Monday, March 10, 2014

Free Agency Primer Offensive Line

The excitement of free agency is only a few days away. A few weeks from now teams will have a clearer picture of what the 2014 edition of their teams will look like. For Miami it is no secret at all they are in need of MAJOR help on the offensive line.  I don’t recall a season where Miami needed help on the O-Line so badly. It is by far the reason the team was not in the playoffs in 2013. Before you go shopping you first have to look in the cupboard and unfortunately Miami’s is quite empty.  For 2014 I expect the following players to be on the roster. Mike Pouncey, Nate Garner and Sam Brenner.  Of those three only Pouncey will be a starter. Garner can play all positions on the line at an average level so his value is in his ability for Miami to carry less backup players. Sam Brenner proved last year he can play guard at least at an average level in the league and you have to assume he has some upside yet. He also costs peanuts against the cap so assuming he busted his butt in the offseason I expect he will be in line for a back-up guard spot on the line, with a real chance to break the starting lineup if he progresses. I know the team spent a high pick on Dallas Thomas however, I don’t think he will even make the team. Hickey did not draft him and the fact the Dolphins had people off the street practically playing line and not Thomas tells me the guy is probably a bust. 

Miami is now in the daunting situation of needing two starting tackles and two starting guards. Tackles are not cheap, especially Left tackles.  It requires a special skill set of being massive enough to block power rushing 280 pound defensive ends like Odrick as well as being quick enough to get out of your stance to block a blitzing corner back. On top of that you need to be able to read a defense and know who is responsible to block who.  I would rate OT as the 3rd hardest positions to start a rookie on opening day behind defensive back and quarterback.  Keep in mind EVERY time a right handed quarterback drops back in a non-shotgun formation his back is to the left tackle “the blindside”.  If you skimp at the left tackle position I hope you are expecting to see your QB’s name as a frequent flyer on the injury report.  Guard is an easier and lower cost position to fill. Guards vary greatly on scheme. If you want to run a power running game then massive and powerful guards capable of moving defensive tackles is what is desired. If you want to run an offense that runs a lot screens, stretch runs, and traps. Then a more agile guard is desired that is capable of getting out into space.  Of course every team wants a guard that can do both well.  Expect Miami to go after some guards that are more in the 290-300 pound range and not 350 pound mammoth types.

The free agent market will offer several possibilities. The hot names being Albert, Monroe, and Veldheer. None of these guys have me jumping saying “they have to get this player”. In my amateur opinion Brandon Albert has the highest talent of the group. IF (a big if) he is healthy. He has missed games in recent seasons and everyone knows the Chiefs would not let the Dolphins give him a physical. Monroe is a 2nd contract guy in his prime. However, I only view him as a decent tackle not a guy that can be dominant like Albert.  I also find it odd that Jacksonville traded him for some mid round picks. People are saying this is because they did not want to get anything in return? The jags have a pile of cap space and a couple mid round picks are not going to get you a new left tackle.  More likely that Jags knew they wanted to go in a different direction and would not pay him as a top tackle. So they took what they could get. Veldheer is a player that has not performed consistently at a high level but has the talent to do so. Again a red flag is the Raiders have a huge amount of cap space but are letting him test market. So what I see available is a higher risk higher reward player in Albert. A steady but not spectacular guy in Monroe, and an unproven guy with talent in Veldheer. Despite all of these players having some concerns. They will probably all get a contract in the 8-10 million per year range.  Expect Miami to come right out the gate after one of these three guys. Not because any of them are great options to invest 8-10 million in rather because they have no choice. They HAVE to get someone capable of playing left tackle at a consistent high level.  They also may make a play early for someone like Davin Joseph or Rodger Saffold. However, I don’t think they have the same urgency because I think they will be able to get some guards in the draft as well as some bargains after the drafts that are solid.  With that be said I would not be opposed at all to using some of the cap space to lock up a solid guard early on.

I don’t really do speculating, I know it is being reported, that they are closing in on Albert. It makes sense of course because they tried to get him last season, he spends a lot of time in Miami and the Chiefs will not be competing to keep him. However, just keep in mind this is the time of year agents lie through their teeth to drive up the price on players. So it would not surprise me the reports are designed to try to entice a team like Arizona into a bidding war. I do get a chuckle out of the news reports listing the top offensive line prospects as “targets”. Ya think? SMH. They need FOUR starters on the line!
I do think in the end the player already knows where he wants to play and just want to get the offers from their desired location in the ballpark.  So I do think the Dolphins have a better chance to land Brandon Albert compared to other tackle prospects tackle who may very well get a matching offer from their own team and are just using other teams to up their contracts.
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