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Dolphins’ defense still has many question marks

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Dan Parr

dparr@pfwmedia.com
Associate editor

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Posted March 07, 2010 @ 6:41 p.m. ET
By Dan Parr

After agreeing in principle to a deal with the Dolphins on the opening day of free agency, Karlos Dansby finalized the contract on Saturday. He signed a five-year, $43 million contract with $22 million guaranteed, reports indicate.

Last season ended with a disappointing three-game losing streak for Miami, and it made a significant investment in Dansby, after having fired defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni and replacing him with Mike Nolan, in an attempt to upgrade a defense that struggled last season.

 

The PFW spin

The Dolphins have filled one need, but their defense is in need of more remodeling.

Miami made its free-agent splash with the signing of Dansby, who is now the league's highest-paid inside linebacker, and his arrival gives Nolan a dynamic piece to work with in the center of the "D." Dansby will play inside 'backer in the team's 3-4 base, and at 28, he should have some good years ahead of him.

The decision makers in South Florida identified the position as a top need and didn't hesitate — Dansby did not visit any other team after saying that he was open to talks with all interested parties early on Friday. Some will argue that Miami overpaid for Dansby, who is considered to be a tier below the elite inside 'backers in the game, but that is what it takes to land a free agent of Dansby's caliber in this market. The move didn't come as a surprise — GM Jeff Ireland admitted at the Combine in late February that inside 'backer was a need. He wasn't satisfied with the job Akin Ayodele and Channing Crowder did at the position last year, and he cut Ayodele March 5, clearing a spot for Dansby, who is more of a playmaker.

"I would say it's a need of the team, sure," Ireland said. "It's one of the needs. You've got some age at the position right now. I've got to get younger there, and I've got to get a better performance on the field. Inside and outside are key positions in free agency and the draft."

As Ireland admitted, however, there are holes to fill elsewhere.

Dansby has been disruptive vs. the run and the pass in his six-year career. He averaged 114 tackles over the past two seasons with Arizona, and his long arms allow him to knock down or intercept passes — he made six picks in the last three seasons. Dansby's name is scrawled at the top of the depth chart, but there is still uncertainty at every level of Miami's "D."

Miami's starting nose tackle from last season, Jason Ferguson, is a free agent and was just suspended by the league for eight games for violating its policy on performance-enhancing substances. The Dolphins have cut OLB Joey Porter and S Gibril Wilson, who were defensive starters for much of '09. Of course, Porter and Wilson, who both struggled in '09, may not be missed all that much. Ferguson, however, played well before getting injured around midseason.

The club could go young, vaulting NT Paul Soliai, OLB Cameron Wake and S Chris Clemons into larger roles in '10, but there will likely be more free-agent signings or draft picks spent on those positions to bring in competition for playing time.

Signing Dansby is an important early step in the process of trying to upgrade a defense that sank to 22nd in the league last season.

 

For the most authoritative NFL draft news and free-agency analysis, visit ProFootballWeekly.com.

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