking scheme. He also has a tendency to get overpowered by bigger, more physical fronts, which he saw plenty of in the NFC West. As a pass blocker, Smith leaves much to be desired. He has a tendency to be a bit of a leaner, which often leaves him off balance and gets him beat. He still has some upside and could succeed if used right but was best served as a primary backup on the interior in St. Louis.”

Interesting analysis by Wagoner on both players. The major question with Finnegan is how much does he have left in the tank? As Wagoner mentioned, Finnegan relied on toughness and smarts his entire career. But with his body breaking down, can the Dolphins rely on that for the next season or two?

Smith appears to be a good fit for Miami’s offensive line. The Dolphins are going for smaller, quicker linemen who can move in space. John Jerry and Richie Incognito -- last year’s starting guards -- were too big and slow to get to the next level consistently. But Smith’s inconsistent pass blocking is an issue, especially after the Dolphins allowed a franchise-record 58 quarterback sacks last season.

In case you missed it, here is an in-depth scouting report on new Dolphins safety Louis Delmas and right tackle Jason Fox from ESPN.com Detroit Lions reporter Michael Rothstein.
The Miami Dolphins had a busy offseason turning over their roster under first-year general manager Dennis Hickey. But how good is Miami's newest free-agent crop?

We tapped into our talented network of reporters to get an in-depth scouting report on the players coming to Miami. This is honest feedback from the writers who covered the Dolphins' newest players up close.

We start Thursday with two free agents signed from the Detroit Lions last year: safety Louis Delmas and offensive tackle Jason Fox. Here is ESPN.com Lions reporter Michael Rothstein's take on both players:
Louis Delmas was always an intriguing player with Detroit. He had a lot of talent and became one of the emotional leaders of the Lions defense, but his main issue was staying healthy and being consistent. His knees wore on him throughout the final two years with Detroit, limiting him to essentially one practice a week during 2013, although he ended up playing in every game. He is a big hitter with the penchant for making the big play, but that got him in trouble at times. He knocked out his own teammate, Bill Bentley, with a hit during a game this season and his aggressiveness would sometimes cost the Lions with penalties. He is a high-risk, high-reward player. Through the first half of the 2013 season, he actually played well paired with Glover Quin, but he went back to some of his bad habits the second half of the season.

Jason Fox, who dealt with injuries throughout his four years with the Lions, had actually won the right tackle job out of training camp last season beating out veteran Corey Hilliard and rookie LaAdrian Waddle. By the end of the season, he may have been third on the depth chart behind both players after injuries derailed another season. In his four seasons, he played 13 games on the offensive line for Detroit and had injuries to his knee and his groin, among other places. He is the epitome of a talented player who could not stay healthy for more than a couple of games in a row.

Injuries seem to be the resounding theme. Delmas and Fox have the talent to contribute in Miami, according to Rothstein, but both players must overcome their lengthy injury histories in 2014.

I asked Fox about his prior injuries on Wednesday, and he believes his ailments are a thing of the past.

"I mean, I started 47 straight games at [The University of] Miami," Fox responded. "I had some bad luck early in my career, but that's over. I feel 100 percent healthy."
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 added depth and competition at right tackle Wednesday by signing Jason Fox to a one-year contract, the team announced.

Fox was primarily a backup with the Detroit Lions. He had just three starts in four seasons with Detroit. Fox also had durability issues, which derailed opportunities to start.

The Dolphins are hoping Fox can stay healthy and show his worth in Miami. He will be added to the mix at right tackle, where the team is currently thin. Fox is a University of Miami alum who knows South Florida well.

Dolphins to host OT Jason Fox

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The Miami Dolphins are bringing in free-agent offensive tackle Jason Fox for a visit this week, according to a league source. The Dolphins are searching for depth to fill their much-maligned offensive line, which struggled mightily last season.

Fox is a career backup with just three career starts with the Detroit Lions in four seasons. He is not the long-term answer for the Dolphins. But they need bodies at right tackle, where they only have the versatile Nate Garner and maybe 2013 third-round pick Dallas Thomas on the roster.

Fox also is an University of Miami alum who knows south Florida well. He was a fourth-round pick of the Lions in 2010.
DAVIE, Fla. -- It’s a new beginning for Miami Dolphins guard Shelley Smith. After stints as a backup with the Houston Texans and St. Louis Rams, Smith comes to Miami with expectations of being a full-time starter for the first time in his career.

Smith, who has eight career starts in three seasons, believes he is ready for a bigger role in Miami. The Dolphins' offensive line was torn apart last season due to a high-profile bullying scandal off the field and inconsistent play on the field.

Smith
"I’m very excited to get the opportunity," Smith said Tuesday. “Like always, you got to earn it. So I’m going to work my butt off to try to earn this starting spot on the offensive line.”

Smith also is experiencing a new beginning in his personal life. He was recently married in Arizona to his college sweetheart, Lindsey, just days after signing a two-year contract with the Dolphins. This was Smith's first meeting with the Miami media because he had to return to Arizona for his wedding.

According to Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey, Smith fits in well with the zone-blocking scheme Miami wants to run under new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. The Dolphins are looking for more athletic linemen who can move well in space.

“We’re excited to add Shelley Smith to the Miami Dolphins,” Hickey said. “Obviously we had some knowledge of Shelley through John Benton, our offensive line coach, who worked with Shelley. He had nothing but good things to say, not only the player but the person. That’s very important to us.”

Smith joins Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert as part of Miami’s offseason reclamation project on the offensive line. The Dolphins could have as many as four new starters. Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey is the only guaranteed holdover in the group.

The Dolphins were 26th in rushing and allowed a franchise-record 58 quarterback sacks in 2013.

“I think it will be a lot more improved,” Smith said of Miami's offensive line. “I think that they brought in some really good players, obviously. Albert’s a really good player and Pouncey’s a really good player. I think things are heading in the right direction with our O-line coach and a new coaching staff. There’s a lot of potential for our O-line to be really good.”
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.


The Miami Dolphins played coy with the running back question all offseason.

"We like our running backs," Miami general manager Dennis Hickey said Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings.

But actions speak louder than words in the NFL. The Dolphins recently showed significant interest in former Denver Broncos tailback Knowshon Moreno, which was a sign of admission that an upgrade was needed. On Thursday, the Dolphins added Moreno to the roster on a one-year contract, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Publicly, Miami's front office and coaching staff propped up the tailback duo of Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas. But the film and statistics do not lie. It was clear that Miller and Thomas didn't get the job done. It was too risky to try this pairing for another season.

The Dolphins were 26th in rushing last year, and neither Miller nor Thomas was good in pass protection and blitz pickups. Miami set a franchise record with 58 quarterback sacks allowed last season, and not every mishap was on the offensive line.

Moreno helps solve both issues. Not only is he coming off a career-high 1,038 rushing yards, but Moreno also is strong in pass protection. Both are assets to Miami's offense and third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Moreno is effective in short-yardage and goal-line situations, more areas where the Dolphins have struggled.

He brings the right mix to the Dolphins that should make him an immediate starter. Perhaps fewer carries will force Miller and Thomas to step up their games as well.

Moreno has a history of injuries. But a one-year contract offers little risk to the Dolphins. Chalk this up as another wise move for Hickey, Miami's first-year general manager.
The Miami Dolphins were busy during the first week of free agency. But they also have been careful not to overspend.

Miami had plenty of player movement recently by adding Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert, defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, safety Louis Delmas and cornerback Cortland Finnegan. The Dolphins also cut cornerback Dimitri Patterson, traded right tackle Jonathan Martin and let defensive tackle Paul Soliai and cornerback Nolan Carroll walk in free agency.

The end result is Miami still has plenty of flexibility remaining this offseason. As of Wednesday morning, the Dolphins have $19.186 million in cap room left, according to updated NFLPA records. That’s enough money to make several solid signings to fill the Dolphins' remaining holes. Miami is still searching for a starting guard, right tackle and running back.

Here is a look at the salary-cap situation throughout the AFC East:
The Jets have the most cap room in the AFC East. It is somewhat surprising that they haven’t made many major moves thus far. But one could be coming soon at the quarterback position.

New England has the least cap room remaining after signing Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis to a one-year, $12 million contract. That ate up much of New England’s cap this offseason. The Dolphins and Bills still have flexibility to get some quality players in free agency if they choose.
Here are the most interesting Miami Dolphins stories Wednesday from around the web:
  • Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post writes the Dolphins' free-agent options are dwindling.
  • Morning take: The first week of free agency usually is the busiest. The Dolphins made the immediate moves they felt necessary. Now it's time to bargain hunt.

  • Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald reports the Dolphins are in no rush to sign offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie.
  • Morning take: McKinnie says he will play on the left or right side in an effort to gain interest. That probably won't come from Miami unless other options in the draft and free agency don't pan out.

  • ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. discusses draft options for the Dolphins.
  • Morning take: It still looks like the offensive line for Miami. A guard and right tackle spot are wide open. A first-round pick could fill that void.

  • Omar Kelly of the Sun Sentinel wonders if Dolphins tailback Lamar Miller can be elite.
  • Morning take: Elite? That's a strong word and it's doubtful Miller will get to that level. But he's young and still has room to grow.

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