Miami offensive tackle Jonathan Martin's decision to leave the team and the organization's decision to suspend offensive guard Richie Incognito for conduct detrimental to the team has dominated the NFL conversation the past two weeks.
It's still a developing story, but it's fair to say that the Dolphin organization is learning a tough lesson; building a team isn't just a matter of assembling the best talent through the draft and free agency. Factoring in character and personality are critical.
Without Martin or Incognito in the lineup, the Dolphins rushed for two yards on four carries against what has been a stingy Tampa Bay run defense. The Buccaneers also finished with two sacks and recorded eight quarterback hurries while delivering some big hits on Miami's 2012 first-round pick, quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
It was a dismal performance, but it's important to point out that the Dolphins' offensive line hadn't played all that well with Martin and Incognito in the lineup. Miami's ground game ranks 25th in yards per game and no other team has given up more sacks. In addition, the decision to trade a conditional late-round draft pick to Baltimore to acquire inconsistent 34-year old offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie and move Martin from the right to the left indicates the Dolphin brass knew it had to try to bolster its front.
Mike Pouncey, the Dolphins' 2011 first-round pick, needs to control his emotions at times and his leadership will be questioned as a result of this controversy, but he's a talented 24-year-old center. It's the rest of the offensive line that needs rebuilding, and Miami needs to start on the outside.
Based on what we know at this point, let's assume that Martin doesn't return. McKinnie turns 35 in September 2014 and he hasn't played as well as he did during the Ravens' playoff run last year. Meanwhile, the Dolphins benched 32-year-old right offensive tackle Tyson Clabo after trading for McKinnie, and Clabo will be an unrestricted free agent unless they re-sign him. No. 3 tackle Will Yeatman is an adequate swing tackle, not a reliable starter.
One of Miami's top off-season priorities should be finding a left tackle who can protect and keep Tannehill healthy. That won't be easy, considering this offensive tackle class doesn't appear to be as strong at the top as the 2013 class. Texas A&M's Jake Matthews (Scouts Inc. grade: 94) holds the top spot on our board and he's the best left tackle prospect in the class. Getting him won't be cheap. That said, keep an eye on Virginia's Morgan Moses (Scouts Inc. grade: 71). He projected as a third-round pick based on his 2012 tape, but he's likely climbing up boards. He's played well while other top prospects have faltered. Plus, he's long, athletic and strong enough to develop into a reliable blindside pass protector.
The Dolphins will also have to address the right tackle spot through free agency or the draft, and Ohio State's Jack Mewhort (Scouts Inc. grade: 70) is worth mentioning. Mewhort projects as a late Day 2, early Day 3 pick because he can struggle with speed and speed-to-power in pass protection. However, he's an effective run-blocker who shoots his hands inside and drives his legs once locked on. While he will need help at times in pass pro, he has the smarts, strength and enough athletic ability to hold his own in certain matchups.
Let's move on to the guard position and assume Incognito doesn't return. John Jerry, a 2010 third-round pick, struggles with quickness and he too will be an unrestricted free agent. Incognito's replacement, Nate Garner, has started six games over the past three seasons and he looked like he was in over his head against Tampa Bay. Dallas Thomas, a 2013 third-round pick, has some upside, but the fact that he hasn't seen any playing time this year is a concern.
Again, it's still early in the process, but the top of the offensive guard class doesn't appear to be as strong last year's, when Jonathan Cooper, Chance Warmack and Kyle Long all came off the board in the top 20 picks. However, Mississippi State's Gabe Jackson (Scouts Inc. grade: 86) projects as a second-round pick and there's a lot to like about his game. He's a mauler with the tenacity and strength to help improve that ground game as a rookie. While he's not an elite athlete, he has the width, balance and anchor to hold up in pass pro.
There is a chance that Jackson moves into the first-round conversation and that may be too rich for the Dolphins, considering their greater need at tackle. If that's the case, Zach Fulton (Scouts Inc. grade: 40) could prove to be a good Day 3 pickup. A three-year starter at Tennessee, where Thomas also played, Fulton needs to do a better job of bending his knees and sustaining as a run-blocker. He also gets caught leaning on defenders in pass pro but he has the size, strength and toughness to develop into an effective starting guard in the NFL.