Even with all the speculation and uncertainty, previous looming free agency periods were fairly cut and dry when compared to the mess we have on our hands with no new CBA in place. Until the owners and the players union come to some sort of compromise, free agency won’t take place as scheduled in a little over a month. Instead we would have a work stoppage while impending free agents await their fate and teams looking to fill voids with veterans would be forced to put addressing their needs on hold.
Besides merely timing, we are also unaware of what the financial particulars of the new deal will be. Nobody knows what type of salary cap will implemented, thus further restricting our current perspective of how this year’s free agency period will play out. But we can still look into the hopefully near future, and take a glance at which players are scheduled to hit the open market. More specifically, we can set our sights on some of the key impending free agents that would address some of the Dolphins’ more pressing needs.
Let’s start our 2011 NFL free agency preview with running back, a position that the Dolphins desperately need to address in either free agency or the draft, but most likely both. I’m guessing everybody already knows that Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams will both be free agents when a new CBA is agreed upon. Ricky will be 34 by the time next season rolls around and he already appeared to have lost a step in 2010. Don’t forget he also took a few shots at Tony Sparano on his way out the door, which further suggest that his days in Miami are over.
Ronnie, on the other hand, would probably welcome a return to the Dolphins, but combined factors like his age (29), durability, and lack of productivity should insure that Jeff Ireland doesn’t pay him like a Pro Bowl caliber back. Other teams will be weary of those red flags as well, though, so Ronnie returning to the Dolphins isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
But it’s a foregone conclusion that the Dolphins will need to search for at least one starting caliber running back this offseason. Not to mention that backups Patrick Cobbs and Lex Hilliard are scheduled to become restricted free agents while Kory Sheets will become an exclusive rights free agent, giving the Dolphins zero running backs under contract for the 2011 season. Something tells me that Jeff Ireland will, at the very least, strongly consider some of the following free agent candidates.
1. Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants, 24: Ahmad Bradshaw is fresh off of a career year with the Giants, in which he likely played his way into a lucrative long-term deal in a contract year with 1,235 yards on the ground, a solid 4.5 yards per carry, and 8 touchdowns. Bradshaw is the homerun threat the Dolphins’ offense desperately needs, and still likely has four or five quality years left in the tank at only 24 years old. At only 5’9 and a shade under 200 pounds, though, the Dolphins would need to either draft a power back or resign Ronnie Brown, as there are concerns about whether or not Bradshaw could carry the load of a workhorse. Bradshaw would be a great fit in Miami, but it’s hard to envision the Giants letting him get away.
2. DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers, 27: A couple rumors have been flying around the web that the Dolphins are very interested in DeAngelo Williams if he becomes a free agent. If legitimate, that news will likely excite many fans as Williams, when healthy, is one of the two or three backs in this league that can dominate football games. He was limited to only six games in 2010 due to a foot injury that landed him on injured reserve but in 2008 and 2009, Williams emerged as a truly elite back. In 2008, Williams surpassed 1,500 yards and racked up 18 touchdowns on 5.5 yards per carry; a season that arguably could be considered one of the better performances by a running back in the decade.
3. Pierre Thomas, New Orleans Saints, 26: Thomas is a back that should still have plenty of gas left in the tank, as he only accumulated 411 carries in four seasons with the Saints. He also posted some fairly impressive yards per carry totals before his injury shortened 2010 campaign, with 4.8 yards per attempt in 2007 and 2008, and an outstanding 5.4 yards per touch in the Saints’ Super Bowl winning 2009 season. Having said all of that, Thomas hasn’t exhibited whether or not he can handle the workload of a workhorse. He seems to be a pretty sure bet as a solid complementary back, though, and maybe that’s all the Dolphins need depending on whom they bring in and who they retain.
4. Joseph Addai, Indianapolis Colts, 27: Addai has underwhelmed ever since his impressive rookie season and hasn’t crossed the 1,000 yard plateau since 2007. It’s hard to pinpoint if his drop off in production has had more to do with his struggles or the Colts’ scheme, but he was in the midst of a solid 2010 season before he missed the final half of the year with a neck injury. He was back up over the 4 yards per carry benchmark for the first time since 2007 and was just shy of being on pace for his third 1,000 yard season. Addai could provide the Dolphins’ offense with a spark as a shifty back that’s going to make people miss and he’s solid in the passing game, both from a receiving and protection standpoint.
5. Michael Bush, Oakland Raiders, 27: Bush’s stock took a bit of a hit this weekend when he was arrested for a DUI in Kentucky. It’s unknown if the Dolphins would be willing to take a risk on a player with character concerns after the embarrassing string of arrest that plagued this franchise last offseason. On the field, though, Bush is a 245-pound power back who would be an ideal fit for the power running system this regime likes to employ. But it remains to be seen how exactly the front office and coaching staff plans on altering their philosophy, if at all. We’ve already heard Jeff Ireland admit that the offense could use more speed, meaning I wouldn’t be surprised if the Dolphins pursue more of a scat back this offseason.