The Miami Dolphins entered the 2012 season with a lot of question marks. Who would be the head coach to replace Tony Sparano? Would Jeff Ireland retain his job or would owner Stephen Ross hand over his franchise to his good friend Carl Peterson? The first two were answered rather quickly after the whole Jeff Fisher fiasco but remaining questions still lingered.
As we look forward to the start of the 2013 NFL free agent period, it’s not always a bad thing to look back at the year before. When it comes to Miami and specifically Jeff Ireland, the Dolphins played the 2012 off-season to perfection. Not as much for who they signed as much for who they didn’t. Today, the Dolphins are reaping the rewards of being frugal.
No other player last season brought more attention to Miami and the apparent dysfunctional front office than QB Peyton Manning. It was a foregone conclusion that Manning would be a Dolphin. He owned a condo on Southbeach and he and his wife love the south Florida flare. Yet when Manning finished his farewell speech in Indy, he flew to Miami for some quiet time. He was met with helicopter paparazzi that followed his every move and the media frenzy ultimately led to rumors that Miami was out of the running before the race actually began.
Jeff Ireland opted for David Garrard instead of Manning once it was made clear that the Dolphins were not going to land the QB. While Garrard would not make the final roster, Manning would have. Looking back, the Dolphins were given a blessing when Manning opted for Denver. The Dolphins entered 2012 relatively cash strapped and while they could have made moves to afford Manning and his salary, it’s likely they wouldn’t have finished much better than what they did. This year, that move would have eaten most of their free space.
With Manning gone, most of the talk naturally turned to Matt Flynn, a Joe Philbin coached free agent QB from Green Bay. Yet Ireland and Philbin both passed on the QB after a weekend visit. Flynn signed with Seattle a day later. Ireland was ridiculed once again for not taking the risk everyone thought he should. Of course Flynn didn’t start for the Seahawks losing his job to a rookie QB who led the team to the playoffs.
Perhaps the biggest move the Dolphins made was re-signing NT Paul Soliai the team franchise tagged player from the year before. Soliai’s two year deal solidified the Dolphins front line on defense. Phillip Merling was also signed but he wouldn’t make the Dolphins roster. The same can be said about the other free agents Jeff Ireland “kicked the tires on”.
Artis Hicks joined the Dolphins on a non-guaranteed one year deal and didn’t make it into camp following an injury. Jamaal Westerman was signed as a free agent LB who couldn’t make the final 53. Only Richard Marshall who signed a multi-year deal made the final roster but an injury early knocked him out for the season. All in all the 2012 free agent period netted no outside starters for the team and cost the Dolphins minimally in terms of money. Simply put, the Dolphins entered the 2013 season young and not cap strapped.
Ireland made the tough decisions last season to allow him the opportunity to make a broader impact on the roster this year for the future. The teams decision to turn the team over to a rookie QB should prove to be a smart move as the team looks to add playmakers on both sides of the ball. Including corner back and wide-receiver. The two positions most criticized in the 2012 off-season. Davis was moved for a 2nd round pick to the Colts and Brandon Marshall, still the point of a lot of contention, was traded on the opening seconds of the 2012 free agency period.
The reality is this and regardless of how the Dolphins got here or how anyone truly feels about the decisions made last season, this is a team that is poised to take a major step in 2013 if they can fit the right players into their system. With over 44 million dollars to spend and five draft picks in the first three rounds, the Dolphins are not slashing salaries, asking players to take pay cuts, and are not trying to find a way to get underneath the salary cap. Jeff Ireland says it was a plan but a plan must have an ending and a good one for the plan to actually work.
Getting the plan in action is one thing, making it successful is another. How Ireland approaches this off-season will determine the response by fans come September. Ireland not only needs to make a Dolphin size splash in free agency, he needs them to work out. If he does, then the 2012 off-season would have been played to near perfect. He took the hits needed to have what he has this year. Now he has to close it.
Paul Soliai (DT) declared free agent | re-signed March 14 a two-year contract
Phillip Merling (DE) | Restricted Free Agent | signed $1.26 million one-year deal
Lydon Murtha (T) | Restricted Free Agent | signed $1.9 million one-year deal
Richard Marshall (CB) | signed March 15 a three-year deal
Artis Hicks (G) | signed March 16 a one-year deal
Jeron Mastrud (TE) | signed March 16 exclusive rights free agent
David Garrard (QB) | signed March 19 one-year deal
Jamaal Westerman (LB) signed March 20 as an unrestricted free agent
Ryan Baker (DE) | signed March 20 a one-year deal
Steve Slaton (RB) | signed March 21 a one year deal
Austin Spitler (LB) | signed April 5 as a exclusive rights free agent
Tyrell Johnson (S) | signed April 5 to a one-year deal – See more at: http://blogs.sun-sentinel.com/sports_football_dolphins/2012/04/charting-miami-dolphins-free-agency.html#sthash.9XEmqRi2.dpuf