Why the Miami Dolphins Won 2013 NFL Free Agency

Thomas Galicia@thomasgaliciaContributor IIMarch 18, 2013

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 04: Mike Wallace #17 of the Pittsburgh Steelers scores in front of Brian Witherspoon #29 of the New York Giants  during their game at MetLife Stadium on November 4, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

As many experts and fans of other teams would like to point out, teams don't win the NFL in March. However, the Miami Dolphins have won free agency this season.

Flush with cap room, the Dolphins managed to build a team that has pieces that better fit what head coach Joe Philbin is attempting to do in Miami, both on the field and from a culture standpoint.

Did it take Miami overpaying some players to do so? Most definitely. While there was some fear that other teams would attempt to sign Mike Wallace, it appears the Dolphins were only bidding against themselves for the services of the former Pittsburgh Steelers deep threat. You could even make the argument that they overpaid for linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler, who replaced older mainstays Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett.

Overpaid or not, the Dolphins did what they had to do and signed players that needed to be signed, even if it came at the cost of Jake Long (who fits better in St. Louis' blocking scheme), Sean Smith (a press corner in a zone scheme in 2012), Anthony Fasano (a good player, but in a position Miami has upgraded) and Reggie Bush (this one stings, but Lamar Miller does have promise).

Let's look at the signing of "one-trick pony" Mike Wallace. Wallace will be a deep threat with Miami, a team that appears to have its quarterback of the future. Ryan Tannehill, at one point, was at his best throwing deep balls.

His skills even impressed rival AFC East coach Rex Ryan of the New York Jets, who said (per Adam H. Beasley, The Miami Herald):

It’s been unusual for a rookie or any about else to have that kind of accuracy on the deep ball. He takes shots and hangs in there and makes accurate throws down the field. It’s been impressive.

Of course, Tannehill's accuracy did go down, mainly due to a combination of dropped passes, overthrows and overthrows due to receivers who lack speed. Wallace might lack elite route-running skills, but he does have the speed to go along with Tannehill's ability to throw the deep pass.

This also opens up Miami's running game, as defenses will have to stack the box at their own risk. Considering how well Tannehill utilizes play action, seeing him hit a streaking Wallace on a play-action pass will be extremely fun for Dolphins fans.

The other beneficiaries of the Wallace signing include three players who are also a part of Miami's free-agent haul: Brandon Gibson, Dustin Keller and the re-signed Brian Hartline.

Hartline was at his best at the beginning of last season, when defenses still couldn't figure out who Miami's No. 1 receiver was, and became Tannehill's main safety valve. With Wallace drawing double teams and the additions of Keller and Gibson (and of course the man who will likely stay in Miami, Davone Bess), Hartline will once again find himself against single coverage, which should lead to another 1,000-plus-yard receiving season as well as more touchdowns.

Gibson's role, for now, looks like that of Bess' replacement, as the latter is an impending free agent in 2014. However, Gibson can do more than play the slot; he can line up on the outside as well, if need be.

In Dustin Keller, Miami manages to pull the double-whammy of not only improving the team and quarterback, but also significantly weakening a divisional rival. In seven games against the Dolphins, he had 35 catches for 395 yards and four touchdowns while scorching Miami's linebackers.

While in Miami, Keller is expected to be Tannehill's security blanket, just as he was for Mark Sanchez for the last four years in New York.

Of course, as mentioned earlier, Keller wreaked havoc on Miami's linebackers in the past, and that position is where the Dolphins made a huge improvement—not so much in skill, but in youth.

Ellerbe and Wheeler aren't much younger than the Dansby-Burnett combo they replaced, with their ages of 27 and 28, respectively (Dansby is 31; Burnett is 30). However, both Ellerbe and Wheeler will be much less expensive over the short and long term, as their cap numbers are both cheaper than either of Miami's former linebackers.

Miami's strategy seems clear: use free agency to address some of the players at skill positions, then use the draft to upgrade positions you've succeeded in evaluating in the past (offensive line, secondary and possibly finding a pass-rusher opposite Cameron Wake). It's a smart strategy that actually takes some of the guesswork out of a draft where Miami is already set up with five picks in the first three rounds.

After all of its signings, Miami is still in fairly good shape to make at least one more big splash with its $17.79 million in cap room. When factoring in at least $6 million set aside for draft picks, the Dolphins have $11.79 million left to spend for the 2013 season and can still find money elsewhere by extending the franchise-tagged Randy Starks and a few other players.

This could potentially lead to Elvis Dumervil entering the building, which would make Miami's 2013 offseason an even bigger victory than it appears to be right now.


Statistics used courtesy of pro-football-reference.com. Salary cap numbers courtesy of spotrac.com.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/10/25/3065964/at-distance-miami-dolphins-ryan.html#storylink=cpy