Reporting Tim Kephart
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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The 2012 Super Bowl is fading into memory and that means it’s almost time for the NFL to officially turn the page on the league calendar. That’s important because franchise tags can be applied this week and free agency is just weeks away.
For the Miami Dolphins, there will be lots of questions that have to be answered in the coming weeks on both sides of the football. The Fins have several positions of need this season, but without making some moves to the current roster, they will be limited in free agency.
Currently, the Dolphins have roughly $7 million in cap space against the 2012 salary cap expected to be in the neighborhood of $123-126 million. The Dolphins have to address the quarterback position and the defensive line as the team shifts to a traditional 4-3 defense.
Quarterback will receive the most attention in the offseason as owner Stephen Ross wants to acquire Peyton Manning while the staff seems to be leaning more towards Green Bay Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn.
The former LSU star has played just a few games in the NFL, but played extremely well in those games. He knows new head coach Joe Philbin’s offensive system inside and out; and he looks like the prototypical West Coast offense quarterback.
But, he’s also a former seventh-round pick for a reason and gambling on a free agent quarterback with limited game action can come back to bite a team; ask the Detroit Lions about Scott Mitchell.
However, the Fins don’t have the ammunition to go up and draft potential franchise quarterback Robert Griffin, III; and it’s unknown whether Peyton Manning will ever be able to play at the level he once did for the Indianapolis Colts.
So, Flynn may get the nod to be the Fins’ new quarterback because he’s the best option the team can actually afford. It will cost the Fins a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract; so if Flynn is the guy, the Dolphins better be completely sure.
Philbin’s experience with Flynn should be the deciding factor. If Philbin believes in Flynn, then the Dolphins will go get him. If Philbin isn’t sold, then the Fins will look elsewhere.
Another key group to watch for the Dolphins will be along the defensive line. The Fins are expected to shift from a base 3-4 defense to a 4-3 defense this season. That means the Dolphins will need four defensive lineman, including two stud pass rushers for the squad.
On one side of the line, the Dolphins will be set with former Penn State defensive end/Fins outside linebacker Cameron Wake. He’s a sacking machine who can play just as well with his hand on the ground as he can standing up.
Inside, the Dolphins will have their choice of several players, with the only likely casualty being mammoth nose tackle Paul Soliai. He will likely leave because keeping him will be too expensive for the position he will be playing in the new defense.
That means the Dolphins will have a battery of Phillip Merling, Randy Starks, Jared Odrick, Tony McDaniel, and possibly Kendall Langford on the inside. One or two of those players may get released for cap concerns, but the Fins will probably keep at least four defensive tackles.
The Dolphins can target a defensive end in free agency such as Detroit’s Cliff Avril or former Indianapolis Colts defensive end Robert Mathis or look to the draft and take a BIG chance on someone like North Carolina’s Quinton Coples, who has major red flags coming into the NFL.
Another position the Dolphins need to deal with is along the right side of the offensive line. Assuming Jake Long is healthy, the Fins are set at left tackle (Long), left guard (Richie Incognito), and center (Mike Pouncey); after that things get dicey.
The Dolphins can use John Jerry as a guard or tackle after he played decent at the end of last season. If they slide out Jerry to right tackle, it leaves the right guard position open. The Dolphins could target either position to fill and move Jerry to the other position.
The Fins will be able to select the best right tackle in the draft where they are drafting. But, that could cause fan revolt as another pick on the offensive line may be too much for fans to take; so the Fins may make a run at a major free agent guard or tackle.
The Fins have plenty of holes to fill, but unlike in years past; it looks like the team has a cohesive plan and good options to fill those need positions. The only question now is can the Dolphins make the right moves to make them playoff contenders, or will they have another season of being pretenders.