A return to the NFL playoffs will be more treacherous for the Dolphins in 2009 because of a beefed-up schedule. It's a good thing the Dolphins addressed a few of their glaring holes through free agency and last month's draft. The team's decision-makers had a lot of issues to tackle this offseason in their efforts to reshape the roster. The Sun Sentinel outlined 10 of the more pressing issues in February. Here's a look at how each issue was addressed.
10. Re-sign tackle Vernon Carey to a multiyear deal or put a franchise tag on him to prevent the former first-round pick from hitting the free-agent market?
9. Keep the aging secondary intact or get younger through the draft and free agency?
The Dolphins did a little bit of both, re-signing strong safety Yeremiah Bell, who is 31, and drafting cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Sean Smith. However, Renaldo Hill and André Goodman, both in their 30s, were allowed to depart as free agents. Safety Gibril Wilson was signed to a five-year, $27.5 million deal, and the hope is he'll be an upgrade over Hill. Davis and Smith will compete with veterans Jason Allen and Eric Green, another free-agent addition (two-year, $6 million), to fill the starting role vacated by Goodman.
8. Re-sign linebacker Channing Crowder or let him walk as a free agent?
Crowder took Zach Thomas' advice about the grass not always being greener on the other side, accepting less money from the Dolphins than he probably would have gotten on the open market. This will be Crowder's second full season as the team's every-down linebacker, so there's a chance the former Gator will become more of a playmaker in 2009. The Dolphins need him to be.
7. Sign or draft a bigger and stronger center?
Samson Satele, who was not strong enough to handle the AFC East's elite defensive tackles, was shipped to Oakland for draft picks. The Raiders needed Satele considering the Dolphins lured their starter, Jake Grove, with a five-year contract worth nearly $29.5 million. Grove's addition means the Dolphins' offensive line should be able to generate more push at the line of scrimmage, potentially opening up larger holes for running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams.
6. Break the bank for one big free agent or use the cap space to sign a handful of decent up-and-comers to upgrade the talent base?
Most of the top potential free agents were given franchise tags, but it really didn't matter. The Dolphins spent the bulk of their cap room re-signing their free agents, locking up Carey, Bell and Crowder. Most of the cap space left over was spread out, addressing weak spots on the roster. Wilson's addition allowed the secondary to get younger and more athletic. Grove was a pricey upgrade at center, and the Dolphins lured CFL import Cameron Wake with a respectable contract, beating out nearly nine teams.
5. Cut veteran receiver Ernest Wilford before training camp begins (cutting into salary cap space) or give him another camp to redeem himself?
General Manager Jeff Ireland says Wilford, seldom used last year, will be coming to training camp. But given the recent additions of draftees Patrick Turner and Brian Hartline, it's unlikely the fifth-year veteran will be making it out of camp. The Dolphins will struggle to keep six receivers on the 53-man roster, and that might leave Wilford out of the mix.
4. Restructure the contract or release defensive end Vonnie Holliday?
Holliday was cut because the team valued the savings his release would produce ($3.25 million) over the experience and leadership the team captain brought last season. The Dolphins supplemented the front line by trading a seventh-round pick to Jacksonville for Tony McDaniel, a hulking 6-foot-7, 310-pound athlete who has raw pass-rushing skills. Outside of his addition, little has been done to a defensive line that accounted for 9.5 sacks last season, which means the Dolphins are banking heavily on development from the unit's youngsters. Randy Starks and Phillip Merling will compete for the vacated starting spot, and Lionel Dotson, Rodrique Wright and McDaniel will battle it out for a role in the four end rotation used last season.
3. Do the Dolphins need to add a top-tier receiver or can they work with Ted Ginn Jr., Greg Camarillo, Davone Bess and Brandon London?
The Dolphins didn't sign or trade for an established receiver and waited until the second day of the draft to add to the group. Ireland admitted the front office is banking on Ginn, Bess and Camarillo blossoming in their second season in Dan Henning's offense. London, Turner and Hartline all have size and speed, but must master the offense and produce on a consistent basis during training camp to leapfrog last year's top three receivers. Plaxico Burress, a South Florida native, is out on the open market, and it's possible the Dolphins will investigate the former New York Giant once/if his legal troubles are settled.
2. Will offense or defense need more supplementing through player acquisition?
The defense, which finished 2008 ranked 15th in total yards allowed, received more upgrades than the offense this offseason. But there's no guarantee all the pieces added will provide Joey Porter the pass-rushing assistance he needs or improve the team's pass coverage. The Dolphins are banking on Davis and Smith emerging as key contributors, and at least one of their outside linebacker projects (Wake, Charlie Anderson, Erik Walden, Tearrius George or Quentin Moses) blossoming into a pressure player that complements Porter and Matt Roth.
1. Will the Dolphins trade 27-year-old quarterback John Beck?
The Dolphins failed in their efforts to trade Beck, so he was released after the draft. Second-round pick Pat White's immediate role will be to serve as a Wildcat weapon, using his legs and arm to inject fear into defenses. But the hope is this college spread quarterback will blossom as a tradition drop-back passer, pushing Chad Henne for the starting spot in 2010, when Chad Pennington's contract expires.