Posted: 9:50 am Monday, February 18th, 2013

Sizing up the Miami Dolphins’ competition in the wide receiver market 

By Post Staff

The NFL machine is slowly cranking back up today after a two-week vacation following the Super Bowl. The NFL Scouting Combine begins Wednesday in Indianapolis, and preparations for the 2013 season will commence: Physicals, interviews and workouts for the rookies, and contract negotiations between teams and free agents.

Also starting today, teams can begin using the Franchise Tag on one player per team. Expect most of the Franchise Tagging to happen closer to the end of the designated two-week period on March 4, but a record 21 teams used the tag last year, and the Dolphins may be part of that group this year with cornerback Sean Smith. The team hasn’t tipped its hand whether it wants to use the tag on Smith – it would guarantee him a $10.677 million salary in 2013 – but Smith’s camp is preparing for the scenario, and rooting strongly against it. Smith is likely the only Dolphin who would be worthy of the tag, but Jake Long and Randy Starks could be options, too.

Smith believes he could get a long-term deal worth north of $8 million per year on the open market, so the Dolphins might decide to tag Smith not because they believe he’s worth $10.677 million – far from it – but as a way to prevent an ascending young player at a premium position from hitting the open market and potentially going to a rival. The Dolphins have a history of doing this, paying Paul Soliai more than $12 million with the tag in 2011 to keep him in Miami and give them more time to figure out a real contract extension (he got $12 million over two years before 2012). The Dolphins and Smith still would have until July to continue to negotiate a long-term contract and try to lower Smith’s 2013 salary and cap number. As an aside, Soliai and Smith share the same agent.

Anyway, the big order of business for the Dolphins this week at the Combine is finding at least one receiver – either a rookie in the draft, or a free agent like Greg Jennings or Mike Wallace. Dolphins fans have high hopes, with many fans hoping they’ll land one of those two big-name free agents plus draft a couple of receivers high in the draft. Some fans are dreaming even bigger, hoping that the Dolphins sign BOTH Jennings and Wallace, although that scenario seems absurd.

But Dolphins fans might want to temper their expectations a bit, because the Dolphins certainly aren’t the only team looking for a receiver this offseason. Exactly half of NFL teams – 16 of 32 – didn’t have a 1,000-yard receiver in 2013, and many are also in the hunt for a receiver this offseason. And options are starting to dwindle – Kansas City and Dwayne Bowe appear to have mutual interest in signing a contract extension and Tennessee appears set to use the tag on Jared Cook, who could’ve been a free agent target at tight end.

The Dolphins will likely have to battle only a few teams for the free agent receivers – and the Dolphins have great ammunition with over $40 million in cap space – but have to be wary about several more trading up ahead of them in the draft to take a receiver (the Dolphins pick 12th).

A look at the Dolphins’ top competition for receivers:

1. Minnesota Vikings
Available salary cap space: $3-4 million
Draft pick: 23

The Dolphins are certainly in a much better cap situation than the Vikings, who may have to do a little roster purging to make room for free agents. But the Vikings desperately need a receiver – disgruntled Percy Harvin played only nine games yet still led team with 62 catches for 677 yards and three TDs. The Vikings have also already been linked to Jennings, who might like the idea of pulling a Brett Favre and signing with the Packers’ rival.

2. San Francisco 49ers
Available salary cap space: $0
Draft pick: 31

The 49ers definitely need to cut or restructure a few players to get under the salary cap, but they need a speedy deep threat to replace Randy Moss, and Mike Wallace seems like a perfect fit. Last year’s first-round pick, A.J. Jenkins, didn’t get on the field until the end of the year, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see the 49ers use the 31st pick on another receiver.

3. New England Patriots
Available salary cap space: $19 million
Draft pick: 29

The Pats are still looking for help on the outside as Brandon Lloyd had just 911 yards and four touchdowns and Deion Branch had 145 yards on 16 catches and zero touchdowns. Wallace, again, looks like a perfect fit as the Patriots’ deep threat – think Randy Moss and his 23 touchdowns in 2007. Plus, who wouldn’t want to play with Tom Brady? There’s also been a lot of buzz lately that Wes Welker could be on the way out, so perhaps they will be in the market for a slot receiver like Danny Amendola, who is seemingly at odds with the Rams.

4. Cleveland Browns
Available salary cap space: Approx. $42 million
Draft pick: 6

The Browns have a couple of talented young receivers in Greg Little and Josh Gordon. But the offense would really click if they added a solid veteran receiver to the mix, such as Jennings, and the Browns certainly have the cash to make it happen. Travis Benjamin isn’t a pure receiver and Mohamed Massaquoi is a concussion risk.

5. San Diego Chargers
Available salary cap space: $9 million
Draft pick: 11

The Chargers still need to replace Vincent Jackson and find a third option alongside Malcolm Floyd and Denario Alexander, who is a restricted free agent (Robert Meachem had 14 catches in 15 games). Don’t be shocked if they make a run at Wallace – although the Dolphins certainly have the advantage in available cap space – or use their high second-round pick on a receiver.

6. Carolina Panthers
Available salary cap space: Negative $6 million
Draft pick: 14

The Panthers won’t be players in free agency, as their salary cap is a complete mess and they’re going to be cutting several veterans just to get under the cap. But they badly need a third receiver for Cam Newton and ideally someone to groom to eventually replace Steve Smith (33). Brandon LaFell is decent No. 2, but Louis Murphy, a free agent, is not getting it done as the No. 3. Don’t be surprised if the Panthers use their first- or second-round pick on a receiver.

7. Detroit Lions
Available salary cap space: $9.5 million
Draft pick: 5

The fifth pick is too high to use on a receiver in this year’s draft, but they need one to replace the discarded Titus Young, and need to upgrade from Mike Thomas and Nate Burleson. Lions would be wise to find Matt Stafford another receiver with their second- or third-round pick.

Other teams who could look to use a high draft pick on a receiver: Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Seattle, N.Y. Jets, Baltimore, Houston.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Sizing up the Miami Dolphins’ competition in the wide receiver market (blogs.palmbeachpost.com) [...]

  2. [...] DB Sean Smith is “preparing” to be franchise tagged. (Ben Volin) [...]