Addition Evaluation: Grading All of the Dolphins’ Week 1 Free Agency Moves
While the Miami Dolphins haven’t made any “splash” signings since the league year started last week, don’t make any claims that they haven’t been active. The team has addressed a number of concerns ahead of the 2017 NFL Draft, and they have done an admirable job keeping their best talent in South Beach. Between trading for two players that fill needs for late draft picks, re-signing arguably their three most important free agents, extending Reshad Jones’ contract, and filling needs on both sides of the ball, the front office has proved that sitting on their hands was not an option.
Re-signing Andre Branch:
In my article last month about unrestricted free agents that were important to re-sign, Andre Branch was one of the most important (the others were Stills and Bushrod). As important as his sticking around Miami is to the stability of the defensive line, I admit I’m very skeptical of his contract. His $8 million per year figure over three seasons is reasonable but his ceiling is still lower than you’d like from a guy with over $16 million guaranteed. To put it in perspective, Jabaal Sheard (who visited the Dolphins) is seen around the league as having a significantly higher ceiling than Branch, and he received only $9.5 million guaranteed from the Colts on his 3-year $25.5 million contract. I feel as though the Dolphins could have gotten away with spending less, but at the end of the day they retained their number two pass-rusher for close to market value. Don’t be surprised if they draft a rookie pass-rusher in the first two rounds though.
Re-Signing Kenny Stills:
If you’ve ever read any of my pieces on Kenny Stills, you probably know exactly how this is going to go. His 4 year, $31.9 million (~$20 million guaranteed) isn’t cheap, but it was probably slightly below market value considering ridiculous contracts signed by other receivers around the league. Kenny Stills has been unquantifiably valuable to Ryan Tannehill’s development (particularly on deep balls). He is loved in Adam Gase’s locker room, is an excellent WR2B, and led the team in touchdowns for a reason. All of these factors were a small price to pay for the team’s best offensive weapon not named Jarvis Landry or Jay Ajayi.
Acquiring Julius Thomas:
While the conditions that sent him to Miami aren’t exactly clear, a few things are certain:
- The Dolphins traded a 7th round pick for him.
- Branden Albert is on the Jaguars now.
- He is injury prone.
- He set the world on fire with Peyton Manning and Adam Gase in Denver when healthy.
I know many of you are concerned about Thomas, rightly so, but allow me to alleviate these concerns, Greg. Thomas’ contract is only for two years at $6 million per year, a reasonable figure for someone with his pedigree and potential. Additionally, Adam Gase knows how to wield “Orange Julius” in a way that will put him in position to succeed, something his previous employer certainly did not know how to do. Worst case, he’s hurt and he’s cut next season for a limited cap penalty. Best case, he brings Adam Gase’s offense to the next level by elevating the Dolphins’ Red Zone offense significantly. For a 7th round pick and just the 18th largest contract for a tight end in the NFL I feel it’s a small price to pay.
Extending Reshad Jones’ Contract:
I don’t need to tell you how incredible of a player Reshad Jones is. Though I’m not too happy with the length and guarantees due to his recent injury, I understand that he is the most talented player on the defensive side of the ball and was necessary to lock up to a long-term extension. He’s being paid like the best safety in football and he should play like it if he’s healthy. Cheers to keeping the Dolphins’ best safety and linebacker for what should be the rest of his promising career.
Signing Lawrence Timmons:
I’m torn on Lawrence Timmons. On the one hand, he fulfills the Dolphins’ biggest need and brings invaluable experience to the Dolphins’ linebacker corps. On the other hand, the Dolphins guaranteed the former Steeler $11 million over the next two seasons. Considering his lapses in pass coverage and ripe age of 30, it’s healthy to be skeptical of the Pro Bowler. While talking heads will call him one of the biggest risks of free agency, his floor as a two-down run-stopper at the very least gives him some value. Personally, I think that he’ll be fine so long as he isn’t asked to do too much. Let the man dish out adjustments as the field general and hit other large men hard and he’ll be fine. Ask him to cover a receiver down field and I assure you we will be disappointed.
For more on Timmons you can take a gander at our scouting report on him.
Signing Nate Allen:
As of now, Nate Allen figures to be the starting safety next to Reshad Jones. He’s far from ideal, but he has a lot of starting experience and has showed a knack for playmaking at times throughout his tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles. The signing flew under the radar but was very significant after it was announced that 2016 starting safety Isa Abdul-Quddus failed his physical and was subsequently released. Allen’s 1 year $3.4 million contract is very low risk and indicates that the team views him as a bandaid before a permanent starter can be found. I doubt moves in the secondary, particularly at safety, are done being made so expect another signing and a draft pick or two for depth behind Allen.
Signing Anthony Fasano:
I love this signing. Anthony Fasano is an ideal number two tight end. While he is not a legitimate receiving threat at this point in his career, he is among the best blocking tight ends in the NFL. Between Thomas (who can’t block) as a receiver and Fasano as a blocker, the Dolphins have promise at tight end for the first time in recent memory. Fasano is still an able possession receiver as well and should fit nicely back in Miami where he spent five years before stints in Kansas City and Tennessee. His 1 year contract for $2.75 million ($1.25 million guaranteed) is also a bargain.
Acquiring William Hayes:
I understand the trade, as it addresses depth at a position that desparately needs it, but I’m not a huge fan. His 1 year $4.75 million contract ($2 million guaranteed) is reasonable, but the team also gave up a 6th round pick to get him from the Rams. If the team is going to draft a rookie (or two) on the defensive line as I think they will, why not get younger at the position instead of trading draft capital for a 31-year-old with limited upside? I don’t think giving up draft capital was the right move here
Signing Ted Larsen:
He never proved himself as anything better than an average interior offensive lineman, but he has 65 games of starting experience and a cheap contract (3 years, $5.65 million with $1.75 million guaranteed). He should make a fine depth option or spot starter if the team opts not to sign anyone new or draft a rookie guard. Ideally, he isn’t anywhere close to the starting five though.
Re-signing Jermon Bushrod:
At the time this article is being written (5am this morning don’t judge me) details of Bushrod’s contract are unclear. However, it is reported that the 32-year-old vet signed a one year deal with little long-term implications. Ideally he’s the team’s 6th man at guard but, with Tunsil moving over to tackle, he will likely be the team’s starting right guard again this season. Though I don’t know how much he’s making this season, I believe it was wise for the Dolphins’ front office to keep a semblance of continuity along the offensive line next to Ja’Wuan James.
So, the team has been active. Cool. They addressed some concerns and made some moves (some better than others). But, has the team gotten better? The simple answer is perhaps, but ultimately we won’t know until September. The draft is far more important at this stage, and will be a more significant determinate of the future of this franchise. The biggest takeaway from this offseason so far is that the Dolphins have showed us that the days of “winning the offseason” are over. After all, that approach hasn’t exactly worked wonders in the past. (Looking at you Jeff Ireland). It seems as though the era of “The New Miami” is more than just cliché garbage. Adam Gase and company have seen to it.