Miami Dolphins Not Likely To Spend In Free Agency


Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross isn’t afraid to spend money on the team. He consistently tells his general managers to do what it takes to put the best team on the field. Stephen Ross wants to win a championship. Unfortunately what Stephen Ross wants isn’t what he gets.

The Dolphins have spent huge in free agency over the last few years. They have traded for playmakers, Brandon Marshall, and traded away playmakers, Brandon Marshall, Vontae Davis. Two years ago the Dolphins made a big splash in free agency signing Mike Wallace, Dannell Ellerbe, Phillip Wheeler, Brent Grimes, Tyson Clabo, Brandon Gibson, Dustin Keller, and gave in house wide-receiver free agent to be Brian Hartline a huge contract. Ellerbe has been a bust, Wheeler hasn’t been much better, Clabo is long gone, Keller got hurt, Gibson is a back-up, and Hartline hasn’t lived up to his deal. Wallace is griping and Brent Grimes has been an absolute blessing. It all adds up to 8-8 seasons however.

In 2014 the Dolphins opted to make yet another splash. They added Branden Albert, Earl Mitchell, Louis Delmas, Cortland Finnegan, Shelley Smith, Daryn Colledge, Knowshon Moreno, and re-signed Brent Grimes to a multi-year deal. Albert got hurt with no back-up plan in place, Mitchell didn’t help the Dolphins stop the run late in the season, Smith became a back-up, Moreno got hurt, Finnegan got hurt, Delmas got hurt, and Colledge was a roller coaster. Combined with 2013 it added up to an 8-8 record.

2015 looks to be one of the best free agent classes in recent NFL history and in normal seasons, Stephen Ross would open his checkbook to buy winning players. While Stephen Ross can spend as much money as he wants, the NFL limits the amount he is allowed to spend. This year the Dolphins could enter the 2015 free agent period trimming their payroll to get under the cap.

As of today, according to the Dolphins are roughly $2.5 million over the cap. That number will drop below the actual cap figure once the cap for 2015 is released later in the month. It’s unknown what the projected cap will be. Regardless of what the increase will be the Dolphins will not be sitting with 30-40 million to spend on free agents. Not without taking huge dead money hits and gutting their roster.

In addition the team will need to make decisions on their own free agents. Something we will discuss on’s “On the FinSide” Tuesday night at 8:00 eastern.

The Dolphins have made some mistakes over the years in where they have put their money. While overall the cap structures have been friendly to the Dolphins their big contracts are not. Mike Wallace will account for around $12 million this season, Branden Albert and Brent Grimes will each cost around $10 million while Dannel Ellerbe and Cameron Wake will count over $9 million on the season. Five other players are slated to count over $6 million in cap space dollars this season.

Adding to the problem for the Dolphins is the lack of depth and needs moving forward. We have already spoken about the offensive line depth but the team also lacks quality starters at linebacker, cornerback, defensive line, offensive line, running back, tight end, and a back-up quarterback. We might look at positions like TE, RB, and QB and say we are o.k. but who is behind Lamar Miller? Dion Sims is the only returning veteran TE as of today, and Miami has only one quarterback behind Ryan Tannehill heading into the off-season and he is literally an unknown. Matt Moore will be a free agent.

A lot of this is poor planning by the previous general manager Jeff Ireland. Had the players he signed worked out, he might still be in control in Miami but misses on several offensive lineman and the big money the team threw at Ellerbe, Wheeler, and Wallace are now hurting the club. I did mention that 2015 was going to be a big year for free agents didn’t I? Well had the Dolphins looked ahead just a little bit they would have seen an opportunity to legitimately fill their roster with very solid players.

The weak quarterback group would have helped Miami in normal years but this year Matt Moore could get some interest from teams like Arizona who need a quality relief pitcher. The Dolphins might find re-signing him before free agency might be the way to go. Running backs do not pose a top priority for the Dolphins so there is no chance the team would look at guys like DeMarco Murray or Marshawn Lynch, but having a little bit more money to spend here could bring in guys like Frank Gore or Justin Forsett to change the pace from Lamar Miller.

The Dolphins are not expected to need wide-receiver help but they do need to make a decision at tight-end. Their best option and maybe the most inexpensive option is to re-sign Charles Clay but names like Jermaine Gresham, Julius Thomas, Jacob Tamme, and Jordan Cameron all will command some salary cap space and all of them would increase the production of the Dolphins offense from where it is today. Yet the Dolphins can’t afford to shop in his aisle.

The offensive line is perhaps the most needed position and for years the Dolphins have failed to fix the problem. This year the team won’t be throwing a boat load of money at the line so the team will likely  target 3rd tier guards.

Defensively is where the Dolphins need some real help and there are names that can help the team win but Miami doesn’t have the cap space to pursue even one of them. Names like Ndamukong Suh who would elevate the Dolphins lackluster rushing defense. Jason Pierre-Paul who could anchor one side of the defensive end pass rush while allowing the Dolphins to get creative with Dion Jordan and Olivier Vernon not to mention a 25 year old star who would become the heir to Cameron Wake who is over 30. The Dolphins may find it hard to re-sign Jared Odrick who will be a free agent this off-season.

Justin Houston will be a free agent at linebacker and is better than anything the Dolphins have right now but we won’t see the team involved in discussions here. 2015 free agency could have a lot of top players but again the Dolphins lack of cap space will make it almost impossible to be big players in adding talent. It was always said that you build your franchise through the draft and supplement with free agency but I don’t believe that is any longer the case.

More and more teams are putting three years on coaching staffs to turn franchises around and that is often not enough time to get young players to their peaks quicker. While the draft cap works well for teams early, good draft picks take advantage of free agency four years out and it’s becoming increasingly harder to keep Pro-Bowl talented players beyond their rookie deals when there are so many needs elsewhere. Add to that bad or poor coaching and there becomes bigger issues with the team, the players, the veterans, and the continuity.

It’s hard to tell today what players will actually hit the open market as teams will soon start re-signing their own free agents and working to get their cap structure under control but this year the Dolphins may not and likely will not be huge players in the market. Not early, not a few days in, and perhaps not a week in. Not without significant salary restructures and roster cuts.

It’s kind of boring right now as we watch the rest of the NFL finish out the season but there will soon be a lot to talk about as the Dolphins begin to prep for the 2015 league new year in March. Then we will know if the Dolphins will have spending money on a very talented free agent class.

To see some of the top talent expected to hit the market, click here.