Grading Every Miami Dolphins Major Offseason Move to Date
For all intents and purposes, the offseason is officially over for the Miami Dolphins.
The signing season saw Miami make the biggest waves in free agency, while the draft saw the Dolphins as one of the most active teams.
After rookie minicamp and OTAs, we're now a mere month away from training camp in Davie, with most of the pieces for the Dolphins firmly in place.
So what better time than now* to take a look at the Dolphins offseason and grade their major moves. From the signing of Mike Wallace, to the big trade up for Dion Jordan, we will be taking a look at Miami's biggest free agency signings and draft trades and assessing what grade they deserve for their risks.
Of course, the real grade will come at the end of next season with the simple question of whether or not the Dolphins made the playoffs. But for now, these preliminary grades should give you a general idea of how well the Dolphins navigated the NFL's 2013 offseason.
*Of course, a better time would be if or when the Dolphins wind up signing fullback Vontae Leach, however, that grade will come when and if a signing is announced.
The Re-Signing of Brian Hartline
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This was an important and essential re-signing for the Miami Dolphins to make, and became a bargain relatively quickly.
There were questions about re-signing Hartline, mainly stemming from the fact that despite a breakout 2012 season, he did only score one touchdown. Tight end Anthony Fasano scored more but was let go, although that was partially due to schematic reasons.
Hartline's biggest value was the chemistry he had already developed with quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill looked for Hartline early and often last season, leading to a team-leading 74 receptions for 1,083 yards to go along with his lone touchdown.
Hartline also had some value to the Dolphins in the sense that he would've been a great fit in New England had he been available to the Patriots, who lost wide receiver Wes Welker to the Denver Broncos. The Patriots would sign Amendola to a five-year $28.5 million deal as opposed to Hartline's five-year $30.775 million deal, but Hartline is the more reliable of the two receivers, since Amendola has a reputation for being more injury prone.
Overall, it was a good re-signing for the Dolphins, as they were able to keep a core piece of their offense without going above his market value.
Randy Starks Franchise Tag
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Miami's biggest strength in 2012 was it's defensive line, which remains a key strength in 2013.
This would be the case had they allowed Randy Starks to go, but it wouldn't be as assured as it is with Starks coming back for at least one more season.
For 29-year old Starks, it's likely that it will be his final season with the Dolphins. Miami has attempted to go younger on defense, and with both Starks and Soliai as impending free agents in 2014, it is likely that the Dolphins will have to keep one or the other.
By giving them at least one more year of the Randy Starks-Paul Soliai center of the defensive line, Miami has stability while allowing their younger players to continue to develop. This creates a deeper unit that will allow for the line to be fresher and more effective at the end of the game.
At the same time, unless Miami works out an extension with Starks (which I wouldn't bet on), it allows them to not be hamstrung in the long-term by an aging player in the years after 2013.
Philip Wheeler Signing
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No one had the Dolphins going after linebackers during free agency, so it shocked everyone that they wound up with the top two available LB's.
Philip Wheeler was the second linebacker signed, and he provides the Dolphins a skill that they have lacked for the better part of the last five years—the ability to successfully cover the tight end.
Wheeler provides this ability, as he is quicker than either Kevin Burnett or Karlos Dansby and worked great in coverage last season in Oakland.
However, the questions will arise over whether Wheeler was just a one-year wonder or if he could sustain this for the long term.
Miami was going to have to shake up their linebacking corps for sometime and get younger at the position. Signing Wheeler does just that, but proving he can be a consistent performer will be key.
Dannell Ellerbe Signing
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In keeping with Miami's goal of getting younger at linebacker, the Dolphins surprised everyone by signing Dannell Ellerbe, considered one of the biggest names on the free-agent market as well as one of the most important players for the Ravens to re-sign.
Of course, signing with the Dolphins turned him into an almost sure-fire bust and a dumb signing according to the media, but that's for another discussion.
For the Dolphins, however, it gives them a leader at linebacker with valuable playoff experience who learned a bit from one of the best to play the position while at the same time weakening the defense of a team who Miami will likely have to compete with for one of the two wild-card spots in the AFC. That's a double win for Miami on that front.
Ellerbe's signing also allows the Dolphins to get younger at the position, which along with the Wheeler signing meant that Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett would find their way out of Miami.
Of course, Ellerbe does have the same questions surrounding him as Wheeler in the sense that there's the possibility that he was a one-year wonder. However considering Ellerbe's playoff performance, he is a bit more battle-tested.
Brent Grimes Signing
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Needed for Miami's secondary: a big play cornerback who plays well in a zone scheme in order to replace a solid cornerback that didn't fit in a zone scheme and often failed to make big plays.
Found: Brent Grimes, who fits each of those categories.
Grimes missed all of 2012 with an Achilles Tendon tear, which led to his affordability and Miami's ability to give him a one-year deal. If he's the Brent Grimes we saw in 2010 and 2011, he's exactly what Miami needs in the secondary.
He's not a burner, but he will be able to cover a team's best receiver well, and he won't just tip passes, but rather pick them off. For a zone scheme, this fits well, and in fact I even called it their free agent acquisition with the biggest impact back in April, even mentioning how he will help whomever the Dolphins pick up to play corner in the draft.
That's exactly why he was brought into Miami, and along with his bargain one-year, $5.5 million deal is exactly why this signing is an A+.
Brandon Gibson Signing
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It's clear that Miami needed an upgrade at wide receiver, so it's no surprised that they went after as many receivers in free agency as possible.
We'll get to the biggest signing at the position in a little bit, but first we'll tackle the signing of Rams' wide receiver Brandon Gibson.
Gibson had a decent year for the Rams that couldn't exactly be considered great, but decent fits it right. He did have a couple of very good games, most notably against the Dolphins (where he caught seven passes for 91 yards, including a spectacular one-handed catch) as well as against the Bills where he caught six passes for 100 yards and a touchdown.
For the season, Gibson put up the numbers you would consider to be very good from a number three receiver, grabbing 51 catches for 691 yards and five touchdowns. Will he be able to reach that with the Dolphins? It seems very likely with Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline more likely to be covered down the field.
Davone Bess Trade
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This trade takes me through a wide range of emotions.
With Davone Bess, the Dolphins have a very good wide receiver set. The talk of Bess not being too versatile is a load of bologna, as I've seen him do well on the edges in addition to what he can do in the slot.
Bess isn't a Pro Bowl receiver, but he's a very good one who already had developed a chemistry with Ryan Tannehill, something that remains vital to Tannehill's growth going into year two.
So why did Miami take it away by trading Bess to the Cleveland Browns? Partly because of issues Bess had with Dolphins management in addition to the fact that he will be a free agent after the 2014 season. Where I do agree with this trade is where it allowed the Dolphins to move up in the fourth round, which enabled them to draft Jelani Jenkins in round four.
Better to get a potential future starter at linebacker who will mostly play special teams in his rookie year than nothing, right? Actually, this does make sense as the Dolphins did need depth at the position.
So this grade was tough, since it does make sense, even though it meant that the Dolphins wide receiver corps isn't what it could be for at least a year.
Trading Up for Dion Jordan
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Usually the Dolphins don't trade up on draft day or make a big splash. In fact, such behavior is discouraged, especially since the idea of moving from the No. 12 pick to the No. 3 pick would mean giving up a bevy of draft picks.
By bevy of draft picks however, the trade up to No. 3 to draft Dion Jordan meant giving up one of two second-round picks–not two second-rounders, but a second- and third-rounder, or a second-rounder and next year's first-rounder. Just one of two that Miami already had in the bank. Already, the Dolphins win the trade there.
But the Dolphins also won the trade by acquiring Dion Jordan, a player that brings excitement to the defensive end position by giving offensive linemen someone else to think about alongside Cameron Wake when protecting the quarterback. Having Jordan will be huge for the Dolphins in this aspect, and for that, the Dolphins already win the trade if he just becomes an elite pass rusher.
But Jordan can actually become more than just that with a rare set of tools that allowed him to play linebacker and even in the secondary while at Oregon. He's the most likely Defensive Rookie of The Year candidate, and his versatility is the reason for that.
All it cost the Dolphins was a second-round pick in order to get him. If Jordan pans out like he should, it will be a bargain.
Dustin Keller Signing
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Strengthening a key position: check.
Stealing one of the best offensive weapons away from a bitter division rival: check.
Signing a player who has done well against the division and knows it well already: check.
Providing a reliable option for Ryan Tannehill: check.
Nothing to hate about the Dustin Keller acquisition, but plenty to love. It's really as simple as going through the checklist to see why this was such a good move. The cost (one-year, $3.25 million with a $1 million signing bonus), makes the deal even better.
Mike Wallace Signing
Speed kills. Speed is good. Speed is what the Dolphins offense needed, and what the Dolphins offense has in Mike Wallace.
Wallace is probably now the third most important man on offense behind only Ryan Tannehill and left tackle Jonathan Martin (and I bet a lot of you said "Dear, God no!" after I mentioned Martin as being important, but the left tackle position is pretty dang important anyways) in regards to the Dolphins success.
It will take him a while to really find a groove with the Dolphins, but you will likely see his effect in Miami from day one, as now safeties can't play the run all of the time, while Wallace drawing double coverages will free up the field for Hartline, Gibson, Keller and Lamar Miller.
That alone isn't worth what the Dolphins paid for the speedy former Steelers (five years, $60 million with $27 million guaranteed), but if he adds the production to go alongside the help to the offense, then he becomes a properly paid asset (or as properly paid as one could be with the staggering salary).
Right now, this might be the biggest Dolphins splash of the offseason, however it only results in a B- due to the amount of money being spent on him. This will change depending on his performance though.
All salary information provided by spotrac.com. Be sure to tweet any questions about the Dolphins to either Thomas' personal Twitter account or to @DolphinsCentral in order to be included in the Dolphins Central mailbag on the Dolphins Central Podcast. This week, Thomas welcomes Miami Heat writer Ryan Yousefi aka @RizzWrites from The Miami New Times as well as OnlyGators.com and Rivals.com's Adam Silverstein to the Dolphins Central Podcast on Pro Football Central Radio. Be sure to tune on on Wednesday Night!