OK, so I'm not really an NFL general manager and have never even played one on TV. I have seen my share of Dolphins general manager moves that I agreed with and disagreed with and, I must say, I've been right about as often as they have.
(Actually more so, but don't want to brag. Fact is if I'd been Miami's GM Drew Brees would have been the QB and not Daunte Culpepper, Anquan Boldin would have been on the team and not Brandon Marshall, Hakeem Nicks would have been on the team and not Vontae Davis, Vince Wilfork would have been on the team and not Vernon Carey, Jimmy Graham would be on the team instead of John Jerry, and Chad Henne would have been replaced in 2011 instead of 2012 because I knew after 2010 he didn't have it. I also never would have cut Shelton Quarles, never would have signed Jake Grove and never would have traded up for Daniel Thomas because I thought DeMarco Murray was better. I also would have traded away two first-round picks and a second for Robert Griffin III instead of drafting Ryan Tannehill. Oh, I've also had misses. I would have picked Brady Quinn instead of Ted Ginn Jr. and I would have traded for Kyle Orton.)
Having said all that, I don't really know anything because I only go by what I see with my own eyes on TV or in practice. I do not study tape because, well, nobody's ever asked me to.
But I admit it felt good recently when I read former six-time NFL executive of the year Bill Polian, the architect of Super Bowl teams in Buffalo, Carolina and Indianapolis, run down his grades for some members of the coming free agent class on ESPN.com.
Polian apparently prepares for free agency by categorizing UFAs by grade. A is for starting caliber players worthy of big starter money. B is for guys he'd sign but only if the contract makes sense for the team. C is for players he'd sign for low salary and short terms with low bonuses.
And immediately apprentice Salguero would have a philosophical disagreement with Master GM Polian. Apprentice GM Salguero believes free agency is dangerous enough without roaming into the weeds signing C players. I don't give bonuses to C players. Veterans with a couple of years left in the tank can sign for minimum in Miami because there are no state taxes and the weather is great (after September) and the coaching staff is professional and and we have a chance to make the playoffs because the Jets and Bills stink and that should be four wins right there.
Otherwise, I'm putting young guys on the team and asking the coaches to do their jobs, which is to develop them.
Apprentice GM Salguero uses free agency to make bounding leaps that help the team significantly, tangibly. Apprentice GM Salguero uses free agency sparingly but sparklingly. In other words, I'm not going to use the resource unless the resource sets off a nuclear blast in my division or fills a great need with a star player that the draft will not immediately provide.
Apprentice GM Salguero also believes free agency is for keeping your own best players because you know them better than anyone but also for reshuffling the deck so to speak so I do not sign my own mediocre players just because I'm comfortable with them. Free agency is for getting signficantly better, not keeping the status quo.
I believe when you re-sign one of your own mediocre guys, you are losing value because he is likely to continue performing at the same mediocre level he has been except he's now doing it for a higher salary. Nope, I don't play that with guys that are merely mediocre because I don't want to pay more for continuing to be 7-9. I'll pay more for better player. But paying more for the same caliber of play is losing ground. Am I making myself understood?
(GM Salguero could've been a writer).
Master GM Polian graded several players we all have an interest in discussing. I'm going to tell you what he said and remind you how I feel about those players. Then you'll see where we agree and disagree.
The master GM grades Pittsburgh receiver Mike Wallace with an A.
"Wallace is a good route runner, has good instincts and typically has good hands, but he's small and you worry about injury," Polian said. "Inconsistency in the past also is a concern. Pittsburgh didn't reach a deal with him, which will make some teams wary, but this league is always looking for WRs with speed who can take the top off a defense -- and he can do that."
The apprentice GM agrees with the Mike Wallace grade. He is an A. Indeed, I see him as an A-plus. If you've spent five seconds on this blog, you know this is the one free agent I would sign were I running the Dolphins.
Am I worried about Wallace's size? No, as he doesn't miss many games. Am I worried that Pittsburgh not signing him is a red flag? No, I'm celebrating their inability to sign an excellent playmaker. Look, I need a player that can take the top off the defense, give my offense big-play ability, and add speed to the roster. Wallace does those things. He'd be my No. 1 target in free agency. Period.
Next, master GM Polian tackles Jake Long and gives him an A grade.
"His reputation will make him an A player," Polian writes, "but he is an injury and age concern to me. He is turning only 28 to start next season, but he already has played 74 games, making a long-term deal a risk. He's missed time the past two seasons as well. Someone will pay him, though."
Well, apprentice GM Salguero disagrees. With respect, of course.
I don't pay for reputation. I don't pay a player for what he was two or three years ago. I don't pay for Pro Bowls earned on name recognition. I pay for what I saw recently and what I'm projecting I'll see going forward. And I don't like what I'm seeing going forward for Jake Long. Yes, he's great to have on the team. Yes, he's a hard worker. Yes, he's good and fills a key position when he's healthy. But he's breaking down. He's played worse, not better the past two years. And in those last two years, he's been on injured reserve in December.
Apprentice Salguero's team will be making a playoff push in December and going to the postseason in January. Players with an A-grade are healthy and helping at that point, not watching from the injured reserve list. Remember, durability is a critical factor when judging players. And on that factor, Long is failing. Jake Long is a B player for me. If he wants to stay with Miami, he can be about team and town and play for $6-$8 million a year with no more than four years on the deal. I'd rather sign him for three years but you have to give up something to get something. If he's in it for the idea that "someone will pay him," as master Polian says, then go get paid elsewhere, bro. We want players that want to win and prove something, not those that are driven by getting paid. We paid you more than you really deserved in your last contract, based on what you delivered the final two years of the deal. Now it's time you help us out.
Otherwise, I'll move Jonathan Martin to left tackle and draft a right tackle in the second round and we'll have two young starters for one-quarter of the price it would require to pay Long. That will also free more money to spend on players that matter more -- playmakers.
Master GM Polian says Randy Starks is an A player.
"He's older, but he could be effective as an inside, space-eating 3-4 or power 4-3 kind of tackle," the master writes. "He had a very good year with Miami. This type of player is hard to find, so I imagine he'll have a market."
Apprentice Salguero agrees. Apprentice Salguero wants badly to keep Starks. He wants $8 million per year? How about $7.5 mill, Randy? Come on, buddy, you love South Florida. You don't pay state taxes. That big truck you drive is too beautiful to get all muddy and salty in the snow and sleet. Plus, we're going places as a team. You're agent played for the Dolphins. You're comfortable here. And did I mention no state income tax?
(Don't mock. New York for example has an 8.97% state income tax for folks in Starks' bracket. On $1 million, that's $89,700. If Starks is making $8 million per year, that's $717,600 more in his pocket every year if he stays in Florida. Over a four-year deal, that's $2.87 million more in his bank account that won't be there if he's playing for the Jets or Giants. In Ohio the upper rate is 5.97%, Illinois 5%, North Carolina 7.75%, Georgia, where former Dolphins DC Mike Nolan might like Starks, it's 6%. Louisiana, where the Saints defense needs upgrading, it's also 6%.)
Master GM Polian believes Ed Reed is an A player. Reed, you may recall, was tied to the Dolphins by some CBS report that speculated Miami would be interested. I don't believe that will be the case but maybe Jeff Ireland is desperate.
Apprentice Salguero does not grade Ed Reed an A player. He's going to be 36 years old in September. He's going to return to Baltimore. He's coming off a Super Bowl championship so he's accomplished his biggest career goal other than going to the Hall of Fame.
I pay players with their goals ahead of them and who are 26 not 36. If New England wants him, go for it. The Dolphins are not at the same stage of development as the Pats. It would be a pleasure to make him guess wrong a couple of times and have Mike Wallace go over the top of him. Nothing against Reed. I love the guy. He's a U guy. I'm a U guy. But I'm more a W guy. That's more important to me.
I'd rather have Glover Quin for one-quarter the price. He's a tight end lockdown machine. He makes plays. He's also an upgrade over Chris Clemons.
Master GM Polian grades Reggie Bush. He gives the Dolphins leading rusher of the past two years a B grade.
"He's a name, but at this stage in his career, he's a third-down guy," Polian writes.
Apprentice Salguero agrees. My starter next year is Lamar Miller who is 218 pounds compared to 202 for Bush and who runs a 4.39 compared to a 4.49 for Bush. So I'm going bigger, stronger, faster, cheaper. Less experienced? Yes, but that will be forgotten by November.
By the way, if Bush wants to remain with the Dolphins,I'm thrilled. He gets a two-year deal worth about $3 million total. And the deal comes with the understanding that he is the third-down back and no longer the starter. Why?
Because I want my starting RB to average more than 60 yards per game rushing. And I think Miller can do that. If the Lions, or Jets or Giants think Bush can do better than that and pay him bigtime, then God bless, Reggie. Loved having you.
What about Packers WR Greg Jennings? Well, master Polian grades him a B player.
"Jennings will be a big name, but this is the classic question mark: How much do you pay a guy who will turn 30 at the start of the 2013 season and is coming off of two injury-plagued seasons?"
Apprentice Salguero is troubled here.
So Long is an A player despite being injured the past two seasons, but Jennings is a B player because he's been injured the past two seasons? I get that Long is two years younger. Master Polian should understand that Jennings doesn't crash into a 300-pound defensive end or chase speedy 3-4 LBs every play like Long does.
Anyway, I don't necessarily want Jennings but may have to chase Jenning depending on how well I do with Wallace. If I land Wallace, I don't really need Jennings -- particularly not for the $7-$8 million per year he thinks he's worth.
If I land Wallace, I speak to Jennings and see if he'll come to Miami for $5-$6 million per year. He does that, I sign him. He gets a better offer elsewhere, I re-sign Brian Hartline. They both get a better offer elsewhere, I think about adding Martellus Bennett as my tight end -- someone who will be thrilled to get $4-$5 million per year, I suspect. (This one would require GM Salguero to stare into Bennett's soul for an entire day to see what's in there because I have worries about this guy's makeup.) Master Polian rates Bennett an A player.
And failing all that, I keep searching and get ready to draft somebody and maybe two somebodies. I'm also drafting a tight end because Michael Egnew ain't it, brother.
Oh, on the topic of TEs, master GM Polian grades Anthony Fasano a B player.
"Receiving and speed aren't his strong suits, but he can block. As a solid, all-around guy, he'll get the job done,' the master writes.
To which apprentice Salguero says, "meh."
I'd sign him. I wouldn't pay him, if you get the drift. I make sure I go into 2013 with Fasano either off the team or as my backup tight end. If he's my starter again, I suck because I didn't upgrade the position. If he's Jeff Ireland's starter again, then Ireland really sucks because he didn't upgrade the position for the fifth consecutive year. (Nothing personal, Jeff, but good God man open your eyes to the importance of seam-stretching, redzone-playmaking TEs!)
Did you notice a couple of prominent Dolphins free agents -- Chirs Clemons, Sean Smith -- are not on the list of Polian's A, B or C players? So did I. There's a reason.
[BLOG NOTE: Check back later for a post about Miami cornerback Sean Smith. You must not miss it.]