There's no secret that the Miami Dolphins planned to rebuild last year's struggling offensive line, which sparingly opened running lanes, and allowed a franchise-record 58 sacks.
The Dolphins have been unsuccessful running a zone blocking scheme for two years because they don't have the pieces for it due to all the plodders on the line that requires athletes, not 350 pounders.
However, we don't get into possible options, and the various avenues the team could use - free agency and the draft - to improve the unit.
Clearly, the Dolphins need to find the most important pieces first, and that's the offensive tackles.
Last year the left tackles (Bryant McKinnie and Jonathan Martin) were responsible for 14 sacks, and Tyson Clabo, the starting right tackle, was on the hook for 11. That's 25 sacks from the offensive tackles, which is a little more than half what everyone but quarterback Ryan Tannehill was responsible for.
We can blame the offensive guards for the stagnant running game, especially when Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey missed games, or struggled with upper echelon defensive tackles, which was about four games in 2013. But the interior of the offensive line (John Jerry gave up five sacks, Pouncey allowed two sacks, Richie Incognito allowed six sacks in eight games, Nate Garner gave up two, and Sam Brenner allowed one) didn't compromise the Dolphins' pass protection.
That's why the edges of the offensive line NEED to be fortified.
Even if Martin hadn’t been the center of the locker room controversy, which sideswiped the 2013 season, there was some concern about his performance as a starting offensive tackle. He struggled at right tackle as a rookie, and didn’t blossom as Jake Long’s replacement as the starting left tackle, which explains why the Dolphins traded for McKinnie at midseason, and moved Martin back to the right side of the offensive line.
There was no guarantee Martin would have excelled at right tackle in the second half of the season because of concerns about his toughness and footwork. I suspected Martin might be kicked inside to right guard in 2014 because of his struggles. He's athletic enough to pull it off and that's a less stressful position.
No matter what the team decides to do with Martin - trade, release him, welcome him back - his struggles in his first two seasons hints the Stanford product might not be NFL starting material, at least not at offensive tackle. And it would be irresponsible not to factor in his mental instability, which hints that he can't be relied on.
McKinnie played well in spots as Martin's replacement, but he also struggled at times. Some of those struggles could be blamed on his inexperience with Miami's O-line. He was forced to play before he knew the offense, and his teammates. Some of those struggles can be blamed on the fact he'll turn 35 this season, and retirement is right around the corner.
McKinnie, who battled some knee issues last season, could serve as a stopgap option if re-signed. However, he'd need to get healthy and drop 20-30 pounds this offseason.
McKinnie told the Sun-Sentinel he doesn't intend on retiring, plans to play two more seasons, and hopes to do so in Miami, his hometown. Considering quality left tackles just aren't laying around everywhere, re-signing McKinnie should be a break-in-case of emergency measure considered.
But the Dolphins do have plenty of more favorable options at left tackle. But these options won't come cheap.
Kansas City’s Branden Albert, Baltimore’s Eugene Monroe, Carolina’s Jordan Gross, Cincinnati’s Anthony Collins and Oakland’s Jared Veldheer are the top free agent offensive linemen. However, there’s no guarantee all of these players will hit the free agent market. Some might receive the team’s franchise tag, which would make them virtually untouchable, and some might re-sign before the market opens.
Word on the street is that Albert, whom the Dolphins firted with trading for last draft, won't receive his second franchise tag from the Chiefs. And Kansas City also doesn't plan on re-signing him. Albert lives in South Florida during the offseason, but his price tag will be fairly high.
Last offseason the Dolphins balked at paying four-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long a four-year, $34 million contract that guaranteed him $20 million and averages $8.5 million millions a season. That decision allowed Long to sign with the St. Louis Rams. It will be interesting to see how much new general manager Dennis Hickey is willing to pay for to upgrade the left tackle spot.
The Dolphinns could also address the position with the team's first-round pick.
There are roughly seven offensive tackle draft prospects - Texas A&M's Jake Matthews, Auburn's Greg Robinson, Michigan's Taylor Lewan, Notre Dame's Zack Martin, Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio, Virginia's Morgan Moses and Tennessee's Antonio Richardson - who presently possess a top 60 prospect ranking (first two rounds). If the Dolphins wanted to go that route they would need to feel comfortable with these prospects, their medical history, their upside, their ability to handle the left tackle spot right away in the NFL.
There are no guarantees on draftees, and Martin's struggles as a second-round pick is the perfect example of this. Some of these offensive tackles - Zack Martin and Morgan Moses - might be better off as right tackles. And keep in mind just about every offensive lineman taken in the first round last year struggled.
Based on Hickey's approach to building a franchise, it doesn't appear he intends to leave positions of need for the draft like Jeff Ireland did. Therefore, we should expect the left tackle spot to be addressing in free agency.
The same goes for at least one of the starting offensive guard spots. Richie Incognito and John Jerry’s impending departure also means the Dolphins will need two new starters unless the team plans to move forward with Nate Garner, Sam Brenner, or Dallas Thomas as 16-game starters.
Garner has been a spot starter for five of his six seasons now, and there's a reason none of his coaches have ever trusted him to become a full-time starter during his tenure in Miami. I find it hard to imagine now is that time.
Brenner, an undrafted rookie from Utah, struggled in his starting stints as Incognito's replacement. But he has some upside, and so does Thomas, the team's third-round pick.
Thomas played left guard in his final season at Tennessee, but once he struggled to win a starting spot in training camp, and got abused in the exhibition season, Miami's coaches moved him to the right tackle spot. It is possible he could emerge as a possible starter - right tackle or guard - in his second NFL season. Keep in mind a shoulder injury contributed to Thomas' slow start in 2013. He should be fully recovered by OTAs.
Guards don't have the save value as offensive tackles, so they will be easier and cheaper to sign in free agency, and inn less demand to draft in the second and third day. There are a few decent guards and centers - Carolina's Travelle Wharton, Kansas City's Jon Asamoah, San Diego's Chad Rinehart, Cleveland's Alex Mack, Denver's Dan Koppen - available in free agency, but none of them warrant big salary contracts for various reasons.
The draft is also filled with athletic offensive guard and a couple of center options that will likely be available in the second and third day.
There’s a strong possibility that the Dolphins will address the four vacant starting spots using free agency and the 2014 draft. A plan of action will likely be determined by how much competition Miami has for offensive line help.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun