The Miami Dolphins have failed to impress anyone with their free agent signings this off-season. In fact, the list is so unimpressive that aside from David Garrard, I often find myself checking my notes to see exactly who was signed. I don’t feel like checking them at the moment. I do know however that the teams own free agents were not a concern for the team. With 17 players possibly facing the market, a few restricted free agents were re-signed and Paul Soliai was signed to a two year deal. The rest? They are either still on the free agent market or have signed elsewhere.
While the Dolphins could afford to let the likes of Vernon Carey, Will Allen, Kendall Langford, and Chad Henne leave VIA free agency (Carey is still unsigned), their 2013 crop of free agents will not be so unneeded. In fact, next year could be so bad that if the Dolphins truly are in re-build mode, they should start exploring trades now prior to this draft before they face losing them next season.
This is where Jeff Ireland is going to get an opportunity to prove he knows what he is doing. Jake Long, Cameron Wake, Reggie Bush, Anthony Fasano, Sean Smith, Randy Starks, and Brian Hartline are all heading towards free agency. The Dolphins are going to find it difficult to get all of them signed to new deals. Especially considering two of them will be asking for major pay increases.
Jake Long wants to become the highest paid LT in the NFL and he will be next season if he stays healthy in 2012. The question of whether he is a Miami Dolphin or not remains to be seen although according to a report on the Sun-Sentinel, the Dolphins have begun “exploratory” talks with their former number 1 overall pick. Long will want a larger guaranteed deal than Cleveland’s Joe Thomas who last year was rewarded a 30 million dollar guarantee.
Cameron Wake is coming off an average year far from the QB killer he was the season before. However his worth to the team will be highlighted this year as he rolls into his contract season. Making around 650,000 this year on his first NFL deal coming out of the CFL, Wake is going to get big money. Not Mario Williams type money but big money nonetheless. I thought at one point heading into this off-season that trading Wake now would be a good idea. I think we have seen his better days and to be honest, after this season is in the books, I wouldn’t be surprised to start seeing a decline in his production. Last year wasn’t simply a fluke.
However when you look at the Dolphins defensive roster Wake is needed. The team simply can’t afford to move him because they have no one to replace him with. The Dolphins, Jeff Ireland specifically, will have to determine if Wake is worth keeping on the roster and gaining a big contract or if trading him now is better than losing him next season for nothing. The issue here once again turns to perception. With Yeremiah Bell released and Brandon Marshall traded, can the Dolphins really make a bold decision to trade a popular pass rusher? Likely not. The Dolphins will need to find a way to pay him and I think in the end they may just overpay.
Brian Hartline is a guy that reminds fans a lot of Wes Welker. He is that wide-receiver that shouldn’t play as well as he does but seems to catch everything. In this new offensive system, Hartline may thrive. In all likelihood, Hartline is going to be interesting to watch as the off-season approaches and it will be a matter of how well he grasps the Joe Philbin system as to whether he is retained. He won’t be too expensive because in the years since he has been here, he really hasn’t exploded his production level.
Sean Smith came into the league with Vontae’ Davis but because Davis is a first rounder Davis’ contract is a year longer. Smith has had and up and down career thus far and this year will go a long way in securing his future not just in Miami but interest from the rest of the league. It’s too early to say that Smith is a must re-sign but his loss would be felt if the team was unable to replace him.
Randy Starks has been around awhile and he is a valuable leader on and off the field. With his career heading towards the twilight years, Starks’ is not going to be as demanded as he was 4 years ago. Heading into season number 9, Starks could find the free agent market consists of two teams, the Dolphins and his former HC Jeff Fisher with the Rams. The Dolphins are going to gauge the production of their other tackles before making a commitment to Starks.
Reggie Bush was signed last off-season to a two year deal and he exploded for his best NFL season as a pro. Bush will enter this season trying to prove that last year was not a fluke. The issue here is that for Bush, the running back market is dead. Teams no longer put the same value on the position that they once did and it shows when you view the landscape of the NFL. Peyton Hillis signs a very modest one year deal with the Chiefs while Cedric Benson is still available. Last year’s free agent running backs fared little better with only DeAngelo Williams of Carolina getting the big contract. It’s not viewed as a replaceable position given the pass happy state of the NFL.
Bush will be an interesting player to watch as he is replaceable. The question really becomes can he repeat the performance he had last season and if so, then will the Dolphins view him as replaceable?
Finally, we come to Anthony Fasano who is entering his 7th NFL season. Fasano is one of those guys that everyone watches and see so much potential and yet he never seems to reach it. Whether it is the scheme or his responsibilities, the Dolphins just haven’t found a way to get him into the game plan consistently. That will likely change this year with the west coast style offense that utilizes the TE quite a bit. This will be the one year that Fasano has a chance to really shine and show that he is worth another deal.
If we move one year further the biggest name on that list appears to be Vontae’ Davis. Davis’ production has been good but nothing spectacular. Last year he showed up out of shape to camp and that cost him time in the first three weeks of the season. Then he showed up reportedly drunk to practice and was suspended a game by then coach Tony Sparano. Davis’ production on the field is nothing worth giving a pass for. While most players have trade value in their contract year, Davis’ value may come this year instead while his contract is still light and two years remain.
The question is could the Dolphins move him if they wanted to? It would be a bold move by a GM who is already being criticized by the fan base but it may be a smart if he could get value for the corner. At this point given his production and his unreliability to actually work on his own to stay in shape, a 3rd round draft pick would be a good place to start.
When you look at the 2013 landscape of the teams free agents you immediately lean towards the rumors that the 2013 salary cap will be quite a bit larger allowing more teams to keep their own free agents. The Dolphins are one of those teams that stand to lose a good chunk of it’s core youth as well as some savvy veterans. It’s going to be difficult to meet the salary demands of the players while still finding a way to compete for other free agents. I will say this as I examine this past off-season to date. A new mentality seems to be emerging and I truly believe that you can look at Joe Philbin for this philosophy.
The Green Bay Packers rarely added playmakers through free agency but instead held fast to the belief that you build a team and sustain a team through free agency. That may very well be the plan in place now in Miami as the Dolphins seem to have taken a more tepid approach to finding roster solutions. If that is in fact the truth of what they are attempting to create in Miami, then the names above should find the Dolphins trying diligently to get them re-signed. The Green Bay mentality under Ted Thompson is you don’t let good players leave your team.
The Dolphins may have to take this approach with their free agents in 2013.