10 p.m. update: The Dolphins already have added one veteran to upgrade the guard position, and they're working on acquiring another.
Veteran Kraig Urbik has been summoned to Davie to meet with team officials on Tuesday, and the team intends to sign him if everything (including medical tests) goes well, multiple sources said tonight.
Urbik, 30, has started 57 games in seven seasons --- one season with Pittsburgh and the past six with Buffalo.
He started 16 games for the Bills in 2013 before starting nine games in 2014 and four in 2015.
Pro Football Focus rated him 48th last season among 82 qualifying guards. Dolphin guards Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas were rated 69th and 81st, respectively.
A second-team All-Big Ten selection at Wisconsin, Urbik was selected 79th overall, by Pittsburgh, in the 2009 draft.
Urbik, who's 6-5 and 324 pounds, would join Jermon Bushrod as the second veteran guard added this offseason.
But with Bushrod, the Dolphins are counting on him as a likely start.
With Urbik, the Dolphins are expected to give him a chance to compete for a starting job but are not assuming he will start by any means. They're viewing this as a depth signing if a deal is finalized. If he's one of the top two guards on the team in August, great. If not, he gives them a solid backup.
The Dolphins still have Turner, Thomas and Jamil Douglas at guard and could add one or two more before training camp.
Check back in the morning; Armando, Adam and I will have updates from Adam Gase's briefing with reporters at the NFL owners meetings in Boca Raton. The AFC coaches breakfast begins at 7:15 a.m.
When the Dolphins finished 28th in the NFL against the run and allowed the league’s eighth-most sacks last season (45), it became clear that they again needed help on both lines.
That help, so far, has come in the form of a past-his-prime erstwhile star coming off his worst pro season (Mario Williams), a part-time starter in Jacksonville (Andre Branch) and a former left tackle who will be asked to play guard for the first time in his life (Jermon Bushrod).
Exploring Miami’s machinations in efforts to upgrade their lines:
• Offensive line: Miami went into the offseason interested in adding a quality veteran guard, but two things happened along the way:
1) The price exploded to levels that Miami found to be highly uncomfortable. The Dolphins liked JR Sweezy but weren’t willing to pay him the type of deal (five years, $32.5 million) that Tampa did.
They liked Alex Boone but didn’t want to match, let alone exceed, Minnesota’s four-year, $26.8 million offer. Brandon Brooks (five years, $40 million), Jeff Allen (four years, $28 million) and Evan Mathis ($6 million) priced themselves out of Miami’s range.
• The Dolphins became convinced that an outside-the-box idea --- signing lifelong tackle Bushrod and moving him to guard ---would be a magic elixir. Privately, the Dolphins believe Bushrod, 31, is going to thrive at guard and that their sports science program will help a player coming off shoulder surgery and 2015 back problems.
Coach Adam Gase, who had Bushrod in Chicago last year, not only believed that Bushrod (a Pro Bowler in 2011 and 2012) could make the transition, but also has a history of doing that sort of thing. He was offensive coordinator in Denver when Orlando Franklin shifted from tackle to guard. Franklin thrived at guard and parlayed that into a five-year, $36.5 million free agent deal with San Diego before last season. The difference: Franklin had played some guard at UM.
In recent years, moves from tackle to guard have had mixed results. J’Marcus Webb did it for Oakland last year and ranked 69th among 81 guards in Pro Football Focus rankings, comparable with Billy Turner. Justin Pugh did it for the Giants and was very good, finishing 12th in PFF’s rankings.
Bushrod said it will be challenging but he’s up for it. Even though tackle is considered the more difficult position, “it’s a whole different world on the inside, a different style of play. You have to have a certain level of athleticism," Titans offensive line coach Bob Bostad told The Tennessean when the team considered moving a tackle to guard two years ago. "You just can’t take it for granted that some guy on the outside is going to walk in and play inside.”
Bushrod could prove to be a bargain if he becomes a quality guard. He signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal, with only $985,000 guaranteed, according to NFL Players Association documents.
As for the other guard position, the situation is fluid. Miami might draft another guard or sign a cheap free agent to compete with Turner (allowed eight sacks and 11 hurries), Jamil Douglas (permitted league’s most quarterback hurries in four games before he was benched) and Dallas Thomas (relinquished 10 sacks and 34 hurries and was PFF’s lowest-rated guard last season). Or Miami might settle for the best of those three.
There are a bunch of veteran guards who would welcome a chance here, including Louis Vazquez and Manny Ramirez (Miami discussed both; both played for Gase in Denver) and Geoff Schwartz. Solid pros Chris Chester and Ted Larsen also are looking for work, and some decent veteran guards should still be available after the draft. But an elite established guard? Forget that.
Miami also believes it has upgraded at backup tackle, from Jason Fox to former Jacksonville/Notre Dame/St. Thomas Aquinas player Sam Young.
PFF’s assessment of Young: “Sam Young was not good in Jacksonville. On a per snap basis, one of the weakest tackles in the league. He should be grateful for a chance to redeem himself and extremely grateful the Dolphins decided to guarantee part of his deal.” OK then.
• Defensive line: Among 123 qualifying defensive tackles last season, Pro Football Focus rated Jordan Phillips 122nd against the run and Earl Mitchell 123rd. (Ndamukong Suh was 16th).
But the Dolphins believe that isn’t an accurate reflection of Mitchell’s work and concluded early this offseason that a significant upgrade at tackle wasn’t needed. Though former interim coach Dan Campbell wasn’t happy with Phillips’ consistency, the front office is still high on him. The Dolphins want Phillips in better shape; he needs to get from 325 to 315 and he’s on his way, an associate said.
With Williams, the Dolphins believe they’re getting a better player than Olivier Vernon at a much lower price and attribute his 2015 decline in Buffalo to playing out of position, including a lot of outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Others aren’t as convinced.
Here was Pro Football Focus’ assessment of Williams: “Last season was a borderline disaster for him, as he ranked dead-last in pass-rush grade among edge defenders. It was less an aberration and more the culmination for a player who has rarely delivered against top competition. He is by no means a bad player, and the relatively little money involved here makes this worth a flyer. But why has the team gotten older and less explosive at a premium position?”
PFF ranked Vernon 12th against the run and Williams 46th.
This is worrisome, too: There were six other defensive ends or outside linebackers, besides Williams, who played between 860 and 900 snaps last season. Those six (Rob Ninkovich, Ryan Kerrigan, Carlos Dunlap, Stephen Tuitt, Everson Griffen, Chandler Jones) averaged 48.5 tackles and 9.8 sacks. Williams (880 snaps) had 19 and 5.
The Dolphins’ biggest concern with Williams should be what some of his teammates thought of him in Buffalo. “It’s been clear to me that Mario doesn’t care about anybody but himself,” one Bills player told The Buffalo News last December. “He followed that up by not giving any effort during the season and complaining about the scheme instead of manning up and saying he played like crap and doesn’t care.”
Another player said he gave “zero effort [in one late-season game]. The tape speaks for itself. … He takes two steps and stops.”
But others defended him. “He was trying to do what the coaches asked him to,” linebacker Preston Brown told The News. “When you’re 30 years old, it’s kind of hard to start doing stuff you’ve never done. … He’s out there doing his job.”
And cornerback Leodis McKelvin told the newspaper: “With him, it could be frustration in getting to the quarterback a lot more. But he wants to play – there’s no doubt about it. But you’re used to getting to the quarterback and now you’re making sacrifices for someone else to get to the quarterback.”
Williams won’t need to do that in Miami. And at least he will be highly motivated here.
At the other defensive end spot, the Dolphins are expecting Branch to play a ton in base defense, with Cam Wake moving into more of a pass-rush specialist role (though he figures to get some work in base). Branch played the run effectively in Jacksonville last year.
The Dolphins made a strong offer for the Rams’ William Hayes, who’s very good against the run, but he took $21 million over three years to stay put.
Though this pieces focuses on both lines, it’s important to note the Dolphins believe linebacker Kiko Alonso also will help considerably against the run.
• One reason the Dolphins aren’t signing a ton of free agents before May 1 is they want compensatory picks in the 2017 draft, potentially third- and fourth-rounders.
Twitter: @flasportsbuzz.... Check back over the next couple days for a lot from the NFL owners meetings in Boca Raton... And please see the last post for lots of Heat and Canes from Sunday afternoon, as well as this week's NCAA Tournament tip times and TV information.