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Failing on in-season extensions sometimes a win, sometimes a loss

The Dolphins are on the clock between now and mid March when free agency kicks off because they have between 15-17 players that are unrestricted free agents that they can sign before the free agency market opens.

And I'm told the club hopes to get some deals done before the deadline, which is wise.

Of course, the club tried to get some deals done during the season and didn't exactly succeed there. As you read here last week, the only in-season contract the Dolphins signed in 2012 was locking up special teams and backup Jason Trusnik to a two-year extension.

I was told by one club official that in-season extensions are overrated. I was told the club is convinced players do not become more expensive.

Well sometimes that is true. And sometimes that is false.

Before the 2010 season, Paul Soliai asked his agent if he (the agent) thought he could get Soliai a $2 million-a-year contract. The agent, David Canter, said he'd try. Canter and the Dolphins danced around all season on a contract extension even as Soliai worked himself into the starting unit and then started playing well.

Miami's contract offers were consistently behind the curve of how their player was performing. And that hurt the team in the wallet because after the season the Dolphins ended up putting the franchise tag on Soliai to keep him from going into free agency. That cost Miami a $12 million cap hit.

And before the 2011 season Soliai ended up signing a deal that pays him $6 million per season. So, yes, a $2 million-a-year deal would have saved the team a ton of money and cap space over a three-season span -- $6 million over which Soliai would have initially been happy to get, compared to the $24 million he's actually costing. 

This season the results of Miami doing only one extension are mixed.

The club offered in-season extensions to Matt Moore, to Jake Long and to Brian Hartline. All were what agents would consider "low-ball" offers.

On Matt Moore, the team tried to lock him into a backup quarterback deal. Although no numbers were exchanged because the Dolphins were coy about that, the Moore camp decided it would be better off waiting until after the season because Moore is hoping to compete for a starting job somewhere.

So no deal resulted in this: Moore will hit free agency with the hope someone gives him a chance to compete for a starting job. The Dolphins could not offer that.

But Moore might have been convinced to sign a Miami extension if he'd gotten assuranes (incentives) that if he somehow took over the starting job -- through injury or other circumstance -- he'd be paid like a starting QB.

Didn't happen. So no deal.

I call the failure to do an extension here a push. It neither helped nor hurt the team.

The team also offered Long an extension well before he broke down (again) and finished the season on injured reserve. The offer, I'm told, was a handsome deal for most left tackles but for Long, who has been used to being the highest-paid offensive lineman in the NFL, it looked like a step backward.

He didn't take it.

Well, Long didn't play all that well in 2012 when he was healthy. The guy is diminished, no doubt about it. He used to do conditioning drills to start the season with linebackers. He can't do that anymore. He doesn't move like that anymore.

And, of course, Long eventually ended up on injured reserve for the second consecutive year.

So now the Dolphins have a better body of evidence of what their player is, rather than what he was. Early in the year, the team could convince itself that Long was irreplaceable and valuable and that his recent injury history was happenstance.

But Long added another injury to that history, making it seem more like a trend, and when he went out, the Dolphins replaced him with relatively no problem. Rookie Jonathan Martin did not play at a Pro Bowl level taking over at left tackle. But neither did the offensive line fall apart without Long.

(By the way, Long wasn't playing at a Pro Bowl level before he got hurt).

And going forward, the club has a solid idea that Martin can get much better through offseason weight-training and conditioning, experience, and a full training camp at LT. So Long, who still wants to be paid like an elite left tackle is a luxury.

I call the failure to do an in-season extension with Long a blessing. He's not as good as he believes he is anymore. He's not worth the kind of contract he was holding out for, given that I don't see him getting better and more healthy as the injuries stack up. This one was a win that offers the team wiggle room to either retain Long at its price (unlikely) or let him walk to a team that needs a left tackle and is willing to pay handsomely for Long's reputation (more likely).

The team offered Hartline an extension early in the season. The receiver, through his agent Drew Rosenhaus, has been trying to get an extension since 2011. The Dolphins rebuffed those overtures and I understand why: Hartline was a complementary player and could seemingly be replaced cheaply in the draft.

But this year, given a greater opportunity, Hartline posted a breakout year. He was probably the most consistent and best weapon for the Miami offense. (Yes, Reggie Bush started well and finished strong but he was absent the middle part of the season).

Last year when Hartline wanted an extension, he could have cost the Dolphins between $2 million a year. Earlier this year, he could have been signed for $3 million a year.

The price is much higher than that now.

Hartline performed despite missing all of the offseason camps and training camp. He had a breakout year with a new offense and rookie quarterback. He's 26 years old and entering his prime. He's likely going to get better but certainly isn't going to decline.

The Dolphins cannot replace him easily in the draft anymore. Frankly, no rookie receiver is going to walk in and be able to play all three WR positions, show good hands, go for 1,000 yards and have a 14.6 yard per catch average. Just doesn't happen unless the rookie's a freak.

In this case, the failure to do an extension with Hartline will cost the team more money and cap space assuming Miami opts to re-sign him.

So three players. Three in-season contract extension offers. The Dolphins won big on not signing Long, lost big on not signing Hartline and pushed on Moore.

 

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