Branden Albert (who appears to be very, very high on Miami's wish list) and Eugene Monroe aren't the only veteran offensive linemen attracting Dolphins interest early in free agency. Two other names have emerged today.
The Dolphins also have expressed strong interest in St. Louis guard/tackle Rodger Saffold -- something both colleague Adam Beasley and I are hearing.
And the Dolphins today also reached out to Oakland free agent left tackle Jared Veldheer, who missed 11 games last season with a torn triceps. Veldheer is an option if Miami doesn't sign Albert or Saffold or Monroe.
Two industry officials said they believe the Dolphins would love to sign Albert as their left tackle and sign Saffold as a guard. But Miami would have to pay substantially to achieve that.
In the meantime, the Dolphins also have reached out to Monroe and to Veldheer, who are both natural left tackles. And they haven't ruled out signing Saffold as a left tackle if they don't sign Albert, though they are also very comfortable playing Saffold at guard (which he isn't opposed to).
One NFL source not affiliated with Albert called Miami the clear front-runner for Albert. But it's still early in the process, and there's certainly a chance Miami could be outbid. We'll see.
If Miami doesn't reach a deal with Albert or Monroe, Veldheer, 26, is on their radar.
Veldheer started 16 games for the Raiders each of the previous two seasons, and Pro Football Focus rated him 12th among all tackles in 2012, with a terrific plus-17.8 grade as a pass blocker and a plus-3.2 as a run blocker (25th best). Veldheer, a third round pick out of Hillsdale in 2010, allowed five sacks in 15 games in 2012.
Saffold, 25, did not allow a sack in six games at right guard last season (and just four hurries, which is impressive) and also graded out very well as a run-blocker.
Pro Football Focus rated him 18th among all guards this past season. Saffold, a second-round pick in 2010, also has experience playing left tackle and allowed two sacks in 10 games at left tackle in 2012, before Jake Long took over the position last year.
Teams could begin talking to agents of free agents at noon today, but players cannot sign with a new team until 4 p.m. Tuesday.
Some Friday notes:
### Anemic offensively, the Marlins summoned all their top young bats to the big leagues last season, eager to see who would flourish and who would flop. Of the five who received extended looks, the Marlins decided they realistically could project only two as key pieces in 2014: Christian Yelich, the starter in left field, and Marcell Ozuna, the likely starter in center.
They have not given up on outfielder Jake Marisnick, catcher Rob Brantly or second baseman Derek Dietrich. But all three figure to begin the season in the minors, unless there are major injuries, unless Marisnick hits exceptionally and clearly outplays Ozuna (unlikely) or unless Casey McGehee is awful and Dietrich is brilliant (unlikely).
Yelich (who was 0 for 11 this spring before going 2 for 3 today) and Ozuna (3 for 14, six strikeouts) are off to slow starts this spring, but it's too soon for worry.
The Marlins love Yelich, the former first-round pick who hit .288 with four homers, 16 RBI and 10 steals (in 10 attempts) in 62 games for Miami. Yelich struggled in 91 at-bats against left-handers (.165) but pummeled right-handers (.362).
“He’s got a chance to be a special player for a long time,” said manager Mike Redmond, who envisions him as a .300 hitter over his career and leans toward batting him second. “I love his approach, his mental makeup. This kid, for being such a young guy, has it all together. It's remarkable.”
Yelich hit 15 and 12 home runs in his two full minor league seasons, and he said, “I’m only 22. The power will come. I wouldn’t say 20 [homers] is out of the question” eventually.
As for Ozuna, he excelled in the minors after going undrafted, then hit .330 for the Marlins last May after being promoted. But his average dropped to .265 in June, then .162 in 68 July at-bats before his demotion. His final numbers: .265, three homers, 32 RBI in 70 games.
He never played in the minors after the demotion because he was diagnosed with a season-ending thumb injury. But he hit well in winter ball in the Dominican Republic. Ozuna, 23, said he slumped last July because opposing pitchers “watched video to see where I can’t hit, and I got crazy, swinging at bad pitches. I will [adjust].”
Redmond said: “I feel great about Ozuna. He didn’t seem baffled at all about moving from right to center.”
Marlins special advisor Jack McKeon loves him: “He’s got as good an arm as anyone in the big leagues,” McKeon said, adding that Ozuna reminds him, offensively and defensively, of two-time former All-Star Tony Armas, who hit 251 career homers.
Some evaluators need more convincing. "Yelich is going to hit, no question,” one National League scout said. “Not sure about Ozuna. If you get an average player, you will be happy. He's not going to be star. He's got some tools, but he's a free swinger."
### What about the other three who aren't expected to begin the year in the majors (barring something unforseen)?
Marisnick, 22, Toronto’s third-round pick in 2009, is terrific defensively but hit .183 in 40 games for the Marlins. He’s a career .280 hitter in the minors, so the Marlins believe the bat could develop.
Brantly, 24, hit .290 in 31 games late in 2012 but slumped to .211, with just one homer, in 67 games last season, and it would be surprising if he ever becomes a starter here again, considering the three-year commitment to Jarrod Saltalamacchia. “Last year was real humbling,” Brantly said.
Dietrich, 24, flashed power in his 57-game Marlins stint (nine home runs) but hit .214, then created a mess after his demotion to the minors by privately accusing hitting coach Tino Martinez of physical and verbal abuse, which led to Martinez’s ouster. Dietrich declined to discuss the matter last week, but a friend said Dietrich was embarrassed by it.
The Marlins will play Dietrich at second and third base in the minors and believe he could be a starter here someday if he can hit for average. “He has tremendous ability,” president/baseball operations Michael Hill said.
### After shooting 12 for 18 outside the paint in his 61-point outburst Monday, LeBron James is 1-for-17 outside the paint in the past two games.
### Scott Nichols, agent for 2013 Heat second-round draft pick James Ennis, said he spoke to the team and "all indications are they plan to put him on the roster next season" as part of a plan to infuse youth at the bottom of the roster and ease the luxury-tax burden. Ennis, a 6-8 forward, ranks among the Australian pro league’s leaders in scoring (21.9), rebounding (7.3) and steals (1.5). The Heat has liked his progress this season and his upside as a defender.
### Agent Eugene Parker said tight end Dustin Keller will be ready to play next season after his horrific knee injury, but the Dolphins haven’t indicated if they’re interested in re-signing him.
### When the Dolphins reach out to free agent left tackle Eugene Monroe's representation this weekend, they'll quickly get an idea of how much it will take to sign him. Per reports in Baltimore, Monroe is seeking a deal averaging $10 million a year. The Ravens have offered between $8 million and $9 million.
### Stephen Ross is still working his way through the landmines of being an NFL owner --- he's only been at it for five years --- but he's making the attempt to learn as much as he can. In an unusual move for an owner, Ross attended the recent MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston, along with his top executives Matt Higgins and Tom Garfinkel, and listened intently to a discussion about building a culture within a franchise, a conversation that included Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith. That Falcons tandem have had great success together until Atlanta bombed last season. Ross needs to get input from others besides buddy Carl Peterson, and he seems to realize that.
### Players keep raving about UM quarterback Ryan Williams. “I don’t think we’ll miss a beat” with Williams replacing Stephen Morris, receiver Phillip Dorsett said Thursday. “He throws an accurate and catchable ball, throws everything on time. Ryan’s arm has gotten a lot stronger. It’s not really a dropoff” from Morris. Dorsett says fans will see for themselves at the April 12 spring game.