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March 06, 2014

The other free agent OL possibilities

The NFL's worst kept secret now is the Miami Dolphins are going to sign a left tackle in free agency. And it's also no secret that if Baltimore LT Eugene Monroe is available, the Dolphins will chase him. They will also chase Kansas City LT Branden Albert and hoope to land one of the two.

But as the Dolphins have four open offensive line spots and not just one, it must dawn on folks that the free agency derby that starts Monday is going to include at least one and perhaps two more workhorse linemen.


Because even if the Dolphins land Monroe or Branden Albert or some other left tackle, they cannot play a game with just that player and center Mike Pouncey. And believing the Dolphins can go into the draft and pick three linemen to fill the other spots is not very football savvy.

One does not simply draft three rooks, count on all of them to come in and learn the offense, learn the nuances of the game, be good enough to start, and then become cohesive and effective all while playing under a head coach whose record through two seasons suggests he's not fond of starting rookies other than Ryan Tannehill.

So veteran shopping beyond Monroe et al. the Dolphins must go.

The problem with that?

The free agency market at guard and right tackle is not exactly teeming with great possibilities.

There are a couple of good possibilities. But not great.

The guard market is so depressing that Richie Incognito would be the catch of the group were it not for his emotional problems and history. John Jerry will also be in that group and I suppose the Dolphins could bring him back -- if they don't want to upgrade, and don't mind mediocre play, and don't have a problem with him being a key player in the harassment scandal the past couple of years.

Assuming the Dolphins do want to upgrade there are a couple of guards that offer that chance:

Chad Rinehart, 29, showed himself a valuable, tough inside presence for the Chargers last season. He was battling a nagging toe injury much of the year but still showed up on Sunday and did OK work. Obviously, the Dolphins need to do their homework on the injury and decide how much that really limited Rinehart's play. Rinehart graded out slightly better than Jerry but, again, he was hurt, Jerry was healthy and there's the other stuff hovering over Jerry.

Geoff Shwartz, 27, is the brother of Cleveland Browns tackle Mitchell Shwartz and he became a very pleasant surprise for the Chiefs when he took over at right guard for them last year. Shwartz was previously the backup right tackle but when he stepped over to RG the Chiefs got better pass protection from the position. His run-blocking in adequate. (Hey, I"m not saying pay the guy like he's Jahri Evans).

(Peanut gallery: But Mando, we watched the playoffs and the Super Bowl and saw the Broncos have this guard Zane Beadles and he's a free agent. The guy played on a good team so he must be good. Let's get him!)

I was coming to him, gallery. He is a free agent -- like the others, unless he re-signs -- and he was good enough to start on a very good team. And he was good in 2012. But in his contract year, Beadles didn't shine. He was the No. 51-rated guard, according to ProFootballFocus.com. And while the metrics site is not the Bible and thus inerrant, it is widely recognized Beadles didn't play up to his previous heights last year despite being surrounded by Super Bowl talent.

So what happens if he's surrounded by non-playoff talent? What happens if he expects Tannehill to get rid of the ball like Peyton Manning but Tannehill is still holding the ball like, well, Ryan Tannehill?

Maybe he steps up to previous form. But would the Dolphins want to pay the premium Beadles is going to want to bet on a good answer to that question?

I'm thinking Rinehart and Schwartz have a lower ceiling but their asking price is also going to be much, much lower than Beadles'.

That addresses the guard possibilities. Obviously, there are a couple of right tackle possibilities.

The best of those is probably Austin Howard of the New York Jets. He played quite well for the NYJ last year and that team does not want to lose him.

But there's a market for a 26-year-old, athletic, two-year starter, who happened to handle being in New York well.

Also, adding him would mean weakening the Jets.

The other accomplished right tackle on the market is Zach Strief, who is actually a better player than Howard but is mentioned second here because he wants badly to return to New Orleans and the Saints want him as well.

Stief gave up only three sacks in over 1,000 snaps last season and that caused PFF.com to rate him right along with Drew Brees as the highest-graded Saints offensive player. Remember, if you will, Jimmy Graham also played on the Saints offense so this is a big deal.

Strief comes with the added value that he is a leader. And the Dolphins are looking for that. Strief was one of his team’s offensive captains and is known to be a top lockerroom leader.

Obviously, Strief prefers to stay with a Super Bowl contender and at a place where he's already comfortable. But at 30 years old, he must understand this will probably be his last big contract opportunity.

And the Saints, like most teams with a highly paid quarterback, don't have a lot of flexibility within their cap.

Former Dolphins trainer hires law firm, sets sights defense

Former Dolphins trainer Kevin O'Neill, who worked 18 years for the Dolphins but was fired in the wake of Wells report findings three weeks ago, has hired a law firm to represent him.

And the firm of Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart and Shipley, P.A. promises to take "every appropriate legal measure to restore Kevin O’Neill’s good name."

I suppose that may include legal action, but the first measure the firm is taking is releasing a statement of facts as O'Neill sees it by firm partner Jack Scarola.

The statement:

"On Wednesday night, February 19th, the distinguished 25-year professional career of Miami Dolphins Head Trainer, Kevin O’Neill was abruptly ended. O’Neill’s firing was accompanied by no explanation, but its timing – only five days after the release of what has come to be publicly referred to as “The Wells Report” – has left an undeniable impression that Kevin O’Neill was being held responsible for the abusive mistreatment of Jonathan Martin at the hands of his Dolphin teammates.

"In fact, The Wells Report comes nowhere near supporting the decision of the Dolphins’ management to sack Mr. O’Neill. Instead it demonstrates that Kevin O’Neill was improperly singled out to placate an understandable public outcry for action in response to what was publicly portrayed as intolerable workplace bullying.

"The Wells Report invited “anyone with a stake in this matter…to disclose any additional information [they might have].” On behalf of Kevin O’Neill, whose stellar and hard-earned reputation is at stake in this matter, we accept that invitation.

"We begin by examining the totality of the “evidence” described in the 148- page report relied upon to justify Mr. O’Neill’s termination. In fact, Kevin O’Neill is referenced with respect to only two incidents:

"First, there is the uncorroborated assertion by Jonathan Martin that Mr. O’Neill heard unspecified vulgar comments about Martin’s sister “and even laughed at them from time to time;"

"Second, Mr. O’Neill “allegedly even laughed at some of the racial insults” directed at his assistant trainer, who is of Asian descent.

"We do not ignore the fact that vulgar verbal attacks on one’s sister can be “fighting words,” but the fire-able offense with which Kevin O’Neill was charged had nothing to do with his speaking those words. There is no assertion that he ever spoke such words. The crime he is said to have committed was “laughing.” If laughing at vulgar, tasteless humor is to be elevated to cause for terminating without warning an employee with decades of flawless service, then our entire country will face a monumental labor shortage.

"As to each of the two circumstances when Mr. O’Neill is alleged to have inappropriately laughed, The Wells Report contains important additional details. The report makes it clear that Kevin O’Neill had no knowledge of the extent to which Martin was harassed when it specifically finds that most of the offensive conduct “occurred away from the workplace” under circumstances where Mr. O’Neill was obviously not present.

"Of even greater significance is the fact that, if Kevin O’Neill laughed at the ribald locker room humor at Jonathan Martin’s expense, he was not alone. Martin himself admitted that his own response to the harsh teasing to which he was subjected was “to laugh it off.” Martin never reported or complained about the harassment to anyone, including Kevin O’Neill. In fact, when Martin was not laughing, his response was to ignore the teasing without ever challenging the offending teammates.

"If Mr. O’Neill laughed, and if Mr. O’Neill at other times ignored the vulgar “humor” to which Mr. Martin was subjected, then Kevin O’Neill was doing exactly what Jonathan Martin was doing and exactly what, by all appearances, Jonathan Martin wanted done. However, as The Wells Report also confirms, Kevin O’Neill did not simply laugh off or ignore the way Martin was treated.

"In fact, the first thing Mr. O’Neill did, according to Martin himself, was to pull Martin aside to counsel him on how to put an end to unwanted verbal abuse. As soon as Kevin O’Neill was informed of the seriousness of Martin’s emotional response to the treatment to which he was being subjected, Mr. O’Neill took immediate and appropriate action by referring Jonathan Martin for professional help.

"The Wells Report findings provide even less support for the firing of Mr. O’Neill based on any conduct involving his assistant trainer. Mr. O’Neill is alleged to have “laughed along” with racial insults directed at the trainer, but the report acknowledges that investigators “did not cover this specific topic in [their] interview with O’Neill.” They did, however, cover the topic with the assistant trainer.

"And what did he say? “He expressly denied having been the victim of racial harassment…When pressed, the assistant trainer denied that he was bothered by this treatment."

To the extent that there is any suggestion that Kevin O’Neill was obliged to do more to help “victims” who never complained and never asked for help, the question must be asked as to why Mr. O'Neill had any greater responsibility than every other member of team management who knew as much or more than what Kevin O'Neill knew about what went on in the team locker room.

"Mr. O’Neill was selected by team trainers and medical staff members throughout the NFL to be honored as the league’s Trainer of the Year. There is no greater recognition of achievement and respect within Kevin O’Neill’s profession. So why was he targeted for termination when there was no evidence of any significant wrongdoing on his part?

"The Wells Report itself clearly suggests an answer to that question. Mr. O’Neill did not give the report investigators the “voluntary” cooperation they and the League wanted.  “Voluntary” cooperation that would involve responding to questions regarding the psychological well-being of players under his care was not an option for Mr. O’Neill unless and until proper waivers were obtained from all the individuals whose privacy rights were at stake.

"Since the publication of The Wells Report, Mr. O’Neill’s character and integrity have been called into question in a very public way, and he has lost his employment.

"The law firm of Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley, P.A. is honored to have been chosen by Mr. O’Neill to represent his interests in these matters. We are prepared to take every appropriate legal measure to restore Kevin O’Neill’s good name."

Monroe will be on the market barring late Ravens rally

Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, a Super Bowl winning coach, had a press conference on Wednesday to discuss the team's situation just before the start of free agency. He stressed the Ravens want to keep several of their pending free agents, including offensive tackle Eugene Monroe.

"We want to keep our guys," Harbaugh said. "We want our guys to be here just like Dennis (Pitta). We want to keep those guys."

Harbaugh said the team has offers to its pending free agents and characterized those as "aggressive."

Except ...

The chances of the Ravens keeping Monroe are getting bleak now. According to a league source, Monroe will be testing free agency, barring a significant change in course by the Ravens. The two sides have not been talking every day even as time is growing short for a deal to get done before other teams can enter the picture.

NFL teams can begin negotiating with free agents starting Saturday.

Simply, the Ravens have set a price point for Monroe and that is so far falling short of the expectations Monroe and his representation have for a new contract.

The Ravens and Monroe have not been close to a deal because it's doubtful the team wants to go too far beyond the $8 million per year range. But it would not surprise if Monroe's camp is expecting $10 million per season.

And the Monroe camp may have the upper hand initially because, as I've reported previously, the Dolphins are very, very, very, very, very interested in adding Monroe in free agency. The Dolphins are also very, very, very, very interested in adding Branden Albert. It will be an interesting choice. And the Dolphins have the cap space to meet the $10 million-per-year threshold if they want.

So a five-year deal for $50 million is not out of the question here.

If Monroe hits the market as expected, there will be competition for him. Arizona will be interested, at least initially. The Cardinals expect to land a left tackle in free agency.

Carolina needs a left tackle as well following the retirement of Jordan Gross -- although the Panthers probably don't have the cap space to compete for a $8-10 million-a-year left tackle.

So that all leads to significant questions:

1. Do the Ravens have a trick up their, um, wings? Can they convince Monroe that taking a less money to play with a perennial contender is better than going to a non-playoff team like the Dolphins or Cardinals?

2. Do the Dolphins decide they want Monroe, a solid player and solid citizen (more important to this team than most following the harassment scandal), to the extent they reach the $10 million per year mark for a very good but not great left tackle?

I cannot predict the answer to No. 1. I think everyone knows the answer to No. 2 -- yes.