Free Agency Comes With Baggage…And Talent


Great players never make it free agency.  Good players often do.  The good players tend to carry with them enough baggage that at some point their previous teams said it’s simply not worth it.  That baggage can be attitude, monetary demands, or even little known injury concerns.  Baggage nonetheless.

This off-season the Miami Dolphins sit with the third most cap space to spend and a public vote referendum that needs to pass.   Put two and two together and you would think that big name players should be on the Dolphins radar.  That simply will not be the case.

The Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl this past year and I would argue what top of the class free agent was brought in to put them over the top?  The Patriots?  Same thing.  49’ers?  Yep.  These teams cull from the draft and supplement with the market.  Now before you start going all debate team on me, I fully realize that the Dolphins, unlike those teams just mentioned, have not hit enough in the draft to look away from free agency.  The Dolphins need playmakers and they need them sooner rather than later.

This years free agency will offer teams top of the line talent.  Guys named Bowe, Jennings, Wallace, Finley, and Spencer.  Each comes with a question mark.  Remember, great players don’t hit free agency.  At least not often.  The trick for Jeff Ireland and Joe Philbin is to find players that fit the system and the mold of the team.  It means looking through the market for the players who carry the least amount of baggage or at the very least the right kind of baggage.  Or the baggage you are willing to live with.

To understand what I refer to, Jeff Ireland said not too long ago that finding a number 1 WR would be a priority and that nothing was off the table.  Be it by free agency, draft, or even trade.  So when you hear a name like the Vikings’ Percy Harvin you wonder if this is the big name that Ireland looks at.

Harvin however is a problem child.  Good talent?  Yes, better than most and you could argue that he has more potential to be great than Bowe, Wallace, or Jennings.  Yet there is the baggage.  Is he a team player?  Can he get along with the coaches?  Can he apply himself to be better than good?  So far he hasn’t consistently.  Harvin is only one example.  Every player hitting free agency comes with something.

Miami has their own free agents as well.  Brian Hartline.  One very good season.  Randy Starks.   Solid against the run but expendable.  Sean Smith.  Inconsistent.  Reggie Bush.  Looks to make the big run all the time instead of taking what is given.  Hartline wants 5-6 mill.  Smith wants 7-9.  Bush wants around 5.  Baggage.

The Dolphins need to find players that will make an impact now rather than later and it’s more difficult to predict what players out there are not carrying the baggage from the previous team with them.  Who on the market will become a bona-fide star for this team?  Will anyone?  Rewind the tape to a few years back and money would have been passed around on Karlos Dansby becoming the team leader taking over for Zach Thomas.  That hasn’t actually happened.

When Yeremiah Bell left Miami for NY, most fans and the media alike preached the doom and gloom because he wasn’t replaced yet Reshad Jones stepped up and made people take notice.  He had the drive.  The “want-to”.  Will to succeed.  The Dolphins need to find more of them.  Jones came off their own roster, free agency will take them off someone else’s.

The first place to look is at the winning organizations.  Teams like the three mentioned above.  You might pay a little more for a player coming off a Super Bowl win or a playoff birth but you also pay a little more for a guy who understands that to win you need to be a team.  You need to do your part and take of your business.  Players coming off rosters that perennially miss the playoffs often are high on talent but the winning concept isn’t there.  In other words, they can’t tell the rest of the team what it takes to win.  Sure it’s a coaches job to coach but don’t ever believe that teammate support isn’t vital to the success of a franchise.

It’s why guys like Anquan Boldin would rather retire than play somewhere else.  Or why guys like Ravens LB Paul Kruger publicly says he wants to stay with in Baltimore.  The Dolphins don’t have that yet.  So you hear Sean Smith or Brian Hartline saying they “want to stay in Miami”?  Not to a degree that you would believe them.  Reggie Bush has said that but at what price would he be willing do just that?

This is not to say that the players are bad, it’s just that in Miami there has been little success to hold on to.  There may be a direction but give a first time free agent coming off a rookie contract the choice of a “direction” or a big fat contract and he is going to take the contract every time and twice on Sunday.  It’s common sense and it’s also a bit more baggage.

The talent level of this years free agent market is high and there are players that could or would take the Dolphins to new levels, but they cost money and money doesn’t guarantee success.  See Karlos Dansby or the entire NY Jets team.  It’s a balancing act.  Needs vs. availability vs. cohesion vs. cost.  What will you give up to get 3 of the 4?

For the first time since his arrival with Bill Parcells, Jeff Ireland doesn’t have to release players to gain spending money.  He doesn’t have to trim his roster simply to re-sign his own impending free agents.  He says it’s by design but regardless of how it happened, it’ couldn’t have happened in a better year.  They didn’t overspend last season to simply excite the fans and throw expensive names on the field.  Instead they stuck with a rookie QB and their roster as it was.  It worked better than most expected.

The savings from last year spilled over into a season when contracts were coming off the books and it’s because of that risk that they potentially face the reward.  How the Dolphins spend their money will be as important as who they spend it on.  It should be exciting but we all know that nothing in free agency is guaranteed.   Players and their agents will wait and then they will wait some more.  It’s all part of the business.

Yes free agency will provide Miami some good additions and maybe some day those good players will turn out to be great.  The talent is there and again, it really just depends on what you are willing to put up with as a coach, a GM, and an owner to get the best talented player who will fit in with your team.