For Starters: Five Starters Set To Hit The Open Market For The Fins

By PFC Writer Ricky Bartle

After a ten game turn around, division championship, playoff appearance and a change in culture, what do you do for an encore?  As the South Beach Trinity (Parcells, Ireland, and Sparano) search for answers, the Dolphins will need to address some in house questions.  Five starters from last year’s team, four on defense, are on the verge of hitting the open market, which begs the question: should they stay or should they go?  Vernon Carrey, Channing Crowder, Yeremiah Bell, Renaldo Hill, and Andre’ Goodman are looking for pay days, but will they also be looking for moving companies?  While the Dolphins have made it clear that they are looking to get bigger, faster and stronger, the consensus is that they would also like to get younger.  As Ireland evaluates and communicates, the soon to be free agents are looking to negotiate.  The process will take some time.  Ireland and the Dolphins seem to be poised to watch the market and let it dictate who they re-sign.  This is a risky strategy that could get the Dolphins involved in some unnecessary bidding wars, but this flawless administration has a plan and is sticking to it.  So Dolfans, here is the big question: Who do you keep, and who do you thank for their time and service?

Vernon Carey, the local star at Miami Northwestern and “The U,” has been a bright spot at tackle on a patchwork line.  Carey, who will turn 28, has been durable over his career with the Dolphins, starting 64 of his 78 games.  Carey allowed just 5 1/2 sacks over 17 games and did a solid job on a line that saw a lot of rotation at the guard position.  While Carey didn’t do anything to separate himself heading into a contract year, Carey’s versatility could help him earn more on the open market.  Carey’s 2007 season at left tackle and his fierce run blocking all year make him a hot commodity worth hanging on to for the Fins.  The Dolphins have a chance for a hometown discount with a young man who has played his entire career no further north than the Dade/Broward County line.  With bigger problems at guard and center, it makes sense for the Dolphins to retain Carey, potentially with a long term deal or a franchise tag.

Channing Crowder will head into free agency on the heels of a career year.  The four year starter had his most productive season in his first full year as an inside linebacker.  Crowder finished second on the team with 113 tackles (92 solos) despite missing a game with a knee injury, an injury that has followed him throughout his career.  Crowder is the perfect linebacker for a bend don’t break defense. Over his career, Crowder has produced just 1 ½ sacks, four forced fumbles and 14 pass break-ups.  This doesn’t bode well for a player set to hit the market with playmakers the likes of Bart Scott and Terrell Suggs.  Crowder, a four year starter paid like a backup, will be looking for his first NFL big pay day and might be too pricey for the Dolphins.  Can the Dolphins afford to get in a bidding war on a linebacker who lacks big play ability?  It seems more likely that after several offers have been turned down that Crowder will be allowed to walk, while the Dolphins will look for cheaper alternatives and draft prospects.

Bell, Goodman, and Hill represent three quarters of the Dolphins secondary and as Tony Sparano stated in his final press conference, you can never have enough players in the secondary.  These three represent an interesting group to watch.  The Dolphins know how weak the cornerback market is and are hoping that Jason Allen will continue his development at corner, but they will have to look hard and retaining Goodman.  Bell has been very productive but also very injury prone.  A healthy 2007 could have landed Bell a lucrative contract for a safety, but instead, another injury forced Bell to settle for a one year incentive based deal.  Bell is a big part of the defensive scheme and could be tough to replace. Hill is another interesting case.  Hill solidified a vulnerable secondary when he took over as starter.  Hill filled in with 77 tackles and 3 interceptions and was a solid player on special teams.  But, at 31, he could be a fading star.  Instead, the Dolphins have expressed interest in shelling out the big bucks on one of the big free safeties that could hit the market.

The Dolphins last game, a playoff loss to Baltimore, showed them what a ball hawking free safety and an opportunistic defense can do.  Let’s face it.  The Ravens are, defensively, where the Dolphins hope to be.  This offseason could be a chance for the Dolphins to exact some revenge of the Ravens and steal one of their big three linebacker free agents.  Retaining Yeremiah Bell and replacing Renaldo Hill with a playmaker at free safety could give the Dolphins the flexibility to address both lines and wide receiver in the draft.  The South Beach Trinity has their work cut out for them, and after their early success, there are sure to be some bumps and mess-ups.  But, what do you expect in year two of a rebuilding process?  That’s right Dolfans, it’s just year two.