With free agency beginning next week, the Dolphins are determined to fix a defense that ranked 28th against the run and 21st against the pass. What we’re hearing:
### The Dolphins hope --- through free agency and the draft --- to add another defensive end that’s stout against the run (even if they exercise their right to match an offer to Olivier Vernon), at least one starting linebacker (preferably in the middle), a starting safety and starting cornerback.
Miami is open to adding a reasonably priced defensive tackle to supplement Ndamukong Suh, Earl Mitchell and Jordan Phillips, but defensive end is the priority. The Dolphins have told people they are now inclined to keep linebacker Koa Misi because he’s versatile and grades out well against the run.
### The Dolphins have been unsuccessful in attempts to convince Cameron Wake to lower his $9.8 million cap number and $8.2 million salary, as part of an extension beyond 2016.
But the Dolphins have not threatened to cut him if he doesn’t accept, and they’ve told people Wake is still in the plans regardless, barring a change of heart. But the Dolphins also have said privately that in a perfect world, they would like to limit Wake’s snaps to keep him fresh and use him as a pass-rush specialist.
Doing that would require the Dolphins to find either two starting-caliber defensive ends --- or one, if they match an offer to Vernon. It’s unclear yet if that’s realistic; Wake could continue playing the majority of the downs if Miami can't find or afford the ideal run-stopping complement to him, which is the preference.
There aren’t a lot of starting-caliber defensive ends in free agency, but as Armando and I both heard independently in recent days, the Dolphins very much like the Rams’ William Hayes (5.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, rated fifth against the run among all defensive ends by Pro Football Focus for 2015).
Among others available: Dallas’ Jeremy Mincey and the Giants’ Jason Pierre Paul. The Chiefs’ Jaye Howard and Mike DeVito are more suited to being tackles in a 4-3.
The Dolphins always could circle back to Derrick Shelby, but they have not attempted to re-sign him to this point. Defensive end could be filled in the first round if Oregon’s DeForest Buckner or Ohio State’s Joey Bosa surprisingly slips to Miami’s eighth overall pick.
### The Dolphins want to add two corners, and UF’s Vernon Hargreaves is very much in play for Miami’s pick at No. 8.
Seven of PFF’s top 33 corners are unrestricted free agents: Kansas City’s Sean Smith (12th), St. Louis’ Janoris Jenkins (26th), Cincinnati’s Adam Jones (15th) and Leon Hall (33rd), Green Bay’s Casey Heyward (16th), the Giants’ Prince Amukamara (32nd) and San Diego’s Patrick Robinson (30th).
Jones and Hall have been linked to Miami because they played for new Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. The previous Dolphins regime pursued Jones. Heyward and Jenkins are younger and would be more costly.
### At middle linebacker, the Dolphins want to find someone better than free agent Kelvin Sheppard. Free agents who would be upgrades include the Colts’ Jerrell Freeman (rated fourth among all linebackers by Pro Football Focus and first against the run), Denver’s Danny Trevathan (rated 10th overall; 12th against run) and Kansas City’s Derrick Johnson (eighth).
And keep an eye on well-regarded Bengals free agent Vincent Rey. He can play inside or outside linebacker, is excellent on special teams and well-respected, and Joseph likes him. He has made a combined 22 starts the past two seasons, with 121 and 98 tackles.
Miami certainly is open to adding a second starting caliber linebacker if it can afford it. But that's a big if. I'm not certain Jelani Jenkins has a longterm future as a starter here. We'll see.
### The Dolphins would like to find a new starter at safety to play alongside Reshad Jones, and we expect Miami to have interest in George Iloka, who played for Joseph in Cincinnati and had an 18.4 passer rating against last season. Another Cincinnati free agent safety, Reggie Nelson, is coming off an eight-interception season and would be costly.
Other free agent safeties include St. Louis’ Rodney McLeod (10th), Kansas City’s Hussain Abdullah (20th), Arizona’s Rashad Johnson and San Diego’s Eric Weddle (33rd).
One thing is clear: The Dolphins must clear out more cap space, and draft brilliantly, to fill all their defensive needs.... Please see the last post for Rishard Matthews' Tuesday comments about free agency.
### Though Chris Bosh has been hoping to find a credible doctor who believes it’s safe for him to play this season despite taking blood thinners for a clot in his calf, the Heat’s doctors would need to be on board with that before he would be allowed to play. And there would be serious apprehension on the Heat’s part to allow that without serious convincing, because Bosh’s health is the team’s priority.
Teammates don’t expect him to play again this season.
### The Heat hopes Philadelphia claims Beno Udrih by 5 p.m. Wednesday, because it would give Miami enough room under the tax line to sign two players immediately. Miami has been in contact with free agent Marcus Thornton (who likes the Heat) and also likes Kevin Martin, who was reportedly working on a buyout in recent days. (Players must be released by tonight to be playoff-eligible with another team.)
But as of Tuesday afternoon, the 76ers had given the Heat no indication, let alone any assurances, about whether they would claim Udrih. So the Heat is fully prepared for Udrih going unclaimed.
If Udrih isn’t claimed, Miami --– as its roster is currently composed –-- would go back over the tax line if it signs another player before April 6, a week before the season ends, as Heathoops’ Albert Nahmad noted. And the Heat is adamant against paying the tax.
We hear Miami has considered other ways to create more room under the tax line even if Udrih isn’t claimed (such as cutting another player), though that doesn't look likely at this point. Though the Heat would like to add another player in a perfect world, it certainly doesn't feel compelled to do so.
Udrih, incidentally, hopes that he's claimed. If he's not, he would sacrifice $90,000 in salary, according to someone briefed on the situation. It's unclear what Udrih is receiving in return, though he has made clear he would love to return to the Heat next season.
### Please see the last post for some interesting stuff from Joe Johnson today.
### Four-star cornerback J.C. Jackson, who would be an immediate upgrade for UM at a need position, has been speaking to UM cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph “every other day” and Jackson said Miami is No. 1 on his list, according to Isaac Shipp, Jackson’s defensive backs coach at Riverside (Cal.) Community College.
Shipp wasn’t certain if Miami formally has offered Jackson, but said Rumph has told him that Miami wants Jackson. Jackson left the Gators after one season after being charged with aggravated robbery. He was acquitted in November.
Shipp said Jackson would be eligible to play at an FBS school this season if he gets his AA degree in May and that he remains on track to do that. Coming out of Immokalee, Jackson was Rivals’ 21st-rated cornerback in the 2014 class.
### Among many reasons Marlins players have taken a liking to Don Mattingly: How efficiently he runs spring training. “There’s less time wasted,” Derek Dietrich said… The Marlins were on edge today as they await the results of an MRI for Carter Capps, who has had elbow discomfort. Check out Clark Spencer's story on the home page about that.