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  These Changes Are Good
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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As expected there have been changes, major changes, to the Dolphin roster this offseason. GM Randy Mueller went so far as to predict 30-35% turnover once the dealing was done.


He wasn’t kidding. Almost two weeks into free agency, the Dolphin strategy has become clear: create cap space for the future by flushing bad contracts, gain draft value through trades, and sign good players at the right price.


Make no mistake: Mueller and head coach Cam Cameron mean to clean house. Given that the Dolphins are a collective 19-29 (.396) over the past three seasons, it’s hard to argue against it.



First, the notable departures:


TE Randy McMichael: Bottom line here is that he never justified his considerable contract (estimated $5.4 million cap number in 2007). Once the game ruining drops and penalties were added up, with the off-the-field incidents thrown in for good measure, the Dolphins wisely concluded that it was time to cut their losses. Perhaps the only surprising aspect of this move is that the Dolphins weren’t able to gain anything in compensation. McMichael is now the property of the St. Louis Rams.


DE Kevin Carter: Carter would be a Dolphin today had he agreed to reduce his estimated $6.48 million cap number. Unfortunately, an agreement couldn’t be reached. Carter is a good player and would have made a positive contribution to the 2007 team. However, as Mueller correctly judged, his salary just wasn’t commensurate with his production. Carter is now a Buccaneer.


WR Wes Welker: Welker’s trade to division rival New England was a shocker and upsetting to many. The Dolphins initially intended to retain Welker by tendering him $1.3 million, which entitled them to 2nd round compensation in the unlikely event that another team opted to make a play for him. Unlikely, thy name is Bill Belichick. For whatever reason…perhaps Nick Saban whispered into Belichick’s ear…the Pats were willing to not only meet the price but exceed it. As much as Dolfans love Welker, truly a joy to behold on the field, the Dolphins made the right decision to accept 2nd and 7th round picks for him. Four reasons why this was a smart move: Firstly, Welker’s numbers couldn’t justify matching what was sure to be an extravagant offer sheet; Secondly, one wonders just how long Welker will last given his slight frame and his high speed, high impact style; Thirdly, the compensation level was on the high side for a #3 WR and KR/PR; Fourthly, the Dolphins needed to create an opportunity for Derek Hagan and Marcus Vick to move up. This is a deep draft through the first 60 picks; Mueller is smart enough to take that 2nd rounder and turn it into a net roster upgrade.


RB Sammy Morris: Sammy could play both RB and FB and was a special teams standout. However, the depth that Morris provided is no longer needed given the imminent return of one Ricky Williams. Overpaying for a special teams contributor made no sense…and that’s what the Dolphins would have had to do to match the Pats’ offer. Even if the Dolphins had matched, there’s no guarantee Morris would have returned as offensive touches are very important to him. Who would you rather have carrying the ball, Sammy or Ricky?


LT Damion McIntosh: McIntosh is a good player but he’s not worth the 6 year, $18 million deal that the Chiefs gave him. Then again, when average offensive linemen are getting $7 million per year contracts, one wonders where sanity has gone.


FB Darian Barnes: His skill set wasn’t a good fit for Cameron’s system. He’ll ply his trade for the NY Jets next season.


RB Travis Minor: Caught in a numbers game and facing a near minimum deal to return as a Dolphin, Minor opted to sign with the Rams.


G Jeno James: Another player with a contract that wasn’t commensurate with his production. As a Dolphin, James was average and the Dolphins will rightly look to upgrade. As of this writing, James remained unsigned.


G Seth McKinney: Again, too much money for too little production. Another Dave Wannstedt high draft pick goes bust. He also remains unsigned.


QB Joey Harrington: No surprise here given his estimated cap number ($3.5 million in 2007) vis-à-vis his production. Money aside, the Dolphins decided that he wasn’t the long term answer at QB they so desperately need. Harrington is a good guy; the NFL needs more people like him.


DT Jeff Zgonina: Zgonina was a good Dolphin, on and off the field. Age (36) is his enemy now. He can earn a better contract elsewhere. Wish him well.


S Travares Tillman: Among the worst signings of the Nick Saban era. Tillman was good against the run but simply could not make plays in coverage, which was his rep when he arrived in South Florida. As Phins.com founder Curt Fennell likes to say, ‘Past behavior is indicative of future behavior’. In this regard, Tillman is Curt’s new poster boy.


OLB Donnie Spragan: Two words…Joey Porter.


DT Dan Wilkinson: Wilkinson was traded to the Broncos for a 6th round pick. Kindly put, the Dolphins put one over on the Broncos.


K Olindo Mare: No, he’s not officially released/traded…yet. But with the signing of Jay Feely, Mare’s departure is a done deal. This move is surprising to yours truly and the sole decision thus far that I find questionable. Losing Mare could really blow up in Mueller’s face. The Giants, Falcons, Saints and Browns are reportedly in the running for his services.



Moving on to the new faces:


FB Cory Schlesinger: This three-time Pro Bowler is a solid upgrade over Barnes. He is a better blocker and is a proven receiving threat. Nice pick up here.


S Cameron Worrell: Worrell is a good special teams player. This signing was made primarily in response to the losses of Minor and Morris. It is highly unlikely that Worrell will be a factor as a full time defensive player.


OLB Joey Porter: Porter is the biggest pick-up for the Dolphins thus far and addresses a critical need. In the 3-4 defense, he and Jason Taylor will play the OLB positions. Together with Taylor, Porter’s presence will create a plethora of pass protection mismatches that opponents will struggle to solve. Add in the genius of defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who will move JT and Porter around like chess pieces, and you’ve got some nasty football in store. This is one acquisition that AFC East rivals did not want to see happen.


TE David Martin: Cameron may be hoping that he is catching Martin on the upside and can turn him into the next Antonio Gates. Martin is a fine route runner, a really good leaper (for a TE), and has good hands. However, Martin carries a reputation for having poor blocking technique. This is an area where Hudson Houck can help him develop. Durability is also somewhat of a concern. Right now, it isn’t clear if Martin is destined for the starting job.


K Jay Feely: The bet here is that Feely will continue to be more accurate than Mare was. The Dolphins know that Feely won’t have as many touchbacks as Mare; this could adversely affect field position. Again, it is my view that Mueller is playing with fire in making this move.


As of this writing, the Dolphin roster stands at 57 players (including Ricky Williams). Of note, there are only 6 offensive linemen currently on the roster. This may suggest that the Dolphins will be looking to draft an offensive lineman (or two) with their top picks.


For now, there is more work to be done. Aside from the critical need for young offensive line talent, the need for a playmaker at #1 receiver seems to be the priority, followed by a starting caliber TE. Overall, it seems clear that the Dolphins are positioning themselves to play for value in the upcoming draft.


Three names that yours truly has his eye on right now: Ohio State’s Ted Ginn, Tennessee’s Robert Meachem, and Miami’s Greg Olsen. All three are offensive playmakers that would immediately upgrade the Dolphin offense.



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