Most football fans would agree that the most important position on the team is quarterback, but the majority of coaches at any level would also state that the play up front is equally valuable. The offense would tell you it’s the guys in the trenches that make things happen, and conversely, it’s the front seven on the defense that determine wins and losses! Let’s take a look at the depth left on the Miami Dolphins’ defensive front and weapons at the linebacker position.
DOLPHINS DEFENSIVE LINE AND LINEBACKERS:
The two players that are unrestricted free agents and will attract immediate attention will be Kendall Langford and Paul Soliai. Langford started 12 games in 2011 for the Dolphins, amassing 20 total tackles (15 solo, five assist) with one pass defended, one quarterback hit and one forced fumble. Soliai stands at 6’4”, 355 pounds, and teams that run a true 3-4 defense will direct their attention towards the five-year veteran. All indications point to Soliai playing somewhere else next season, but there is much stronger chance that Langford will return. Randy Starks made plays all season long and his production was felt by opposing teams! Starks started 15 games, finishing with 34 total tackles and four-and-a-half sacks, which was the second highest single-season total in his eight-year career. Jared Odrick had a breakout year after coming back from a leg injury in his rookie season. He registered six sacks on the season, ranking him third on the team behind Cam Wake and Jason Taylor), while also totaling five tackles for loss, plus eight hits on the quarterback! Tony McDaniel made one start in 2010, playing a reserve role in 11 games, and finished with two-and-a-half sacks and 19 total tackles on the year. Other players at the position were Phillip Merling and Ryan Baker, who both will become restricted free agents.
At linebacker, Cam Wake will return to lead the Dolphins pass rush after collecting eight-and-a-half sacks in 2011, despite seeing constant double-teams from opposing offenses. Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett each are slated to return following productive seasons in which they each registered over 100 tackles. Following the retirement of Jason Taylor, the remaining linebackers on the roster are Koa Misi, Jason Trusnik, Marvin Mitchell, Ikaika Alama-Francis and Austin Spitler. Mitchell and Alama-Francis, however, are scheduled to become free agents.
POTENTIAL FREE AGENTS: Defensive Line
Mario Williams: The Houston Texans didn’t apply the franchise tag to Williams last week, opening the door for him to sign elsewhere in 2012. Williams has the potential to become the highest paid defensive player in league history, or he may consider taking a hometown discount to play on a defense that could potentially rank in the top five in the NFL. My gut tells me that he will wear different colors in 2012, and the Patriots could be the perfect landing spot if he’s not greedy when it comes to dollars and cents!
John Abraham: Some will say that Abraham is getting long in the tooth at age 33, but his production was still vital to the Falcons last season. He might not be able to handle the workload he once did, but 35 total tackles, nine-and-a-half sacks and four forced fumbles might say something different. The forced fumbles number was the most since 2005, and the number of sacks would have led the Dolphins in 2011! He’s not an every down player, but a team that thinks they are close might sign him up to be a pass rushing specialist moving forward.
Brodrick Bunkley: Probably a guy that’s flying under the radar for most teams because his numbers don’t stand out in terms of getting to the quarterback (43 total tackles, zero sacks). Bunkley is a hand in-the-dirt run stopper that would fit perfectly in a 4-3 defense. He’s only 28 years old and at 6’3”, 306 pounds, could turn a few heads during free agency.
POTENTIAL FREE AGENTS: Linebackers
Stephen Tulloch: For a team looking for a playmaker at the linebacker position, Tulloch–the former Miami Killian High School product–fits the role perfectly! With a great blend of speed and power at the position, he amassed 111 total tackles last season, while achieving career highs with three sacks and two interceptions. The Detroit Lions are’t in great shape when it come to cap space, so look for Tulloch to hit the free agent market and watch for the Eagles to be one of the teams that are interested.
Curtis Lofton: He’s been the center of the Falcons defense and a guy that lets his numbers do the talking. Last year, Lofton tallied 147 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and two interceptions to pace the Atlanta defense. He has the skill set to play in any scheme and will be an instant force for anyone who lands him.
Jameel McClain: At only 26 years old, McClain has a bright future ahead of him! He’s a tough down hill tackler who like the physical style of play needed to play the position at a high level. He had 84 total tackles with one sack and one interception in 2010 and former defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, now the man in charge in Indianapolis, just might have the inside track to acquiring McClain.
Other defensive lineman and linebackers that are free-agents-to-be include: Seattle’s Red Bryant, Jacksonville’s Jeremy Mincey, Washington’s London Fletcher, Minnesota’s Erin Henderson, and Baltimore’s Jarret Johnson.
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.