G Joe Berger, C Jake Grove, DE/DT Tony McDaniel, DE/OLB Jason Taylor, S Gibril Wilson.
CB Vontae Davis, WR/QB Pat White, CB/S Sean Smith, WR Patrick Turner, WR Brian Hartline, TE John Nalbone, FS Chris Clemons, OT Andrew Gardner, ILB J.D. Folson.
QB John Beck, FB Boomer Grigsby, WR Ernest Wilford, WR Tab Perry, G Andy Alleman, C Samson Satele, C Al Johnson, DE Vonnie Holliday, ILB Derek Smith, CB Andre' Goodman, FS Renaldo Hill.
2009 Miami Dolphins Offense:
A year ago, I wrote that the Dolphins would have one of the worst records in the NFL. Now, before you laugh and click the shiny red X on the top-right corner of your Firefox browser, you must know that my projection was made before the team obtained Chad Pennington.
Pennington made all of the difference in the world. Unlike John Beck, he wasn't scared to stand in the pocket, and unlike Chad Henne, he actually had some experience. Pennington helped Miami's offense, which ranked 27th in offense in 2007, score 21.6 points per game. The Dolphins finished 12th in yardage.
Pennington threw for 3,653 yards, 19 touchdowns and just seven picks. In addition to losing only one fumble, he maintained a near-career-best 7.7 YPA. As a reference, the team's two quarterbacks in 2007, Cleo Lemon and John Beck, had YPAs of 5.7 and 5.2, respectively.
Unfortunately, Pennington's warts were exposed in the playoffs. Ever since he's had multiple shoulder injuries, Pennington's weakness has been his arm strength. He can't make all the throws, and that was one of two major reasons I made Baltimore a 5-unit selection on my NFL Picks page. The Ravens' defense predictably wrecked Pennington, baiting him into four interceptions, a 6.6 YPA and a fumble.
I'm not confident that Pennington keeps his job the entire year. As I'll discuss later, Miami's schedule in 2008 was incredibly easy. This season, 13 of their 16 opponents had 8-8 records or better last season. This is likely Pennington's final year in South Beach anyway, as Henne is poised to take over in 2010.
Based on his receivers, Pennington shouldn't be confident either. I like Davone Bess as a slot receiver; taking over for an injured Greg Camarillo, Bess caught at least five passes in all but one of his final six contests. Bess finished with 54 receptions, 554 yards and a score. Camarillo, meanwhile, garnered 55 catches for 613 yards and two touchdowns in 11 games, but is coming off ACL surgery. There's no telling how effective he'll be. Meanwhile, No. 1 wideout Ted Ginn hasn't shown us any proof that he's capable of being anything more than a mediocre receiver. In his second year, the 5-11, 178-pounder caught 56 balls for 790 yards and two scores.
Ginn, Camarillo and Bess all have one major flaw - none of the three can be a solid split end, something this offense has needed for a few years. Bill Parcells drafted Patrick Turner and Brian Hartline to fill that void. While both are coming out of a pro-style offense, neither of the two mid-round selections was overly productive in college.
With first-overall pick Jake Long at left tackle, Miami's running game predictably improved last season. Ronnie Brown rushed for 916 yards and 10 touchdowns, and also caught 33 balls for 254 receiving yards just one season after an ACL tear. Now that Brown is two years removed from that injury, the Dolphins plan on giving him more of a workload. That, however, is a mistake because dating back to his pre-high school days, Brown has never carried the load on his own. If Tony Sparano rides Brown early and often, he'll go down by Thanksgiving, closing the window on the team's postseason aspirations. Yes, Ricky Williams is still in the mix, but at 32, expect a decline in production.
As mentioned, Long was a huge factor in the ground attack. He was also a very effective pass-protector, limiting the opposition to just 2.5 sacks. Across the field, right tackle Vernon Carey allowed 4.5 sacks.
Unfortunately, the interior of the offensive line is a huge concern for the Dolphins. Right guard Donald Thomas tore his biceps in minicamp in late May. There's no telling when he'll be ready to go, and it must be noted that Thomas was just coming off Lisfranc surgery. Taking his place is Brandon Frye, who has no career starts. At left guard, Justin Smiley will be hoping for his first injury-free season since 2006; he has missed 12 games the past two years. Newly signed Jake Grove, meanwhile, has enjoyed only one healthy campaign in his five-year career; Grove has missed 13 contests in the past two seasons.
The Dolphins introduced us, and namely the Patriots, to their Wildcat offense last season. They spent a second-round selection on Pat White to be their Wildcat quarterback. Regardless, I have serious doubts that this gimmick is going to be as lucrative as it was last year. There's a reason it died out decades ago on the pro level; NFL defenders are just way too quick compared to their collegiate counterparts. Now that coaches have had an entire offseason to study the Wildcat, it's going to be a lot less effective.
2009 Miami Dolphins Defense:
He's back. One year after Jason Taylor made his exodus from Miami, Bill Parcells finally was desperate enough to re-sign the Dancing Dolphin to help a dormant pass rush that couldn't lay a finger on Joe Flacco.
The Dolphins registered 40 sacks in 2008, but struggled to get to the quarterback late. This coincided with Joey Porter's late-season demise. Porter had 18 sacks on the year, but managed all of them in the first 15 weeks of the season. He was shut down in the final two contests of the regular season and the playoff battle versus Baltimore. I can't say I was too shocked; Porter is now 32 and clearly past his prime.
If Porter's past his prime, Taylor should probably be residing in an old-age home; Taylor turns 35 on Sept. 1, and was very ineffective with the Redskins last year. Matt Roth is also in the mix at rush linebacker, but while he's very effective versus the run, he's not much of a factor when it comes to rushing the passer.
With a pass rush that hasn't been improved at all, it's a good thing the Dolphins have a pretty stacked secondary. I was pretty surprised when Parcells signed Gibril Wilson and then re-signed Yeremiah Bell; doing so has given Miami one of the better safety tandems in the NFL. Wilson was a key player during the Giants' Super Bowl run two years ago, while Bell notched 120 tackles in 2008.
Will Allen is a very effective No. 1 corner, and thus was given a 3-year, $16.2 million extension this offseason. Unfortunately, he turns 31 on Aug. 5, so he could begin to decline rapidly over the next few seasons. Allen will be fine for this upcoming campaign, however, and having his experience will be huge because the Dolphins will be starting a rookie on the other side. Vontae Davis and Sean Smith, chosen respectively in the first and second rounds of the 2009 NFL Draft, are vying for the starting gig across from Allen. Both are talented, so the loser of the battle will provide quality depth.
The Dolphins were just as effective versus the pass (18th) as they were against the run (17th) last season. The latter ranking could worsen in 2009 because nose tackle Jason Ferguson turns 35 in November. He's in his contract year, but he has threatened to retire if he's not re-signed or extended.
Meanwhile, 3-4 end Kendall Langford did a very solid job last year. Despite being a rookie, he started 13 games. Phillip Merling, also a second-year player, has just two starts under his belt. He'll be taking over for Vonnie Holliday.
I felt as though Miami had to upgrade its inside linebackers this offseason, yet Parcells didn't do anything. Channing Crowder is a very talented defender, but he simply can't stay healthy. He has missed six games the past two seasons and is coming off knee surgery. The other starter in this group, Akin Ayodele, is very reliable (he hasn't missed a game in six years), but the fact remains that he's a pretty marginal player.
2009 Miami Dolphins Schedule and Intangibles:
Although the 2006 to 2008 numbers aren't a good indication, Miami is at its strongest in September, as the team is a solid 35-21 since 1992. The Dolphins are nearly invincible in September 1 p.m. home games, thanks to the city's scorching heat and humidity. Unfortunately, the team doesn't have any of those contests this year.
Taking over for Jay Feely, rookie kicker Dan Carpenter was 21-of-25, including 9-of-13 from 40 to 49, and 1-of-1 from 50-plus.
Brandon Fields rebounded from a dismal 2007 campaign to maintain a solid average (43.9). He also placed 20 kicks inside the opposing 20.
If Ted Ginn was supposed to be this incredible return specialist, why did the Dolphins surrender two special-teams scores and fail to garner any of their own? Ginn was awful as a return man, managing 20.5 yards on kickoffs.
As mentioned, Miami's schedule is a lot tougher this year. Last season, In one 10-game stretch in which the Dolphins went 9-1, the team battled 10 opponents that wouldn't make the playoffs (Bills, Broncos, Seahawks, Raiders, Patriots, Rams, Bills, 49ers, Chiefs, Jets). However, 13 of Miami's 2009 foes finished with an 8-8 record or better.
The Dolphins begin their season at Atlanta (tough game), versus Indianapolis (tougher) and at San Diego (even tougher). An 0-3 start could be disastrous and might even force Tony Sparano to make a switch at quarterback.
2009 Miami Dolphins Analysis: The Dolphins were really lucky last year. Had Tom Brady stayed healthy, they wouldn't have made the playoffs. Had Brett Favre not self-destructed in the final few weeks, you could also make the case that Miami would have missed out on the postseason.
But the Dolphins did make the playoffs, which in turn exposed their weaknesses - the quarterback position and their pass rush. Chad Pennington doesn't have the arm strength to consistently beat tough defenses, while the two players asked to get to the opposing passers will be 32 and 35 during the 2009 campaign. Throw in a tougher schedule, and I can't see Miami getting back to the playoffs.
The record I have below for Miami is a worst-case scenario; the team is better than 5-11, but the schedule is packed with tough spots and fierce opponents. The Dolphins must avoid an 0-3 start.
Corner. Receiver. Receiver. Corner. Corner. Corner. Receiver. Corner. Receiver. Receiver. There you go, I summed up Miami's draft.
The Dolphins got off to a great start, in my opinion. Vontae Davis was projected to go in the top 10 before some reports came out about his character issues. Pat White is a great fit for the Wildcat. And Sean Smith could have easily been drafted in Round 1.
However, things fell apart on Day 2. Bill Parcells made some horrendous value picks with Patrick Turner, Brian Hartline and John Nalbone. I'm not saying these guys are going to bust; I believe Parcells simply reached and ignored draft value, which is never a good thing.
Grade given on 4/27/09: B-
2009 NFL Draft Picks:
25. Vontae Davis, CB, Illinois
Vontae Davis' character concerns keep this from being an A, but the Dolphins are getting an incredible talent and a position of dire need. Will Davis behave? As long as Bill Parcells is around, I would think so. (Pick Grade: B)
44. Pat White, WR/QB, West Virginia
Pat White fits the Wildcat. He fills a hole at receiver. The Dolphins will be able to do a lot with him on offense. Good choice. (Pick Grade: B)
61. Sean Smith, CB/S, Utah
We knew the Dolphins were hurting for secondary depth going into the 2009 NFL Draft. Sean Smith, who is great value late in the second round, quells some of those concerns. (Pick Grade: A)
87. Patrick Turner, WR, USC
Poor value. Patrick Turner fills a need as a possession receiver, but he wasn't productive at USC. Turner was a late-round prospect. (Pick Grade: D)
87. Brian Hartline, WR, Ohio State
Another reach and another receiver? Brian Hartline is horrendous value in Round 4. It almost seems as if Bill Parcells is hedging his bets by taking as many wideouts as possible. (Pick Grade: F)
161. John Nalbone, TE, Monmouth
A Monmouth player taken before a Miami player? It's really amazing how much has changed in the past few years. John Nalbone was a projected 7-FA player, so this is a slight reach. I wouldn't say this fills a need either. (Pick Grade: D)
165. Chris Clemons, FS, Clemson
The Dolphins finally decided not to reach and draft for value instead. Still, I'd like to see the Dolphins get away from their receiver-defensive back binge drafting. (Pick Grade: B)
181. Andrew Gardner, OT, Georgia Tech
Miami needed a swing tackle. Andrew Gardner definitely isn't a reach, so this is a solid selection. (Pick Grade: B)
214. J.D. Folson, ILB, Weber State
Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't see how J.D. Folson fits into Miami's defense. (Pick Grade: C)
From one win to 11? Seemed impossible when the Dolphins finished the 2007 campaign with a 1-15 record, but Bill Parcells, Tony Sparano and Chad Pennington really turned this franchise around. However, the Dolphins still have their detractors. Some say their 11-5 record was the result of an easy schedule. Others point to their meager 345-317 point differential. Miami supposedly has the toughest schedule of any NFL team in 2009. Regardless of whether they make the postseason next year, their sudden turn-around is remarkable.
Chiefs acquire G Andy Alleman and G Ikechuku Ndukwe from Dolphins for late-round pick
Dolphins cut WR Ernest Wilford
Dolphins cut CB Eric Green
Dolphins sign K Connor Barth
Dolphins sign DE/OLB Jason Taylor
Texans sign FB Boomer Grigsby
Ravens sign QB John Beck
Dolphins cut QB John Beck
Raiders acquire C Samson Satele from Dolphins for a 6th-round pick
Dolphins acquire DT Tony McDaniel from Jaguars for 7th-round pick
Patriots sign C Al Johnson
Dolphins sign CB Eric Green
Dolphins sign C Jake Grove
Dolphins cut DE Vonnie Holliday
Broncos sign CB Andre Goodman
Broncos sign FS Renaldo Hill
Dolphins sign G Joe Berger
Dolphins re-sign SS Yeremiah Bell
Dolphins sign S Gibril Wilson
Dolphins re-sign ILB Channing Crowder
Dolphins re-sign OT Vernon Carey
Free Safety: Add in a strong safety if Miami can't retain Yeremiah Bell. Whether it was Jason Allen or Renaldo Hill, the Dolphins had major problems at the free safety position in 2008. Signed Gibril Wilson; drafted Chris Clemons
Right Tackle: It might be difficult to retain Vernon Carey, who could garner some huge offers from other teams in free agency. If Carey isn't re-signed, Miami must find itself a new right tackle. Re-signed Vernon Carey
Wide Receiver: To illustrate how horrendous of a signing Ernest Wilford was, the Dolphins can't even cut him this season because they'd have to endure a huge cap hit. Miami needs a possession receiver to complement Ted Ginn and Davone Bess. Drafted Pat White, Brian Hartline and Patrick Turner
Interior Lineman: Justin Smiley has his flaws. Lots of flaws. He's not a good lineman in the first place and he's always hurt. The Dolphins need help at left guard. There is some talk that they could move Samson Satele there, which would open up a hole at center. Signed Jake Grove and Joe Berger
Inside Linebacker: Channing Crowder has struggled at times with a knee injury. He's a free agent, and it looks like he won't be back with the team. Re-signed Channing Crowder; drafted J.D. Folsom
Cornerback: The Dolphins ranked 25th in pass defense last season. Along with free safety, help at corner is a need. Drafted Vontae Davis and Sean Smith; signed Eric Green
Rush Linebacker: Joey Porter had a great start to his 2008 campaign, but managed just one sack in his final four games. Was his age (32 in March) starting to show? The Dolphins really could use a young rush linebacker in the mix. Signed Jason Taylor and Cameron Wake
Nose Tackle: With Jason Ferguson turning 35 in November, the Dolphins will be hunting for a successor in Rounds 2 or 3 of the 2009 NFL Draft.
Special Teamers: Miami had problems in kick coverage this season, surrendering two punt returns for touchdowns.
2009 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Gibril Wilson, S, Raiders. Age: 27. Signed with Dolphins (5 years, $27.5 million)
The poor Raiders had to cut Gibril Wilson because they overpaid for him a year ago and could no longer afford him. That's great news for the other 31 teams in the league. Wilson is one of the top safeties on the market.
Jake Grove, C, Raiders. Age: 29. Signed with Dolphins (5 years, $29.5 million; $14 million guaranteed)
Effective... when he's actually in the lineup. In a five-year span, Grove has missed 24 games.
Jason Taylor, DE/OLB, Redskins. Age: 35. Signed with Dolphins (1 year, $1.1 million)
Jason Taylor had two sacks against the Eagles in a Week 16 battle, which is a good sign. Still, he's way too old to be anything other than a rotational guy.
Eric Green, CB, Cardinals. Age: 27. - Signed with Dolphins
Joe Berger, G, Cowboys. Age: 27. - Signed with Dolphins
Connor Barth, K, Chiefs. Age: 23. - Signed with Dolphins
Miami Dolphins Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 14): $28 million
Yeremiah Bell, SS. Age: 31. Re-signed with Dolphins (4 years, $20 million)
If it weren't for Yeremiah Bell, all hope would be lost in Miami's secondary. The only concern here is age, but a 3- or a 4-year deal would be fine.
Vernon Carey, OT. Age: 28. Re-signed with Dolphins (6 years, $42 million)
Vernon Carey has proven that he can be effective at both left and right tackle. Given the high demand for tackles in the NFL right now, some team is going to vastly overpay for Carey - and I can't really blame them for doing so.
Channing Crowder, ILB. Age: 25. Re-signed with Dolphins (3 years, $20 million)
Channing Crowder is coming off a great season in which he recorded 113 tackles. However, he has bad knee history, and it's a bit concerning that his best year came in his contract season. Someone will likely overpay for him.
Andre' Goodman, CB. Age: 31. Signed with Broncos (5 years, $25 million; $10 million guaranteed)
After a slow start, Andre' Goodman actually played really well down the stretch. Unfortunately, his age is starting to become an issue.
Vonnie Holliday, DE. Age: 33.
Vonnie Holliday played well in 2008. Age is starting to catch up to him, but he should be a nice complementary player in the 3-4 for two seasons or so.
Renaldo Hill, FS. Age: 30. Signed with Broncos (4 years, $10 million)
Renaldo Hill turns 31 in November. His starting days are over.
Divisional Rival History: Buffalo Bills: One of the rare rivalries where the better team almost always wins. Sounds weird, doesn't it? Buffalo has claimed seven of the past 10 battles, but lost both 2008 contests. New England Patriots: Prior to the 2008 season, the host had won nine of 13 in this heated rivalry. However, both visitors won by double digits last year. New York Jets: The Jets have dominated this series for years. Try 17 of the last 22.
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
2009 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)