Wants. Needs. Must haves.
If you are a Dolphins personnel man or coach, you know what these words are about. If you are reader of this blog, you also know what these words are about. These words define the priorities the Dolphins put on their offseason moves.
A quickie tutorial: The must haves are the priority. The team must add talent at this position to function. The needs is next in line. The team needs to improve in this area, but it suggests there are bodies on the roster that can do the job -- although not at the optimum level -- to field a team. The wants? These are the greedy desires. These are the luxuries that can turn very good into great. Teams can make the playoffs without their wants.
So where are the Dolphins in their priority lists as the new league year looms March 5?
Ask Gary Horton at Scouts Inc. at ESPN.com and he believes Miami's priorities are 1. WR, 2. FS, 3. NT. Then he adds the team also needs help at OLB, ILB and OG.
Ask Salguero at, well, right here on this blog and I happen to disagree with Horton. I say Miami's must have is OLB, then NT, FS, WR, and ILB.
I believe the OLB spot is key because the Dolphins simply don't have a lot of bodies at the spot and the ones they do have all are dogged by questions. We know Joey Porter will be gone from the team in 2010 as soon as the Dolphins figure out how to add and divide and are able to terminate his contract without screwing up the move as they did once already.
Porter will be history and Jason Taylor, 36 in September, is an unrestricted free agent.
The Dolphins need to get younger at OLB, folks. And even if Taylor is re-signed as a stop-gap measure, the Dolphins need to get about the business of finding their future defensive star. In the 3-4 defense, the OLBs need to be stars. They are the guys who cause havoc. They are the ones the offense must plan around. They are the ones that can turn mediocre coverage on the back end into good enough because quarterbacks are either rushing their throws, or missing open receivers because they're on the ground or looking to avoid to the rush.
And so the Dolphins need to find a couple of those guys.
Cameron Wake is one of those guys, you say? Maybe. He showed how promising he is as a pass-rusher in 2009. But Wake has to become a three-down player to be the right answer. And he wasn't that when the season ended.
"I can tell you that's what I'm going to be, that I'm going to be a starter by next year," Wake told me when the Dolphins were packing their belongings after the season-finale. "But none of that matters. I have to do it. It's not about saying it. It's about doing it. I have to prove it to the coaches, to everyone. That's what matters."
Wake is confident he can prove it. But what else do you expect? We have yet to see it. So the Dolphins cannot simply be content in having Wake. Plus, there is a small issue of the strongside outside linebacker.
If Wake is going to man the weak side, the Dolphins need to identify a strongside linebacker. Taylor might or might not be that guy short-term. He definitely is not that guy long-term. Frankly, neither is Charlie Anderson, who is a good role player, but hasn't proven he can be a starter.
So do you understand that Miami must add OLBs just to field a defense? That means OLB rises to the level of a must have like no other spot on the team.
Many fans and pundits believe ILB is a must have but the fact remains the team still has its two starters -- Channing Crowder and Akin Ayodele -- from the past two years. Yes, they both had subpar seasons in 2009. But they're signed. They're on the team. They're experienced. ILB is a need because it can use upgrading. But it isn't necessarily a must have, in my opinion.
Coach Tony Sparano described it as the "quarterback of the 3-4 defense," in that if the scheme's nose tackle stinks, the run defense will stink and the unit won't be able to stop anyone. The Dolphins have Paul Soliai on the roster as their best NT right now. Jason Ferguson, 36 in November, is an unrestricted free agent and he might or might not retire based on his recovery from a quadricep injury that shortened his 2009 season.
The drop from Ferguson to Soliai was precipitous. Horton describes Soliai as, "serviceable but not consistent," which is absolutely accurate. So the Dolphins must have a starting caliber player here. At the very least they must have a player to groom behind Soliai or behind Ferguson and Soliai. Obviously if Ferguson returns, the situation improves.
But if the Dolphins allow themselves to believe they can survive one more season with Ferguson and Soliai and think Ferguson will play all 16 games, they are deceiving only themselves. Nose tackle is a must have.
Gibril Wilson is not the answer. Period. He cannot cover and that matters only every time the other team throws the football -- which in today's NFL is about 60 percent of the time on average.
The Dolphins thankfully have youngster Chris Clemons waiting in the wings. Clemons seems to play fast and is confident. "My job is to come up with interceptions," he told me once last year.
Of course, no one has any idea if he will or not because he was only a rookie and not ready (in the coaching staff's estimation) to replace Wilson, who was terrible. So we have no idea if Clemons is the answer.
If he's not, the Dolphins must have a player ready to take over that is ready because putting Wilson back there again in 2010 is an invitition to more big plays. And in case you're wondering, Miami's defense yielded 40 passes of 25-yards or more in 2009. The free safety wasn't responsible for all of those, but he collected more than his fair share. The free safety spot must be addressed somehow.
Now you guys understand I want the Dolphins to add playmaking wide receivers. I want it badly. Simply, this team will not be a legitimate contender until it is able to throw the football with consistency and you can't do that without quality wide outs.
The Miami braintrust, winners of Super Bowls in the 1980s and 1991, may not agree. Maybe they believe a good running game and solid defense and avoiding mistakes can still bring you a Super Bowl title.
And to that I respond that eight of the NFL's top 10 passing teams made the playoffs in 2009. If you can't pass, you can't win. It ain't 1991 anymore. The rules have changed. The game has changed. You have to throw the ball or die in today's NFL.
But alas, I recognize a WR is a need. It is not a must have. The Dolphins have receivers on the roster. Some are even reliable, if not dynamic. Can the Dolphins win games with their current corps? Yes. Can they win championships? No way.
That makes WR a need. An obvious one. But not necessarily a must have.
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