How fresh is your competitor's content? How fresh is yours? Maybe this is where you can have an edge? I'd set up a subdirectory blog and outsource writing stuff to somebody. A couple of posts per week or so. Submit to RSS directories and a handful of good quality blog directories. Get people to retweet your posts.
I'd still be tempted to do some contextual linking from related blogs. Not really white hat but definitely not black hat (if done in moderation and kept as relevant as possible)
9 months ago on a drop
That might be the problem. I picked up a keyword based drop .com 4 years ago and it took me 2 years to convince G that I'm taking this seriously. Drops are seen as lower-quality things, hence so many people have trouble re-selling their drops or selling advertising space on them. :( One thing you might try is register the domain for a longer period when it comes up for renewal (not just one year).