Dolphins' Ireland has given himself draft options

After spending big in free agency, Dolphins have flexibility in draft

"I wanted to know how he's handled it and how he's moving forward from it," Jeff Ireland on hosting Manti Te'o.

OK, the Dolphins' top pick won't be a wide receiver, considering ...

"I think that is the strength of our football team now,'' Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland said.

And their No. 12 pick doesn't have to be a cornerback, considering …

"I feel very good about him right now,'' Ireland said of free-agent signee Brent Grimes' recovery from an Achilles' injury.

In the next couple of weeks, you'll hear every side of possibility for this Dolphins draft: of how they should trade up for one of three top-rated offensive tackles; of how they need another cornerback; of how the big tight end will work; even how a guard is the best buy.

Ireland, of course, is under the microscope again. It seems every offseason that's the case. Some of that's well-earned. Some of it is due to this offseason's treasure trove of free-agent money and draft picks.

Ireland sounded more relaxed Thursday than in recent years, perhaps because this offseason has answered some crucial problems already. And, it's true, any NFL team can look as if they've spent their way out of trouble in March if they write enough free-agent checks.

But best thing you can say about Ireland's work thus far this offseason is how the Dolphins have married what free agency offered to the draft's strengths so that they don't desperately need any particular position with the top pick.

Oh, they need help desperately. They need offensive linemen. They need a cornerback. They need across-the-roster talent upgrades after four consecutive non-winning seasons.

But what they mostly need is the biggest chance for a star with the 12th pick, someone who sticks around for a decade, considering they haven't kept hold of such a player since Jason Taylor.

That was 1997. Taylor, of course, is retired now. That's how long it's been. And they're not going anywhere until they get a handful of players of his talent.

The biggest question of the draft, really the key to it, is Jonathan Martin. Who is he? Or, better, what is the second-year Dolphin? A left tackle? A right tackle?

At season's end, a Dolphins insider said how Martin struggled to become comfortable for 12 games at right tackle and instantly warmed to left tackle when replacing the injured Jake Long over the final four games.

Most draft analysts have five offensive linemen — three left tackles and two guards — going before the Dolphins' pick. If one of them falls to the Dolphins, however, Ireland figures to wrestle with a decision.

"We're going to try to upgrade the offensive line as a whole,'' Ireland said.

Martin's development has to factor in here. If he's indeed a left tackle, that lessens the need for one. There's no need to take a right tackle that high.

Guard? The Dolphins have drafted one in the first round in their history (Roy Foster, 1982, with the 24th pick). There's a reason for that. It breaks the prime tenet of drafting of player that high who scores touchdowns, sacks quarterbacks or makes game-changing plays on defense.

Guards don't fit that bill. But the two expected to go high — Alabama's Chance Warmack and North Carolina's Jonathan Cooper — are talked about like perennial Pro Bowl players.

Ultimately, the question is whether Ireland moves up to take one of these linemen or sees if one falls to him. The fallback plan looks like Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes or tight end Tyler Eifert.

The tie-breaker there might be Eifert's help for quarterback Ryan Tannehill. He's not just a tight end who's strong enough to block and swift enough to cause matchup problems. He also is the big (6 feet 7) target this team lacks in the red zone.

Unlike last year, this Dolphins' draft will depend on what happens before them. A year ago at this time, Ireland knew Tannehill would be the pick. Now?

"There are a lot of different things that I'm playing through my head that [coach Joe Philbin] and I are talking about,'' Ireland said.

Two weeks to go. They're on the clock. And the good news if you're a Dolphins fan is enough holes have been filled in free agency to give options on draft night.

 

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