NFL Nation: Walt Aikens

Dolphins offseason wrap-up

May, 23, 2014
May 23
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With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the Miami Dolphins' offseason moves.

[+] EnlargeBranden Albert
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesThe Dolphins are counting on Branden Albert to help solidify their offensive line.
Best move: The Dolphins made their first offseason move their best one. On the first day of free agency, Miami signed Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert to a $47 million contract. It was a hefty price to pay, but the Dolphins were forced to do something dramatic to improve their offensive line. Miami allowed a franchise-record 58 sacks last season. Albert is one of the best tackles in the NFL and will immediately solidify protection on quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s blind side. Miami is expected to have four new starters on its offensive line this season.

Riskiest move: The Dolphins took on a pair of major medical risks in their secondary. Miami signed projected starting safety Louis Delmas and potential starting cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who both come with durability issues. Delmas and Finnegan have missed a combined 17 games the past two seasons with various injuries. Yet, the Dolphins are counting on both to stay healthy and provide a veteran presence in the secondary. The good news is Miami signed Delmas and Finnegan to one-year, “show-me” contracts to see if both players can stay healthy. Delmas and Finnegan will be motivated to prove critics wrong during contract years.

Most surprising move: First-year general manager Dennis Hickey was expected to make a big splash. However, Hickey had a low-key draft that surprisingly included five of eight players from non-BCS schools. The Dolphins drafted players from North Dakota State, Montana, Liberty, Coastal Carolina and Marist. Prospects such as offensive lineman Billy Turner, cornerback Walt Aikens, linebacker Jordan Tripp, receiver Matt Hazel and defensive end Terrence Fede all come to Miami with a lot to prove. Hickey proved that he is more focused on “traits” than big names. Whether that works for the Dolphins remains to be seen.

Competition is rising: The AFC East got stronger due to the offseason aggressiveness from Miami's division rivals. The New England Patriots made a pair of bold moves to sign cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. The New York Jets signed former Pro Bowl tailback Chris Johnson and wide receiver Eric Decker. The Buffalo Bills were aggressive in trading up to draft dynamic wide receiver Sammy Watkins and trading for veteran receiver Mike Williams. The Dolphins have struggled within the division. They are just 4-8 against the AFC East the past two years.

Miami Dolphins draft wrap-up

May, 10, 2014
May 10
NFC wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

DAVIE, Fla. -- A wrap-up of the Miami Dolphins' draft. Click here for a full list of Dolphins draftees.

[+] EnlargeJu'Wuan James
AP Photo/Wade PayneThe Dolphins targeted right tackle Ja'Wuan James, and they got him with the 19th overall pick.
Best move: The Dolphins, as expected, plugged their biggest hole of need in the first round. Miami spent the No. 19 overall pick to select former Tennessee right tackle Ja'Wuan James. He was a durable, four-year starter whom Miami believes will be ready to play in Week 1. The only question with this pick is whether Miami had to take James at No. 19. The Dolphins were talking to other teams about trading down to acquire more picks and perhaps could have landed James in the 20s, but Miami says it was safer to take James, whom general manager Dennis Hickey says was the best player on the board. If James turns out to be a quality starter for a long time, no one will care that James was taken at No. 19 instead of later in the first round. James will pair with Pro Bowler Branden Albert as Miami's two new offensive tackles in 2014.

Riskiest move: The Dolphins didn't make a lot of risky moves in this draft, but fourth-round pick Walt Aikens comes with a red flag. Aikens was kicked out of Illinois after his arrest for felony possession of stolen electronics in 2010. According to Aikens, he bought a laptop from a teammate that turned out to be stolen. Aikens pleaded guilty to misdemeanor theft and was forced to leave Illinois. He continued his career at Liberty and worked his way into a fourth-round pick. The Dolphins did their homework into Aikens' background and felt he was worthy of the selection. According to's Gil Brandt, Aikens was the first player drafted who wasn't invited to the NFL combine. Aikens said Saturday that he wants to compete for a starting job right away, but his best chance most likely is to compete on special teams.

Most surprising move: After playing it safe on Day 1, the Dolphins were wheeling and dealing on Day 2. Hickey produced three trades with the San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders in the second and third rounds, respectively. Miami traded down twice and moved up once. The result was the Dolphins drafting LSU wide receiver Jarvis Landry at the end of the second round and offensive lineman Billy Turner near the top of the third round. Both players are expected to add depth to Miami's roster. But it was surprising to see Hickey, in his first draft, do a complete 180 in terms of aggressiveness on Friday.

File it away: Leadership was a major issue in Miami in 2013. The Dolphins went through a bullying scandal that caused a media firestorm and suffered a late-season collapse while having a chance to make the playoffs. Five of Miami’s first six drafted players -- James, Landry, Turner, tight end Arthur Lynch and linebacker Jordan Tripp -- were team captains for their respective college teams. That was not a coincidence. Hickey made it a point to acquire natural leaders to place in Miami’s locker room. The Dolphins are putting a heavy emphasis on character at the top of this draft as they work to remake their locker-room image.