Dolphins Miss The Mark With Free Agent Signings
Jeremiah Short, The Current Voice
With the signings of Mike Wallace(five years, $65 million), Dannell Ellerbe(five years, $35 million) and Phillip Wheeler(five years, $27 million), the Miami Dolphins generated a lot of buzz on the first day of free agency.The Dolphins, who were 7-9 in 2012, achieved contender status. At least on paper. Or Madden.
Rich Eisen, an NFL Network anchor, commented that “the Dolphins just owned the day.”
It felt like it was the most recent college national signing day…and the Dolphins were Ole Miss. Just this time around, Lebron James didn’t tweet “the Dolphins ain’t playing.”
The Dolphins completed their week signing Dustin Keller and Brandon Gibson to one and three-year deals respectively.
I almost co-signed on the Dolphins’ free-agent haul, then I thought…uh…better not. In deference to NFL Hall of Famer and former Dolphins executive Bill Parcells, don’t “eat the cheese.”
I applaud the Dolphins aggressiveness. But, how EFFECTIVE were their signings?
The first mistake the Dolphins made was their initial signing–Wallace. The former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver established himself as one of the première deep threats in the NFL over the first four years of his career–with 21 catches of 40-plus yards. He was expected to score a big contract in free agency, but I don’t think anyone anticipated that Wallace would become the third-highest paid wide out in the NFL.(Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald have bigger deals.)
To further illustrate my point, Andre Johnson, Roddy White and Brandon Marshall are paid less than him. I know it’s not what you’re worth…but what you can negotiate. Even operating under that premise, Wallace’s contract still seems like a bit much. Jamarcus Russell, quite possibly the worst bust since Ryan Leaf, thinks the Dolphins overpaid for Wallace.
The 6’0, 199 pound receiver does bolster the Dolphins offense, which managed a mere 18.0 points a game in 2012. His impact just won’t match the hefty price tag needed to snag him.
The Dolphins paid fair market value for Ellerbe, 27, and Wheeler, 28, but why did they sign them in the first place? Karlos Dansby,31, and Kevin Burnett, 30, who were released to make room for the linebackers, led the Dolphins in tackles in 2012–combining for 243 tackles.
But Wheeler and Ellerbe are younger.
Yes, they are younger…but are they better? How about a big glass of NO.
Pro Football Focus apparently agrees with me. According to their ratings, Ellerbe and Wheeler are better pass rushers than the veteran linebackers–applying pressure on the quarterback 48 times in 2012–compared to 26 for Burnett and Dansby. In the two other categories in their linebacker metric–run stopping and pass coverage–the departing linebackers graded out higher.
To be fair, Wheeler is trending up as a player(109 tackles in 2012), and he could turn out be a bargain.
Ellerbe’s signing provides a higher risk for the Dolphins. He had a breakout season for the Ravens in 2012–playing a huge part in their Super Bowl run. But, the 27-year old linebacker was surrounded by Pro Bowl players: Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed that drew attention away from him. He made the plays, but that’s a little easier when teams don’t game plan for you. Ellerbe has durability concerns, as well. He has yet to play a full season in his entire four-year career. Lets not even mention how Ellerbe will have to transition from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense. A change that some flat can’t make.
Wasn’t Dansby one the players that questioned Coach Philbin’s leadership and his unfair release of Chad Ochocinco?
On HBO’s Hard Knocks series, in which the Dolphins were featured this past season, Jake Long (the Dolphins’ Pro Bowl left tackle), Reggie Bush and Dansby went to the coach and asked him to communicate better with players. Eight months later, what do these players have in common? They aren’t on the Dolphins’ roster, although Long might re-sign with the team.
That’s just a coincidence, though.
There no such things as a coincidence, only the illusion of a coincidence.
I’m not going to lament every move the Dolphins made. Keller isn’t known as a solid blocker, but he gives the Dolphins a reliable pass-catching tight end. Gibson gives the Dolphins a legit slot receiver–assuming he beats out Davone Bess. Wallace is overpaid, but he will “take the top off” of defenses and aid Ryan Tannehill, who showed promise as a rookie quarterback–throwing for 3,294 yards in 2012.
The Dolphins were also smart to realize that they were taking some risks. So, they gave themselves an out after the first two years of Ellerbe and Wallace’s deals. Both of their contracts are fully guaranteed in the first two years. After that point, the Dolphins can cut bait with little penalty. But will it be too little, too late?
The Dolphins’ won the day and maybe the week, but they won’t win next season.
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