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Assessing Dolphins' free agent options on offense, plus other notes

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

With the Dolphins trying to upgrade their offense – especially at quarterback, right tackle, right guard and tight end – here’s some early chatter on their options and potential fits when free agency begins March 13:

### Quarterback: The timetable could be tricky, with Peyton Manning expected to be released by March 8, Matt Flynn hitting the open market March 13, and the unknown variable of when Manning’s arm will be strong enough to throw as well as he did before his neck injury.

If the Dolphins are led to believe by agent Tom Condon that they’re a serious contender for Manning when he's released – and that his arm should be strong enough by the start of the season – then they are expected to wait as long as necessary on Manning if he doesn't make a decision quickly. That's because owner Stephen Ross is infatuated with the idea of signing him. The Dolphins believe they have a realistic chance of luring Manning, who owns a condo in South Beach and has an affinity for South Florida.

If Manning doesn't choose a new team by March 13, the Dolphins would risk losing out on Flynn, whom they like but have clearly less conviction about than Manning. But that would not concern the Dolphins if they believe they can land Manning. Unless Cleveland or another team makes a big offer, Flynn might be better served waiting a short time, if needed, for Manning’s situation to sort out because some of Flynn’s potential suitors (Miami, Washington, Seattle) likely will pursue Manning first.

So after Manning chooses his next team, Flynn could get better offers from the losers of the Manning sweepstakes. But if Manning, 35, delays signing until May or June while his shoulder strengthens, then it’s unrealistic for Flynn to wait.

A close associate of Flynn, 26, said he likes and respects new Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, his former offensive coordinator in Green Bay. That would play into his decision if Miami and another team make comparable offers, but probably not if there's a big gap between offers.

One Packers front office official whose opinion I trust said he’s confident Flynn will be a quality starter: “He’s going to be good. He’s got moxie, accuracy, good control of the game.”

But former Browns scout Matt Williamson, of ESPN’s Scouts Inc., said, “Flynn worries me, considering what it’s going to cost in terms of the contract. Those guys like Kevin Kolb scare me. They look good in a really small sample size in good offenses.

“In terms of physical skills, there’s a reason Flynn was a seventh-round pick. He’s really cerebral, moves well, does everything well pre-snap. But he’s not overwhelming physically. He will be an average starter who maybe goes to a Pro Bowl once.”

Williamson see Flynn’s ceiling as that of Houston's Matt Schaub. If Flynn becomes another Schaub, he’s worth the investment. But CBS’ Charley Casserly said Flynn is “a little like Matt Cassel. Accurate, but not necessarily accurate deep. He doesn’t have a big arm.”

Flynn, 26, has completed 82 of 132 passes and 1015 yards in four years as a backup, with nine touchdowns, five interceptions, three fumbles and a 92.8 rating. (Matt Moore’s 2011 rating was 87.1, incidentally.) Six of those Flynn touchdowns and 480 of those yards came in last month’s regular-season finale against Detroit.

With Drew Brees (Saints) and Alex Smith (49ers) expected to stay put, that leaves – beyond Flynn and probably Manning - a weak free agent class including Kyle Orton, Jason Campbell, Vince Young, Dennis Dixon, Rex Grossman, Chad Henne, Brady Quinn, Charlie Whitehurst, Josh Johnson and Patriots restricted free agent backup Brian Hoyer.

### Tight end: The Dolphins – eager for a stretch-the-field threat to complement or replace Anthony Fasano - obviously would love Green Bay’s Jermichael Finley, but he’s expected to get the franchise tag. Other notable free agents: Washington’s Fred Davis (59-796 in 12 games before a drug suspension), Minnesota’s Visanthe Shiancoe (36-409), Carolina’s Jeremy Shockey (37-455), Seattle’s John Carlson (missed last year with torn labrum), Buffalo’s Scott Chandler (38-389) and Dallas’ Martellus Bennett (Jason Witten’s backup; 17 for 144).

“Davis could be that stretch the field guy, but if he’s busted one more time, he’s suspended a year,” Williamson said. “All the other guys are not much different than Fasano. Carlson is slow. I’d rather have Fasano than Shiancoe: more sure-handed, better blocker. Bennett has a lot of ability, but effort is an issue.”

If Manning signs with the Dolphins, another possibility would be Colts free agent tight end Jacob Tamme, who caught 67 passes for 631 yards in 2010 but 19 passes in 12 games without Manning this season.

Because Davis is seemingly too risky, the Dolphins might look for a skilled receiving tight end in the draft, perhaps Clemson’s Dwayne Allen, Stanford’s Coby Fleener or Louisiana Lafayette’s Ladarius Green.

### Guard: With the Dolphins needing to save their cap space ($12 million to $15 million) for other needs, it’s unlikely they would offer big money to top guards Carl Nicks (Saints) and Ben Grubbs (Baltimore). Williamson said the most affordable “attractive” option to replace free agent Vernon Carey would be Eagles free agent Evan Mathis, who finished as the No. 1 ranked guard by Pro Football Focus this year after being cut by Miami in 2008. John Jerry is an option, but the Dolphins hope to do better.

The other free agent guards that PFF ranked above Carey (who was 44th): Nicks (2), Grubbs (12th), Tennessee’s Jake Scott (seventh, but run blocking has declined) and Cincinnati’s Bobbie Williams (23rd but on the downside at age 35).

### Tackle: If the Dolphins don’t sign a right tackle to replace Marc Colombo in a weak free agent class, they’ll draft a potential starter (perhaps Iowa’s Riley Reiff in the first round) or rely on Lydon Murtha (who missed 2011 with a foot injury but is valued by GM Jeff Ireland) or perhaps Jerry.

Free agent tackles, with PFF rankings: Jared Gaither (tied for 17th, better for Chargers after Chiefs cut him); Buffalo’s Demetrius Bell (tied for 17th, but has more value at left tackle), Pittsburgh’s Max Starks (33, but off a torn ACL in January), Detroit’s Jeff Backus (32) and the Giants’ Kareem McKenzie (65). Not a good group. “McKenzie had a real bad year,” Williamson said. “Gaither has a ton of baggage. I’d be shocked if Backus leaves.”

### Running back: Ireland – happy with Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas – won’t go free agent shopping from a group that includes Ray Rice and Matt Forte (who both are staying put) and Peyton Hillis.

### Receiver: It’s doubtful Miami spends on top free agents Vincent Jackson, DeSean Jackson or Marques Colston - barring them striking out at quarterback and on a pass rusher. Reggie Wayne - whose streak of seven straight 1000 yard seasons was snapped this year (he had 960) is an option - at age 33, if Manning joins the Dolphins.

We’ll examine defensive options later this week.

 CHATTER

 ### After we wrote in this space about the Heat’s interest in Shane Battier last summer, one NBA scout warned us his skills had diminished. “Even Memphis told me last year he was having trouble guarding guys laterally,” the scout reminded us last week.

Now, not only is Battier shooting 32.6 percent – well below his 44.2 career average, but his rebounds and assists per minute are down. Only Corey Maggette and Jason Kidd entered the weekend with worse shooting percentages among players who have played as much as Battier.

On the plus side, Battier has had some good moments defensively late in games, and remains a good team defender, as a second scout noted. Plus, Erik Spoelstra said he’s like another coach on the floor. But the second scout said it would be difficult to justify playing Battier more than Mike Miller (a better shooter and rebounder) in the playoffs if Battier doesn’t snap out of his shooting slump. And for the first time all season, Spoelstra went with the lineup of the Big Three, Miller and Udonis Haslem in the decisive moments of Friday's win at Philadelphia.

### One change to expect in UM’s offense, style-wise: “We’re going to have to push our tempo,” coordinator Jedd Fisch said. “We have to get more plays run.” Several NFL teams called Fisch last month (including the Bears). But Fisch told us last week, “I want to spend many years here with Al Golden.”… Receivers coach George McDonald calls UM signee Malcolm Lewis of Miramar “the most underrated person in the state – one of the best, if not the best, receiver in [Florida]. He has so much upside, him and [Homestead’s] Herb Waters. I’m so excited all about six” new receivers, including Angelo Jean-Louis. And Fisch said Robert Lockhart "is a stud - unbelievable, explosive player.''

### Marlins executives spoke on many occasions with Hanley Ramirez this winter, waiting for him to embrace moving to third base, which they're confident he finally has. "When something happens immediately, there's a surprise," Marlins president David Samson said. "And then all of a sudden, it ends up being OK. I told him, 'If we tell you to pitch opening night, that's your job.'... Larry [Beinfest], Michael [Hill] and I have spoken to him numerous times.''

### Here's how the Marlins' bench looks, presuming they keep 12 pitchers and five backup position players: Greg Dobbs, Donnie Murphy, catcher Brett Hayes and two of these five outfielders: Aaron Rowand, Bryan Peterson, Chris Coghlan, Austin Kearns and Scott Cousins. Rowand (.233 for the Giants last year) is a favorite for one job unless he bombs this spring. “When we did our plan for 2012, we didn’t think Chris Coghlan would have to earn a job,” Samson said. "He has to earn one of 25.''

Coghlan hit .230 (five homers, 22 RBI) before his injury/demotion last season. Peterson (.265, 2, 10) had the best average of the five last season. If the Marlins get outfielder Yeonis Cespedes, he could begin the season in the minors.

Comments

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Pete

If the Herald asks you to be a"beat writer"again,
tell them to go pound salt!Your to good of a writer
to talk about whether a Dolphin has gained or lost
twenty lbs.

JoeMama

your articles on the dolphins are the best of all the local writers. you need to write more

Realistic

A lot of people love to live in S Florida, doesnt mean they want to rep your horrible sports teams. Manning will love his retirement life down here when the time comes, for now, I'm sure he is looking at the best chance to win. Common sense this isnt the place for that.

corners

so, if you think flynns 6 td game was a fluke,he had 3 td's 5 int 3 fumbles in 4 years as a back up.

Matt

Barry... 2 questions:
1. We know Washington is interested in Manning as well and Cleveland is the front runner for Flynn. If, and I know its a big if, Flynn goes to Cleveland and Manning goes to Washington, would the Dolphins be able to stay where they are and draft RGIII, as the other teams ahead of them will not take a QB?

2. With Manning obviously being the top choice among people in the organization, who is second choice Flynn or RGIII?

Thanks!

mg

Old, has nerve damage, and high priced sounds like a perfect fit to be the Dolphins QB. I'm sure his agent will keep Mort busy with all the leaks.

9/11 was an INSIDE JOB


After watching Eli and Tom Terrific play QB last night, during the most pressured situation, does anyone have confidence Matt Flynn can compete on this level?

erocs8

RG3 !!! RG3!!! RG3!!! RG3!!! RG3!!!RG3!!!

KillerFin

WAIT FOR FLYNN!!! Manning is an injury waiting to happen & RGIII is a V.Y. waiting to happen!!!

Deee

RG3 Folks! Time to INVEST in a franchise qb. No high-priced journeyman free agent. There is a reason Matt Flynn was a seventh round pick. Average qb without a big arm and not accurate deep. He's "fool's gold" just like A.J. Feeley and Kevin Kolb. Move up and get RG3 Dolphins organization!!!!!!!

y-not

I just don't like the Manning thing. Talk about killing any effort to get continuity going - this is the way to kill it.

Manning literally ran the offense from the field - he did it with players that knew him and the system inside out - that will not be the case in Miami. He will have to learn Philbin's system and he will not know any of our players who will also be learning the system. He is over the hill. Once the injuries start coming they just keep going ala Chad Pennington. I hope Ross keeps out of this and doesn't muck up the process.

42LyleBlackwood

Why do some of you talk a load of crap about Quarterbacks?Nobody knows if RG111 is better than Ryan Leaf or if Matt Flynn is another John Beck so stop the useless comparisons.Trust Philbin to do his homework and leave him to decide.The rest of us can just put all the QB names in a hat and pick one at random and no-one can improve on that.

fairlyodd

Flynn, Matt and Kellen Moore...thats all I want to see.

9/11 was an INSIDE JOB


RG3 baby!

After 13 years of crap QBs, have some conviction and trade up to get a potential elite QB. He is the best available, and I am tired of losing, shoot for the top!!

RG3 baby!

morphin

MM is very underrated and has the accuracy to succeed in the WC. Flynn has been groomed at the NFL level by the new HC. They would create an exciting competition at the position that has frustrated Dolfans since Dan The Man. We have a lot of great young talent and need a young QB in his prime so the Fins can be the dominate team for the next decade. Ireland has a lot of haters but in his first draft in charge he chose players that are going very good to great starters.

John

If Miami fails to get a deep-threat WR, RT, RG, and a seam-TE, it won't matter who starts at QB. It will be the same thing as last year

 Sample forms

I am very much impressed reading. Good article.

GAdolphan

Picking up Manning would be a mistake. Not that he isn't a fantastic quarterback or that he MAY still be able to play at the same level for a couple more years, but we need a long term solution and Manning is too long in the tooth to be a long term solution. Take Flynn, then grab a QB in the later rounds... maybe Kellen Moore to take a bargain and see what competition yields. Flynn, Matt, and Kellen could be a stout stable to compete and chose from.

Ba Smith

We don't really need Peyton Manning. We need good coordindators and coaches. Tom Brady was a 6th-round pick. Brett Favre was a 2nd-round pick. Look what happened to the NY Jets when they got Brett Favre.

Invest in running backs, receivers, defensive backs and coaching. Matt Moore is good enough.

FinsNY

If that QB is not out there, Peyton to old and injured, Flynn unproven, no one available in the draft then I say build around. Upgrade other areas, leave Moore in there, he was actually pretty solid, not great but solid! Dan made everyone else around him better, till that elite qb becomes available the fins should try to make Moore better.Open up the offense , get a better receiver and another tight end. If that O line doesnt get upgraded well...like someone mentioned previously does not matter who is under center.Build around Moore, then when pieces are in place ...either Moore will thrive or if that qb is there he just gets slotted in.

brian c

If miami lands manning I think they should sign jeff Saturday. Peyton is comfortable with him and he can play for two more years. Miami could then slide pouncey to guard giving them a solid line. Saturday will sign at a discount

cirmsonblack

If we cannot draft WR Blackmon then don't trade up. Sign Flynn and draft a starting RB, WR or Linebacker.

No Manning, No RG3, Just don't go after Manning.

ucane84

Orson Charles from UGA is going to be an outstanding TE in the NFL. He can stretch the field and was well coached.

john  anderson

We need to draft a Qb, Russell Wilson of wisc. would be a good choice, strong arm and mobile. I don't Flynn is the answer to the qb problem.

MexDolfan

Deee.

With due respect the reason for JaMarcus Russell being 1st overall and Tom Brady picked 199th in their draft was about how ready they looked on their draft moment.

I mean it's hard to know the ceiling of a prospect, all that you might evaluate is his current execution level. Potential is a sublime part that resides on physical, mental and environment issues that create the "break or bust" factor.

RG3 looks promising, but also risky in terms of business and being the face of a franchise. It isn't about physical power, there's no doubt he's one of the best athletes of today. No it's about love for the game and willingness to lead a team on critical moments.

Several young QB can throw the ball and have bravery to be the face. I mean Henne, Sanchez and Flacco have tried but all of them suffer of the same, the don't execute well under pressure. Unlike Eli Manning who is just good on regular situations, but excels under pressure.

It's impossible to see the future and be sure about the way things will work. Risking that much on RG3 only complicates his development, giving NY results: Eli Manning or Mark Sanchez.

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