Regular readers of this blog will remember I reported last week that free agency for the Dolphins is going on hiatus for bit while the focus shifts to the draft. Yes, there are caveats in that hiatus but those are explained in the post.
Well, that means the bulk of Miami's free agency haul is over for 2013.
The Dolphins signed eight free agents, re-signed four of their own free agents, and cut or let six other starting-caliber free agents walk.
So I want to tell you what I think of all this.
I want to do it one time
I want to do it on the record.
I want to do it so that come future days when free agents boom or bust, you know how I stood on each player. (I'm doing this because fans have short memories and those that follow me here or on twitter often say I advocated something I did not or failed to stand for something that I actually did.)
I'm not saying I'm always right. Obviously not. (You read my stuff so you know that's not true). But If I'm going to be wrong, I want to do it on my own (dis)abilities and not with anybody's help.
This should also give you forum for agreeing or disagreeing with me.
Here we go:
SIGNINGS (contract details in parenthesis)
WR Mike Wallace (5 years for $60 million with $27 million guaranteed): I stood up and advocated for this one and reported on this one to the point of being nauseating. The Dolphins had to do this. The team had no deep threat and had shown precious little ability to add a deep threat this past decade -- remember Ted Ginn and Clyde Gates -- in the draft. So Miami had to overpay. Yes, this is overpaying. But that's what people do for a Rolls Royce. Wallace has averaged 8 TDs a year for years. He's rarely injured. He has never been a problem in the locker room. The Steelers wanted him back but couldn't afford him. That all suggests he's going to be a great addition. And that's what I think he'll be. I wanted him on the Dolphins as much as anybody. I stand by that. We'll see.
LB Dannell Ellerbe (5 years for $34.75 million with $14 million gtd.): Ellerbe said it himself, he thought he was going to be the heir to the Ray Lewis middle linebacker job in Baltimore. So on the surface that seems like a great get if outstanding GM Ozzie Newsome and the Super Bowl Champion Ravens thought that highly of Ellerbe. Except, well, they didn't. They let him go. Yes, they had cap issues. But it didn't stop them from adding Elvis Dumervil. So that gave me pause. Then this: The Baltimore Sun reported that at points during his time with the Ravens, Ellerbe was late to meetings, late to practice and liked to party -- a lot. I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and believe it was early on and not something he dealt with lately, because the Dolphins assured me, "we did our homework," on all the free agents before signing them and part of that was knowing how they would conduct themselves off the field and around South Florida. Miami addressed the linebackers to "get more physical" and have the defense make more plays, according to GM Jeff Ireland and head coach Joe Philbin. Me? I'm not sold. I don't see linebackers in the 4-3 being the huge playmakers in the NFL they once were. The game often creates mismatches against them. The offenses often throw right over them. So I'm not overly excited about this move.
LB Phillip Wheeler (5 years for $26 million with $13 million gtd.): If Wheeler were coming out of college, I'd look at him as a one-year wonder. Remember that two years ago, the Indianapolis Colts let him walk and he signed a one-year deal with Oakland for $700,000. Yes, the Dolphins liked him last year and wanted him on the team but he wanted to pursue a chance to start so he went elsewhere. So yes, the Dolphins saw something in Wheeler not many other teams did a year ago. But now they see something in him at a price no other team did. Can he do in 2013 as well as he did in 2012? Indeed, can he be a contributor and playmaker -- remember the Dolphins added Ellerbe and Wheeler to make plays -- the next three years or so? I have to see it.
CB Brent Grimes (1 year for $5.5 million with $3 million gtd.): I love this pickup because it adds a stable, experienced, professional, high-caliber cornerback that will be an upgrade to Miami's defense at corner if ... he's healthy. Grimes is coming off an Achiles' tendon tear. His rehab is reportedly doing well (he's doing the reporting). But in the depressed cornerback market, Grimes had to settle for a contract that forced him to prove he's returned to the Pro Bowl caliber player he was in 2011. If he does, he's a great signing. If he doesn't, he didn't break the bank. Grimes will be hungry because utlimately he wants a long-term deal. The question, again, is health. I like this signing very much.
TE Dustin Keller (1 year for $4.25 million with $2.25 million gtd.): Here's another player that was injured most of last year and had to settle for a short-term deal to re-prove his value. So the Dolphins get a hungry player in a contract year who will be playing inspired for himself and certainly for the opportunity to stick it to his former team, the New York Jets. That's not what I like most about Keller. I like that finally the Dolphins have a legitimate pass-catching threat at tight end. In that department, Keller is an upgrade over Anthony Fasano. Yes, the blocking won't be as good. But Keller is willing. That's important. And this is what I like most: Keller comes from an offense that had multiple offensive coordinators the past couple of years. He comes from an offense with a bad quarterback. And yet, he was productive when healthy. So in an offense that is more stable, with a quarterback that promises to be better than Mark Sanchez, I expect better production. This is a solid signing. I like it.
G Lance Louis (1 year for $1,603,750 with $100,000 gtd.): Bargain shopping, the Dolphins hope they strike gold here. Louis was perhaps Chicago's best offensive lineman last year before he blew out his knee. If he can return to that height by training camp, John Jerry will be out of a starting job. If he doesn't, the Dolphins can basically cut Louis with minimal risk. The middle ground is Louis provides veteran experience and can be an experienced backup on the cheap. I like the signing more than the player. The contract is the thing here. Solid job.
WR Brandon Gibson (3 years for $9.78 million with $3.75 million gtd.): Gibson reminds of a Jeff Ireland receiver. Not fast. Not quick. But big and physical. I get it. There's something to be said for that. Me? I like speed. Speed at X, Y and Z. If you're going to spend over $3 million a year I would have preferred some speed be part of the deal. My problem? I looked at the available players and the only one I would have liked was Darrius Heyward-Bey. And he's a problematic reclamation project who signed a one-year deal. The Dolphins obviously decided going with experience was more valuable than dipping into the vast pool of draft eligible receivers that come with promise but no NFL experience. I get it. But do I love this signing? Meh. Let me say this: Instead of signing Gibson, I might have added to the TE corps and solved it. I would have gotten Brandon Myers to go with Keller and drafted a wide receiver to groom. Instead, the Dolphins may end up drafting a tight end. Let's see who produces more in 2013 ... Gibson or Myers.
DT Vaughn Martin (2 years for $4 million with $750,000 gtd.): Ireland loves his defensive line. He believes it is a staple of the team. An anchor. He wants to keep it strong. But the Dolphins needed to address the tackle sport because Tony McDaniel played too high in the 4-3 and was often injured and simply didn't fulfill his role. So the club moved on from him and got Martin. This is a bargain signing. Martin is a solid player. But he will have to get used to the 4-3 because he's been a 3-4 DE the past couple of years. That means a growing period. Is this an awesome signing? No. Is this a solid addition? Probably so. Good work.
WR Brian Hartline (5 years for $30,775,000 with $12.5 million gtd): First off, why the extra $775,000? I know Hartline would have taken $30 million. And this deal was signed at a time the Dolphins were still bidding against themselves. So somebody cost owner Stephen Ross some money on that. Aside from that, Hartline is a good player who has already established some chemistry with quarterback Ryan Tannehill and some presence in the locker room. It's good to keep your own good players. It's bad to be a receiver needy team and let your top receiver go two consecutive years. So the Dolphins had to do this deal. Thing I like most about this? If Hartline and Wallace stay healthy, the Dolphins can put two speedy wide receivers on the field at the same time. And you know how I feel about speed, right?
DT Randy Starks (franchise tender signed for $8.45 million): This rental makes sense. Starks is very, very good at what he does but you don't want to commit four or five years to a 29-year-old interior lineman. The Dolphins approach with Paul Soliai was similar and they ended up cutting his tender in half the follwing year down to $6 million a year on a multi-year deal. Don't be surprised if Starks' price goes down next year and Miami gets him cheaper. The fact is also the Dolphins had salary cap space to fit the franchise tender under the cap so no biggie. Good job.
OL Nate Garner (3 years for $4.875 million with $700,000 gtd.): Not every signing involves a star. You have to have role players and Garner is a good one. He can play both guard and tackle in a pinch. He's cheap. He's experienced and has rarely been overwhelmed by the stage. Garner is also good people. He's good in the community and he kepts his mouth shut, which coach Joe Philbin loves. No issues with this re-signing.
S Chris Clemons (1 year for $2.75 million with $1 million gtd): Clemons wanted a longer deal after being the starter much of the past three seasons. But he's a solid player. That's the extent of it. He's not been a consistent playmaker. He's not been a major issue. Just solid. The Dolphins want to upgrade at safety but one cannot upgrade at every single position over one offseason. So the team is standing pat here this year and could upgrade in the future. Logical move.
LT Jake Long to St. Louis: He went to the Rams and I shrug. Look, he's a very good player when healthy. But his health is a concern. And even when he is healthy, he's not a cornerstone that will lead any team to the Super Bowl. No left tackle is that, frankly. The best left tackles, the hot left tackles don't carry teams. They are along for the ride. The Ravens won the Super Bowl last year with Bryant McKinnie playing left tackle. McKinnie had been out of shape and out of the loop the entire season until he finally got playing time in the playoffs. So what does that tell you about left tackles? Are they valuable? Yes. Should they be at the top of your salary cap structure? Put it this way, Joe Thomas is a great left tackle and more consistent than Long. He's at the top of Cleveland's salary cap. How's that working them? Playmakers should be at the top of your cap structure. Not the grunts. And certainly not the grunts with lingering injury issues.
MLB Karlos Dansby: He was solid. But he was hired to be great. He was hired to an $8 million a year contract to make plays and disrupt offenses and change games. He didn't. He was merely solid. And if he'd been making $2 million a year instead of four times that, that would have been good enough. But he wasn't. This is a case of Dolphins cutting ties because Dansby wasn't part of the problem, but neither was he part of the solution. What does it say that Dansby still hasn't been signed by anyone?
OLB Kevin Burnett to Oakland: He was cheaper than Dansby but he wasn't cheap. He was just one grade above solid. But again, he didn't make big plays, either. He didn't cause many fumbles or step in front of passes for interceptions. He was a player other players respected. But he's 30 and he wasn't about to get any better. Interestingly, the Raiders recovered from their loss of Phillip Wheeler by signing Kevin Burnett, completing what effectively was a trade of players. The Dolphins paid a much bigger salary for the exchange. Wheeler will have to be a consistent playmaker to make it worthwhile for the Dolphins. We'll see.
TE Anthony Fasano to KC: He did a lot of little things well but did nothing extraodinarily well. He was solid. He was a 7-9 tight end. The Dolphins needed to upgrade and while their blocking at the position may be worse today, I perceive their pass-catching will be better. And, I remind, it is a passing league.
Sean Smith to KC: He wasn't a system fit in Miami. He was at his best in press situations against big, physical receivers. So he had good games against Larry Fitzgerald and A.J. Green. But he seemed lost the entire rest of the season. He gave up first downs as if that was the assignment. And he didn't make plays. Just did not. It was uncanny. The Chiefs believe he'll be great in their system and they tampered focused on Smith early to get a deal done. I believed the Dolphins made a mistake trading Vontae Davis. I don't think letting Smith walk was a mistake.
Tony McDaniel to Seattle: I'd be surprised if McDaniel makes that team.
[Update: Reggie Bush (how could I forget): He was a good player. He worked hard, played hard and was a good citizen. Nothing like what I thought when he got here. But he'll be better off in Detroit and the Dolphins will be better off without him because Lamar Miller will be just as good, if not better, if he stays healthy. And Miller will do it while earning 10 times less money. I would like the Dolphins to draft a running back on draft Saturday, however.]