Miami Dolphins Made the Right Choice to Not Overpay for a Left Tackle
After an offseason where the Miami Dolphins spent a ton of money in free agency and had a bevy of draft choices, they chose to sit back in the tackle market while picking up other pieces.
While many questioned the decision to rely on Jonathan Martin at left tackle, recent history shows that the importance of left tackles has diminished rapidly.
Contrary to the popular notion that a left tackle is a "building block" of a franchise, and should be treated as such, many of the most successful teams of the last half-decade have actually relied on less-than-great left tackles. Some of the best left tackles have clogged up the salary cap of weaker squads.
There have been 12 left tackles drafted in the top 10 since 2004. Those 12 players signed deals that collectively total over $500 million, yet just three of them have won even a single playoff game.
Over the past decade, there was a significant increase in the consensus opinion regarding the value of left tackles. Protecting a quarterback's "blindside", a term made famous after the movie about Michael Oher's unique path to the NFL, became a necessity to building a great offense.
By the way, Oher doesn't even play left tackle anymore. He was on the right side when Baltimore won the Super Bowl this past February.
More specifically, the thought was that in order to create a high-octane passing offense, which has become more widespread around the NFL, was only possible with an elite left tackle protecting a strong-armed quarterback.
The facts, however, paint a different story when it comes to the relationship between successful teams, passing attacks, and left tackles.
Nine different quarterbacks have played in the past five Super Bowls. Kurt Warner, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, Tom Brady, Colin Kaepernick, and Joe Flacco are all elite players (except for Kaepernick, who seems like he could be on that path).
So there are eight elite quarterbacks who have played in the past five Super Bowls. Now I'll name the left tackles who have protected those signal callers.
Mike Gandy, Max Starks, Charlie Johnson, Jermon Bushrod, Trai Essex, Chad Clifton, Matt Light, David Diehl, and Bryant McKinnie are not exactly household names.
Diehl, Light, and Clifton were all solid veterans who were mostly past their primes during their team's Super Bowl season. The rest of the players are a mixture of underachievers, multi-position linemen, and backups who played just well enough when forced into starter roles.
When you look at some of the top left tackles in the NFL, who played for teams like the Dolphins, Titans, Browns, and pre-Peyton Manning Broncos, they were mostly unsuccessful teams who didn't make any runs in the playoffs.
So why are left tackles still valued at such a premium when they seem to have little effect on the success of teams? This is the point of Football Outsiders' Andy Benoit, who makes a compelling case for teams to not take left tackles with high picks, as was the case in the 2013 draft.
According to these facts and logic, it seems like not only did Miami make the smart pick with Dion Jordan third overall, but that if they get just average play from Jonathan Martin, they can still be a productive team.
It looks like Jeff Ireland, the general manager for the Dolphins, was paying attention to this information when he decided not to overpay for a left tackle. He put more assets into acquiring receivers, tight ends, cornerbacks, and pass-rushers, who probably have a bigger impact in both creating your own lethal passing attack while stifling others'.
Martin is a talented player. He started at left tackle for a successful Stanford team, protecting one of the best quarterbacks in the world in Andrew Luck.
If he can continue to develop and get stronger, he still has the potential to be a top-tier left tackle in Miami's new zone-blocking scheme. But even if he doesn't, the Dolphins could still be very successful if everyone else plays well around him.
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