Dolphins Free-Agency Tracker: Updated Signings, Rumors and Grades
The free-agency frenzy is upon us, and boy, the Miami Dolphins have wasted no time getting busy.
After entering the free agency period with over $30.7 million in salary cap space according to OverTheCap.com, the Dolphins were one of the most equipped teams for free agency, and have used their resources to improve their roster.
They spent the first day not only targeting high-priced free agents, but releasing a few of their own players as well.
The rumors and news are swirling so fast, it's hard for even me to keep up.
Consider this your one-stop shop for all the Dolphins rumors, reports, additions and subtractions. We'll also be keeping score with grades for each move.
Latest Rumors and Reports
March 20: According to Adam Beasley of The Miami Herald, the Dolphins are hosting Eric Winston for a visit on Wednesday.
March 18: Armando Salguero of The Miami Herald reports that the Dolphins plan to "make a corresponding move" to add an offensive tackle in free agency, and speculates Eric Winston and Sebastian Vollmer could be potential targets.
March 17: According to Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald, recently-released defensive end Elvis Dumervil's agent intends to contact the Dolphins because Dumervil "would like to play for Miami."
March 15: The Miami Dolphins' official Twitter account has announced they hosted cornerback Brent Grimes for a visit on Friday.
March 14: According to Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com, the Dolphins will host defensive end Michael Bennett for a visit at some point on Thursday.
March 14: Florio points out Sean Smith's market has been absolutely silent, and hints that the general market for cornerbacks could be a sign of collusion. If Smith doesn't find another suitor, he could very well end up back in Miami.
March 13: Salguero reports tight end Dustin Keller is getting a physical, and that the team will talk terms once (if) the physical comes back okay.
March 13: Albert Breer of NFL Network reports that left tackle Jake Long will undergo a physical today as part of he and the Rams trying to reach a deal. Breer says that the chances of a contract getting done "hinge on" the results of the physical.
March 12: Seems I forgot to mention the rumor that the Dolphins were interested in tight end Jared Cook. No matter—he's been taken off the market after being signed by the Rams, according to Adam Caplan of TheSidelineView.com.
March 12: Schefter reports that the Dolphins and free-agent wide receiver Mike Wallace are working on a five-year deal, and that it is "very, very likely" to get done.
March 12: Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com reports that running back Reggie Bush is expected to visit the Detroit Lions, and that the Lions want to sign him before he leaves and has an opportunity to make other stops.
March 10: The Miami Herald reported that running back Reggie Bush "categorically" will not be back in Miami, while multiple outlets report that the Detriot Lions and Arizona Cardinals are currently the frontrunners for his services.
Free Agency Additions/Re-Signings
OL Nate Garner: terms unknown
WR Brandon Gibson: terms unknown
TE Dustin Keller: one-year, $4.25 million contract
LB Philip Wheeler: five-year, $26 million contract
LB Dannell Ellerbe: five-year, $35 million contract
SS Chris Clemons: one year, terms unknown
WR Mike Wallace: five years, $65 million
DT Randy Starks: franchise tag for one year, $8.45 million
WR Brian Hartline: five years, $30.775 million
QB Matt Moore: two years, $8 million
QB Pat Devlin: one year, $480,000 RFA tender
CB RJ Stanford: one year, $630,000 RFA tender
LB Austin Spitler: one year, $1.323 million RFA tender
Free Agency Subtractions
LT Jake Long: four-year, $36 million contract with the Rams
CB Sean Smith: three-year, $18 million contract with the Chiefs
RB Reggie Bush: signed a four-year deal with the Lions
Dolphins Place Franchise Tag on DT Randy Starks
Terms: one year, $8.45 million franchise tag
For in-depth thoughts from this week-old move, check out my previous post on the subject.
Dolphins Re-Sign WR Brian Hartline
Terms: five-year, $30.775 million contract
For my complete thoughts on the move, which took place last Friday, check out my previous post on the subject.
Dolphins Re-Sign QB Matt Moore
The Dolphins already have their quarterback of the future; now they have their backup quarterback of the future as well.
Moore was seen as the No. 2 quarterback behind David Garrard during 2012 training camp, but when Garrard went down with a knee injury, Moore remained the backup to Tannehill. Moore could be a starter for many teams, and he proved his value as a backup by coming off the bench to lead the Dolphins to a 30-10 victory over the Jets.
His command of the West Coast offense was seen as a high mark of value with the Dolphins.
TE Anthony Fasano Signs with the Chiefs
Terms: four years, $16 million
The Dolphins tight end was far from flashy, but he had a great grasp of getting open and was a reliable target for Ryan Tannehill. In fact, last year marked Fasano's career-high in receptions, and he tied his 2011 total for touchdown receptions with five.
They were said to be in the running for tight end Jared Cook, but he signed with the Rams.
Now, the Dolphins are left with some question marks at tight end. Charles Clay and Michael Egnew have combined for 34 career receptions, with Clay accounting for all 34 of those receptions. Clay was a sixth-round pick in 2011, and Egnew was a third-round pick last year.
Dolphins Sign WR Mike Wallace
Raise your hand if you saw this coming, because I sure did.
The Dolphins desperately needed someone to stretch the field, and they have all the money in the world to throw around to make that happen. They went out and picked up the best deep threat on the open market, and of course, they'll be paying out the nose to get him in the fold.
From a pure need standpoint, this was a slam dunk. Whether it pans out for the Dolphins in the long run will remain to be seen.
His ability to create explosive plays was much more evident from 2009-2010 (40 receptions of 20 yards or more) than it has been recently (27 such receptions), but the Dolphins hope that he can find some of that old magic catching passes from a new quarterback.
Dolphins Re-Sign S Chris Clemons
Terms: one year, terms unknown
Re-signing Clemons is not quite as splashy as some of the Dolphins other moves, but he's no slouch either. He allowed just a 52.4 passer rating into his coverage last year, and missed just nine of his 99 tackle attempts last year according to ProFootballFocus.com.
The move is a necessary one for the continuity of the secondary. The Dolphins risk losing cornerback Sean Smith to free agency. Couple that with last season's trade of cornerback Vontae Davis and the potential departure of Clemons was seen as something to avoid.
Last year marked Clemons' first full 16-game season as starter (he started 15 games in 2010), and he finished tied for third on the team in tackles with fellow safety Reshad Jones.
Dolphins Sign LB Dannell Ellerbe
Well, this one came out of left field, although with the news that the Dolphins have released Dansby, the signing certainly makes sense.
Dansby was brought in to help implement a 3-4 defense, and was asked to move to 4-3 Mike linebacker when the Dolphins switched fronts in 2012. Ellerbe comes from a 3-4 front in Baltimore, where he was a Will inside linebacker. He should still be a fit in the 4-3, though.
Ellerbe had his most productive season during the Ravens’ Super Bowl run, notching 4.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. He finished second on the team behind Bernard Pollard in tackles (69) in 13 games.
Ellerbe started more games (seven) and had more tackles (69) and sacks (4.5) than in any season of his career. Paired with Phillip Wheeler and Koa Misi, the Dolphins now have a dynamic trio of athletic linebackers at the second level.
Dolphins Released LB Karlos Dansby
Financial: clears $3.925 million off the cap
The Ellerbe signing came as a bit of a surprise, but this release was not much of a surprise afterward.
The Dolphins brought Dansby in as part of a 3-4 defense, but the Dolphins have since switched to a 4-3. They asked him to move to middle linebacker last year, where he had never played, and although he did so admirably, they felt more comfortable calling in the cavalry.
Dansby is a solid run-defending linebacker, but his skills in pass defense left something to be desired—both in coverage and as a pass-rusher. He allowed 68.5 percent completions into his coverage and a 102 passer rating, and logged just 11 combined quarterback pressures (hurries, hits and sacks) on 126 pass rush attempts.
His career is not over, but he's just not a fit for the fast-paced style of defense Kevin Coyle wants to run.
Dolphins Sign LB Philip Wheeler
Apparently, the Dolphins thought it would be fun to make one move everyone knew they'd make and then a bunch of other moves no one saw coming.
Wheeler himself is not a bad player. He was a two-down player for the Colts for years before joining the Raiders, where he played 98.5 percent of the defensive snaps last year. ProFootballFocus.com gave him high marks in pass defense, where he excelled in coverage and as a pass-rusher.
He doesn't contribute much against the run, but with such a solid defensive line, they could afford to sacrifice a little size and strength for a lot of athleticism and speed at the second level.
I didn't see linebacker as a huge need for the Dolphins headed into the free agency period, and I still think there are bigger needs to fill. How about cornerback, tight end, perhaps offensive tackle if Jake Long leaves, and perhaps running back—not if, but when Reggie Bush leaves?
Dolphins Release LB Kevin Burnett
Financial: clears $3.2 million off the cap
Once again, surprise free-agent signee followed by not-so-surprise veteran release.
Burnett was a bit more surprising a release than Dansby, if only because he played very well last year and seemed to be gelling fine in the 4-3 defense (although he, too, was brought in to help implement the 3-4).
Wheeler graded out better than Burnett across the board—overall, run defense, pass rush and pass coverage—according to ProFootballFocus.com, and Wheeler's cap hit will come in at a lower average than Burnett's, making this some rather easy math once the signing was done.
RB Reggie Bush Signs with the Lions
The Dolphins lost their most explosive playmaker of the past two seasons, but they were hardly blindsided by it. In fact, the writing has been on the wall for some time now, as the Dolphins still hadn't made Bush an offer as of last month.
Now, the Dolphins will roll with Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas at running back. They are hoping to get the most out of Miller's agility and speed, a skill set which is strikingly similar to Bush's (though on a less elite level) and with Thomas more of a between-the-tackles runner, it looks like the Dolphins will employ a backfield-by-committee which has become en vogue in the NFL.
Miller averaged five yards per carry in 2012, while Thomas averaged just 3.4. The Dolphins may still want to bring in another back to compete and to complete the stable.
CB Sean Smith Signs with the Chiefs
Terms: three-year, $18 million contract with the Chiefs
It's fairly telling that this departure wasn't met with any particular melancholy from Dolphins fans.
Smith would have been a nice piece to keep around in the secondary at the right price, but there wasn't any evidence that he would ever "get it" and become a true shutdown cornerback.
Did the Dolphins make a smart move letting him walk? At $6 million per year, Smith didn't get quite what he was hoping for, but right now, the market is dictating that figure to be closer to a starting cornerback's worth. He would make a solid No. 2 cornerback (which he was supposed to be, before the Dolphins traded Vontae Davis) but was never meant to be a No. 1.
Smith did have a tendency to get burned at the wrong times, but he wasn't all bad. He has allowed less than 60 percent completions into his coverage in each of the past four years, and 56.9 percent overall, but has seen 16 touchdowns into his coverage while nabbing just five interceptions.
The Dolphins don't have any great fallback options, but at $6 million per year, they didn't think Smith was worth keeping around. Whether they were right or wrong will not be known until the games are played.
Dolphins Sign TE Dustin Keller
A one-year stop-gap solution to the problems at tight end? Sure, why not.
Keller brings a good deal to the table as a receiving tight end, and was a favorite target for Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez when the Jets were at their most successful from 2009 to 2010, and even as they began trending downward in 2011. He hauled in 193 of 333 passes in his direction (58 percent) for 2,341 yards and 14 touchdowns in the past four seasons, leading the team in every category but touchdowns over that period, where he was second only to Santonio Holmes' 15.
That being said, he's not going to add much as a run-blocker, where ProFootballFocus.com has graded him negatively in four of the past five years (his only positive season coming in 2010).
After tight end Anthony Fasano fled for greener (redder?) pastures in Kansas City, the Dolphins (understandably) were not comfortable with either Charles Clay and/or Michael Egnew as their starting tight end(s). This offers a low-risk insurance policy should those players fail to develop.
Dolphins Sign WR Brandon Gibson
Gibson can line up just about anywhere, but he doesn't get off jams well, so he'll be best suited in the slot. He could also line up outside as the Y receiver, off the line of scrimmage and in a place to create yards after the catch.
The Dolphins continue to add to Ryan Tannehill's arsenal in the passing game, with the versatile slot receiver Gibson rounding out a three-receiver core which should feature Wallace, Hartline, Gibson...and Davone Bess.
Wait, that's four receivers.
A five-receiver set consisting of those four wide receivers and Keller would present matchup problems all over the field with players capable of picking up yards after the catch. That's how Joe Philbin's West Coast offense worked in Green Bay, and that's how it should work with Tannehill in the pocket and with so many threats to throw to, he should be poised for a breakout season.
LT Jake Long Signs with the Rams
Terms: four-year, $36 million contract with the Rams
It always seems like the end of the world after losing a first-round pick at a key position, and one who had played so well for years up until recently.
There was reason enough to be apprehensive, though, about Long's long-term future in the NFL.
At just 28 years old, Jake Long has already begun showing signs of slowing down, and has missed six games with injuries over the past two years. He finished the 2012 season on injured reserve with a torn triceps, and has had multiple surgeries on both arms.
Plus, his play has dipped of late. He gave up pressure on the quarterback nearly twice as often from 2011-2012 as he had from 2008-2010.
Initially, Long was looking for $11 million per year, but didn't end up getting as much as he thought. It was still more, presumably, than the offer he got from Miami.
When Long went down at the end of the season, right tackle Jonathan Martin moved to the left side and backup tackle Nate Garner became the starting right tackle. Garner remains a free agent, so the Dolphins will have to get him back in the fold if they want to keep the continuity from the end of the 2012 season.
Dolphins Re-Sign OT Nate Garner
Terms: three-year, $4.875 million
After losing Jake Long, this was a necessary move.
Long's season-ending torn triceps was the catalyst for a seismic shift on the offensive line. Right tackle Jonathan Martin flipped to the left side. Backup tackle Nate Garner filled in at right tackle in Martin's place for the final four games of the season, stepping in from the moment Long went down to play a total of 96.6 percent of the snaps in the final five games, starting the final four and playing every snap in those games.
He played well, giving up just five pressures and one sack in the first four games of that stretch, but a disastrous Week 17 against the Patriots saw him give up six pressures and a sack. In his defense, though, the entire offensive line looked dreadful that day (seven sacks total).
The signing allows the Dolphins to target either a left tackle or a right tackle, although Martin's natural position—and the one he was drafted to play—is left tackle.
Garner is a good fit for the zone-blocking scheme, and if the Dolphins were to line up today, their starting offensive line could be the same unit that ended the 2012 season.