Schad: Dolphins dodged bad free agent contracts. Now draft Pro Bowl playmakers.

Joe Schad
Palm Beach Post
Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle catches a pass after Georgia defensive back Tyson Campbell fell. (Gary Cosby Jr/The Tuscaloosa News via USA TODAY Sports)

The Dolphins officially announced a deal with receiver Will Fuller on Saturday.

This is good because Fuller is fast and scores touchdowns, when he's on the field, which at times has been curtailed by injury or suspension.

Fuller's deal is for one year, and not for an outrageous figure. In fact, in the early window of free agency, Miami signed 10 players to one-year contracts.

And Fuller is the only player with a deal worth more than $5 million annually.

The Dolphins' approach to free agency was clear. Short-term commitments. Fiscal responsibility. Value plays. No bad contracts they'll long regret.

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The ideal NFL roster does include a solid punter and some linebackers and maybe a tight end/fullback who can stand out on special teams. The Dolphins hit on those.

They also added a low-cost potential starter at center. And depth at defensive tackle and cornerback. But so much of the heavy lifting remains. And April is the most important lift.

Dolphins general manager Chris Grier must provide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, coach Brian Flores, offensive coordinators George Godsey and Eric Studesville and the fans with playmakers on offense.

Grier must identify, target and land potential Pro Bowlers at receiver and running back.

It is time. No excuses.

In the last 20 years, the Dolphins have spent a total of three first-round picks on a receiver, running back or tight end.

One of those skill players made a Pro Bowl. Ronnie Brown. Once.

It is time. No excuses.

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The Dolphins hold the third pick in the upcoming draft. There is a good chance moving down for an additional first-rounder will make sense.

But if Grier decides Ja'Marr Chase is Dez Bryant, DeVonta Smith is Marvin Harrison or Jaylen Waddle is Tyreek Hill, he must not move down so far he misses on the chance to draft one of them.

Miami hasn't taken a receiver above the seventh round in the last four drafts.

In the last 30 years, Miami has selected only five receivers in the first round.

DeVante Parker (2015) and O.J. McDuffie (1993) were good calls. Ted Ginn (2007) ended up with a long and decent career. Yatil Green (1997) and Randal Hill (1991) were impacted by injury and a contract dispute.

The Dolphins hold the 18th pick in the upcoming draft. After passing on many, many talented running backs last year, Miami must land one either there or with another first-round or high second-round selection.

If Grier decides Najee Harris is Matt Forte, Travis Etienne is Alvin Kamara or Javonte Williams is Nick Chubb, he must do everything possible to land one.

Alabama running back Najee Harris (22) catches a pass during the third quarter at the College Football Playoff Championship Game at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Jan. 11, 2021.  The Crimson Tide defeated the Buckeyes 52-24.

In the last 20 years, Miami has drafted one running back in the first round. It was Ronnie Brown in 2005. Brown was the second pick in the draft and that was a different football era. Though running backs have been de-valued, it is time for Miami to identify a long-term solution. 

Since Chris Grier was named general manager in 2016, the running backs and receivers drafted are: Kenyan Drake, Kalen Ballage, Myles Gaskin, Chandler Cox, Leonte Carroo, Jakeem Grant, Isaiah Ford and Malcolm Perry.

Drake was a very good third-round pick. Gaskin appears to have been a steal in the seventh round, though he's not the ideal workhorse back. Grant is a very good returner. The others? Not so much.

But, again, Grier has never selected a receiver or running back in the first two rounds. Grier did land tight end Mike Gesicki, who has developed into a good player, in the second. There is another column to be written about Florida tight end Kyle Pitts.

Dec 19, 2020; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Florida Gators tight end Kyle Pitts (84) makes a touchdown catch against Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Patrick Surtain II (2) during the fourth quarter in the SEC Championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Pitts is so talented he should be drafted in the Top 10, perhaps even warranting serious consideration at three. If Pitts is the pick, because Grier envisions Shannon Sharpe or Tony Gonzalez, that should satisfy the criteria for future Pro Bowl receiver.

The Dolphins, it turns out, have never selected a tight end in the first round. Ever.

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Miami's rebuild has focused on a plan that is disciplined, layered and strategic. 

The Dolphins intended to position themselves for a franchise quarterback. Check.

Miami intended to rebuild the offensive and defensive trenches. Check.

The Dolphins have tried very hard to not be stuck with any Ndamukong Suh-type dead money contracts by out-bidding 31 teams for an overpriced talent. Check.

Now it is time to leverage a bit of flexibility. Miami must come out of the 2021 NFL draft with at least one dynamic, exciting, game-breaking player at both receiver and running back.

Since 1982, the Dolphins have drafted two Pro Bowl running backs. That would be Ronnie Brown and Jay Ajayi, a savvy fifth-round pick.

Since 1983, the Dolphins have drafted two Pro Bowl wide receivers. That would be Chris Chambers and Jarvis Landry, two outstanding second-round picks.

It can correctly be noted that the year Miami chose Landry, they traded back twice before selecting him. So, yes, it's far more important who you draft than where you draft him. But the time has come to invest significant resources.

So, move up or move down. Do whatever it takes, before and during the draft. But come up with long-term solutions at receiver and running back. 

It's the next step. Identify, target and select the right ones. The future Pro Bowlers. 

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