The Bargain Bin: Best Remaining Free Agent Fits for the Miami Dolphins
In the NFL there are a few walk on free agents who go on to positively impact their teams on a cheap salary every season. This is often where competent front offices receive the best bang for their buck, as the low-risk high-reward nature of training camp free agents can help supplement positional roster holes. Two years ago, Mike Adams was signed after the draft as a depth safety for the Indianapolis Colts. He has recorded 10 interceptions over the last two years and has made the Pro Bowl both times. Last season, pass-rusher Dwight Freeney joined the Arizona Cardinals in October and ended up leading the team with eight sacks. There is still a lot of bargain bin talent floating around at this time in the year. Whether they’re cut due to bloated salary, extensive injury history, or maybe just being long in the tooth there are definitely unsigned players that can perform at a high level for a franchise in need. The Miami Dolphins are definitely in need of some veteran help, and there are a few guys that could make an immediate impact if the team opts to bring them into fold.
Leon Hall (CB):Signing Leon Hall would almost certainly yield dividends for the Miami Dolphins. Beyond Byron Maxwell and rookie Xavien Howard, there is little depth at the cornerback position. Hall would immediately step into a role as the starting slot cornerback, where he has been very effective throughout his tenure in Cincinnati. While he is not a team altering talent, he has averaged a very respectable 41 total tackles, 3 interceptions, and 12 passes defensed per season over the course of his 9-year career. The reliable corner also has a strong connection to defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, who was the former Bengal’s cornerbacks coach over the last several seasons.
While he may be a very affordable stop gap option for the Dolphins’ defensive backfield this season, there are obviously a few reasons why he has received so little interest since he hit the open market in March. Leon Hall has little of the long-term value that NFL teams tend to covet. At 31 years of age, his best years as a football player are likely behind him. When you consider his rather extensive injury history, it’s also rather safe to assume that his future availability is up in the air. His strong on-the-field performance since tearing his Achilles in 2013 will land him a small contract somewhere, but I’d be shocked if there was a large sum of guaranteed money involved. As it stands now, Hall would make a fine addition as the primary slot cornerback in many of the Dolphins’ nickel and dime subpackages. His consistency, experience, and rapport with Vance Joseph all certainly warrant a chance to see what he has left in the tank.
Arian Foster (RB):
The first team that Arian Foster visited once he hit free agency was none other than the Miami Dolphins. Reports have since indicated that the meeting went well, though much has changed over the last few months. The coaching staff has displayed absolute confidence in 2nd year running back Jay Ajayi and has drafted scatback Kenyan Drake as the future change-of-pace option. Yet, Miami’s running back cupboard still seems dangerously barren, and the names below Jay Ajayi and Kenyan Drake on the depth chart are Isaiah Pead and Daniel Thomas. Foster represents an intriguing veteran option to pair with Ajayi and Drake. When healthy, Foster is a top-tier NFL running back, easily in the top 10. He is an experienced, hard-working, smart downhill runner who possesses all of the tools to be an elite pass-catcher as well. I think that he would thrive on limited carries as Ajayi and Drake adjust to being featured NFL backs.
Obviously, the issue here is that Foster tears a muscle every time he sneezes. A season in which he manages to only miss three or four games is considered a healthy season. Seriously, he has only been able to put together a full 16 game season twice over his seven year career. To make matters worse, his well-documented injury history now includes a torn Achilles, which is notoriously difficult to bounce back from. He will also be 30 years old by the time next season rolls around, which limits his upside in the long-term. If the team deems the risk worth the reward and signs Foster to a contract, it would likely include very little guaranteed money and would occur sometime around the start of training camp in August. I believe this scenario would yield dividends, as he should have some of the juice that made him an All-Pro remaining in the tank. Plus, having a veteran presence as accomplished as Foster in the backfield certainly wouldn’t hurt the development of the team’s young backs.
Mike Neal (DE/OLB):There are multiple positions along the Dolphins’ defense that are dangerously devoid of depth. However, none are as vulnerable as the defensive end position. The starting defensive end tandem should give quarterbacks headaches with Cam Wake and All-Pro Mario Williams at the helm. But the edges of the defensive line has a glaring lack of depth behind these two now that Olivier Vernon and Derrick Shelby have flown the coop. Williams and Wake are both over 30, and Wake is coming off of an Achilles tear. The team has yet to address the edge rush, as they avoided the position in free agency and during the draft. Enter Mike Neal.
Neal was far from perfect during his tenure with the Green Bay Packers, but he would almost certainly be third on the depth chart if he were signed. He started 15 games for Green Bay in 2015 and has been productive since he was drafted in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft. He is by no means a star, but his versatility as an above average run stopper and adequate pass-rusher (at least 4 sacks in each of the last four seasons) should make him a valuable depth option at either 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker. He’s also just about to turn 29, so there is some long-term value if he performs well enough to stick with a team past this season. His versatility and playing experience would be perfect as a rotational option to keep the Dolphins’ graybeards fresh late into the season.
Donald Butler (ILB):
Early in the offseason, the San Diego Chargers cut starting inside linebacker Donald Butler. The move made sense, as Butler had seemingly regressed since coming on strong in his 2011 rookie season. As his athletic ability has faltered somewhat, so has his playmaking ability. However, his reliability in coverage and consistent tackling should make him a valuable depth or rotational option in a team’s linebacker corps. Last season, Miami’s linebacker corps was among the least effective in the league against both the run and passing situations. So, the team added a potential game changer in Kiko Alonso from their trade with the Philadelphia Eagles. But beyond that they have done little else since to bolster the ailing unit.
Jelani Jenkins, Koa Misi, and Zach Vigil round out a linebacker corps that has potential, but little stability. Alonso and Misi have extensive injury histories, and Jenkins and Vigil are still very much unproven. While I think that the linebacker play should be solid if injuries don’t take their toll, the team as a whole would benefit from a proven veteran pushing the younger options while providing depth in case of emergency. Donald Butler has been an average starting NFL linebacker for the last 5 years, and there is no reason to believe that he would not have a positive impact if he ends up taking his talents to South Beach once training camp finally commences.