Nov.25, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland prior to a game against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
The Miami Dolphins, according to several rumors, have the most cap space heading into the 2013 NFL league new year. Also known as free agency. For the first time since Jeff Ireland‘s arrival in south Florida, he has money to work with and an owner who desperately needs a winning product on the field. The Dolphins have a slew of their own free agents to sign but of those in-house free agents, only a couple are viewed as major impact players for the team. For fans, it’s a dream scenario. Unfortunately, “dream” may be the key word here. Reality, may leave Dolphins fans with yet another off-season heartbreak.
It has been a very long time since the Miami Dolphins entered the free agency period as free spending radicals. Karlos Dansby was a highly sought after target but his arrival really was the only big ticket item the team spent money on. While Chad Pennington in 2008 was viewed as a big move by the front office, his pre-season release by the Jets left him with very few options. His close ties with Bill Parcells made him a gift horse to the franchise.
While Dansyb and Pennington are the names, there have been a lot of misses as well. Gibril Wilson? Justin Smiley was a 2nd tier lineman that signed with the Dolphins shortly after mid-night in the Bill Parcells inaugural season. He never quite played to the level of his 25 million dollar contract. The entire free agency period last year netted the Dolphins a big fat zero. The best free agency period during the Jeff Ireland era came after the NFL lockout as they entered Tony Sparano’s final season.
Among fan chants of a trade for Denver’s Kyle Orton, the Dolphins opted to sign free agent Matt Moore and brokered a deal for Reggie Bush. They added Kevin Burnett as well. In other words, the Dolphins have not made huge moves in free agency and it’s likely this year will not be any different.
And so pushes the fans closer to the edge.
The Dolphins do not have the personnel to compete for 16 games with the likes of the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens. They manufacture yards and first downs instead of manufacturing points. They lack a seam threat TE and a number 1 wide-receiver. Defensively they struggle with average corner back play because they attempt to use their front seven to disrupt the flow of the opposing teams passing game. The problem with that is they lack a pass rushing defensive end or linebacker opposite Pro-Bowler Cameron Wake. Thus exposing the troubled secondary where Sean Smith will be a free agent and Richard Marshall missed all of last season.
Looking ahead to the free agency period this year, it’s easy to dive into the speculation that Miami could fill their holes with names like Wallace, Jennings, Finley, Bowe, or defensively with players named Butler, Byrd, and Spencer. Yet reality is a cruel animal. These Miami Dolphins believe it’s better to build through the draft, retain your own free agents and teach them how to be winners.
While that has worked well for a team like the Green Bay Packers, it usually helps to have the core pieces already together in the first place and then build through the draft to support them. In Miami, most of the core pieces are still missing. Instead, the support is already in place.
Consider that while Karlos Dansby is a brand name at linebacker, he has yet to make a Pro-Bowl in Miami and still lacks the leadership you expect and covet from an inside linebacker. Consider that the Dolphins still do not have not one but two corner backs who can keep wide-receivers jammed at the line of scrimmage or can take the ball away but having the intelligence to jump the routes. Forget the lack of pass rusher opposite Wake.
While the Dolphins need little on the offense, their previous attempts to add muscle to the TE passing game has come up short. Anthony Fasano is solid but unspectacular. Charles Clay is more hybrid than a true seam threat TE. Jeron Mastrud is still a roster spot question mark. The teams attempts to find a TE in the draft have come up empty as well. Michael Egnew looks to be a wasted pick in round 3 and John Nalbone is nowhere to be found in the NFL landscape.
To the Dolphins credit they have five selections in the first three rounds and ten draft picks total. It’s hard to imagine given the teams inability to find playmakers through the draft that this year will be any different. While many believe that hitting in this years draft is a must, the reality is that finding playmakers not support players is a must. The Dolphins, should they opt to to upgrade the team through the draft, will not only need to hit on each of their first five selections, they need to hit on them while addressing needs. In other words, they can’t afford to draft best player available.
Fans want to see a major jump in free agency. It would be wise of owner Stephen Ross to put down his pen, call a meeting, and tell Ireland and Philbin that it’s time to spend at the market. The Dolphins, especially Ross, need to give the fans something to believe in and skipping over the free agent market or simply adding depth and support will do nothing to instill confidence in the fans. The Dolphins need to sell tickets and to sell tickets they need to put a product on the field that excites the season ticket holders and the general Sunday attendees.
You will not get that by drafting your support team. You won’t get that by passing on products that can help your team win simply because they come from a free agency period and not out of college. The Dolphins have scouts. Both college and pro. Jeff Ireland himself is supposed to be very good at finding NFL players. It should be easy for them to look at free agency and find the type of players who can join the team with the same mentality and make-up that Philbin and company are installing. They don’t need to spend on the “diva” players, but they should take a long look at the playmaking players.
This year, free agency will not set up the draft for the Miami Dolphins. It will however given the fans something to build hope with and just as much as signing a few top free agents will send a positive message of change to the fans, signing no one or addressing nothing will most assuredly send the opposite. The Dolphins say they want to build this team through the draft but they need to find players to build around first. Ryan Tannehill alone is simply not enough.
They don’t have to get all the top guys, but they damn well better shop.