Here's a breakdown of all the things I THINK I know heading into Tuesday's 4 p.m. start to the 2014 NFL season, which kicks off with the start of free agency.
1. All the big name players haven't been released YET. The Steelers, Panthers and Cowboys still have some fat to trim, and DeMarcus Ware and Steve Smith are on the chopping block because of their contracts, or roster bonuses. It will be interesting to see the final total of cut players - salary purges - since last season concluded. The new CBA was supposed to protect the veterans, and all it did was make them more expendable.
2. It appears the Dolphins will let all their free agents test the market, and the odds of Miami re-signing any are slim. At least not in the first few days of free agency. It appears new GM Dennis Hickey and coach Joe Philbin are interested in starting fresh, creating a new roster YET again. Good luck to them, and they'll need it because this duo has to produce a winning season to survive the constant churning of regimes this franchise has been experiencing since 2006.
3. The Dolphins have explored a couple of free agent tailbacks, kicking the tires, listening to pitches, but I'm told Hickey prefers to draft one, and has his eyes on a couple in the 2014 draft class. It is possible the Dolphins could get one of the top three backs in this draft class by using the team's second-round pick. If Miami doesn't sign a veteran tailback the running back class goes to the top of my list of positions to evaluate.
4. Say goodbye to Paul Soliai and Randy Starks, who are both expected to sign lucrative multi-year deals that will provide them more money than the Dolphins had on the table heading into Tuesday. I expect one of these defensive linemen to end up in Atlanta, playing for former Dolphins defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, and the other to end up in Minnesota, playing for defensive coordinator George Edwards. It is going to hurt my heart to say goodbye to "The Brotherhood," but that's part of the business. Whom the Dolphins sign to help fill their void will be interesting. Miami has expressed interest in Texans nose tackle Earl Mitchell, but he won't be cheap.
5. I wouldn't be surprised if a couple of former Packers - receiver James Jones, defensive tackle B.J. Raji, tight end Jermichael Finley and center Evan Dietrich-Smith - ends up in Miami. I think Philbin's first mistake was not adding more former Packers to his Dolphins team when he arrived. That could have helped the locker room understand him and his ways better, assisting in the development of his culture. When Bill Parcells arrived in 2008 he brought his guys and it helped pave the way.
6. Cutting Dimitri Patterson isn't a move I support, or agree with because he was a productive player when healthy. Expensive, but productive. All removing Patterson from the mix did was put pressure on Jamar Taylor and Will Davis to perform, and make cornerback a NEW need the Dolphins must either address in free agency, or the draft. I've always been a fan of Asante Samuel, a South Florida native, and he might be productive in a limited role for the Dolphins. Samuel has pulled down 51 interceptions in his 11 seasons. His experience would benefit this young group.
7. Hickey might have ties to Darrelle Revis, but that doesn't stop the bad deal he signed with Tampa Bay last season from botching any possibility of a trade to Miami. Revis' deal is probably the worst NFL deal I've ever seen. It is a series of one-year contracts that a team options into each year by paying Revis a $1.5 million roster bonus on the first day of the new league year (tomorrow). After that bonus the team is on the hook for a $1.5 million workout bonus, and $13 million a year in base salary. So basically, Revis is on the books EACH YEAR for $16 million. That's about what it would cost for a team to sign Vontae Davis and Aqib Talib. Not one good NFL starting cornerback, but two. A team could get an upper echelon cornerback and sign Bills safety Jairus Byrd for what it would cost them to carry Revis salary. PASS!
8. Once the deal for Branden Albert is finalized with the Dolphins a lot of the pressure the front office was facing to rebuild a mediocre offensive line will be alleviated. They will have added the only Pro Bowl free agent offensive lineman available. Albert isn't my first pick, for various reasons, but he's a solid NFL starting left tackle. The first three years of his contract is what I'll be paying attention to. SHOW ME THE GUARANTEED MONEY! If the Dolphins add a starting offensive guard (Zane Beadles is my top choice) Miami should be set until the draft. I believe it would be ideal for the Dolphins to draft an offensive tackle (Morgan Moses), a guard (Wesley Johnson) and center (Gabe Ikard) this year so the youngsters can be developed. Even if they aren't ready right away to man the vacant right tackle and right guard spot the Dolphins can use Nate Garner, Dallas Thomas and Sam Brenner to bridge the gap. Or they could sign a stop-gap option for $2 million or less.
9. I'm curious to see the efforts Hickey makes to weaken the Patriots, Bills and Jets. If I were a GM I'd target my division rivals top players, raising the bidding price on most of their free agents. Trust me, the Patriots do that to Miami all the time. Sometimes it is a good strategy to play keep away, and making sure LeGarrette Blount and Julian Edelman get away from New England could benefit Miami in the long run. Keep in mind, I'm not talking about players the Patriots already plan to move on from, like Brandon Spikes. The Jets are creating a treasure chest of cap space, but they've also cut some good players to do so. If the Jets end up with Michael Vick on Wednesday that will be troubling because Rex Ryan's team was already 8-8 with mediocre quarterback play. Can you imagine if that QB was a healthy Vick? As long at the Bills don't retain Byrd there's nothing to fear about Buffalo.
10. A final warning to everyone that goes overboard on free agents: Free agency isn't the way to build a winning franchise. These players are nothing more than expensive band-aides most of the time.
G.G.G.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun