SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
With the Dolphins absent from the Super Bowl for the 28th consecutive season, we asked a panel of former general managers and analysts how Miami should attack this offseason. Some feedback:
### Most advocated trying to sign an impact receiver in free agency instead of trying to find one in a draft without a sure-fire Julio Jones or A.J. Green-type prospect.
Support was split between Mike Wallace and Greg Jennings, with none expressing a preference for Dwayne Bowe, Wes Welker or anyone else.
The sense here is there’s a very good chance Miami will pursue Wallace, with Jennings also in the mix.
“Wallace makes sense because he’s a speed guy who gives you explosiveness,” NFL Network’s Joe Theismann said. “They’ve gone the Dwayne Bowe route with Brandon Marshall. And in Hartline, you have a Greg Jennings type. In fact, Hartline is probably faster than Jennings at this point.”
Before leaving his TV job for the Browns’ front office, Mike Lombardi said Wallace would make the most sense because he “is a game changer, the fastest receiver in football. He opens up a lot of things.” But several expressed serious concerns about Wallace in Miami.
“He has been a problem child at times, and you went through that with Marshall,” said Ken Herock, a former Falcons and Packers executive who now prepares college players for interviews with NFL teams. “I would try to get Jennings.”
NFL Network’s Charley Casserly, the former Redskins and Texans GM, cautions that Wallace, while, a “speed guy, is not a complete receiver.” He had six drops and two fumbles, by the way.
And CBS’ Rich Gannon makes the best case for Jennings: “He knows Joe Philbin’s system. He’s a grounded guy, disciplined. Team-oriented, unselfish. Throwing $40 million to $50 million at Mike Wallace would scare me.”
### CBS’ Phil Simms has a different take on Jennings, Wallace and Bowe, from a Miami perspective: “I don’t look at any of those three as a big-time slam dunk, where you say you have to go get him.” But he said finding a Wallace-type speedster is essential opposite Hartline, “who I underestimated.”
### Our panel largely supported making an earnest effort to keep Jake Long, but cautioned against overspending. “Good tackles are going to cost $8 million to $10 million a year,” Lombardi said. “You have to set a number and see if you can get a deal done.”
Jonathan Martin struggled against the 49ers and Patriots, and Herock said that would worry him: “You see the importance of the left tackle every third or fourth game when you face a really good” defensive front. “That’s why I would try to figure out a way to keep Long.”
But Casserly cautioned: “[Though] Long has been an above average left tackle, he fell way off this year.”
Incidentally, Long’s wife Jackie tweeted Thursday: “We want to be here if they want us. We’ll see what happens.”
### Even beyond Long, “this line needs to get fixed,” Lombardi said. “John Jerry isn’t a quality starter on a good team.”
### Most agreed cornerback must be fixed, too. The group of Sean Smith, Dimitri Patterson, Richard Marshall and Nolan Carroll isn’t good enough, Gannon said, noting that “with Smith, tracking the ball and playing the ball are not strengths.”
Added Casserly: “Sean Smith is a physical guy, but when he’s facing quick, change of direction guys, those are the guys that give him trouble. Cornerback needs to be upgraded there.”
Though Smith prefers to stay, it's looking like he might get more money elsewhere. Miami ignored Smith in recent months while starting talks with Hartline, Long and Randy Starks.
“You can’t pay Smith $8 million or $9 million a year,” Herock said. “They promote him as a top corner, but he’s not. Vontae Davis is the better corner, and he would have been cheaper next year ($1.1 million) than Smith.”
### Lombardi said Miami not only must improve speed on offense, but on defense also. “Most teams that have trouble creating turnovers” – like Miami – “don’t have enough speed.”
Said Gannon: “As well as that defense played at times, they need to find a couple playmakers. They don’t create negative plays. Karlos Dansby makes a lot of tackles, but you don’t see the impact plays.”
And Casserly said moving defensive end Jared Odrick to tackle makes sense, especially if Starks leaves: “He’s better inside than outside. He’s not a pass rusher.”
### All agreed Miami needs another tight end, but differed about how high a priority it should be. Gannon was the most vocal in saying it needs to be very, very high on Miami's list: “You need a guy there who can be a threat in the passing game.”
Though Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert is worthy of a mid-first round pick (according to Mel Kiper), Theismann said “tight end is not somewhere where you need to think about spending the 12th pick.” Simms said he would keep around Anthony Fasano, even if Miami finds an upgrade.
### Gannon said beyond “needing better personnel at receiver and tight end,” they need a “back that can be a real factor in the passing game, to get linebackers in space. That’s where Reggie Bush was underutilized. Daniel Thomas was always limping off. You can’t count on a guy like that.”
### There wasn’t great support for keeping Bush, who appears bound to test the free agent market. “He’s a playmaker only every three or four games – not a lead guy most places,” Herock said.
### Couple final thoughts: Gannon said “this Dolphins staff needs to say: ‘What is happening in our league?’ and watch the teams that are best at utilization of running backs and red zone offense and other areas” where Miami was deficient… Herock said: “I’m surprised Jeff Ireland has survived. If it was a head coach with that type of record, he would be gone. They showed some promise this year, but if they’re 7-9 again next year, something has to change.”
### The Dolphins know they must make at least one high impact move in free agency. Ross expects "to spend a lot of money," a close associate said.
### Jennings has given signals that he might welcome an offer from the Dolphins. Jennings told WINZ's Finsiders on Friday that Joe Philbin "is one of my favorite coaches." And he offered this message to Philbin: "Joe, how you doing? Remember me." Jennings knows he might leave Green Bay: "I've prepared my family for a change."
### The UM/Denver Kirkland soap opera ended Saturday, when Kirkland met with UM coaches and decided not to attend Miami, according to his step-father, who said Denver will choose FSU or Arkansas.
But why did UM pull its scholarship offer to the Booker T. Washington All-American on Thursday? A UM source said here was the thinking at the time: Kirkland had a Hurricanes offer for nine months (he chose not to accept a take-it-or-leave-it offer from UM on Thursday) and UM coaches felt he was playing games with them. Plus, UM had some silent commitments at the time and was expecting a full class (17 or 18) without him. Al Golden doesn’t like to over-sign and force players to gray shirt or go to prep school.
But Golden changed his mind for reasons that he might clarify on National Signing Day. Unfortunately for UM, it was too late. Kirkland met with several Hurricanes assistant coaches on Saturday, but they couldn't persuade him after Thursday's initial yanking of the offer.
UM president Donna Shalala also called the Kirkland family, but that didn't sway him, either. Booker T. Washington coaches believe Kirkland would have picked UM if the offer hadn't been retracted Thursday.
### It’s even more critical that UM lures Alex Collins or Augustus Edwards because backup running back Eduardo Clements has been wearing a neck brace, and his status in very much in question. UM could use incoming Ray Lewis III as a running back, instead of defensive back, if needed.
UM has been pitching Collins - who will announce Monday - that he would share carries with Duke Johnson. Returnees Danny Dillard and Dallas Crawford also are in the mix.
### A very close associate of LeBron James disputed a report suggesting Rich Paul, his Ohio-based agent, will lobby James to return to Cleveland as a free agent in 2014, when James has an opt-out clause.
“LeBron is his own man, and Rich only cares about what LeBron wants,” the associate insisted. “LeBron loves it [in Miami].” But nobody is absolutely ruling out Cleveland, either.
### With Chris Andersen supplanting Joel Anthony in the rotation, don’t be surprised if the Heat – which likes Jarvis Varnado’s upside - tries to move Anthony’s contract (two years left, at $7.6 million) this summer. Anthony would cost Miami nearly $10 million if he stays next season because of a $5.8 million tax hit.
### Draft analysts say UM forward Kenny Kadji has helped his stock, but ESPN’s Jay Bilas and Chad Ford don’t see him as a first-round, partly because he turns 25 in May. “He has helped himself because of his ability to knock down shots, but for a first-round pick, you want someone not [that old],” Bilas said.
Ford isn’t convinced he will even be drafted: “He’s a good rebounder and shot blocker, but not a great one. At that age, scouts expect you to dominate players younger than you.”
### Marlins star Giancarlo Stanton will be the team's only player who won't attend any of the team's numerous community events next week, formerly known as the Marlins Caravan, or next Saturday's event at Marlins Park, which used to be called Fanfest. But this apparently is not a case of Stanton pouting over payroll-dumping. The Marlins say he got permission to skip the events because of family reasons.
### Please see the last post for a Super Bowl TV preview media column.