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Dolphins history with free agency? Not great

I did an impromptu live chat on twitter today during lunch. If you are not following me, please do so now to add to your Dolphins fan experience.

Anyway, during the chat someone asked me my opinion of the best unrestricted free agent the Dolphins ever signed.

So I went to my trusty media guide and looked at the names through the years starting in 1992 and was honestly saddened by how few truly impactful players this team has signed in free agency.

Now, there have been some good ones. There have been guys signed that started for several years. But great additions?

Few.

Far between.

Before running through the names, let me identify what an unrestricted free agent is. We're not counting street free agents because that's another category altogether. Cameron Wake would be classified as a street free agent because he was in the CFL and then made his services available to all NFL teams.

We're also not counting undrafted rookie free agents. Those are another classification separate from unrestricted veteran free agents.

I'm talking about players whose contracts expired with their NFL teams and now are free to shop their services with the remaining teams around the league -- a system that started in earnest in 1992.

Oddly, Miami's first dive into free agency was among its best. Tight end Keith Jackson signed in '92 and was a good player. But his time with Miami lasted a mere 42 games. Three seasons from October of 1992 through the '94 season made Jackson stay all too short. By the end of '94 he was talking about retiring and so Don Shula traded him in the offseason to Green Bay.

Granted, Jackson was better than any tight end Miami has had since that time. But his best season came in 1994 when he caught 59 passes for 673 yards and seven touchdowns. So he was very good, but his Miami time was shortlived.

He was replaced by another free agent tight end signing. Remember Eric Green? Yeah, terrible. He lasted one season in which he missed 39 practices. Yikes.

Keith Byars was solid, but again, he only lasted three full seasons.

Gene Atkins was a nightmare, Fred Barnett was a bust, as was Charles Jordan. Other WR busts in free agency? James McKnight, Derrius Thompson, Az-Zahir Hakeem (aka Az Hakeem), and Legedu Naanee.

Now, some good players did arrive. Don't think I'm saying free agency has been worthless.

Brock Marion and Kevin Donnalley were the only two signed in 1998 by Jimmy Johnson and both started and played well for a few years. Rich Owens came as an afterthought of sorts in 1999 and led the team with 8.5 sacks that year before falling off the map.

Jay Fiedler was a hard-nosed, hard-working, smart quarterback. But he was a game-manager. Can't say he was a bad addition. But you can't say he was the answer.

The 2008 free agent class brought Randy Starks and he's been excellent. But that class also included busts Keith Davis, Sean Ryan, Chris Crocker, and Justin Smiley. A pause here: I know many of you will say Smiley was not a bust. You'll contend he simply got hurt.

Well, the facts are Smiley signed a five-year contract and lasted only two. And he finished both those years on injured reserve. And he came to the Dolphins with an injury history and that history got longer in Miami. And I remind you, as I always do, that durability is a key critical factor in judging players.

So the Dolphins didn't get the length of years or durability they wanted out of Smiley. He didn't solve their problems for the time they expected. And the shoulder that was a problem in San Francisco was not surprisingly a problem in Miami.

Meanwhile, Jake Grove came in 2009. Same issue. Same result. Came with injury history from Oakland. Everyone pointed it out. Dolphins said it wasn't an issue. It became an issue.

Karlos Dansby and Richie Incognito came in 2010. Both good starters. Good job.

Kevin Burnett came in 2011. Another good starter signed for much cheaper than what Dansby got yet plays at about the same level. Very good job.

Then 2012 was worthless. Gary Guyton. Cut. Artis Hicks, Cut. Tyrell Jackson. Cut. Richard Marshall. Injured. Naanee. Cut. Jamal Westerman. Cut.

I can see why many of you are leery of free agency. I can see why many doubt this front office's ability to significantly improve the team in free agency. But ...

I remind you the players the club signed last year were basically stopgaps. None were expensive. So the Dolphins basically got what they paid for -- not much.

If the club dives into free agency this offseason, It'll be going into the deep end. That means Miami will be trying to add legitimate playmakers such as Mike Wallace. He won't be cheap. But his price won't be, either.

What happens as far as landing him or not? Well, the club's history for getting the player it really wants needs a reversal. The Dolphins really wanted Peyton Manning. Didn't get him. The club wanted Ryan Clark. Didn't get him.

I'm told the Dolphins will try to land Wallace.

We'll see.

 

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