The NFL’s free agency period begins at 4 p.m. Tuesday, and it’s hard to turn on the TV or surf the web without reading about the Dolphins and their chances of landing Mike Wallace, believed to be the best receiver available and the speedy answer to Miami’s scoring woes.
But Wallace is hardly the only free agent who could catch the Dolphins’ interest. A league source said the team was active in meeting with the agents of several free agent receivers at the scouting combine two weeks ago, and the Dolphins have several other holes they may need to fill with veterans, including tight end, cornerback and offensive line.
With free agency set to begin in four days — teams can begin negotiating with agents at 4 p.m. Saturday but cannot sign players until Tuesday — the picture of available players has become clearer. Franchise tags have been declared (the Dolphins used theirs on defensive tackle Randy Starks) and many contracts have been terminated or restructured..
A look at some of the top players who might interest the Dolphins:
1. RT Eric Winston: A cheaper and perhaps more viable option to re-signing LT Jake Long presented itself Wednesday when the Chiefs released Winston, 29, after one season. He started all 16 games each of the last six seasons — five with Houston — and allowed just three sacks in 2012.
Winston, a former University of Miami star who visited the Dolphins as part of his free agency tour last year, would fit in well. The Dolphins could slide rookie Jonathan Martin to left tackle, where he played the last four games last season, and insert Winston on the right side. He also would help fill the leadership void created by Long’s departure and could mentor Martin and young tackle Will Yeatman.
Winston has several direct ties to the Dolphins. He began his NFL career with offensive coordinator Mike Sherman in Houston. And Winston’s younger brother, Matt Winston, is a college scout for the Dolphins.
2. TE Jared Cook: Finding Ryan Tannehill better weapons goes beyond wide receiver. Finding a tall, athletic tight end to stretch the field down the middle and catch jump balls in the red zone is just as important.
The eight touchdowns in four seasons with Tennessee don’t jump out — some of that can be attributed to having Jake Locker throwing to him the last two years — but Cook has freakish measurables: 6-5, 250 pounds, ran a 4.49 in the 40-yard dash before the 2009 draft and turns 26 next month.
Several teams are expected to bid on Cook, who is likely to leave Tennessee.
3. CBs Derek Cox, Sam Shields, Keenan Lewis, Cary Williams: The Dolphins might need to find another starting cornerback if Sean Smith leaves via free agency, as appears likely.
Cox, 26, has been an excellent cover corner, with 12 interceptions in four seasons for the Jaguars. But he has also missed 14 games the past two seasons with injuries.
Shields, another former UM star, has nine interceptions in three seasons for Green Bay and has developed into a potential No. 1 cornerback. Restricted free agents rarely switch teams, but if the cost for the Dolphins is forfeiting a second-round pick in next year’s draft, GM Jeff Ireland might consider Shields.
Lewis, 26, only has two career interceptions but started 16 games in Pittsburgh last season and could be a solid option if the cap-strapped Steelers don’t re-sign him.
Williams, 28, played a starring role for the Ravens during their championship season, intercepting four passes during the regular season and two more in the playoffs. A Hollywood native, Williams might become available for cap reasons.
4. Other wide receivers: Danario Alexander (restricted free agent with San Diego ), Donnie Avery (most recently with Indianapolis), Emmanuel Sanders (Pittsburgh) and Julian Edelman (New England) could be options for the Dolphins if they don’t get Wallace or Greg Jennings.