Super Wednesday is over, and the first wave of NFL free agents have come and gone off the open market. Looking at the Dolphins offseason moves so far, some Dolphins free agents have already cashed in on mega-deals including defensive end Olivier Vernon, whose cap crushing 5-year $85 million contract with the New York Giants marks the highest recorded contract for DE. Running back Lamar Miller also fled Miami on a $26 million 4-year deal with the Texans. Witnessing those moves, the offseason picture the Miami Dolphins are painting is a clear one, and it does not involve many key contributors from last season.
After a disappointing 2015 in which the Dolphins signed superstar Ndamukong Suh only to finish 6-10 with a defense ranked 25th in the league, (considerably worse than their previous season) owner Stephen Ross has now placed football czar Mike Tannenbaum in full control.
The “Tannenbaum Era” is officially in full effect.
Since Monday, the Dolphins have restructured multiple contracts, released several key players, signed four new starters, and according to the Miami Herald, none of the recently acquired players will cost over $8.5 million in 2016.
The Miami Dolphins started this season $3 million over cap. Where are they now? Well, they are sitting comfortably with over $25 million in available cap.
So is Mike Tannenbaum building a better Dolphins team?
Tannenbaum has started the offseason smart with moves like restructuring tight-end Jordan Cameron and linebacker Koa Misi. He went on to sign Mario Williams over Olivier Vernon, swap draft picks with the Philadelphia Eagles for linebacker Kiko Alonso and cornerback Byron Maxwell, and most recently signed running back C.J. Anderson to a manageable four-year $18 million offer sheet. However, the question still lies; will any of these signings actually make the Miami Dolphins better?
Offseason Moves so Far:
Mario Williams, DE
Kiko Alonso, LB
Byron Maxwell, DB
C.J. Anderson, RB (Pending Offer Sheet)
Sam Young, OL
Isa Abdul-Quddus, FS
Jermon Bushrod, LT
Brice McCain, CB
Brent Grimes, CB
Lamar Miller, RB
Rishard Matthews, WR
Olivier Vernon, DE
Derrick Shelby, DE
Best Move: Mario Williams
In swapping Mario Williams for Olivier Vernon the Dolphins essentially saved around eight-million dollars per season, gained a compensatory 3rd round pick in the 2017 draft, and stole away a division rival who used to inflicted pain on Ryan Tannehill two games per season.
Williams, who signed a two-year, $17 million contract ($11.9 million in guarantees) is no doubt nearing the end of a prosperous career. At 32, Williams still has the strength and speed of an elite player in the NFL, but his stamina and taking plays off last season show the pass rusher has aged. Williams fits well in the 4-3 defense, and pairing him with Ndamuokong Suh could be lethal for opposing quarterbacks. Williams has been marked as a “boom or bust” pick-up for the Miami Dolphins, but the ex-Buffalo Bill should easily surpass his 19 combined tackles and five sacks from last season.
Worst Deal: Byron Maxwell & Kiko Alonso
This trade isn’t “horrible” like some analyst have called it, if the Dolphins’ truly believe Brent Grimes’ wife, Miko, was a cancer in the organization. However, in looking deep at the Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell deal, one glaring weakness stands out. Injuries!
While Maxwell says the report is false, stating “I’m ready to go, I’m ready to play football for the Dolphins and help win some games,” the fairly average cornerback has struggled mightily since signing his five-year 63 million dollar contract with the Eagles just one year prior. The former “Leigon of Boom” standout will certainly have to exceed expectations’ if he plans on staying in Miami outside of 2017.
As for linebacker Kiko Alonso, when healthy, the 25-year old linebacker represents an excellent acquisition for the Dolphins, but health is something he’s been lacking. Alonso tore his ACL in 2014, and he also dealt with a partial tear of the same ligament last season before returning for the final nine games. Miami desperately needs help at linebacker, but trading draft picks with the Eagles seems desperate at first glance. Hopefully this trade will not be another free-agency bust for the Miami Dolphins.
While Miami’s initial moves may seem puzzling on the surface, it is clear new head coach Adam Gase is on the path to building a team that’s beneficial to his coaching style, something Joe Philbin was unable to accomplish in his four-year tenure. For now, it is too early to determine just how good or bad these exact moves may fair, but the dedication to clearing cap space should not go unnoticed.