SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Most every team, if given the benefit of hindsight, would change at least a few of their personnel moves from the previous offseason.
Assessing the Dolphins’ machinations, in retrospect:
The most regrettable decision? Not signing a veteran guard, particularly Evan Mathis, who passed on Miami’s offer, took $3.25 million from Denver, has graded out the best of any Broncos offensive player this season by a wide margin and ranks sixth among all NFL guards in 2015 performance, according to Pro Football Focus.
Two guards who got more sizable free agent deals – Cincinnati’s Clint Boling (five years, $26 million) and Arizona’s Mike Iupati (five years, $40 million) - are ranked 15th and 26th, respectively, among all guards.
Conversely, Dolphins starters Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas rank 67th and 80th in PFF’s evaluations, though the Dolphins believe Thomas has been much better than that.
Let’s be clear: The Dolphins, who have $11 million in cap space, had the money to address guard, even though they were reluctant to do it at the time. More space could have been created by simply not signing receiver Greg Jennings.
Jennings, who is making $2.5 million this season, has played sparingly in recent weeks and not been nearly as productive as the other veteran receiver Miami strongly considered, Michael Crabtree, who took $3.2 million in a one-year deal with Oakland and has had a renaissance there (51 catches, 646 yards, five touchdowns). But it's doubtful Crabtree would be playing as much here as he is with the Raiders.
Miami smartly avoided Dwayne Bowe, who signed for two years and $13 million with Cleveland and has three receptions. Andre Johnson, who wanted to sign here but never got a call, hasn’t played up to his three-year, $21 million deal with Indianapolis (24-288).
The Dolphins got decent value with Brice McCain (two years, $5.5 million). McCain has been neither great nor awful; he’s rated 61st by PFF; the 84.2 passer rating is his coverage area is best among Miami’s corners.
Miami also wanted Buster Skrine, who took four years and $25 million from the Jets. He has played inconsistently and is ranked 91st by PFF.
Though the Dolphins probably erred in not adding another quality corner, say this in Miami’s defense: None of the highest-priced veteran corners in the 2015 free agent market have been extraordinary elsewhere --- PFF ranks Tramon Williams 33rd but no picks for Cleveland, Davon House 35th, Perrish Cox 56th, Philadelphia $60 million man Byron Maxwell 78th, Antonio Cromartie 99th, Chris Culliver 100th and Brandon Browner 110th.
At safety, the Dolphins took a risk by re-signing Louis Delmas, who tore his ACL for the second time but still must be paid nearly $2.5 million. Da’Norris Searcy, who got four years and $24 million from Tennessee, would have been the best option; he ranks 11th among all safeties, per PFF.
But between Reshad Jones and Searcy, that would have been a lot of money invested at that position. Antrel Rolle, who some Dolphins fans coveted, ranks 38th among safeties after signing for three years and $11.2 million with Chicago. But Michael Thomas, sharing time with Walt Aikens, ranks 33rd.
The Ndamukong Suh signing is starting to pay dividends; PFF ranks Suh fourth among all defensive tackles.
The only other free agent tackle ranked in the top 20: Oakland’s Dan Williams, rated 14th. He came a lot cheaper than Suh (four years, $25 million) and is a good player but clearly not on Suh’s level.
Though Kelvin Sheppard isn’t a longterm answer at mike linebacker and has graded out poorly against the run, there wasn’t a clearly superior option in free agency, in retrospect. Brandon Spikes is out of the league and Mason Foster is a backup in Washington, having been cut by Chicago.
The Dolphins haven’t maximized Jordan Cameron’s skills, but it’s difficult to blast them for signing Cameron (two years, $15 million) over Charles Clay (five years, $38 million) because of the $19.5 million difference in guaranteed money, though Clay has nearly twice as many receptions (40 to 21).
This could end up being a lost year for DeVante Parker, but if his foot stays healthy (a big if), the Dolphins remain confident he will be an excellent receiver. Miami would have traded down from No. 14 for a cornerback if Parker had been off the board. In retrospect, that might have been a wise move regardless.
Marcus Peters, who was dismissed from the University of Washington football team, has been the best player selected 14 through 20 and PFF ranks him 42nd among all cornerbacks. He’s a starter for Kansas City and has four picks. Cornerback Kevin Johnson, picked 16th, is starting for Houston and has an interception, and PFF rates him 34th among corners.
Though Miami didn’t need a defensive tackle in the second round, the Jordan Phillips pick at No. 52 will be justified if he replaces Earl Mitchell eventually and becomes a quality starter.
If not, Miami will be deservedly criticized for trading down from 47 and not taking Bills cornerback Ronald Darby (picked 50th; ranks third among all corners, per PFF) or former Missouri guard Mitch Morse (picked 49th; PFF ranks him 10th among all centers, which he plays for Kansas City).
Miami considered Morse at 47 before trading down.
Guard Ali Marpet, chosen 61st, is a starter for Tampa and ranks 33rd among all guards. Miami also passed on UM linebacker Denzel Perryman, but he has played sparingly (only 67 snaps) for San Diego. Phillips very well could end up being the better player.
Nobody selected soon after guard Jamil Douglas, picked 114th, has been a revelation except outside linebacker Kwon Alexander, a starter for Tampa who has 63 tackles, two sacks and two picks. Alexander would have been the better pick in retrospect, though it was understandable why Miami picked a guard in that spot.
Among players the Dolphins passed up to select their fifth-rounders (Bobby McCain, Jay Ajayi, Tony Lippett and practice squad safety Cedric Thompson): Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs (30-507), Bills running back Karlos Williams (58-360) and Colts starting nose tackle David Parry. But McCain and Ajayi look like very good picks and Lippett might prove to be.
But Miami’s most regrettable move, in hindsight, was one every team made: Not using a fifth-round pick on guard La’El Collins, a first-round talent who’s starting for Dallas after being fully cleared in a murder investigation. PFF ranks him 37th among guards.
### One Marlins source said some teammates have grown resentful of Jose Fernandez because “they see that he’s Jeffrey Loria’s boy, just like Hanley Ramirez was treated differently by Jeffrey.” That Marlins person said Fernandez has become more entitled and cocky.
Another Marlins official said Fernandez's behavior has grown irritating. WINZ's Andy Slater reported this week about player discontentment with Fernandez....
What's more, yet another potential problem arose Friday when Fernandez insisted agent Scott Boras will be involved in the discussions regarding how many innings he will pitch next season. The Marlins have been adamant in saying Boras will not be involved.
But the Marlins say they are not inclined to trade him at this point, even though they know they likely will lose him after 2018.
### Among the free agent pitchers the Marlins have reached out to: John Lackey, Scott Kazmir and Tim Lincecum.
### With Dez Bryant visiting Sunday, here's one troubling sign with Brent Grimes: He’s relinquishing 16.6 yards per catch, which is 11th-worst in the NFL.
The other Dolphins corners: Brice McCain 13.9 (35th worst), Jamar Taylor 12.5 and Bobby McCain 11.0 (he has allowed 7 of 14 passes thrown in his coverage area to be caught).
### Orangebloods.com, a popular Texas website, said the Longhorns will not fire Charlie Strong and Strong will not take the Miami job if offered. He interests UM if available.
### Now that UM has landed two top-30 recruits in the Class of 2016 (Dewan Huell and Bruce Brown), its next big target is 7-1 Miami High five-star center Zach Brown, rated the 18th best player in the 2017 class.
“Miami is a front-runner,” said Ticket of America CEO Michael Lipman, Brown’s legal guardian. “We’re excited about their coaching staff and the moves they’ve made [with the roster].” Lipman said Brown’s short list is UM, UCLA, Kentucky, Connecticut, Ohio State, North Carolina State and Georgia.
If Brown picks UM, the Hurricanes in 2017-18 would have a team with four players who were top 40 recruits in their respective class: Zach Brown, Huell, Bruce Brown, sophomore guard Ja’Quan Newton (37th by rivals), plus No. 99 sophomore James Palmer and No. 114 Rodney Miller (Class of 2016).
### Not only is Hassan Whiteside averaging more blocks per game than seven entire NBA teams, but his 4.55 average --- if he can sustain it --- would be the highest since Hakeem Olajuwon averaged 4.59 in 1989-90.
He said other players indicated they're surprised he’s doing this. “Kobe Bryant was surprised when I blocked his jumper; he said, ‘Oh, damn!’”
### Goran Dragic not only led all point guards in shooting percentage each of the past two seasons, but he also was the NBA’s only guard, period, to make at least half of his shots each of those years.
So it’s mystifying to Dragic why he entered Saturday shooting just 41.7 percent from the field, 23rd among point guards.
“I’ve lost a little bit of confidence on my shot, but I’m working on it,” Dragic said Saturday. “I’m staying after practice shooting the ball, trying to get back that feeling. I think I’m thinking too much about it.”
Two big differences with Dragic from a year ago:
### Last season, Dragic made 70 percent of his shots at the rim, best among guards. This season, he’s at 55.6 percent.
“I’m missing even easy shots, layups,” he said.
### Last season, Dragic made 35.5 percent of his shots beyond 10 feet. This season, it’s 27.6 percent --- 4 for 17 from 10 to 16 feet, 4 for 12 from 17 feet to just before three-point range, and 8 for 31 on three-pointers (25.8 percent).
Also, Dragic is shooting 29.9 percent on jump shots, compared with 35.8 last season.
Nobody expected this, not after Dragic shot 50.5 percent and 50.1 percent from the field over the past two seasons.
“I’m getting all the shots I want,” Dragic said.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said his staff hasn’t changed anything mechanically with Dragic’s release because “we don’t want to break his shot. He’s proven he can shoot. The way I look at it, the odds are in our favor.”
### LeBron James’ departure diminished the Heat’s national profile, but it hasn’t affected the team’s popularity locally.
Saturday marked the 206th consecutive regular-season home sellout, a streak dating back to James’ first game with the Heat in the 2010-11 season. Ticket of America's Lipman said the Heat helped ensure strong premium seat sales by cutting prices this season.
What’s more, Heat games in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale TV market are averaging a 5.1 rating on Fox Sports Sun (a bit ahead of the 5.0 average last season) and 5.7 overall, when ESPN’s Heat ratings are factored in.
That means Heat ratings, among all NBA markets, rank fourth behind only Cleveland, San Antonio and Oklahoma City, and also means that 5.7 percent of Dade/Broward homes watch each Heat game, on average.
By contrast, Dolphins ratings remain worst in the country for NFL markets with only one team. The local ratings for the past two games (15.1 for Bills, 15.7 for Eagles) fall below last season’s 16.9 average.
And UM football ratings keep declining, from a 5.5 for the Clemson blowout, to 3.2 for Duke, 3.3 for Virginia and 2.4 for North Carolina, which is about 40,000 homes.
### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz