Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 3/6/13
A Super Bowl-winning quarterback says so. So does an executive with three Super Bowl rings and a Hall of Fame wide receiver.The Miami Dolphins are in a good spot entering Tuesdays start of free agency. Theyre armed with about 37 million in salary-cap room and next month will have five of the NFL's top 100 draft picks. They have an up-and-coming quarterback in Ryan Tannehill and look to be a team on the rise.I think theyre attractive as a free-agent destination, said Joe Theismann, who quarterbacked Washington to a Super Bowl win after the 1982 season and is a longtime NFL analyst. I see at them as a football team that is definitely getting better.FOX Sports Florida talked to five notable NFL analysts about how the Dolphins look entering free agency, and all provided positive reviews. Others were Charley Casserly, who won a Super Bowl as Washingtons general manager after taking two as assistant general manager, Hall of Fame wide receiver James Lofton, three-time Super Bowl champion offensive lineman Mark Schlereth and Solomon Wilcots, a six-year NFL veteran at defensive back.I think its a very positive situation, said Casserly, now with the NFL Network. Youve got a young quarterback who is a selling point, youve got a team with cap room and draft choices, Joe Philbin is a very respected coach and the defense plays very well. Plus, youve got a no income tax in the state of Florida.Casserly knows about using that last pitch. He was general manager of Houston Texans for the teams first four seasons before departing in 2006. Texas also has no state income tax.Then again, not having a state income tax didnt seem help the Dolphins much in previous years. A team with just one playoff appearance since the start of the 2002 season has had about the same amount of success during recent free-agency periods.I think that over the past five to seven years it hasnt been a really good place (for free agents) just because of the frequent changes in the organization, Wilcots, an analyst for CBS and the NFL Network, said about changes in ownership, management and coaching sometimes leading to not everybody being on the same page. What you want is uniformity between ownership and management and coaching and I think that in the past that wasnt there. But now I think you have uniformity I think Coach Philbin was very good hire. Im impressed with him.The Dolphins changed owners from Wayne Huizenga to Stephen Ross in 2008. While Jeff Ireland has been the general manager since 2008, he wasnt calling the shots when Bill Parcells was executive vice president from 2008-10. And Philbin is the teams fifth head coach since 2006.There also hadnt been stability at quarterback since Dan Marino retired after the 1999 season. But after being the No. 8 pick in last Aprils draft, Tannehill showed as a rookie he just might be the guy who provides it.I think that without question it helps when you have a young franchise-type of quarterback, Schlereth, an ESPN analyst who won a Super Bowl with Washington and two with Denver, said of Tannehill attracting free agents. And theyve got money to spend. I think theyre a team thats going in the right direction.Lofton, a Dial Global Sports radio analyst for NFL games who played in three Super Bowls with Buffalo in the early 1990s, agrees. Even though the Dolphins 7-9 record last season was just one game better than their 6-10 mark in 2011, he calls them an ascending team.Theyve got what is hopefully a renewed fan base, Lofton said. Theyre getting excited about the team again. And when youre a free agent looking at places, I cant imagine somebody 25, 26, 27 not being attracted to South Florida.But theres plenty of work to do for Miami to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008. And it will really get underway in free agency.The Dolphins had more than 45 million to spend prior to Monday, when they gave two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Randy Starks the franchise tag worth 8.5 to lock him up for at least one more season. And much of their remaining 37 million could go to some other key free agents they might want to retain in tackle Jake Long, running back Reggie Bush, wide receiver Brian Hartline, cornerback Sean Smith and tight end Anthony Fasano.Hartline, who caught 74 balls last season for 1,083 yards, is a good bet to stick around. Regardless, wide receiver is a primary Miami need.Is there anybody on the Miami Dolphins that you say, Weve got to take that guy out of the game? Theismann said. They need that type of player. They need a playmaker.The Dolphins need a downfield weapon for Tannehill. One possibility is Mike Wallace, the Pittsburgh receiver who has caught 235 balls in his first four seasons for 4,042 yards with a 17.2 average.Mike Wallace would be perfect for them, Schlereth said. They need a guy like that to stretch the field.If Wallace, 26, doesnt work out, a consolation prize could be Green Bay wide receiver Greg Jennings. Considering Philbin previously was the Packers offensive coordinator, that could give the Dolphins an edge.But Jennings, who had three straight 1,110-yard seasons from 2008-10, has fallen off the past two seasons. In an injury-riddled 2012, he caught 36 balls for 366 yards in eight games. And he will be 30 in September.When Greg Jennings said he was not real happy in Green Bay, everybody thought of the Dolphins immediately, said Lofton, who had five of his six career 1,000-yard seasons before turning 30. But you have to be careful. Very seldom does somebody come up in free agency that doesnt have a wart on them. If not, why are they going to be playing somewhere else?Theismann said Jennings is not going to run away from anybody at his age. But he believes Jennings really could help the Dolphins from another standpoint.He could be a very good teacher for the next two or three years for a young receiver that they might take in the draft, Theismann said.It wouldnt be a surprise if the Dolphins select a receiver with their No. 12 pick in the first round of the April 25-27 draft. One possibility is Californias Keenan Allen.As for other players on offense, much depends on which free agents Miami keeps. If Bush leaves, a possible replacement could be Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall, who is coming off a torn ACL. Or the Dolphins could elect to go with Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller, young backs on their roster.But if Long departs, theres nobody really in house to replace him. Free-agent possibilities include New Englands Sebastian Vollmer, who has battled injuries and would have to move over from the right side, and Cincinnatis Andre Smith. But Wilcots wonders if the Dolphins should go another route.I would try to draft one, said Wilcots, noting Oklahoma States Lane Johnson as a possibility to be available for Miami in the draft. Whoever youre going to get is going to be younger and more athletic and might be a better player than you could get in free agency.While hes playing general manager, Wilcots has another suggestion for the Dolphins.I would do whatever I could to get Delanie Walker (of San Francisco), Wilcots said of the free agent. Hes played tight end, wide receiver and fullback and hes great on special teams. They call him the Swiss Army Knife.Miami could use a tight end, especially if Fasano doesnt return.At least on defense, there are many less concerns. The defensive line and linebacking corps are in good shape, although there are plenty of questions in the secondary.Sean Smith could depart if the Dolphins deem his pricetag is too high. Another starting defensive back who is a free agent is safety Chris Clemons, but hes expendable.Among those who could be in Miami's mix are All-Pro safety Dashon Goldson of the 49ers and Philadelphia cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who is from Bradenton, Fla. Even if they keep Smith and Clemons, the Dolphins still need to improve the secondary.They do, especially when youre playing the Patriots twice a year in the AFC East, Wilcots said. When youre facing Tom Brady twice a year, youre not going to want to have a bad secondary.Miami isn't likely to catch New England anytime soon to win the division, but strides are being made. Had the Dolphins not blown some double-digit leads and lost several close games last season, they would have been in strong contention for a wild-card berth.Nobody is talking Super Bowl yet for the Dolphins, who havent played in the big game in nearly three decades. But several guys who have won Super Bowls are among those who think theyre at least on the right path to eventually get back to one.Chris Tomasson can be reached at christomasson@hotmail.com or on Twitter @christomasson
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