Miami Dolphins: Free Agent Spending Spree in 2013 May Have Negative Effect

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Miami Dolphins: Free Agent Spending Spree in 2013 May Have Negative Effect
Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

The Miami Dolphins will enter the 2014 offseason with around $32 million in cap space, according to OvertheCap.com.

The Dolphins will have key free agents to re-sign, which includes names such as cornerbacks Brent Grimes and Nolan Carroll and defensive tackles Paul Soliai and Randy Starks. The Dolphins likely won't be able to bring back all four players. That's just the nature of the business.

Miami will make a push to re-sign Grimes and will attempt to bring back Soliai and Starks. Other than the players the Dolphins will try to bring back, they will also attempt to fill the void at left tackle and left guard. Left tackle Jonathan Martin will either be released or traded and Richie Incognito is a free agent who won't be brought back, according to Omar Kelly of the Sun-Sentinel.

The team also may have to shore up the running back position. Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas were the primary contributors to a running game that in 2013 ranked just 26th in the NFL.

Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com wrote an article about some of the Dolphins' problems entering the 2014 offseason. A large focus of La Canfora's article was on the Dolphins need to rebuild the offensive line and how much the Dolphins will pay their 2013 free agents Dannell Ellerbe, Philip Wheeler, Brian Hartline and Mike Wallace in 2014.

La Canfora states the following:

The Dolphins will also have to operate around the fact that the contracts for last year's free-agent class (Wallace, Ellerbe, Wheeler, and Hartline) jump up by a collective $27M in cap space from what they accounted for in 2013. All of those contracts are loaded with big salaries for the 2014 season. Wallace alone is guaranteed $15M.

 

The Dolphins have a good amount of cap space available, but combined with the defensive free agents they'll need to bring back, and the fact that quality offensive lineman rarely hit the free-agent market as La Canfora notes, Miami may be doomed for another run at mediocrity in 2014.

In 2012—before the arrival of Ellerbe, Wheeler and Wallace—the Dolphins went 7-9. Miami improved just one game in the win department in 2013, despite handing out contracts to a trio of players that totals $121 million. The three simply brought too little to the table in 2013 to justify the big money that Miami threw at them.

Due to the fact that former general manager Jeff Ireland was on the hot seat, he was forced to make a splash in the 2013 offseason by handing out large contracts to above-average players, rather than to guys capable of lifting the Dolphins from mediocrity into playoff contention.

Miami Dolphins' Key 2013 Free-Agent Signings
Player Years Average Salary Per Year Guaranteed Total Signing Bonus Total Total Money
WR Mike Wallace 5 $12 million $27 million $11 million $60 million
LB Dannell Ellerbe 5 $6.950 million $14 million $7 million $34.750 million
LB Philip Wheeler 5 $5.2 million $13 million $7 million $26 million
WR Brian Hartline 5 $6.155 million $12.5 million $7 million $30.775 million

OvertheCap.com

Ellerbe and Wheeler replaced incumbent starters Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett, but the Dolphins actually regressed on run defense in 2013. With Dansby and Burnett in the lineup, the Dolphins ranked 13th in rushing yards allowed in 2012 and 10th in yards per attempt. Last season, with Ellerbe and Wheeler, the Dolphins ranked 24th and 18th, respectively.

Wallace was handed a five-year, $60 million contract by Ireland, but he struggled to develop chemistry with quarterback Ryan Tannehill during the season. Wallace had 73 receptions for 930 yards and five touchdowns. The Dolphins did not sign Wallace to a contract that will pay him $12 million a year so he could perform at a solid level. They paid him with the intention that he'd be a game-changer at wide receiver.

As underwhelming and disappointing as three signings were in 2013, their performances were overshadowed by the Martin-Incognito saga that engulfed the Dolphins' season. Still, figures such as quarterback Tannehill, head coach Joe Philbin, ex-general manager Jeff Ireland and ex-offensive coordinator Mike Sherman took the brunt of the blame for Miami's sub-.500 season.

Another reason for concern about the contracts offered Wallace, Wheeler and Ellerbe is with the way their deals were structured. All three counted just a little over $9 million toward the Dolphins' salary cap in 2013.

That all changes in 2014.

Wallace will be paid a guaranteed salary of $15 million, and when you include his prorated and workout bonuses, he'll have a total cap hit of $17.25 million. Wallace is due to be the highest-paid receiver in the NFL in 2014, via OvertheCap.com.

Ellerbe will have a cap hit of $7.425 million with a guaranteed salary of $6 million. Wheeler will have a cap hit of $6.4 million with a guaranteed salary of $5 million.

Despite all three players contributing very little to helping the Dolphins improve in 2013, Miami will be stuck with the trio in 2014. The good news is all three guys no longer have guaranteed salaries after 2014. So unless they perform to the level of their contracts, they are likely cap casualties in 2015.

With the Dolphins being forced to rebuild the left side of the offensive line, fielding a defense with two overpaid linebackers and a secondary and defensive line the stability of which is contingent on re-signing a couple of free agents and featuring a solid receiver who is paid like an elite one—he will take up one-ninth of the Dolphins cap space this season alone—it's hard to envision the Dolphins ending their run of mediocrity in 2014.

Over the past five seasons, the Dolphins have finished the regular season with the following records since 2009: 7-9, 7-9, 6-10, 7-9 and 8-8.

Due to the current situation the Dolphins are under, it will take a great season by Tannehill and unexpected solid contributions from younger players and rookie draft picks in order for the Dolphins to be a true playoff contender in 2014.

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