In the NFL, building a winning franchise starts with the draft and continues through several years of smart free-agent acquisitions and salary cap management.
The Miami Dolphins have accelerated the process.
Miami has done a good job adding some youthful talent through the draft in recent years, but what the team did in free agency this offseason goes far beyond any of those efforts. As a result, the Dolphins will be in much better position to make a run at the AFC East title in 2013.
General manager Jeff Ireland wasn’t afraid to go after the players he wanted in free agency, starting with former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace.
Wallace, coming off four tremendous seasons with the Steelers, was arguably the biggest name on the free-agent market, and he cashed in on that status with a five-year, $60 million contract. While the 26-year-old didn’t live up to lofty expectations in 2012 (836 yards and eight touchdowns), he’s still one of the league’s best deep threats, always capable of blowing the top off opposing defenses.
Along with the addition of Wallace, Ireland also struck a new five-year, $31 million deal with the team’s leading receiver in 2012, Brian Hartline. The 26-year-old had a career year with the Dolphins last season in tallying 74 receptions for 1,083 yards, but recorded just one touchdown on the season. With Wallace in the fold, Hartline should garner a lot less attention from opposing defenses and could see a significant increase in red-zone production this season.
But the pair will have to share those targets with newly-acquired wide receiver Brandon Gibson and tight end Dustin Keller as well. Ireland brought in both players via free agency, adding to a receiving corps that is already a massive improvement over its 2012 incarnation. If second-year signal-caller Ryan Tannehill is to have a breakout season, those four players will be the biggest reason for it.
Ireland also went to work on the defensive side of the ball. With the acquisitions of linebackers Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe and cornerback Brent Grimes, the Dolphins also significantly improved their defense heading into the 2013 season.
We’ll delve a little deeper into additional free-agent dealings in the following slideshow, but suffice it to say the Dolphins added a lot more than they lost this offseason.
In the draft, Miami made a surprising decision in moving up to the No. 3 spot for Oregon linebacker Dion Jordan—a player many considered the best front-seven defender in the 2013 class. Jordan has the versatility to play several positions in Miami’s front seven, and at the very least he gives defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle plenty of options.
Let’s take a closer look at Miami’s draft class and various free-agent signings and departures, as well as a few positions to keep an eye on as the 2013 season draws near.