Dolphins express interest in DT Wilkinson

Updated: June 10, 2006, 3:07 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

DAVIE, Fla. -- Defensive tackle Dan "Big Daddy" Wilkinson, released by the Detroit Lions last month, visited here with Miami Dolphins officials earlier this week team officials confirmed, and coach Nick Saban said Saturday that his team is interested in adding the 12-year veteran to the roster.

 Dan Wilkinson
Wilkinson

Whether the Dolphins can lure Wilkinson to South Florida, after a career spent exclusively playing in the North and the Midwest, remains to be seen.

"Sure, we're interested and we had a good visit with him [on Thursday]," Saban said. "But from what we understand, there are other people interested in him, too. So we'll see what happens."

Wilkinson, 33, spent much of the spring mulling his possible retirement and never reported for any of the Lions' offseason conditioning activities. The indecision over his football future, coupled with the feeling by some in Detroit that Wilkinson might not be a good fit in the "cover two" defensive scheme being installed by first-year coach Rod Marinelli and coordinator Donnie Henderson, prompted Lions officials to release him with a year remaining on his contract.

In the past week, though, there have been rumors in the league that Wilkinson would prefer to play in 2006, if the opportunity was a good one and with a playoff contender. If that is the case, Wilkinson will definitely have some suitors.

Among the other franchises believed to be interested in Wilkinson is Baltimore, which invested its first-round choice in this year's draft in defensive tackle Haloti Ngata of Oregon, but which would still like to further upgrade at the position. The proximity of Baltimore to Wilkinson's family and various business interests, principally in the Washington, D.C., area, might provide the Ravens some advantage if they pursue him.

Wilkinson played five seasons, from 1998 through 2002, for the Washington Redskins.

It is not known how many other teams have indicated interest in Wilkinson, if he has met with officials from other franchises, or has arranged any other visits. His agent, Brig Owens, has not responded to several messages left for him over the past two weeks. But given the difficulty around the league in finding viable defensive tackles, Wilkinson will command some interest, if he indeed wants to play in 2006.

Saban on Saturday did not appear as concerned about his defensive tackle depth chart as some have hinted he might be.

"Only from the age standpoint," Saban said. "There is enough talent there. But we have some guys with some age on them and that means durability becomes a little bit of a concern."

Even though Wilkinson would not provide the Dolphins a younger body, he would give Miami another big interior defender and a proven run-stuffer to add to the mix. And while he has principally played in a 4-3 front for most of his career, Wilkinson's size might permit him to align at nose tackle at times, and that would allow Saban and defensive coordinator Dom Capers to incorporate more 3-4 looks to the repertoire.

The current Miami depth chart includes veterans Keith Traylor, Vonnie Holliday (who also provides some snaps at end) and Jeff Zgonina. Second-year veteran Manuel Wright, a fifth-round selection in the 2005 supplemental draft, remains an enigma, a physically talented defender who continues to battle some weight problems and may not be able to contribute much in 2006. Miami chose former Texas star Rodrique Wright in the seventh round this year, but he might miss his entire rookie campaign after shoulder surgery.

Wilkinson played four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, who chose him first overall in the '94 draft, and then was traded to the Redskins in 1998 for first- and third-round draft picks. Wilkinson was actually designated a franchise player by the Bengals at the time of the trade. After five seasons in Washington, he signed with the Lions in the spring of 2003.

In 185 regular-season games, Wilkinson has registered 455 tackles and 54 sacks. He has missed just seven games in 12 seasons, only once sitting out more than two contests in a season.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.