The South Florida Sun-Sentinel takes a look at every position on the Miami Dolphins roster, analyzing the players under contract, providing a free agent outlook, and forecasting what the future might hold.
Starters: OT Branden Albert (Inj.), OG Shelley Smith, C Mike Pouncey, OG Billy Turner, OT Ja'Wuan James
Backups: OT//OG Dallas Thomas, OT/OG Nate Garner (Inj.), OG/C Sam Brenner, OG Mark Aspen
Free agents: OG Daryn Colledge, C Samson Satele, OT Jason Fox
Daryn Colledge had a decent season in the 13 games he played, but he can no longer boast about being one of the NFL's most durable offensive linemen because a back injury and migraines sidelined him for three games. When he came back he was splitting the left guard workload with Shelley Smith for another month. That's what happened when NFL veterans get old, and Colledge turns 33 next month. It's possible that the Dolphins could re-sign Colledge, but for another one-year, $2 million deal. The same applies to Samson Satele, who started out 2014 strong, but the 30-year-old physically wore down as the season progressed. Pouncey will likely move back to center, which makes re-signing Satele a luxury considering he can only play center. Fox played well in his 218 snaps in the final six weeks of the season, and the Dolphins should consider re-signing the former University of Miami standout because of his versatility.
Analysis: Albert played like the Dolphins' MVP before suffering a season-ending knee injury in early November, which makes his availability for the season-opener questionable considering he'll need between 9-12 months to rehab the knee. That might force James to start the 2014 season at left tackle, which is where the 2014 first-round pick played the final seven games of 2015. James struggled in the final month of the season because he hit the rookie wall, but he should get stronger and better this offseason. The Dolphins hope the same applies to Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas, two former third-round picks who struggled last season. Turner showed a lot of promise during training camp and the exhibition season, but a turf toe injury set him back, and Miami's coaches didn't work him into the games until the season finale, where he was just adequate in his 17 snaps. However, Turner's upside has the Dolphins penciling him in as the starting right guard, which will allow Mike Pouncey to move back to center.
Where Thomas plays depends on the progress he makes from his disappointing sophomore season, which featured the former Tennessee standout allowing seven sacks, seven quarterback hits and 26 hurries in his 695 snaps. That means Thomas was responsible for roughly four bad plays in every game he handled multiple snaps on Miami's offensive line. Thomas' play at tackle proved he's more suited to handle a guard spot, or become Miami's next utility O-lineman. He'll likely compete with Smith and Turner for one of the two vacant starting spots at guard.
Garner missed the final six games of 2014 because of concussion related issues, and the $1.65 million he's owed in 2015 makes him a possible cap casualty. Garner's versatility and experience makes him an asset, but Brenner, who was called up from the practice squad in December, is being groomed to serve as the backup center. Aspen spent a couple of months on Miami's practice squad, and little is known about the former Oregon guard, who the Bills selected in the sixth round of the 2014 draft. Aspen is 6-foot-6, 319 pounds and supposedly fits a zone blocking scheme.
Forecasting: The easiest way for the Dolphins to improve next year's offense is to fortify the offensive line, which finished second in the NFL in yards per rushing attempt (4.7), behind only the Seahawks. But the Dolphins allowed 46 sacks, which ranked Miami 10th. The Dolphins need to improve the interior of the offense line, and that can be achieved by either signing a proven veteran starting guard like Orlando Franklin, Mike Iupati or Clint Boling. Or they could address the interior of the offensive line early in the 2015 draft, picking up top prospects like FSU's Cam Erving, Josue Matias or Tre Jackson, South Carolina's A.J. Cann, Oregon's Hroniss Grasu and Auburn's Reese Dismukes. Improving the Dolphins' rushing attack would takes some of the pressure off the passing game, and the defense, and upgrading the offensive line could give quarterback Ryan Tannehill more time in the pocket to let plays develop.
It would benefit the Dolphins work out a multi-year deal with Pouncey to lower the $7 million cap hit they'll take this coming season paying for Pouncey's fifth-year option, which Miami opted into last May. Giving Pouncey, a two-time Pro Bowler, a five-year deal in the neighborhood of the five-year, $44 million ($13 million guaranteed) contract his twin brother, Maurkice Pouncey, signed with the Steelers last year benefits everyone. It lowers the immediate cap hit, which would help Miami improve the team in free agency. And it locks Pouncey up for multiple seasons, providing a solid foundation for the Dolphins' offensive line considering Albert and James are solid bookends. Pouncey's worth $6-7 million a season, and has dropped hints he won't participate in the offseason program without getting a new deal. Giving the former Gators standout a five-year deal that pays him $36-40 million, and guarantees him $13 million would likely do the trick based on how salaries are rolling back for offensive linemen.
If you've missed the rest of the Sun-Sentinel's offensive depth chart breakdowns you can find them all on here.
That wraps up the Dolphins' underachieving offense. Up next is the disappointing defense.