Quick 8 p.m. update: Sean Spence, the former UM star who overcame a serious knee injury to become a solid contributor for the Pittsburgh Steelers, is visiting the Dolphins tonight, according to a source.
Off a terrific career at UM, Spence was drafted in the third round, 86th overall, by the Steelers in 2012.
But he sustained a devastating knee injury in preseason of his rookie year and ended up missing two full seasons. The injury was so serious that Keith Butler, the former Steelers linebackers coach and now their defensive coordinator, said it would be a "miracle" if he played again.
But Spence not only made it back, but he also became a part-time starter, playing in 31 of 32 possible games over the past seasons, and starting nine games in 2014 and four in 2015.
Spence had 53 tackles and one sack in 2014. He had 37 tackles and one sack this past season, with 24 tackles and a sack in the four games he started in 2015 while filling in for Ryan Shazier.
He's also an asset on special teams and had a tackle that likely saved a touchdown on a fake field goal attempt by the Ravens.
At 5-11 and 231 pounds, Spence, 25, is a high-effort player who could provide quality depth behind Kiko Alonso, Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins, with the ability to be a competent starter if needed.
And it would be a nice homecoming for a player who grew up in Miami and ended up being the best of the eight players from Miami Northwestern in that ballyhooed 2008 Randy Shannon recruiting class that was rated No. 1 in the country.
Also visiting the Dolphins tonight: backup quarterback Brandon Weeden, as Miami continues its search for Matt Moore's replacement.
In three years with the Browns and parts of last season with the Cowboys and Texans, Weeden has 31 touchdown passes, 30 interceptions and a career 76 passer rating. He's 6-19 as a starter and has won one of his last 10 NFL starts.
Weeden is visiting in the wake of Luke McCown canceling his Friday Dolphins visit and re-signing with the Saints.
More Dolphins talk from Friday:
• The Dolphins’ decision to drop down from 8th to 13th in the first round of the draft --- compensation for acquiring Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell from Philadelphia --- significantly lessens the chances of landing UF’s Vernon Hargreaves (perhaps the draft’s best cover corner) or UCLA’s Myles Jack, the top linebacker in the draft and the player who had ticketed to Miami in Mel Kiper’s mock draft last week.
But falling five spots isn’t a setback in this particular draft, NFL draft guru Tony Pauline insists. And privately, the Dolphins were comfortable doing this, believing there will be several quality players available at that lower pick.
“You can forget about Myles Jack,… but the Dolphins put themselves in a better position because the guys they wanted at 8 would have all been gone,” Pauline said by phone.
“Other players would have been reaches. [The 5-11] Hargreaves still may be there; there are a lot of teams that won’t draft corners that aren’t six feet. Any of the cornerbacks are good value there at 13 --- Hargreaves, [Ohio State’s 6-1] Eli Apple, [Clemson’s 5-11] Mackensie Alexander. [Alabama linebacker] Reggie Ragland would be a consideration there if they want to shore up the middle of that run defense.”
So who else could be available for Miami?
For perspective, the players that Kiper has going 10th to 13thh in his mock draft are Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson (“underrated as a complete defensive end in that he's good against the run” ) Georgia outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (“big time upside”); Louisville defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins (“quickness to create havoc in the backfield working from the interior”) and Michigan State offensive tackle Jack Conklin (“if you just go on tape and forget pure potential, you would put Conklin much closer to the No. 1 and No. 3 picks in this mock draft”).
Kiper’s players going 14 to 17: Apple (“high-upside cornerback with size… impressive combination of size, athleticism and natural gifts for the position”); Mississippi receiver Laquan Treadwell; Alabama defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson and Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee.
Of that group, Lawson (a skilled pass rusher) would warrant consideration if he slips to 13th. So would the linebacker Floyd and cornerback Apple, because they play positions where the Dolphins could use help. Among the corners, Kiper doesn’t consider Clemson’s Alexander a first-round pick, though Pauline is high on him.
“Apple and Alexander aren’t as explosive as Hargreaves but they’re more well-rounded,” Pauline said.
Ragland also would be in play at No. 13, though Kiper has him 21st.
“When you combine that football intelligence with natural straight-line speed and toughness, you get the best inside linebacker prospect in this class,” ESPN’s Todd McShay said of Ragland, adding he’s “a great all-around player [who] routinely beat running backs and o-linemen around the edge during pass-rush drills at the Senior Bowl.”
The Dolphins’ haven’t identified defensive tackle as a need –-- despite their shortcomings against the run. So it’s questionable if Miami would select the 6-1, 299 pound Rankins (six sacks, 13 tackles for loss last season) or the 6-4, 312-pound Robinson, who had 3.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss.
“You have Ndamukon Suh making all that money; you drafted Jordan Phillips high,” Pauline said. “Do you use another early pick to a third defensive tackle?”
Conklin and Treadwell wouldn’t seem to make sense for the Dolphins because they aren’t looking for a starting offensive tackle or starting receiver.
And there are size concerns with the 6-1, 218-pound linebacker Lee. “He’s more of a 20 to 32 guy,” NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said.
Another name to keep in mind if Denver matches Miami's offer for CJ Anderson: Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott, who ran for 1821 yards and averaged 6.3 per carry last season. Kiper has him going 20th, but Pauline said he’s worth considering at 13.
“Elliott is getting a lot of love now,” Pauline said. “He’s perfect in that middle round one area. He can be a featured running back and is the only first-round back in this class. Can make defenders miss.”
The Dolphins would like to add quality players at cornerback and linebacker and are always open to upgrading the defensive line.
So to me, the names that would make the most sense at 13 would be Hargreaves (if he somehow falls), Apple, Alexander, Floyd, Ragland and Lawson. And others could rise or fall into that range.
• The Dolphins are hosting defensive end Jason Jones and cornerback Josh Robinson on free agent visits today. Miami usually signs players it brings in for visits, or at least makes an offer. See the last post for more on both players.
The Dolphins informed the hosts of The Finsiders, their weekday show on WINZ, that they are discontinuing the program at the end of the month --- a step toward what appears to be their increasingly likely departure from WINZ and their parent company, iheart Radio.
Though a Dolphins source insisted the team hasn't made a final decision about whether to move the games from WINZ to another station this upcoming season, multiple sources say WQAM has emerged as the clear favorite for rights.
Talks continue to progress with WQAM, and though nothing is signed, there is considerable optimism a deal will be reached, according to multiple sources.
790 The Ticket also met with the Dolphins, but as we reported two months ago, WQAM was always the most serious challenger to WINZ.
CBS Radio, which bought WQAM from Beasley Broadcasting last year, has put together a strong bid.
WINZ, meanwhile, has not been told that it's losing the games and is under the impression that it remains in contention for rights.
As part of its expiring six-year contract with the team, WINZ agreed to give the Dolphins a two-hour daily talk show, a program that has since expanded to three (4 to 7 p.m.).
Original host Jesse Agler and current host Greg Likens, as well as their group of analysts (John Congemi, Kim Bokamper, Keith Sims, Troy Drayton, Sam Madison Troy Stradford and many others) did good work, but the program consistently trailed WQAM and 790 The Ticket in the ratings. Fox Sports Florida simulcast the 5 to 6 p.m. hour of the show.
Likens and The Finsiders staff are now looking for work.
“While negotiations for our radio rights are ongoing, we have simultaneously made the decision to increase our commitment to our digital, social and video platforms," Dolphins vice president/media relations Jason Jenkins said. "As part of this direction, the Finsiders radio show will end on March 31 with the expiration of our current radio deal. We want to thank our hard working and dedicated team for putting out a quality product over the airwaves. We will continue to look at the best ways to provide our fans with the most timely, compelling and unique content about the Dolphins across multiple platforms.”
The Dolphins aren't interested in keeping, and financing, the Finsiders if they move to WQAM.
The Dolphins control the choice of announcers, and there has been no indication that a change is coming there. WQAM likely would simulcast the games on 99.9 WKIS FM if the sides can finalize a deal for rights.
FINAL WORD FROM MIKO
You wouldn't expect Miko Grimes to go out quietly. Here's the Instagram message she sent to her former WQAM co-host, Omar Kelly, via Instagram, after her husband signed with Tampa Bay today:
"the Bucs are a REAL organization, being ran PROPERLY, unlike that dumpster fire in the AFC East we just left! they wouldnt DARE ask me to delete my twitter! i deleted my twitter bc i didn't want the twitter gangsters and thumb thugs to have anyone to @ when they found out the Bucs (and multiple other teams) made them all look STUPID! who doesnt want a pro bowl corner thats doing [expletive; rhymes with hit]. NO OTHER CORNER IN THE LEAGUE CAN DO! men lie! women lie! stats lie! the media lies! u know whats undefeated? FILM!!! we are HAPPY and i dont feel like sharing it with anyone just yet. ill be back very soon and ill be the same supportive, dedicated, truthful bitch i was before i left!"
Please see the last post for more free agent nuggets... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz