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40 posts from February 2009

February 28, 2009

Fallout from Cassel trade affects Dolphins

The Patriots have traded Matt Cassel and outside linebacker Mike Vrabel to Kansas City for a second-round pick, the 34th overall selection in the draft. And why should you care, you ask?


The Pats play in the AFC East. The Dolphins play in the AFC East. And movement in New England ripples in Miami.

The trade means the Patriots add another valuable draft pick only two picks into the second round. That's bad news for the Dolphins.

The trade means the Patriots just cleared $14.65 million of salary cap space, giving them the opportunity to become players in the free agent market if they like. That's bad news for Miami.

The trade also suggests quarterback Tom Bunchen, recently wed to model Gisele Bunchen, is coming along nicely with his recovery from knee surgery and the ensuing infections. The Patriots would not have given up on Cassel this early in the offseason without a good prognosis for Bunchen.

And that, friends, while not exactly bad news for Miami, is certainly not great news.


By the way, I assume you saw Jeff Darlington's report that cornerback Andre' Goodman is visiting Denver and Cleveland. Would hate to see him leave. He was great in the locker room, and very good on the field last year.

The Dolphins, meanwhile, have confirmed they had no unrestricted or restricted free agents visit today.

Coles good but not at $6 million a year

The AFC East Division rival New York Jets should have a much improved defense by the time the weekend is over.

The Jets have already signed versatile inside linebacker Bart Scott for $48 million. They're completing a trade for Philly cornerback Lito Sheppard by sending the Eagles a fifth-round draft pick. They're trying to sign strong safety Jim Leonhard and cornerback Cory Ivy from the Ravens.

So what does this all mean? The Jets will likely be better on defense next season. And the Dolphins have to get better on offense to match the moves.

But does adding receiver Laveranues Coles do the trick? I don't think so. Not at his current price, anyway.

The local infatuation with Coles is good radio talk fodder. It's good blog escape. And it's one more thing: Ridiculous.

If this was 2004 instead of 2009, I would understand the longing for Coles. But it is, indeed, 2009 and I predict Coles is shortly about to find out he is very much over-estimating his worth on the open market. Coles is reportedly looking for a contract that pays him at least $6 million per season.

The problem for him is most NFL teams will not pay a No. 2 or No. 3 wide receiver that kind of money this offseason. I think Coles got the first taste of that reality Friday when the Bills let him walk from their facility without a contract.

Coles, 31, used to run consistent 4.3s and sometimes break into the stunning 4.2 range when he was young. But he no longer has that explosive speed and that has shown for a while. Look at the tape of him against San Francisco last season when he simply could not get open.

Coles averaged about 14 yards per catch early in his career. Now he's an 11-12 yards per catch guy. That's what Greg Camarillo averaged last season. Coles is a possession guy now ...

... and one that is not ascending.

Is he tough? Yes. Is he courageous on the field and in staying out of the training room? Yes. Does he have good balance and athletic ability? Yes. Is he a willing blocker? Yes.

But none of that makes him a No. 1 receiver. And that makes his asking price absurd.

The Dolphins know this -- I hope. And so they are staying away. Reports of Coles being in Miami Thursday were wrong. He has not visited the team and, in fact, could not do so as an unrestricted free agent until Friday. And again, he was in Buffalo Friday.

But the Dolphins are watching and waiting, believing the price for Coles will drop and drop and drop. When he's in the more modest $3 million per year range, Miami's interest may, and I stress it is only may, become legitimate, assuming another team doesn't commit to the crazy money first.

But as long as Coles continues to think he commands $6 million per season, the Dolphins should not touch him regardless of how tight he is with quarterback Chad Pennington and despite the fact he was drafted by Bill Parcells nine years ago.

Coles's former team, meanwhile, is making some interesting moves on D.

The signing of Bart Scott will pair him with David Harris on the inside. New coach Rex Ryan believes that is a recipe for confusing defenses because both players can play the SILB spot and both can play the WILB spot. (S denotes strong side and W denotes weak side.)

"I think the flexibility we have with David Harris and Bart Scott is just going to be difficult to identify who the mike is," Ryan said Friday night in a conference call with reporters. "It doesn't sound like that big of a deal, but, trust me, it is. The offense is setting protections against a mike linebacker. If they can't find him, that's going to give them some problems, and I think those two guys right there are going to be quite a pair.

"When you look at our linebacking corps overall, we probably have as good of a linebacking corps as there is in this league, probably right up there with Baltimore and really anybody else."

Discuss ...

February 27, 2009

Berger signs 3-year deal with Miami [Update 2]

Maybe it's not the splash you wanted, but the Dolphins have addressed two desires along the offensive line with the signing of Joe Berger today.

Berger's visit with the Dolphins today, first reported here, culminated in the former Dallas Cowboys signing a three-year deal with the team this afternoon, also first reported here.

So what is so special about a career backup signing with Miami?

Berger was brought in to compete with starter Samson Satele for the starting center job. At 6-5 and 310 pounds, he more closely fits the mold of what the Dolphins want anchoring the middle of their offensive line. The Dolphins will likely add a draft pick to that center competition as well.

Berger also will provide competition at right guard for Donald Thomas, the rookie who won the job last year but was injured in the season-opener and went on injured reserve.

Even if Berger does not win either job, he will provide the Dolphins with quality depth. The team last year was not pleased with the depth at either left or right guard and suffered for it, particularly in the playoff loss to Baltimore.

A little perspective here: Berger had earned the starting job with the Dolphins in 2005 when he suffered a foot injury that basically cost him the job. The following year the Dolphins needed to make a roster move and cut Berger to put him on the practice squad but he was claimed by the Cowboys. He's been a backup in Dallas since.

"Joe's very happy to be back down there," agent Tom Tafelski said in confirming the deal. "He's reunited with his old Dallas offensive line coach who is now the head coach. He's looking forward to getting the pads on and proving this is a good move for the Dolphins." 

So what else is going on? I'll have the names of any other players that might be visiting the Dolphins today after 4 p.m. I don't imagine it will be a very long list. [UPDATE: Berger is the only unrestricted free agent visit the Dolphins are reporting to the NFL today.]

One name not on the list will be Laveranues Coles, who many fans (and some reporters not named Salguero) have speculated would be on Miami's radar. Coles, drafted by Bill Parcells in 2000, is in Buffalo today.

Finally, for now, check out this story by colleague David J. Neal, who today caught up with newly minted strong safety Yeremiah Bell for an exclusive interview following the player's re-signing with Miami yesterday.

[UPDATE 2: Renaldo Hill, who started 39 games for the Dolphins the past three seasons has signed with the Denver Broncos. He signs a four-year deal worth $10 million with a $3 million signing bonus.]

One more thing before you guys continue to complain about Miami's start to free agency. Yes, the Redskins are tilting the cash register. Yes, the Jets are looking to get Bart Scott. Yes, Coles is in Buffalo. Yes, Center Jason Brown is in St. Louis and negotiating with the Rams.

But the winners and losers in free agency aren't determined on the first day. And I like Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland and their chances of making the right calls as much, indeed more, than the folks in Washington, St. Louis and New York.

The Cowboyfication of Dolphins to continue

It's not hard to figure out: The Dolphins braintrust likes players they are familiar with as long as they are affordable.

That is why the Dolphins showed initial interest in Cowboys DE Chris Canty but backed away when they realized he's going to get a nicer contract than they were willing to pay. Canty is scheduled to visit the Redskins Friday.

The Dolphins also showed initial interest in Cowboys offensive lineman Joe Berger and, upon learning what Berger might cost, they set up a Friday visit with the player shortly after free agency began at midnight.

So Berger, who played for the Dolphins in 2005-2006, will be one unrestricted free agent to visit Miami Friday. He likely will sign a contract unless something goes horribly wrong. Berger is expected to compete for the starting center and right guard position as he's played both. The Dolphins might be hosting a couple of players Friday.

Center Jason Brown, the Baltimore Ravens starting center, will not be one of them. Brown is scheduled to visit the St. Louis Rams and NFL sources expect the player to be offered a contract that could average $7-$8 million per year.

The Dolphins showed serious interest in Brown but backed away when they learned Brown's asking price.

As you know the Dolphins had a pretty busy day Thursday, signing safeties Yeremiah Bell and Gibril Wilson to deals worth a combined $47.5 million with $18 million guaranteed. How's that for a high-priced deep secondary?

The four-year, $20 million deal Bell gets to continue playing strong safety for the Dolphins is possibly the last one he'll ever sign. "It's rare for a player two start and finish his career with the same team and Yeremiah has a chance to do that," agent Drew Rosenhaus said. "He's come a long way and overcome lots of adversity to get this deal."

The signing of Bell and Wilson means safety Renaldo Hill is out in Miami. He is scheduled to visit the Denver Broncos Friday. The Dolphins will miss Hill's quiet resolve and can-do attitude in their locker room.

Finally, there had been rumors the Dolphins would be interested in Ravens linebacker Bart Scott. That interest pretty much ended when the team re-signed Channing Crowder. Scott, however, did not re-sign with Baltimore as expected.

He was drawing interest from the Jets and other teams early this morn (and I mean really early as I type this at 2:32 a.m.). The division rival Jets are also said to be interested in Jim Leonhard, another Baltimore unrestricted free agent.

The Herald team will be back on the job Friday -- as soon as I wake up -- so do what you did Thursday and check back often for updates.

February 26, 2009

Live free agency blog at midnight!

Free agency begins this evening and we're going to celebrate two ways: I'm going to give you some information while also hang out with you starting at midnight for about an hour.

The information I have for you is that the Dolphins are going to be aggressive during this free agency period. A club source tells me they have a couple of guys they like and they're going to bring those guys in starting Friday. So the Dolphins could have their first wave of free agency signing(s) Friday afternoon sometime.

It will be very, very, very interesting to see if soon-to-be-former Baltimore center Jason Brown is one of those guys. Make no mistake, the Dolphins like this guy a lot and have been inquiring about him and doing their due diligence on him.

But part of that due diligence is understanding what the guy is looking for in free agency. And if he is serious about getting $7-$8 million per year, that just might be too rich for the Dolphins to stomach. They can afford it, make no mistake. But it would adversely affect the club salary structure in which the center would be making as much, or more, than the right tackle. That is hard for a team to justify.

Moreover, Brown rexpects to be chased by the free-spending Washington Redskins or the St. Louis Rams who have had no issues in the past with throwing money around. So my free Miami-Dade Public Schools education tells me the Dolphins address the center-right guard position, but they do it with someone else in free agency, someone not quite so expensive.

... And then get another crack at it the spot in the draft, too. Remember Tony Sparano believes you can never have too many linemen.

This is not to suggest Brown doesn't like the idea of playing for the Dolphins.

"Bill Parcells definitely knows football," Brown said in an interview that will appear in Friday's edition of the Carroll County Times. "He's definitely doing the fundamental things it takes to build a winner and you can see that ... You can see how Parcells has turned that thing around."

Brown also likes the idea of moving his family to South Florida for the next five or six years.

"There's lots of beautiful beaches, retirement communities, and it can be pretty laid back," he said. "Me and my wife would fit in with that."

But in the next instant, Brown talks of liking the idea of staying in the Baltimore-D.C. area, too. It is closer to his native North Carolina, so there is a comfort zone there. And again, the Redskins or Rams are likely to bring money quickly -- as early as 12:01 a.m.

I'm not saying the Dolphins won't make a push, but it just looks like they're not the big favorite in this deal.

Anyway, come back for the midnight live blog. If worse comes to worse and nothing happens, we'll just hang out for a bit. You guys don't have anything else to do, right?

Bell agrees to 4-year deal with Dolphins

Yeremiah Bell not only will remain with the Dolphins in 2009. He's remaining as their starting strong safety.

Bell just agreed to terms on a 4-year deal worth $20 million. Of that $20 million, a whopping $10 million is guaranteed.

Bell, Miami's leading tackler in 2009, is the second major signing in the deep secondary for the Dolphins today. Earlier today the team signed Gibril Wilson to a deal worth up to $27.5 million.

Do the math: Miami's deep secondary is now a $47.5 million expenditure with $18 million of that guaranteed money.

The Dolphins have told Bell he will continue to play strong safety while Wilson, who played free safety during his years with the Giants, will take over at free safety.

That, of course, means Renaldo Hill is going to be looking for work come the start of free agency. Hill was the starting free safety in 14 games last season.

As I made the point in a previous post, Wilson played free safety for the Giants during his stint there. But ultimately they deemed him expendable. The Raiders wanted him as a strong safety and didn't think he could make the move to free safety, so that and the salary cap situation got him cut there.

The 49'ers were interested in Wilson when he was cut but they need a free safety and decided Wilson is not suited for that position. So while Wilson will play free safety in Miami and Bill Parcells and Tuna Helper Jeff Ireland believe Wilson will be successful with the move, there are doubters around the NFL that think that's not going to work.

We'll see.

[Continue to check back as I will have more news for you as it happens. It's been a great day for this blog so far!]

Fins sign Wilson to 5-year deal [UPDATE 2]

The Dolphins have apparently resolved their void at strong safety, but it's not how you think.

Even as the team was speaking with Yeremiah Bell -- as his agent Drew Rosenhaus spent several days recently negotiating with Miami -- there was something of a surprise move late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning when former Oakland Raider strong safety Gibril Wilson entered the picture.

This morning agent Alvin Keels confirmed that Wilson has agreed to a five-year deal with the Dolphins. At around 11:30 the Dolphins confirmed Wilson has signed "a multi-year contract."

Another league source tells me the deal can be worth up to $27.5 million and has $8 million in guaranteed money. That $5.5 mil average per year, the contract's length, Wilson's history as a starter, his age, and the fact Bell remains unsigned, paints one picture:

That Bell's days with the Dolphins may be over. This is not certain but it obviously gives pause. Bell agent Drew Rosenhaus has not yet returned a message left for him.

Wilson was a street free agent and not one of the group of unrestricted free agents that must wait until midnight tonight to work a deal. He was released by the Raiders recently after starting 15 games and finishing second in tackles with 129.

Wilson's career in a nutshell shows him to be a good player with solid credentials. He has a Super Bowl ring as he was on the New York Giants team that beat New England in Super Bowl XLII (42 for you normal folks).

After starting 51 of 52 games with the Giants, Wilson last year signed a six-year, $39 million deal. But his stay in Oakland ended Feb. 20 when the Raiders cut him in a salary-cutting move. Wilson was due to collect a $4.5 million roster bonus in March.

Although Wilson and Bell are built similarly, Wilson is said to run slightly better. He is also 27 years old compared to Bell's 30. Bell is believed by some pro personnel people to be a more explosive hitter.

It is possible the Dolphins might want to move Wilson to free safety and still re-sign Bell although that is not highly probable. Dolphins free safety Renaldo Hill is also unsigned.

[Update 2: Wilson played free safety for the Giants during his stint there. But ultimately they deemed him expendable. The Raiders wanted him as a strong safety and didn't think he could make the move to free safety, so that and the salary cap situation got him cut there. The 49'ers were interested for a second but they need a free safety and decided Wilson is not suited for that position. So while it is possible Wilson can be moved to the free safety spot in Miami, there are doubters around the NFL that think that's not his better position.]


Dilemmas connected with signing Jason Brown

As the clock ticks inexorably toward the midnight hour Thursday and free agency gets set to begin, the Dolphins are faced with something of a dilemma on a couple of fronts.

One person close to Brown, the Baltimore Ravens center who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at midnight Friday, told me Wednesday evening the player knows he will draw interest from the Dolphins, Redskins, and possibly Jacksonville if he isn't re-signed by the Ravens.

And, the person said, although Brown would like to return to Baltimore, he understands that may not be possible.

So the Dolphins have definitely shown interest in whatever manner teams do it without breaking the NFL mandate against tampering. And they are likely to find themselves in some sort of bidding battle with Washington, possibly Jacksonville, and other teams.

The brings me to Miami's first dilemma. Do the Dolphins go all out to keep from being outbid for perhaps the best young offensive lineman left in free agency or do they follow their unstated policy of doing sound, fair, but unspectacular free agent deals?

If Miami is intent on following policy, it would not surprise if Washington gets Brown because owner Daniel Snyder's deep pockets and aggressive reputation toward getting players is no joke. It doesn't always work for the Redskins, but they typically land players they really want.

So what is Miami's second dilemma? Well it seems Brown, who started at center all 16 games in 2008, wants to be paid like a guard. He started 28 games in 2006 and 2007 at left guard. Why is that Brown's stance?

Because guards make more money than centers for some reason God only knows. Last year, the guard market was set by free agent Alan Faneca who signed a five-year contract worth $40 million with the Jets. The contract included $21 million in guarantees. Do the math. The standard for top NFL guards now is $8 million per season.

The best contract ever signed by an NFL center was signed by Jeff Faine when he put his John Hitchcock (yes, I know) on a six-year deal worth $37.5 million. That deal included $15 million in guarantees and if you do the math that comes out to $6.25 million.

Obviously, Brown's agent wants his client paid closer to $8 million per year and not $6.25 million so he's shooting for a guard contract. But the Dolphins need a center and so that is a point that requires negotiation.

I would assume the teams' stances would be that Brown is not worth $8 million per year because, in fact, he is not a Pro Bowl player as Faneca is and, in fact, is not a guard like Faneca is. So maybe they pay him more than Faine but less than Faneca. Somewhere in the $7 million annual average range, maybe.

But that still creates an issue for the Dolphins because of their salary structure. Remember the Dolphins just signed right tackle Vernon Carey to a deal that has been reported at six years and $42 million. I have not independently confirmed those numbers and, in fact, numbers filed with the NFL Players Association show the deal as a five-year contract. But I digress.

The point is the right tackle is averaging $7 million per season, if the reports are correct. So how can the Dolphins justify spending the same or more than that on a center or guard, particularly when both signings come in the same year?

It is an intriguing situation the Dolphins face. I suspect the situation will have an outcome by the time the weekend is over.  

February 25, 2009

Crowder's deal shows both sides moved

The agent for Channing Crowder, a good man named Joel Segal, was practically certain a few weeks ago his client was going to be playing elsewhere in 2009. He hadn't talked to the team in three weeks and the last time he had, he had turned down an offer that would have paid Crowder about $3.7 million per season, according to a source.

That was only slightly more than the team was paying Reggie Torbor on average. Torbor is a backup who signed a four-year deal worth $14 million last offseason.

It came as no surprise Segal turned down the offer as his client plays ahead of Torbor and was second on the Dolphins in tackles while Torbor plays primarily on special teams. Segal had no intentions of talking to the Dolphins again until the start of free agency.

Except that something happened on Crowder's path to unrestricted free agency. He legitimately wanted to stay and the Dolphins legitimately wanted to keep him -- perhaps understanding that Bart Scott is very likely going to return to Baltimore and not hit free agency.

So the sides got together again.

"We started talking again during the scouting Combine," Segal told me this afternoon.

One thing led to another and then another and by around 5 p.m. the sides agreed to a three-year deal. Segal declined to discuss the deal's worth as the Dolphins have sworn him to secrecy. But it's likely the deal is probably in the neighborhood of $4-$5 million per year over three years.

Torbor got $4 million in guaranteed money. Crowder almost certainly got more, perhaps $5 million, although that is an estimate.

"In talking to Channing, he made it very clear he was not interested in leaving the Dolphins,'' Segal told me. ``So now he is going to get his wish and stay with the team he wanted to be with.''

Crowder, meanwhile, is apparently quite happy with the deal, although he wishes it was a longer-term deal. 

The reason Crowder would have preferred a longer deal is it would have provided more money, particularly on the guaranteed end. The reason he's happy about the deal is the Dolphins moved toward him to get him signed.

The Dolphins don't feel like they overspent even though they improved their offers. But they don't get the long-term solution a five- or six-year deal might have offered. And, the Dolphins are not finished.

The team continues to talk with agent Drew Rosenhaus, who represents both safeties Yeremiah Bell and Renaldo Hill. "Still talking on both players," Rosenhaus texted me earlier today. "Anything can happen between now and the start of free agency." 

When gag rules NFL what will fans say?

The last time I talked to Bill Parcells he said to me, proudly I might add, "we've got things locked up pretty tight over here ..."

And he's right.

As the father of keeping assistants from talking to the media whenever possible, the founder of the modern era One Voice concept, the person who pioneered keeping the media at arms-distance because, as he once said, "you guys are subversives," Parcells has started something that is expanding throughout the NFL.

Obviously, the Dolphins are under lockdown. The Patriots have been that way for some time under Bill Belichick, who learned it from Parcells. And with the Belichick coaching tree, rooted in Parcells, expanding, the One Voice concept is also expanding.

It went from the Jets to the Browns because Eric Mangini took it with him to Cleveland. It is likely to remain in New York because new coach Rex Ryan is something of a Parcells fan. It is likely to go to Denver, as former New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is the new coach there.

It definitely has taken root in Kansas City, where former New England personnel boss Scott Pioli, who happens to be Parcells' son-in-law, is now the football czar.

Now comes the latest duplication of the One Voice policy as Dallas owner Jerry Jones has put a gag order on his coaches -- including, temporarily at least, head coach Wade Phillips. This one, by the way is a head-scratcher because unnamed sourced stories in Dallas often come from Jones himself.

But I digress.

The point is from Miami and New England in the east, to Kansas City and Cleveland in the midwest, and reaching as far west as Dallas and Denver, an iron curtain has descended across the NFL continent. By the way, check out Winston Churchill's Iron Curtain Speech if you want to better understand the depth of a great statesman and defender of freedom. 

And what does that mean to you?

That's the question. I perceive most of you don't care. I get the feeling the same folks that have turned blogs like this into money machines for newspapers, the same group that have given this blog a record-breaking month so far, are not that upset information is being squelched.

Am I right?

Tell me, do you really think keeping assistants from talking helps the Dolphins win? Do you think having teams say it's a leg injury instead of specifying it as a calf or knee is good? Do you believe your team is better every Sunday because players are told, under threat of fine, not to discuss their health?

And do you think your team is better because the team tells agents not to speak with the media? [Yeah, agents have told me the Dolphins tell them not to talk. Funny ain't it?]

Frankly, I expect most of you to line up like sheep and say, "Baaaa, whatever the powers-that-be say is fine by me." In which case, why are you here? Just tune in on Sunday and forget information about what's happening the rest of the year.

Hopefully some of you would like ito hear from the special teams coach on why his unit was terrible last season. Hopefully some of you would like to hear from general manager Jeff Ireland more than three times a year. Nah, I'm dreaming again.

So have your say in the comments section.

But let me share a couple of things first: I was born in a country where speech was silenced and information was restricted so I guess I'm sensitive about this subject. I take it personally because my folks risked much and sacrificed much to bring me to a place where gag orders are not the society's norm.  

Secondly, did you happen to catch the Super Bowl? The Pittsburgh Steelers are among the most open organizations in football. And the Arizona Cardinals, while not exactly an open book, are also relatively transparent.

Didn't seem to hurt their competitive advantage too much.

February 24, 2009

Miami Dolphins eying Ravens in free agency

And you thought the Dolphins were done with the Ravens after the playoffs last season?

In fact the Dolphins are monitoring the Ravens this week as two and perhaps three possible free agents from that team are Miami targets, in varying degrees, when free agency begins Feb. 27.

The Dolphins like linebacker Bart Scott, center Jason Brown and strong safety Jim Leonhard, according to an NFL source. But the source says it is unlikely the Dolphins will get more than one of those players -- at most -- because of other circumstances, not related to Miami, that are currently at play.

The source said no team, including the Dolphins, are likely to land both Brown and Scott because one of them is likely to return to Baltimore as a newly minted re-signed player before the end of this week. It should be noted that agent Harold Lewis represents both Brown and Scott and he recently told the Baltimore Sun he was negotiating with the Ravens on deals for both.

"My gut feeling is one of the two is going to hit free agency and the other one will probably sign," Lewis told the Sun. "That's just my gut."

Make no mistake here, the Dolphins hold both in high regard.

Scott is the explosive, running back-hungry inside linebacker the team wants. He's big at 6-2 and 240. He's quick. He's a great run-blitzer and is often effective when blitzing on passing downs. He also has excellent instincts.

If there is a downside on Scott it is that he will command a high price and there will be plenty of competition for his services, including within the AFC East. He is also 28 years old, which is slightly older than what is optimal in Miami's eyes.

Brown, 26 in May, is more attractive from an age standpoint. He has size at 6-3 and 320. He has a reputation for being tenacious. He is durable, having started every game the past two seasons -- he was the only Baltimore lineman to start every game in 2007. And he has started as both a left guard and a center during his career.

Leonhard is the least likely of the three the Dolphins would land because, frankly, he's probably headed to the New York Jets anyway.

Speaking of the Jets, the hiring of Rex Ryan as head coach is not exactly a good thing for the Dolphins. It says a lot that Ryan is a Bill Parcells protege' and has the Big Tuna's respect. In fact, Ryan was among the coaches interviewed when Big Tuna was lining up his Tuna Helpers in 2008.

So how does Ryan's presence in New York affect the Dolphins?

Immediately, Ryan will be adding talent he's familiar with and that means Ravens players. The scuttlebutt in league circles is that Leonhard, who started for the Ravens and was the object of some man love from some of the posters on here, is on New York's free agent radar.

Not coincidently, the Jets are also interested in Scott, which might cause another problem for Miami.

Leonhard, you'll recall, had an interception in the playoff game against Miami. And yes, the Ravens, with Ryan as their defensive coordinator, beat the Dolphins twice last season. Doesn't mean Ryan is more likely to beat the Dolphins while with the Jets. But he obviously understood Miami's offensive weaknesses.

Discuss ... 

February 22, 2009

Agent: Dolphins working hard to sign Bell

A couple of days ago I asked which of their own unrestricted free agents the Dolphins should try to lock up next, now that Vernon Carey is in the fold. And a whopping 83.2 percent of the 3,373 respondents -- some as far away as Guam and Australia and Israel -- said it should be Yeremiah Bell.

The Dolphins are apparently in agreement.

During his weekly appearance on local television station WSVN-7, agent Drew Rosenhaus said he's met several times with the Dolphins during the current scouting Combine in Indianapolis with the goal of striking a deal for Bell.

"I believe the Dolphins have targetted Yeremiah Bell as a guy they need to sign," Rosenhaus said. "He's one of my clients. I've been in discussions with them throughout the week. I believe we'll work very hard. It's too hard to say whether or not we'll get a deal done. We're still working at it. But certainly we've been in discussions."

Rosenhaus lives in South Florida and represents a handful of Dolphins, including Renaldo Hill, another unrestricted free agent, and receiver Ernest Wilford, whose future with the team is uncertain given his three total catches in 2008.

But while Rosenhaus did not mention Hill during his segment, he talked about a renewed optimism that Wilford will remain with the team.

"If you asked me this question two weeks ago I would have said it's very unlikely," Rosenhaus said of Wilford staying with Miami. "But my sense is the Dolphins are looking at the free agent market and it's not that great. And they invested quite a bit of money in Ernest. He's a hard worker. He's a talented guy.

"Last year didn't go the way it was planned. But I would no longer be surprised if Ernest Wilford is back with the Dolphins ... He's been over at the facility working out. He would like to come back. Hopefully he gets that opportunity, we'll find out soon."

As something of a Dolphins insider, Rosenhaus is convinced he knows what the Dolphins are going to do with their No. 1 pick this April. [BLOG NOTE: Nobody knows except maybe Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland and maybe not even them because it is way too early.]

Anyway, Rosenhaus seems certain Miami is going with a wide receiver No. 1.

"The Dolphins are definitely, in my opinion, going to take a receiver with the No. 1 pick," he said. "There's too much talent there ... Dolphins fans, this is your year to get a receiver in the first round even at No. 25."

One wonders if it has dawned on Rosenhaus that if the Dolphins go with a wide receiver in the first round, as he seems confident they will, the client he also seems hopeful can stick around, might get whacked as a result.

If the Dolphins draft a receiver No. 1, adding to a corps that includes Ted Ginn Jr., Greg Camarillo, Davone Bess, Brandon London and Wilford, the player initially at the bottom rung of that ladder would be, you guessed it, Wilford.

How ironical, as one player told me once.

Oh, one more thing: Rosenhaus is also the agent for recently cut running back Fred Taylor. He confirmed Taylor will visit with the Buffalo Bills, a Dolphins AFC East rival, sometime this week.

Dolphins in Indy while Parcells in Jupiter

Big Tuna Bill Parcells made news when he attended the Senior Bowl practices in Mobile, Ala. last month. There were questions whether he might be changing his tradition of visiting spring training sites and instead concentrate on the Indianapolis Combine.

He's staying in South Florida, thanks.

Parcells visited the Florida Marlins Sunday morning and shared time with manager Fredi Gonzalez. Durning the visit, he shared his opinion on the importance of chemistry when putting a team together.

"Baseball is more of a one-on-one game than football is," Parcells said. "Football is more like a symphony orchestra. I don't think, and that's just my opinion, that you're going to be too successful in a team game without some kind of or amount of chemistry.

"Now that's an ambiguous term, and it manifests itself in a lot of different ways. But, they've got to fit. And players have got to be able to rely on one another, and they've got to be able to count on one another. And they've got to show up when the time is important." 

Parcells also visited friend Tony La Russa, who manages the Cardinals. The Cards and Marlins share a large facility in Jupiter.

"He had [an amazing] year, historic year," La Russa said of Parcells and the Dolphins. "And the first thing he said to me was, 'We lost in the first round [of the playoffs].' One thing we've talked about is, you get older and it's tougher to lose because you know how good a postseason appearance is. And if you get in, that postseason appearance is more precious because you don't know when the next one is coming."

Meanwhile, in Indy, receivers the Dolphins have their eye on ran the 40-yard dash this morning.

[Update: These are official as the earlier numbers were not.] North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks made himself a lot of money by running a 4.49. Ohio State's Brian Robiskie ran a 4.51 on his first attempt and a 4.49 on his second attempt. Ramses Barden ran a 4.57. Mohamed Massaquoi ran a 4.57. Jeremy Maclin ran a 4.40. Mike Wallace ran a 4.38. The fastest time?

Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey ran a 4.30!

Florida's Percy Harvin ran a 4.41 in the 40 which is excellent but not astounding. He did measure taller than expected at 5-11 3/4, which suprised several scouts because they thought him closer to 5-10. Harvin has been invited to visit the Dolphins training facility to speak with Miami coaches when the team brings in it's group of 25 or so "local" college players.

As many of you know, the team is also allowed to bring in 30 "national" players -- those not from Florida or who have not played in Florida.

Injury news: Nicks was seen limping after one route-running drill but it's not deemed serious at the moment. Maclin was helped off the field after a drill but later continued.

February 21, 2009

Center is now the center of attention

Left tackle? Jake Long. Check.

Right tackle? After signing a 6-year deal worth a reported $42 million on Friday, Vernon Carey is the guy. Check.

Left guard? Justin Smiley has been injured two consecutive seasons but the Dolphins have invested a lot of money on him so he's the guy. Check.

Right guard? Donald Thomas impressed the holy heck out of coaches in training camp last year before getting injured the first game and missing the entire season. Despite questions, the staff is convinced he's going to be pretty darn good. So another check.

Interior line backups? Andy Alleman and Ikechuku Ndukwe have experience. Check.

Center? Problem ... problem ... danger Will Robinson, danger!

The Dolphins will absolutely address the center spot this offseason with an eye toward replacing Samson Satele as the starter. You don't need a highly placed source to figure that out. It's plain as day. And it makes more sense considering coach Tony Sparano refused to name Satele his starter during his one interview session in Indianapolis this week. In fact, his answer raised doubts Satele might even be on the team in 2009.

"Samson's obviously a member of our football team right now," Sparano said because that was the nicest thing he could immediately think about the kid without throwing him under the proverbial bus. "Whether or not he's our starting center? One of the things I think everyone of our players know on my team is that there's going to be competition at every position always.

"...There's competition at every one of our positions right now. One thing that we know, and I'm sure every team in this league will say the same thing, is the 53 you had last year doesn't mean that's going to be the 53 you have this year. For us, it's going to be the right 53 again, and whatever happens, happens. Everybody's got to be ready to compete. If not, they don't belong on the Miami Dolphin team."

So who will the Dolphins bring in to compete for the starting center job?

There is wild speculation about Baltimore unrestricted free agent-to-be Jason Brown. He's good. But the Ravens are working "diligently," a league source told me, to try and get Brown re-signed before the start of free agency Feb. 27.

So there is no certainty Brown, the best center that might hit free agency, will actually hit free agency. We'll see. Beyond that, Brown is going to cost the Dolphins, or any other team, a lot of money. I am told Brown wants to be paid among the highest-paid centers in the league. His initial asking price, on average, is in the pricey neighborhood of $6-$7 million annually. Tampa Bay's Jeff Faine was the highest-paid center last year at $7 million.

Frankly, I don't see the Dolphins paying that kind of price, considering there are several centers in the draft that fit what they like. Sure, any rookie comes with uncertainty and inexperience. But Big Tuna Bill Parcells and Tuna Helper Jeff Ireland prefer to fill their roster through the draft and have confidence that once they lock onto a player they see as a fit, he will, indeed, fit. [Never mind the small details named Ernest Wilford and Shawn Murphy.]

So what rookies will be available in the draft?

Think Jonathan Luigs (6-foot-4, 302 pounds) of Arkansas. Think Max Unger (6-5, 300) of Oregon. Think Antonie Caldwell (6-4, 307) of Alabama. Think Eric Wood (6-4, 305) of Louisville. Think Andy Levitre (6-3, 306) or Oregon State. Think Trevor Canfield (6-5, 311) of Cincinnati.

Yes, I know Levitre and Canfield made their reputations playing mostly guard in college. So? That only makes them more valuable because of that "position flexibility" love the Dolphins have.

All the players mentioned above, with Unger being the possible exception, should be available in the second round. Some will be available in the third round.

Regardless, someone will be signed, drafted, acquired in trade to compete for Miami's starting center job. And then the Dolphins will be able to check off their last major issue on the offensive line.

February 20, 2009

Which player should Dolphins lock up next?

Just catching up as I've been on Florida Marlins duty all day, folks. [I have bosses that tell me what to cover, what can I say?]

Anyway, you know that Vernon Carey has signed a six-year, $42 million deal with the Dolphins. Interesting to me that no numbers about the guaranteed portion of that deal have come out. For perspective you should remember Jordan Gross, considered the best OT that avoided free agency, signed a six-year deal worth a reported $60 million only one day before.

Gross gets $30.5 million of his money the first three years, a vehicle by which his agent prevents the Panthers from cutting his client later in the deal. His deal is not backloaded.

I will be very, very, very interested to see how Carey's contract is structured. If it is backloaded, the player got sold a bill of goods. If the contract includes guarantees early in the deal and gets him at least half his salary the next three years, Carey got a great deal for himself. 

As I wrote previously, losing Carey was not a great option for the Dolphins because it would have meant retracing offensive line steps again in the draft. Now, the Dolphins can still secure OL help in the draft or free agency, but it can come at center.

As we know the Dolphins have other needs as well -- primarily in the secondary, OLB, ILB and WR, WR, WR!

Carey's signing leaves Miami with five pending unrestricted free agents. They are Channing Crowder, Andre' Goodman, Al Johnson, Renaldo Hill and Yeremiah Bell. Speaking of those gents, please take the poll below and tell me how you feel about what Miami should do next.

And then tell me why you voted the way you did in the comment section. 

Go Marlins!

The words right from Tony Sparano's mouth

Dolphins coach Tony Sparano spoke to the national and local media on Thursday and it was quite enlightening in a Parcellian-not-going-to-tell-you-much sort of way.

As you know Sparano confirmed the Dolphins would not use the franchise tag on any of their free agents. But he wouldn't say why. He confirmed special teams assistant Steve Hoffman has left the team to coach in Kansas City. He kinda sorta tried to explain why Mike Maser was fired as the offensive line coach -- something about him yelling too much, I've been told.

He also made it very clear starting center Samson Satele is going to be in for a battle for the starting center job -- especially when the Dolphins sign or draft his replacement. And Sparano said the wildcat package would continue to be part of the Dolphins identity.

Anyway, read the questions and answers for yourself. Me? I'm just doing my part to fill up the Internet.

Q. Will you franchise any players?

A. "No."

Q. Can you talk about what went into that decision?

"Nothing to talk about. No."

Q. What do you look for at the combine and what do you want to get out of it?

A. "Probably the greatest thing that you learn when you're here at the combine -- from my end and the seat I'm sitting in -- is background and some of the interview information that you're able to get and have access to the players. I think that's critical, just getting to know some of these guys before you actually get into the physical part of it, watching them work, maybe getting them on your campus later on or whatever the case might be. I think the most important thing is the interviews while you're here and then seeing them work. What has happened as of late is more and more guys are working here, which is nice to see."

Q. What is Miami's biggest need?

A. "As you know, I'm not going to tell you from that end what our biggest need is or what any of those things are, but let's not confuse this whole thing. We won 11 football games this year, but we knew when we walked in the door that this was going to be a couple-year deal for us, a couple-, two-, three-year deal to get it right exactly the way we want it. We kind of had an idea of maybe how many players this might take when we walked in and we're not there yet. We won 11 football games, and we know that we need a lot of pieces. There's a lot of needs on our football team right now that we need to address. We'll keep banging away, trying to address them through the draft, maybe through free agency. We may not get them all answered right now."

Q. How much easier will it be in free agency, coming off an 11-win season as opposed to one win?

A. "I hope that that's a little bit easier, but everybody has something great to offer one way or the other.
As you know, the players have options and we have options and all those good things. I would think that
when you're coming off a 1-15 and now you're 11-5 and you start to turn the corner -- we're not there yet,
but you start to turn the corner and change the culture -- that's attractive to the free agents. Our players
on our team right now probably have a pretty good message and pretty good information to potential free
agents that might be out there. That all helps."

Q. How do you coordinate the draft and free agency to fill your needs?

A. "It starts with the free agents. That's the phase that we're closest to with this being 10 days away. From our end, we need to be careful. We're not going to be able to address all our needs from a free-agent standpoint. That really isn't our philosophy. It never has been. Our philosophy is plain and simple: We want to build it through the draft. That's always been Bill's [Parcells] philosophy. That's always been Jeff's [Ireland] philosophy. That's what I've been kind of raised in, so you try to build it through the draft with as many pieces as you can from that end, and then I think you start to maybe look at a couple components that are maybe available to you in free agency one way or the other, whether they're your own or whether they're somebody else's that you might be able to get and help you save a must pick during the course of the draft process. That's the way we attack it: Always thinking the draft is first and foremost."

Q. Is a major trade that would cost draft picks out of character for the Dolphins front office?

A. "A lot of that depends on where you are and maybe what you have to offer. Where we are at this time right now, we need a lot of players. So depending on what that situation is .. You know last year we had a great situation with the Anthony Fasano and Akin Ayodele trade. That trade from Dallas for the fourth-round pick, that helped us. We got two players that we knew a lot about that we knew were going to be starters for us for a fourth-round pick. We felt good about that."

Q. Why did you go tackle-the-quarterback in last year's draft rather than quarterback-then-tackle?

A. "Different people have different philosophies with this whole thing. You look at the way that whole deal went down and, of course, we feel like we got a very good player in Jake [Long] and I'm sure ... I can't speak for Atlanta, but [Matt Ryan] is a heck of a player. At the end of this whole thing, from our end it's always been a philosophy that you start there, up front. And, of course, my background is that way, and Bill's background and history is one where you do start within the lines and you try to get the big people first. The tackle was available, and the left tackle in this league is a premium. We were able to get Jake who, of course, from our end had everything that we were looking for in the makeup."

Q. Do you still have needs on the offensive line?

A. "There's a need at every position right now, and I'm not trying to skirt that question one way or the other. But that's a true statement. We really need a lot. You can never get enough big people. You can never get enough secondary guys. That's the way I've been raised in this deal. As we've gone through the season, you could see those things pop up. We lost Justin Smiley during the course of the season. We lost Donald Thomas during the course of the season. When you're trying to make a run at this thing and you lose valuable pieces like that it proves your point. You can never have enough of them. We were fortunate we had some guys that were able to fill in because that's been our philosophy."

Q. Do you scout players with the Wildcat in mind?

A. "I'm sure of that. I'm sure that there's some people that are looking at those pieces right now. I know that as the season went on, more teams tried it. I don't know how committed other teams are one way or
the other to it, but there's a lot of those kinds of players out there, the potential Wildcat guys, whether they're different positional players that have the skill to run the football that maybe has thrown the football. There's some of those people out there that might fit other people's philosophy. Again, all depends on whether or not you're married to [the Wildcat]. It was good to us, certainly. But at the end of the whole process and you got back and evaluate where we were offensively, it was just a very small part of what we do."

Q. Are you still married to it?

A. "It's going to be a part of our personality. There's no question about it. I think our players like it. I think our coaches feel like there's some advantages there. There's some things this offseason that we had to go back and look at and reevaluate how to do it better, those type of things. There was a lot left on the bone that we didn't roll out there during the course of the season for one reason or the other. This gives us a chance this offseason to push the envelope a little bit more."

Q. How surprised were you that the Wildcat became adopted by so many teams?

A. "I was pretty surprised, to be honest with you. At the end of this, I wish I had a dollar for every person
who ran it. But I was surprised only because we knew when we rolled it out during the course of the New
England week that you're taking a chance one way or the other. We also knew that, hey, this might be a
two-play deal. We might go out there for two plays and if it backfires or it doesn't give us the look that we wanted, maybe we don't see it anymore. It just so happened we started to get a couple of the pictures that we wanted to see, and we were able to go with it a little bit longer. But to see other people running it, that surprised me a little bit."

Q. Would you draft player specifically for the Wildcat?

A. "There are players in this draft that certainly have qualities like that. I don't know that we would solely do that. When you're looking at the percentage that we've used it, that would be hard to do."

Q. What do you think of what's happened with the Jets and Patriots this offseason?

A. "Any time you look at those types of situations in your division, you're always very conscious of what's going on. Starting with the Jets, with a new head coach and him coming from Baltimore and us not having great success against Baltimore the two times that we played them, I think that's something we're doing our homework on. Of course, you shake up a staff, you have to be conscious of the staff Changes. Same thing in New England, you lose your offensive coordinator, those types of situations. We're all aware of that. 'm sure they're aware of what we've done from a staff standpoint. We had a change in the line coach. We have to do our homework to prepare for them, kind of like your new opponents."

Q. Can you address kicking coach Steve Hoffman's situation (joined Chiefs staff)?

A. "Steve had a great opportunity. He had the opportunity to go to Kansas City and coordinate that special teams. I was with Steve in Dallas. It's a long time coming for him. I was really pleased for him and his family. Right now, we need to address the situation, take a look and find the best fit."

Q. How different was it to coach in Dallas under Bill Parcells and Wade Phillips?

A. "Just different philosophies. Being an assistant coach under Bill (laughs), you didn't have this exposure. You didn't have these types of things. You weren't going to speak to the media. It was more of a one-voice philosophy. But as far as the two philosophies on the field, Bill wanted them coached hard. Wade wanted them coached hard. That's what we did. I think an awful lot of coach Phillips and what he's done and how he helped me because getting a chance to have a voice and be out in front of the media and to be a little bit more involved is something that helped me to get this job. I think the philosophies are
just a little different in maybe they ran the overall deal."

Q. Why did you change offensive line coaches?

A. "Well, to be honest with you, there's something that from my end -- and I don't want to get into it too
much because I really think an awful lot of Mike [Maser] and what Mike did for us -- but you have a feeling sometimes. From my end, what I didn't want to do is if I have those kinds of feelings on where we
need to be ... That group is a finicky group, that offensive-line group. I think that to my end, communication-wise, I think it's important. Mike did a great job out there coaching them on the field. But I felt there needed to be a change. I moved in that direction. I didn't want to move in that direction a year from now and sitting here, saying 'Why didn't you do this a year ago?' I felt like this is the time to do it. We evaluate players. We evaluate coaches. My coaches know that, and the players know that."

Q. Because of your background as an O-line coach, will it always been an unfair scenario for your O-line coaches?

A. "I don't know. Bill always says to me 'It's never going to look the way you want it to look or look like when you were coaching it because you were the offensive line coach.' That might be true, but I don't think so. I think I try to let those guys coach. I really don't get involved a whole lot that way. My job is to oversee and to be sure that I'm touching every unit on the field. Joey Porter needs attention. Yeremiah Bell needs attention. All these people need my attention as well. That was my job from day one, so the people that I hired I wanted to make sure they communicated with their positions without me interfering."

Q. Do you monitor Tom Brady's progress and whether you'll have to face him?

A. "Yeah, we pay attention to it. Certainly, when you can you do. There's no secret, and I'm not saying
anything that I'm sure the Patriots or the Jets or the Bills wouldn't be saying. As we know, to get to where we need to be, it all starts in your division. So you better know everything about your division. That's important to us. Our team knows that we need to know everything about our division. At the end of the day, the division is what matters most, first. Watching those things and trying to keep your finger on it as much as you can ... Nobody is going to give out injury information and how people are doing and all that good stuff. But you try to see what you can see. It's important for us."

Q. How many drafts does it take to address the trenches?

A. "That's an interesting question. Certainly, a couple. I would say two, maybe even three to fully get to where you want to be down there. When you look at it, at the end of that whole process last year, we had [Shawn] Murphy, who didn't play a snap for us but is a good, promising young player for us, and then Jake [Long], who played, Donald [Thomas], who we drafted and unfortunately got hurt, and on the other side of the ball Kendall [Langford] and Philip [Merling]. So we had five guys that came out of that draft that one way or the other you could argue the point that four of those guys were contributors. If Donald doesn't get hurt he's probably going to be in there for the long haul and play over a thousand plays. But you're only looking at four players, and you really need somewhere in that process 14, 15 on both sides of the ball combined. It takes a couple of years to get it the way you want to get it in the trenches."

Q. What are your thoughts on Julius Peppers in a 3-4 defense?

A. "To be honest with you, I stay away from commenting on anybody else's players on anybody else's teams or the free-agent stuff. What I do know is there are more teams going to the 3-4. I read just the
other day like you read that Kansas City might be going to a 3-4, so now there's more options for these kinds of payers that are out there right now. There's a lot of these players in the draft, the 265-pound defensive ends that we mess around with in Dallas with the Greg Ellises or in Miami with the Matt Roths. So there's a lot of those kinds of players that maybe aren't big enough to be defensive ends in a 4-3 defense but are big enough to play linebacker."

Q. What is Samson Satele's status and will he be your starting center?

A. Samson's obviously a member of our football team right now. Whether or not he's our starting center?
One of the things I think everyone of our players know on my team is that there's going to be competition at every position always. We feel that makes us better. If we don't have competition, and I don't care what the position is if you look at quarterback and see Chad Pennington's had a great year, but we drafted Chad Henne. He's a guy who'll always go out there and compete. That's why we drafted him. He has that kind of makeup. Chad Pennington has that kind of makeup. There's competition at every one of our positions right now. One thing that we know, and I'm sure every team in this league will say the same thing, is the 53 you had last year doesn't mean that's going to be the 53 you have this year. For us, it's going to be the right 53 again, and whatever happens, happens. Everybody's got to be ready to compete. If not, they don't belong on the Miami Dolphin team."

February 19, 2009

Dolphins: Not franchising Carey, Bell [updated]

Today is the deadline for teams to utilize their franchise tags on their unrestricted free agents. Today's deadline doesn't mean much for the Dolphins because they will not use that designation on any of their free agents.

Dolphins coach Tony Sparano, speaking with the media at the Indy Combine, just confirmed the Dolphins will not franchise either right tackle Vernon Carey or strong safety Yeremiah Bell today. And, as we know, none of the other Miami free agents are going to carry a franchise tag either.

Miami's other unrestricted free agents include linebacker Channing Crowder, free safety Renaldo Hill and cornerback Andre' Goodman and center Al Johnson.

"I think every one of our free agents right now, without getting into tremendous detail, know our feeling and they know exactly where we stand at this particular time," Sparano said. "The free agents, they have options, we have options and they know there's been a lot of communication there from our end."

The Herald's Jeff Darlington, freezing in Indianapolis while I stay warm in South Florida, will provide a complete report on Sparano's talk to the South Florida and national media later this evening. Check miamiherald.com for the story.

So it now seems clear the Dolphins are prepared to lose any and all of their unrestricted free agents wthout securing any with the tag. I don't think they will lose them all. If I had to guess, Channing Crowder is gone.

Miami's best chances of retaining players will be with Goodman and Hill because I don't see a huge market for them in free agency. Carey worries me. He's going to get offers and I believe he's not giving the Dolphins a hometown discount.

Carey is problematic to me. With the expected signing of Jordan Gross to a deal later today, Carey becomes one of the best, if not the best tackle option in free agency. He's durable, he's young at 27 years old and, although he's better suited for right tackle, he has experience at left tackle.

Max Starks, a right tackle, and Khalif Barnes, a left tackle, are considered the only other starting-caliber tackles left in the free agent market. The other guys are journeymen such as former Dolphins John St. Clair or players with question marks such as Tra Thomas and Mark Tauscher.

It's not a good group. And that means Carey will garner attention. And that means the Dolphins had better have a trick up their sleeve to make this issue go away.

Disgust ... I mean, discuss ...

[Updated: Starks has been tagged according to a report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. One less tackle will hit the market, meaning the likelihood of Carey hitting the market continues to increase.]

February 18, 2009

Another important side to the Indy Combine

The part of the Indianapolis Combine that often goes unnoticed and therefore unreported by the media -- particularly the younger, inexperienced reporters -- is what happens between agents and club personnel people in hotel lobbies, or restaurants, or in the stadium and convention center hallways.

Yes, the incoming class of rookies is working out and being interviewed.

But agents also are in Indianapolis for meetings and they use the trip to conduct face-to-face business with teams. Agents go to Indy to pitch their clients who are soon to become free agents. In some cases they go to Indy to try and bridge a gap in talks between their clients scheduled to become free agents and their current teams. Agents also go to Indy to get an idea what players they represent might be on the radar for certain teams -- as a way of testing the market before it opens.

As you know free agency begins Feb. 27 and agents and teams aren't supposed to discuss players that are not yet free agents until midnight on that date.

But the worst kept secret in the NFL is that agents and teams do discuss players prior to that time and, in extreme cases, even set up contract parameters prior to free agency's official start. Does anyone remember Justin Smiley agreed to his free agent contract with Miami about 20 minutes after midnight when free agency began last year?

Do you seriously believe that entire deal got negotiated and agreed to in 20 minutes? I remember years ago the Dolphins had safety Gene Atkins in town and signed the first day of free agency. You think Atkins just happened to be around?

Some of those talks and exchanges of information between teams and agents start in Indianapolis.

Now that you understand the situation on the ground, here are a couple of things the Dolphins will likely discuss and run into in the coming days.

The defensive end spot is likely to become a big point of interest for Miami in the coming days and weeks. In the coming days, agents Cary Fabrikant and Brian Levy and the Dolphins will discuss the future of defensive end Vonnie Holliday.

Those talks are necessary because, as I reported weeks ago, Holliday is due a $1.5 million roster bonus on March 3. And his cap number for 2009 is currently scheduled to be $5.75 million. So that's a lot of cap room to use on a player.

The Dolphins may be interested in reworking the deal to make it more cap friendly, despite the fact they have a whopping $28 million in cap space at their disposal already. Holliday is open to restructuring but probably not too keen about taking a pay cut. So the sides have to discuss the matter and those talks are likely to happen in Indianapolis.

But that is not where the defensive end spot's Indianapolis flavor ends. You see, two potential unrestricted free agent defensive ends are expected to approach the Dolphins, through their agents, to gauge Miami interest. They are San Diego's Igor Olshansky and Chris Canty of the Dallas Cowboys.

The connection between Canty and the Dolphins is obvious as he was drafted by Bill Parcells out of Virginia. Canty has started 48 consecutive games for the Cowboys and talked on Sirius NFL Radio a couple of weeks ago about his relationship with Parcells.

“He did draft me. He did draft me," Canty said. "You know, I like Bill. And I’ve always said, there’s a part of me that’s always [going to] be a Parcells guy. I’ve played under Al Groh in college and then coming in as a rookie under Bill. What they instill in the brand of football that they play, it’s been with me so that would be a place that would be a good fit. But, you know, we have to wait and see.”

Canty's agent, Bradley Blank, will likely soon have a pretty good idea exactly what Miami's interest will be. If that interest is not legitimate with Canty or if the Dolphins don't somehow retain Holliday, the Dolphins will almost certainly will be involved, at least initially, in the Olshansky sweepstakes.

Olshansky can opt out of his contract with the Chargers based on the fact he's met certain performance levels. The San Diego Union-Tribune has reported Olshansky will use his opt-out. The fact he has an opt-out alone means he's likeminded with Parcells. Couldn't resist.

In truth, the fact Olshansky is 6-6 and 309 pounds and productive and 26 years old will be tempting to the Dolphins because Holliday, who was as productive if not more productive than those other two players, is hindered by the fact he's 33 and will be 34 in December.

So keep these veteran defensive ends in mind even as you're thinking about the rookies and the vertical leap and the short shuttle times in Indianapolis.

Also, keep in mind Drew Rosenhaus will be approaching the Dolphins about Yeremiah Bell and Renaldo Hill. Keep in mind the Dolphins will be telling agent Ben Dogra whether they will put the franchise tag on his client Vernon Carey. Keep in mind agents will be pitching GM Jeff Ireland their free-agents-to-be.

It'll be a busy few days.

Big Brother needs more phone information

I know, I know, I know. I asked a couple of days ago for you to tell me what phone you use and what carrier you enlist.

Well, I'm compelled to ask again.

So even as I am composing a new blog post that will contain, you know, football information, I ask you to entertain this post for a couple of minutes and answer the freakin' question so I can go on to other things and let you do the same.

So please just tell me what phone and carrier you're (not your) using. Trust me, we're doing this for your (not you're) benefit down the road.

And come back in about 30 minutes because I'll have a new and groundbreaking post up on the site. Or maybe I'll just have more football for you to digest. Yum.

Must-have info for start of Indy Combine

Cody brown Someone on Tuesday accused me of being obsessive about the Dolphins' need to add some firepower at the receiver position. Guilty as charged.

I am also obsessive about Miami's need to improve its pass rush.

I am also obsessive about Miami's need to get better play at center.

I am also obsessive about Miami's need to upgrade the secondary.

I am also obsessive about Miami's need to add a young nose tackle.

And, oh by the way, the Dolphins have to draft a fullback, too. Did I forget anything?

The fact of the matter is the Dolphins have a ton of needs, many more than a typical 11-win, defending division champion should have. Big Tuna Bill Parcells and Tuna Helper Jeff Ireland know this better than anyone and so the Indianapolis Combine that begins Wednesday will help them sort out which players fit and which don't.

Let me throw out some names and pre-combine facts at you before I get to the list below. The Dolphins are deeply interested in drafting a premier outside linebacker to rush the passer. I made the mistake a couple of days ago of suggesting it's not a huge need because the team signed Derek Cameron Wake.

A source has since told me the Wake signing showed how much Miami is concerned about the position. He said the Dolphins are spending tons of time trying to unearth the next DeMarcus Ware and the Wake signing was by no means the final step in the process.

The Dolphins have studied and spent time with a couple of guys you may not have heard about. Connecticut's Cody Brown (pictured) is an athletic kid from South Florida that lit up the Big East with 11 sacks and 16 tackles for losses in 2008. Because he's local, he was at a Dolphins practice in late December and Parcells and Ireland asked him to stick around so they could, "talk," to him. Hmmmm.

Brown is a second-rounder type depending on how he performs at the Combine. Remember his name.

Also remember Cincinnati's Connor Barwin, which the Dolphins spent time with interviewing in Mobile. The Combine could very easily thrust Barwin from a little-known, undersized defensive end who actually was ordered to play tight end at the Senior Bowl, into a full-blown first rounder.

At 6-3 and about 253 pounds, Barwin is undersized at end. But as an OLB in a 3-4 he seems perfect. And although he typically runs in the high 4.6s, I am told Barwin's trainers have him breaking into the 4.5s this past month. If he runs anything under 4.6 in Indy, alarm bells will go off and suddenly, Miami's little secret about this guy will not be so secret anymore.

At the nose tackle spot where Miami has starter Jason Ferguson pushing 35 years old next season, the Dolphins have taken a liking to Boston College defensive tackle Ron Brace. Brace is 6-3 and 329 pounds and is built like a prototypical 3-4 NT. It doesn't hurt his cause that he was second-team All-ACC in 2008 after collecting 11 tackles for losses and three sacks.

Brace projects between a second and fourth rounder, depending on his Combine and Pro Day workouts the next two months. He's also on Miami's radar.

The Dolphins have every intention of looking for interior line help in free agency. Baltimore's Jason Brown has been rumored to be on Miami's wish list for weeks. But the bidding for Brown might be high once free agency begins Feb. 27. Some folks guess he will get the biggest payday of any center in free agency, including former Pro Bowl players such as Jeff Saturday and Matt Birk.

So the Dolphins must have a draft fallback position.

That is where Arkansas center Jonathan Luigs enters the picture. The Dolphins spent much time with him at the Senior Bowl and are expected to talk to him again at the Combine. The fact former Arkansas assistant and now Miami's QB coach David Lee apparently loves the kid doesn't hurt, either.

I would tell you the Dolphins will not be looking for a starting guard in free agency. They will be looking for a backup guard they can develop and possibly turn into a starter when the draft comes around. That's because more often than not, a team's backup guards play significant snaps in the NFL.

Yeah, I said it, an offensive line is only as good as its backup guards. Wasn't that the case with the Dolphins last year? Same thing in two dozen other NFL outposts. It's just the way things are in the trenches that bodies break down.

And while the Dolphins hoped to address that need with Shawn Murphy last year, he was a major disappointment and might struggle to make the team this year. The Dolphins like Oregon State's Andy Levitre, not so much because he's a physical specimen or a gifted technician, but because he is a clamp of a human being when he gets his hands on defenders in tight spaces.

OK, those are the guys that do not play receiver you should be paying attention to during the Combine. Because the Dolphins will be paying close attention. I will tell you about the cornerbacks and safeties Miami is interested in later this week as I have to keep you coming back.