Home > Free Agency, NFL > Jeff Ireland’s Miami Dolphins are Offseason Champions

Jeff Ireland’s Miami Dolphins are Offseason Champions

I’m taking an in-depth look at what teams can specifically accomplish in free agency, starting with the highly active Miami Dolphins.

Miami Dolphins Offseason Additions:

LB Ellerbe 28 Baltimore 9 7.0 1.0 Miami
S Clemons 28 Miami 14 11.1 5.1 Miami
TE Keller 29 NY Jets 18 12.1 6.2 Miami
LB Wheeler 29 Oakland 14 9.2 3.3 Miami
WR Wallace 27 Pittsburgh 28 24.9 19.0 Miami
WR Gibson 26 St. Louis 12 12.9 6.9 Miami

The Dolphins are probably not done after frontloading the majority of their multi-year contracts.  Wallace, Ellerbe, and Wheeler all got five year deals while Brandon Gibson signed for three years.  Chris Clemons re-signed with Miami for two years.  Keller has the second-highest cap value for 2013 after Mike Wallace, because he’s a one year stopgap.  The Dolphins also re-signed QB Matt Moore for two years, although he’s not likely to see the second year of that contract with a cap value of almost $6 million in 2014 unless he’s the starter.

The Dolphins spent a lot of money, and most of the contracts are highly leveraged, meaning that the player has a lot more job security after year one than with the average free agent contract.  None of the players signed by the Dolphins will be 30 before the end of the 2013-14 NFL playoffs, so the downside risk of these deals isn’t really relevant to a discussion of the 2013 Miami Dolphins.  From 2014 on, the Dolphins will likely struggle to manage the cap.  Whether or not GM Jeff Ireland will be responsible for the cap problems he is creating this week depends on how well the 2013 Dolphins play.

Miami Dolphins Offseason Losses + Unsigned Players:

CB Smith 26 Miami 20 20.3 14.3 Kansas City
T Long 28 Miami 24 19.1 13.1
RB Bush 28 Miami 21 16.7 10.7 Detroit
LB Burnett 31 Miami 28 14.3 8.3
TE Fasano 29 Miami 16 10.6 4.7 Kansas City
LB Dansby 32 Miami 26 10.5 4.5
S Amaya 25 Miami 2 4.9 -1.1
TE Mastrud 26 Miami 3 4.6 -1.4
CB McCann 26 Miami 3 4.6 -1.4
DT McDaniel 28 Miami 6 4.6 -1.4
WR Naanee 30 Miami 9 3.9 -2.1
WR Moore 26 Miami 2 3.7 -2.3
OLB Trusnik 29 Miami 6 3.2 -2.7
QB Garrard 35 Miami 25 2.5 -3.5 NY Jets
WR Gaffney 33 Miami 15 2.4 -3.6
T Garner 28 Miami 3 2.2 -3.8
RB Slaton 27 Miami 1 1.7 -4.2
T Brown 27 Miami 1 1.7 -4.3
T Murtha 28 Miami 2 1.4 -4.6
CB Wade 29 Miami 3 0.9 -5.0
S Culver 30 Miami 4 0.5 -5.5
OLB Alama-Francis 29 Miami 1 -0.6 -6.5
G Steinbach 33 Miami 5 -2.8 -8.8
G Hicks 35 Miami 5 -5.5 -11.5

Most of Miami’s expiring contracts represent nothing more than roster fodder, as you see so many negative numbers (representing below average value) in that right-most column.  But the Dolphins made the decisions to release veterans Dansby and Burnett to create room for Ellerbe and Wheeler this season.  That’s not guaranteed to work out in the Dolphins favor.  They’re getting younger, but Dansby is still very much an impact player in this league, and while the Dolphins are likely skeptical about his health going forward, it’s easy to see the roster taking a step back at the linebacker position next season.

When analyzing the Dolphins moves, the fact that two of their signings necessitated cuts of quality veterans at the same position means that we’ve stripped down about half of the “activity” of the Dolphins to merely re-arraigning their own deck chairs.  The moves of substance have occurred at the wide receiver position, where they’ve added Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson.  As of the time of this blog, the Dolphins are still in the mix to retain their star left tackle, Jake Long.  But they’ve already lost their top running back, Reggie Bush, their top corner for a second straight offseason Sean Smith (following Vontae Davis), and lost TE Anthony Fasano, which prompted them to be involved for Dustin Keller at a higher cap number.

While the Dolphins set out to improve the depth and quality of their receivers, they might actually be less dangerous on offense without Bush and Fasano.  Mike Wallace gives them the type of receiver talent you cannot just replace (if you are the Steelers, that is), but he’s also not the kind of number one receiver that Vincent Jackson was last year.  He’s more of a wealthy man’s DeSean Jackson.  In past seasons, the Dolphins offense was inconsistent with the more versatile Bush and Fasano.  Wallace is not going to do anything to help the consistency.  That’s on the shoulders of Ryan Tannehill.

Overall, the receivers are unquestionably improved for the Dolphins, who suffered no losses of note at the position, managing to maintain their top two receivers from last year, Brian Hartline and Davone Bess.  Adding Brandon Gibson creates some additional upside at the position in three receiver sets.  But the money the Dolphins have tied up in their receivers is only sustainable over the next three seasons, while Ryan Tannehill is relatively affordable.  And despite the salary structure, it’s Tannehill who will be chiefly responsible for ensuring offensive efficiency and consistency in 2013, not Hartline or Wallace.

The bigger issue in my eyes (outside of Jake Long) is the glaring weakness the Dolphins have created for themselves on the edges of their defense.  As strong as the front seven has been in recent years, you can’t be so weak on the edges in the modern NFL.  It’s just too easy to isolate those players, and so the Dolphins brought in Falcons CB Brent Grimes for a visit.  Grimes is still a quality player in the NFL, but he isn’t Sean Smith at this point.  And while the Dolphins have two second rounders after trading Vontae Davis to the Colts last year, it’s going to mean at least one of them will be spent that the CB position — the first rounder may as well.  The other pick might need to be used in order to replace Bush (or Long) because the Dolphins are opening holes as quickly as they are plugging them.

The good news is that the story is far from finished in regards to this offseason, as an all in Dolphins team will be very dangerous in the AFC this year.  The problem is that the story so far is that the Dolphins have created a looming cap issue in the future without making their team more dangerous in the present to date.  The Dolphins can get a lot better really quickly now if they use the trade market, additional free agent moves, and the draft to grab value for the rest of the offseason.  But if the Dolphins cut off their activity at this point, all they’ve really done is shake up the roster, throw a ton of cash around, and not really improve.

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  1. March 16, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    We like what the Dolphins are doing on offense this offseason. Joe Philbin wants to spread it out and run that West Coast offense he ran in GB. Tannehill (#21 QB) has all the tools, and now with Wallace (#15 WR), Brian Hartline (#43 WR), Brandon Gibson (#77 WR), Dustin Keller (#16 TE), he has all the weapons. If 2nd year RB Lamar Miller (#22 RB) emerges, you are looking at a really good core there.

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