2017 NFL Free Agency: Big-Name Targets for Miami Dolphins

March 9, 2017
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The NFL free agency period starts on Thursday, so here are five names the Miami Dolphins should target right away.

The feeding frenzy that is the NFL free agency period officially kicks off at 4:00 p.m. ET on Thursday. The league’s legal tampering period has already given us some big news stories to get us amped for the league’s new year to officially begin.

The Dallas Cowboys are releasing quarterback Tony Romo. The New England Patriots have reportedly made a trade with the Indianapolis Colts for tight end Dwayne Allen. The Detroit Lions have reportedly agreed to a deal with one of the big-name offensive line free agents, former Baltimore Ravens Ricky Wagner.

Related Story: Free Agency Rumors Tracker

For the Miami Dolphins part in the pre-free agency quagmire, they have given fans some big news of their own. The moves that they have already announced should give fans confidence that this front office finally gets it. After years of watching the front office let talent escape through their fingers and make “big splashes” that don’t pan out, this regime seems to be going a different, refreshing direction.

What more do the Dolphins need to do in the NFL free agency period to set themselves up for next season? Who are some big-name guys who could come in and help the team build upon the surprising success they had last season? Here are four key guys I think the team should bring in before all is said and done.

Next: No. 4 Kenny Stills Kenny Stills

Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

4. Kenny Stills

In today’s NFL, you need to be able to attack every level of the defense if you want to have a successful passing game. You have to have consistent threats in the short game, the medium range, and someone who can blow the top off the defense deep.

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There’s no better slot receiver in the NFL right now than the Dolphins’ Jarvis Landry. Landry has been one of the most productive receivers in the league since his rookie season. He has the short-range game on lock for the Dolphins.

When he’s healthy, DeVante Parker can be the guy to cover the mid-range. He isn’t exceptionally fast, but he’s fast enough to beat coverage and get open. He’s a bigger guy who has hops. The biggest problem with Parker has been his ability to stay healthy.

In 2016, the speed guy for the Dolphins was Kenny Stills. Stills showed up for Miami in a big way last season, to the tune of more than 17 yards per catch. If that wasn’t enough, he tacked on nine touchdowns. Thanks to a couple egregious drops, he left a couple more on the field. If the Dolphins want to build on the success they had in Adam Gase’s first season, bringing Stills back is huge.

Thankfully, news broke late yesterday that the Dolphins and Stills have agreed to a contract to bring him back to the Dolphins. The agreement is reportedly for four years, $32 million.

Correction: Dolphins gave WR Kenny Stills a four-year, $32 million deal that includes $20 million guaranteed.

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 9, 2017

This news should come as a great relief to Dolphins fans, as it had been widely believed that Stills had priced himself out of Miami, as our own Mark Morales-Smith suggested.

Next: No. 3 Johnathan Hankins New York Giants

Mandatory Credit: William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports

3. Johnathan Hankins

Johnathan Hankins might not strike you as a “big name” free agent, especially in a class with so much name recognition. But Hankins has been a very solid player so far, to the tune of being NFL.com’s 12th best free agent in the entire class.

Hankins would fill probably the biggest need the Dolphins have as a defense, someone to stop the run. Miami was absolutely abysmal against the run, and this is where Hankins excels. He doesn’t give you the pass-rushing capabilities that some of the more household names bring. But he doesn’t need to. Especially since Miami held true to their word and was committed to bring back their in-house talent (Andre Branch).

Why is Hankins on this list instead of his big-name counterparts? The reason is two-fold. First, he’s a better fit for the Dolphins. Guys like Brandon Williams and Dontari Poe have more name recognition than Hankins. Admittedly, they are probably a step above Hankins production-wise, too. But both are better fits for a 3-4 base defense, not the 4-3 that Miami plays.

The other reason to covet Hankins ahead of Williams and Poe is money. In a perfect world, Hankins would be looking to get a contract similar to the one his former teammate Damon Harrison signed last season. Unfortunately for Hankins, and fortunately for Miami, that’s just not realistic. No one is going to give Hankins a contract that approaches what “Snacks” got. However, bringing Hankins in for something in the $6-7 million range is much more realistic.

Next: No. 2 T.J. Lang T.J. Lang Green Bay Packers

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

2. T.J. Lang

The offensive line has been a problem area for the Miami Dolphins for a number of years now. Ryan Tannehill has played from his back more than any quarterback since his rookie year of 2012. To their credit, the squad played a lot better in 2016 than in previous years, but there is still much uncertainty within the group.

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That uncertainty is compounded by last month’s trade of former starting left tackle Branden Albert. The Dolphins traded Albert in a series of trades that ended up with Miami receiving Jacksonville’s Julius Thomas. While Thomas addresses a problem area in his own right, the trade creates another hole.

To accommodate for losing Albert, the Dolphins are expected to slide last year’s starting left guard, and first round pick, Laremy Tunsil outside. With right guard Jermon Bushrod not expected to return, this leaves the Dolphins with not one, but two holes along the line.

It would probably be wise to address this issue early in the draft, as there are a couple really talented guard prospects available in Forrest Lamp and Garrett Bolles. However, if the Dolphins want a proven veteran, and some certainty at the position, the best option available is T.J. Lang.

The former Packers offensive lineman was somewhat surprisingly released last month and would provide Miami with value not only on the field but in the locker room as well. In addition to being one of the best guards in the league last year, the experience that Lang would bring to a team on the rise would be invaluable. Lang has been to the playoffs consistently throughout his career and won a Super Bowl with the Packers in 2011. That’s exactly the kind of experience a team needs to take the next step.

Next: No. 1 Dont’a Hightower Dont'a Hightower New England Patriots

Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

1. Dont’a Hightower

Linebacker is the biggest area of concern for the Miami Dolphins heading into the 2017 season. You’re sick of hearing me say it. I’m sick of saying it. But the fact is that the 2016 group was historically bad and are in desperate need of an upgrade. With that in mind, the Dolphins biggest target in the free agency period should be former Patriots linebacker Don’t’a Hightower.

Like Lang, Hightower would be able to bring invaluable experience to the Dolphins locker room. As a member of the Patriots, Hightower has been to the playoffs every single year. He has been the member of not one, but two Super Bowl champion teams. And it would be taking away a talented player from the Patriots. Every aspect of signing Hightower is a win.

Signing Hightower wouldn’t just be about taking away from the defending Super Bowl champions, obviously. He would be an instant upgrade to the linebacker corps. Hightower has the range and instincts to be an impactful player from sideline to sideline. He’s a capable pass rusher, and has good cover skills.

The biggest concern with bringing Hightower in would be durability. Since entering the league in 2012, Hightower has yet to play a full 16-game season. Already saddled with the oft-injured Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins, the Dolphins hardly need another linebacker who can’t be counted on every Sunday.

Next: Predictions for Top 50 Players in Free Agency

The Dolphins are reportedly bringing in former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons for a visit, which may kill any interest the team would have in Hightower. I like the idea of bringing in Timmons to the fold. But as I see things, Dont’a Hightower should be Miami’s top NFL free agency target.

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