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Draft season here: Why tight end is darkhorse need

The Miami Dolphins have done some significant work to their tight end corps so far this offseason. More is needed.

The team walked away from Charles Clay, Miami's top tight end the past few years, after he signed a contract with the Buffalo Bills that made it difficult for the Dolphins to match despite their transition tag on him. Clay now plays for Buffalo.

The team had already signed free agent Jordan Cameron away from the Cleveland Browns on a two-year, $15 million deal that had fans dreaming of double-tight sets that included Cameron attacking the seam and Clay running his trademark crossers.

Oh well, there's always Cameron and Dion Sims, right?

Well, kind of.

The fact is the Dolphins would be wise to draft a tight end in 2015.

The fact is Cameron and Sims are surrounded by questions about their long-term viability for various reasons.

Those reasons?

Firstly, Sims is a functional tight end. He's been a solid blocker. He's been an improving pass-catcher. He's been an average route-runner. That is all he's been. To suggest a player who has caught 30 passes in his two seasons (24 last season) has been anything more is simply not founded in fact.

Obviously Sims may still be growing into his job and improving, but counting on growth and improvement to show up across the spectrum of necessary skills for the position in 2015 is putting a lot of Easter eggs in the projection basket.

So let's agree Sims is a solid if unspectacular backup.

Cameron, on the other hand, can be spectacular.

Cameron last season led all NFL tight ends with four catches of 40 yards or more. He had touchdown plays of 81 and 51 yards and also had catches of 47 and 42 yards.

Yes, dynamic.

No other tight end in the NFL had more than two catches of 40 or yards or more. So that made Cameron unique even in a year he struggled to stay healthy and had lingering concerns about multiple concussions (three in the past two seasons).

The point is if Cameron is healthy, he might be an upgrade at tight end.

But the health is a gamble.

And although Cameron says there is no concern and the Dolphins have publicly expressed their confidence in Cameron and his health, the contract the two sides agreed to shows there was definitely a worry that one side (Miami) had and the other side (Cameron) stipulated to.

That is why Cameron has a 2015 per game bonus of $156,250 in his deal. The total bonus adds up to $1.562 million but Cameron has to be healthy enough to earn that money on a week to week basis.

And as far as the 2016 portion of Cameron's contract ... mirage.

Yes, Cameron gets $15 million over two years but only $4.5 million of that counts on the cap this year while the other $9.5 million counts next year. A whopping $7.5 million of that second-year money is a base salary that becomes fully guaranteed on the second day of the 2016 league year.

Let me see ... what are the odds the Dolphins pay that money on the second day of the 2016 league year if Cameron has not delivered a completely amazing and concussion-free year in 2015? Oh, yes, very slim.

Cameron's deal is for intents and purposes a one-year prove-it contract.

So what does that say about the future long-term?

The Dolphins need to draft a tight end, folks.

Obviously they can wait until next offseason. Or they can address the issue in the upcoming draft (preferable) or free agency after the draft (not preferable because it will be more expensive and it won't be a long-term solution).

The past few weeks the team has been grinding on tight end film for players including Clive Walford of the University of Miami, Nick O'Leary of Florida State, Maxx Williams of Minnesota,  Jeff Heuerman of Ohio State, E.J. Bibbs (H-back type) of Iowa, 6-7 Jesse James of Penn State, and Tyler Kroft of Rutgers among others.

Walford, O'Leary and Heuerman are at least expected to visit with the Dolphins.

But it should be made clear here none of these fellows seems like a first-round pick, particularly not at No. 14 overall. Frankly, most are probably third-round or later picks.

But the point is the Dolphins would be wise to invest a second or fourth round pick for the position. It is important long-term. It becomes more important if Miami can't land a wide receiver in the first round. The Dolphins might even consider trading back into the third round if, for example, Walford is there in the round.

Personally, I like O'Leary late -- sixth round maybe. He is not fast. He is not prototypical. But he's a football player. He is quarterback friendly. He is smart. He reminds me of Bruce Hardy.

[Update: Many have reminded me the Dolphins have 2014 draft pick Arthur Lynch on the roster. I remind you Lynch spent all of last season on injured reserve. He never was able to get in a preseason game. When he practiced -- mostly on a limited basis -- he often struggled to catch the football. So he is a project.]

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