The Miami Dolphins wrapped up their regular season finale just over a month ago and since then all the discussion surrounding the team has been about the need for playmakers on offense. While the focus of the offseason is surely to equipt Ryan Tannehill with weapons, the lack of game changers on the defensive side of the ball is also an area of weakness that must be addressed.
One of the main positives that emerged throughout the Dolphins campaign was the stellar play of their defensive front seven which on its own ensured that Miami was competitive in each of the sixteen games. As a result, the Dolphins ranked 13th in the league in run defense at 108.4 yards per game and 7th in points allowed, surrendering only 19.8 points per game. However, on many occasions the front seven was let down by a secondary that was unable to frequently make impact plays. The Dolphins secondary has been a need for several years now and last season was no different. Miami's lackluster coverage was continually picked apart by average to elite players at the quarterback position as they allowed 248.4 pass yards per game ranking them a disappointing 27th in the NFL.
Not only did the secondary prove to be ineffective in shutting down the deep threat, the unit also failed to force turnovers as they made only 10 interceptions all season. The lack of turnovers meant that the Dolphins defense was staying on the field much longer than it should have, causing the players to be fatigued when games were on the line late in the fourth quarter. The lone bright spot was 24 year old saftety Reshad Jones who accumulated four of the team's 10 interceptions to go along with 95 tackles, two forced fumbles and one sack.
The Dolphins cornerback position will be a storyline worth monitoring throughout the course of the offseason. Top CB Sean Smith is set to become an unrestricted free agent in search of a significant raise from his current salary of $565,000. Smith will be looking for starting cornerback money which is generally $5-7 million per year. This will prove to be another difficult decision for the front office to make considering that it will be a steep price to pay for a player that had little to no impact in the second half of the season. On the otherhand, if Smith were to walk the Dolphins would be incredibly thin at cornerback with Nolan Carroll, Richard Marshall and Dimitri Patterson left to compete for starting roles.
Whether or not Smith is retained long term, the Dolphins will likely select a cornerback in the first three rounds of April's draft, however the decision made on the 26 year old's future in South Beach will affect their plan in free agency. Without Smith in the fold, drafting a replacement won't be enough, an experienced free agent would be needed to ease the pressure for a young core and provide stability.
Similar to this year's crop of available wide recievers, the group of free agent cornerbacks is filled with very talented players that could fill the Dolphins void in the secondary. Here's a look at some of the possible defensive backs available for Miami to sign.
Grimes has recorded 254 tackles, 54 passes defended and 13 career interceptions over his five year career, however he missed most of 2012 with a torn Achilles' tendon. Combine that with the fact that he turns 30 in the summer will ultimately lower his value on the open market as a major risk factor exists despite the high talent level.
Rodgers-Cromartie will garner a lot of interest considering that he is still quite young at 26 years of age as well as having a successful career thus far. DRC has tallied 16 career interceptions along with 84 passes defended and 197 total tackles. The main question surrounding him is his poor work ethic and his characteristic to show a lack of interest during games. Teams should pursue him with caution.
With most of the attention around the NFL focused on two of the high profile names listed above, players like Houston or even Derek Cox could fit well with the Dolphins. The 28 year old has had an impressive career to this point, forcing 11 interceptions, defending 71 passes and making 286 tackles in six years. Compared to other players on the market, Houston could be had at a much cheaper price.
If the Miami Dolphins are going to become serious contenders for a 2013 playoff spot, the key this offseason will be to improve in the passing game on both sides of the football.