The Miami Dolphins have been winners so far in NFL free agency. And not the kind of "winner" they were last year, when they threw huge and unnecessary amounts of money at Mike Wallace, Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe.
This year, they've done things in a much more reasonable way. They've filled their biggest need, re-signed two key players and filled a couple more spots with shrewd deals.
Branden Albert was signed for too much money, and I've made it clear before that left tackle is overrated in the NFL and there are concerns about Albert's durability, but it's hard to hate too much on this deal.
Dawn Aponte seems to have made the contract work pretty well for Miami despite its big headline tag of five years and $47 million, which is what the Miami Herald put up on Tuesday.
Branden Albert's deal has $26M in guarantees ($8.5M signing bonus, $2.5M '14 base salary, $9M '15 base salary & $6M for injury in '16).— Joel Corry (@corryjoel) March 12, 2014
Don't just pay attention to the headlines for contracts, because those huge numbers are often a bit misleading. Fans will clamor that Albert got more money "overall" than both Eugene Monroe and Jared Veldheer, but the deal isn't as lopsided as it seems.
Those final two years on Albert's contract are essentially not guaranteed, and Miami could cut him then like we've seen happen to a number of big names in the past 48 hours.
Albert should fit into the zone-blocking scheme perfectly, and he will give Miami a real solid look at what Ryan Tannehill is made of in his third season.
Miami's first signing of the official free-agency period was a solid one, picking up Louis Delmas to replace Chris Clemons in the secondary.
Delmas is a passionate, hard-hitting enforcer who also has some ball skills and should complement Reshad Jones well. His deal, according to James Walker of ESPN, is for just one year and $3.5 million. Delmas will have to prove he can stay healthy for an entire season before signing a bigger contract.
Miami simultaneously released the talented, but injury-prone and overpaid, Dimitri Patterson, which freed up about $5 million in cap space and was a very smart move.
The Dolphins re-signing of Brent Grimes (per ESPN) happened before free agency technically began, but it was still a very good deal nonetheless.
Grimes was Miami's best player on either side of the ball last season, and a four-year deal with $16 million guaranteed is a reasonable agreement.
While he's on the wrong side of 30 now, Grimes thrives on with his instincts and intensity, and seems like he keeps himself in great shape. He will be effective for the duration of his contract. This contract was expected, but Miami's other re-signing was not.
I was very surprised when the Miami Herald announced the re-signing of Randy Starks, and I was shocked that it was only for a maximum of $12 million total over two years.
With really only one year guaranteed, Starks will continue to play with the edge he does without ruffling any feathers too much. I was expecting him to get well north of $7 million or even $7.5 million on the open market.
Regardless, it's a great acquisition for Miami, and made even better alongside the thrifty pickup of defensive tackle Earl Mitchell.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that the deal is for four years and $16 million, with just $9 million guaranteed. That's a heck of an investment for Miami, because Mitchell is a good player.
The former Houston Texan told the Herald's Armando Salguero that he was excited to play in the 4-3, and I think it's a great fit as well. Mitchell is a true 3-tech player who can shoot the gap and get to the quarterback from the inside while also plugging holes in the run game.
This gives Miami arguably the most athletic defensive line in the entire league. Starks and Mitchell combine with Dion Jordan, Cam Wake, Olivier Vernon and Jared Odrick to make a talented and versatile front four.
But while there's a lot to be excited about, don't get ahead of yourselves just yet. Keep things in perspective and remember that Miami improved by just one win after spending big last year.
And the Dolphins certainly still have plenty of work to do. There are still three gaping holes on the offensive line, and they can't be filled solely through the draft.
But while Miami's big signings are over, there is certainly more work to do.
It will regret missing out on guards Jon Asamoah and Zane Beadles, but Davin Joseph and Uche Nwaneri are still available and won't be too costly.
Zach Strief and Michael Oher are two serviceable right tackles who are still waiting to be picked up. Miami could seriously benefit by locking in another veteran tackle to help out Tannehill.
The offensive line is still very much a work in progress. Sam Brenner and Dallas Thomas can't be counted on as starters, and Miami won't want to use all of its high picks on the line.
There's also a couple of running backs out there, although I'm not too high on overspending for one in free agency. But if Maurice Jones-Drew would be willing to take a small, short-term deal, then that would be fine.
Miami also has some potential room for improvement on the defensive side of the ball. With the departures of both Dimitri Patterson and Nolan Carroll, getting a solid veteran corner to play with Grimes has become a need.
This is another hole that shouldn't be solely addressed in the draft, because Miami spent picks last year on Jamar Taylor and Will Davis, who were disappointing as rookies but hopefully can step up and get playing time in 2014.
But they need a sure thing (or two), and there are still some decent deals out there. One is Charles Tillman, who may be 33 years old but still can be good in a No. 2 role and would be another needed leader in the locker room.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie would be a riskier signing, because he will be decently expensive. But he can be a heck of a player when he's on and if Miami isn't confident in bringing up an incumbent as the No. 2 then DRC would complete a scary secondary.
Finally, Brandon Browner would also be an interesting target. He has to miss the first four games of the 2014 season but is a good player who is a real weapon in the secondary at 6'4". It would be fun to watch him roam around the secondary with Grimes, Jones and Delmas.
The remaining crop of linebackers isn't overly inspiring, but Brandon Spikes could be a big improvement over Dannell Ellerbe. LaMarr Woodley likely isn't on Miami's radar but would be a quality addition as well.
Overall, things have started off well for GM Dennis Hickey and the Dolphins. But there is still a long, long way to go, and teams aren't built in 48 hours in March.