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1 posts from February 25, 2014

February 25, 2014

Another free agent target emerges for Dolphins; Fins, Heat, UM notes; Samson's Survivor debut

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

We mentioned yesterday that the Dolphins have interest in Chiefs free agent Branden Albert. But that's not the only left tackle on Miami's radar.

The Dolphins also very much like Eugene Monroe and plan to pursue both Monroe (if he gets to free agency) and Albert, with the hope of landing one of them, according to sources briefed on the team’s thinking. The Dolphins like both, and would be happy to land either.

Whether Monroe even makes it to free agency is very much in question, with Baltimore eager to keep him.

The Dolphins prefer to sign a high-end left tackle and fill the other tackle spot through free agency or the draft, possibly with Notre Dame’s Zack Martin with the 19th pick in the first round.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he’s “very optimistic” about keeping Monroe. But a deal wasn’t imminent as of Tuesday afternoon. And though Monroe’s wife is from Baltimore, Monroe likes Florida and has friends in South Florida. The Dolphins would have a legitimate shot if he makes it to free agency.

Arizona and Tampa Bay are expected to join Miami in the pursuit of Albert and potentially Monroe, and the Chiefs are considering an offer to re-sign Albert.

Monroe, at 26, is three years younger than Albert but likely will be more expensive. So who’s better of the two?

According to Pro Football Focus, Monroe ranked 12th among 75 qualifying tackles last season, Albert 28th. Albert is excellent in pass protection, allowing only four sacks in 555 pass blocking opportunities last season. He graded out negatively as a run blocker the past two seasons but “hasn’t been terrible” in that area, PFF said. Questions about durability have been raised; Albert missed three games in 2012 and four in 2013.

According to PFF, Monroe allowed five sacks in 656 pass blocking opportunities in 2013 --- four in his 11 games with Baltimore, one in four games with Jacksonville.

PFF ranks Monroe first and Albert second among free agent tackles and said of Monroe: “With other left tackles on the market featuring one flaw or another, be it age, injury, or an off season, Monroe stands out. After taking over Baltimore's left tackle position in Week 6, he posted 11 straight positively-graded games.

“That consistency is nothing new for 2009's eighth overall selection, who really came into his own in 2011. In his last three seasons, he's graded positively for both run blocking and pass blocking, and his overall grade hasn't dropped below +20.0.”

By comparison, Dolphins left tackles allowed 14 sacks last season --- seven each by Jonathan Martin and Bryant McKinnie.

Dolphins coach Joe Philbin coveted Albert last offseason, but then-general manager Jeff Ireland didn't want to offer a first- or second-round pick and wasn't even convinced he should offer a third, with Miami never able to get permission to give him a physical.

"The thinking at the time," a Dolphins source said, "was you are going to be trading a sizable pick for a guy who would be an unrestricted free agent in a year. You could get him [without trade compensation] if you wait. He had durability and medical issues" that concerned Ireland.

If the Dolphins cannot sign Monroe or Albert, other free agent left tackle options would include Jared Veldheer (third on PFF’s list; Oakland wants to keep him), Cincinnati’s Anthony Collins and St. Louis’ Rodger Saffold.

Among right tackles, the Saints are trying to keep highly-regarded Zach Strief and the Jets are trying to re-sign Austin Howard. Beware of Baltimore’s Michael Oher, who had PFF’s worst run-blocking grade among all tackles in 2013.

### Martin could end up being the only realistic tackle option with the 19th pick, unless Tennessee’s Antonio Richardson (rated 27th overall by Mel Kiper) surprisingly rises in the next two months. And that seems unlikely, because Richardson had a disappointing workout at the Combine.

Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio, who some consider an option at No. 19, has seen his stock fall because of an arthritic knee condition, according to NFL Network. Draftinsider.com’s Tony Pauline said a Bills scout told him “Cyrus [can] say goodbye to round one.”

Meanwhile, it appears unlikely Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan will fall to 19; he had an impressive NFL Combine and is a top-10 talent, NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said.

CHATTER

Jonathan Martin, who wants to move on from Miami, is hoping the Dolphins trade him (with the 49ers and Colts among those holding appeal to him) instead of releasing him so that he can make the $825,000 and $1.04 million he’s due in the next two non-guaranteed seasons, as opposed to the $570,000 league minimum. The Dolphins have said it’s doubtful he will return and are trying to trade him.

### Receiver Braxton Berrios isn’t the only top UM recruit recovering from a torn ACL. Miami Northwestern High defensive end Mike Smith, who is enrolling at UM this summer, said he’s recovering from one, too (sustained in a late-season practice) but expects to be back by August… Though it’s still too soon to know if it’s realistic, several UM people are excited about the chance of a joint stadium with David Beckham’s MLS team. Some UM coaches and trustees would love to play at a new facility at Tropical Park, but that’s not being considered. MLS wants a downtown stadium. Beckham's group continues to study the feasibility of a joint stadium with UM, fully aware that UM has told them that 40,000 seats is the absolute minimum the Hurricanes could accept.

### Buyout negotiations continue between the Milwaukee Bucks and Caron Butler, who has interest in joining the Heat. Miami also holds Butler in high regard. Players must be cut by Saturday to be playoff-eligible on another team. But they don't need to sign with their new team by Saturday to be playoff-eligible.

### Though re-signing Mario Chalmers this summer could be tricky for the Heat because of luxury tax issues, consider this: A career 42.6 percent shooter, he’s at 46.7 percent, second behind only Tony Parker among all point guards. And he’s third in steals per 48 minutes.

Chalmers said playing point guard here “would not be for everyone. Not every point guard can handle being without the ball a lot…. I’m ready when called on. That’s what makes me special.”

Chalmers, earning $4 million this season, said he hasn’t considered whether he would take less money to re-sign here, though it might be difficult to pass up his first big multiyear contract if a team offers him far more than Miami does. But “I would love to stay,” he added.

### Best line of the day Tuesday from Shane Battier when asked why the Heat isn't as sharp against sub .500 teams as it is against winning teams.

"I'm not Sigmund Freud, I'm not Siggy Freud, I can't speculate on the psyche of our team," he said. "Is it easier to play with energy and concentration when you're playing a Kevin Durant? Yes. If you don't, you're going to be embarrassed." 

Miami is 19-5 record against teams with a .500 or winning record when they played them, 21-9 in other games.

### The Survivor series featuring Marlins president David Samson, which was taped last summer, begins airing at 8 p.m. Wednesday on CBS, with 18 contestants on the province of Cagayan in the Philippines.

"It was much harder than I thought it would be,” Samson said. But “it was something I always wanted to do. I've been watching the show from the beginning.”