Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins 2013 Free Agency: Jeff Ireland's Risky Gambit

Dec 2, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland prior to a game against the New England Patriots at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY
USA TODAY Sports
Alessandro MiglioFeatured ColumnistMarch 14, 2013

Jeff Ireland has been a busy man over the past week.

Of course, this was not unexpected. The embattled general manager of the Miami Dolphins is likely on his last legs if the team does not improve, and he came out swinging in free agency.

Jeff Ireland is spending money like this could be his last year. Well, it might be.

— Pete Prisco (@PriscoCBS) March 13, 2013

Jeff Ireland--you go, girl

— Michael Silver (@MikeSilver) March 12, 2013

Of course, nothing is guaranteed in free agency, and there is certainly risk involved. Namely, the money Ireland has committed to a few players could prove disastrous.

Before free agency even hit, Ireland re-signed Brian Hartline to a polarizing, five-year, $30.77 million deal. Then he finally landed the big fish, signing Mike Wallace to a five-year, $60 million contract.

He followed that up with some unexpected moves, inking Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler for five years while shedding Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett.

What does this all mean for Miami? Well, the obvious answer to that is they need to put up or Ireland will be run out of town once and for all.

Performance aside, how will these contracts affect Miami's future? Details of Wallace's contract were finally revealed, unveiling a startling second-year cap number of $17.2 million for the speedy receiver. That is the second-largest cap hit at the position for 2014, just behind Larry Fitzgerald.

In fact, all four of the big contracts Ireland has handed out jump in the second year. Here is the breakdown of the cap numbers for those players over the next two seasons (via Spotrac.com):

That is a lot of cheddar for four players, even if Wallace's contract makes up almost half of that 2014 number. The Dolphins cannot cut these players to alter any of those cap numbers because all those deals are fully guaranteed for at least two seasons. (Wallace's is fully guaranteed through three if he is on the roster next season.)

The good news is that Miami still has an incredible amount of cap space for 2013 despite these moves.

The $10.1 million combined cap hit is mitigated by the cap savings from cutting Dansby and Burnett, which should save close to that amount. Depending on whose math you trust, Miami has anywhere between $21 million and $33 million left in cap space for this season. My math has them around $30 million, though some of that must be allocated to signing rookies.

More big moves can certainly be made, it seems, but should Ireland continue to spend money like water? The cap increases alone for these four contracts is daunting.

So what can Miami do to mitigate the big increase next season? There are a couple of things.

First, Ireland can slow his roll in free agency. He already did that by letting Reggie Bush and seemingly Jake Long walk. The new CBA allows teams to roll any extra cap space over to the following season. That means Ireland can hoard 2013 cap space and apply it to 2014. 

If the Dolphins wind up with, say, $12 million in cap space after the free-agent dust settles and rookies are signed, that money can be applied towards next year's cap. That's about one-third of the cap hit for the aforementioned Big Four they have signed thus far. 

Another way the Dolphins can limit the damage is to restructure Mike Wallace's deal next year. He is due to make $15 million in base salary, which can be converted to a signing bonus should they so choose. That would drop Wallace's cap hit from $17.2 million to about $9.25 million if the entire base is converted, but that will increase his cap hit for subsequent seasons.

Other notable savings will come when Randy Starks' franchise tender of $8.4 million comes off the books, assuming Ireland doesn't re-sign him to a long-term deal before then. Paul Soliai will also shake loose as a free agent if he is not retained.

At any rate, Dolphins fans had better hope Jeff Ireland's sense of self-preservation does not overcome his common sense. NFL history is littered with tales of woe from crippled franchises because of foolish spending ways.

Miami could be on that path if Ireland isn't careful.

 

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