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Miami Dolphins: The 7 Best Free-Agent Signings in Franchise History

Tyler ManginContributor IAugust 9, 2011

Miami Dolphins: The 7 Best Free-Agent Signings in Franchise History

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    The year 1966 was the Miami Dolphins' inaugural season in the AFL East and by 1973 they had appeared in three Super Bowls under Don Shula.

    In its 46-year history, the franchise has won two Super Bowls, five AFC Championships, 13 division titles and made 22 playoff appearances.

    A franchise this successful is built on the talents of its players, coaches and managers, and although many of the Dolphins' all-time greats were drafted by the franchise, there are many excellent, even legendary, players who were originally acquired as free agents.  

    So, as free agency winds down leading up the 2011 NFL season, let's take a moment to look back at the seven best free-agent signings in Miami Dolphins' franchise history.

    In the spirit of full disclosure, the discussion will look beyond players whose contracts have expired and include all unrestricted free agents, including waiver acquisitions and undrafted rookies.

7. Cameron Wake, OLB

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    Seasons with Miami and Accolades

    2009 - current

    • one-time Pro-Bowl
    • one-time second-team All-Pro

    Wake was undrafted out of Penn State in 2005 and was signed and cut by the NY Giants prior to the ‘05 season.  He was away from football until re-emerging in the CFL as the ‘07 and ‘08 defensive player of the year.   

    Despite the fact he has started for only one full NFL season, he can be un-blockable at times and plays with an explosiveness and tenacity that promises years of success ahead. 

    With 14 sacks in 2010, the bottom line is that Wake is an elite pass-rush talent in his prime who didn’t cost the Dolphins draft picks or big money.  Now that’s a win-win.

6. Garo Yepremian, K

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    1970 - 1978

    • two-time Pro-Bowl
    • two-time first-team All-Pro
    • NFL 1970’s All-Decade Team
    • Nominated to Hall of Fame
    • two-time Super Bowl champion

    Yepremian was born in Larnaca, Cyprus and had never heard of American football when he immigrated to the United States in 1966, but later that same year he signed a contract with the Detroit Lions.  

    He was not re-signed by the Lions after he left football in '68 to enlist in the army.  

    Yepremian was picked up by the Dolphins in '70 and was awarded first-team All-Pro in ‘71 and again in ‘73. 

    Despite all his success, Yepremian is most often remembered for his blocked field-goal attempt in Super Bowl VII that ended with him throwing an interception returned for a touchdown.

5. Brock Marion, FS

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    1998 - 2003

    • three-time Pro Bowler

    Marion was drafted in 1993 in the seventh round by the Dallas Cowboys where he played five seasons and won two Super Bowls.  

    He was signed as a free agent by the Miami Dolphins in ‘98, and in ‘99 Marion led the NFL in kick-return yardage.

    In 2001, he became the oldest player, at 31, with an interception return over 100 yards.  

    Although Marion never won a championship in Miami, he led a stout defense that helped the Dolphins to four-straight playoff appearances from 1998-2001.

4. Earl Morrall and Chad Pennington, QB (tie)

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    Morrall

    1972 - 1976

    • one-time first-team All-Pro
    • 1972 NFL Comeback Player of the Year
    • 1972 AFC Player of the Year
    • two-time Super Bowl champion

    Pennington 

    2008 - 2010  

    • 2008 Comeback Player of the Year

    These two have a lot in common.   Both were signed to Miami’s roster by a previous coach; Morrall by Shula and Pennington by Parcells. Both quarterbacks experienced smashing success in their first seasons with the Dolphins and finished out their careers in Miami.  

    Morrall took over for an injured Griese in Week 5 of 1972 and went on to start 12 games in the only undefeated season ever.  

    Pennington was signed in August ’08 to compete for the starting spot after the Dolphins’ dismal 1-15 record in ‘07.  

    Pennington won the job and led the Dolphins to an 11-5 record and AFC East title; the greatest single-season turnaround in NFL history.

    Neither of these quarterbacks were a Dolphin for long, but they both re-wrote NFL history during their brief stints in Miami .

3. Manny Fernandez, DT-DE

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    1968 - 1975

    • two-time second-team All-Pro
    • NFL's Unsung Player of the Year (1973)
    • two-time Super Bowl champion

    Fernandez was signed as an undrafted free agent in '68 by the Dolphins with the hope that he would help draw the Hispanic community.  Funny thing, Fernandez didn't speak Spanish.  He also had very poor, 20/200, vision but this didn't stop him from using his quickness and wrestling background to manhandle offensive linemen.

    Fernandez is credited as one of the first nose tackles in the NFL as part of the Dolphins' "53" defense, an early version of the 3-4.  He is second all-time among Dolphins nose tackles in sacks with 35, but what really set Fernandez apart was his unique ability to reach his peak performance when stakes were highest.  In three Super Bowl appearances, he totaled 28 tackles and three sacks and he was a strong contender for MVP of Super Bowl VII with 17 tackles and one sack.  Simply amazing. 

2. Bob Kuechenberg, G-T-C

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    1971-1983

    • six-time Pro Bowler
    • two-time first-team All-Pro
    • one-time second-team All-Pro
    • Dolphins Honor Roll
    • Hall of Fame Finalist
    • two-time Super Bowl champion

    Kuechenberg, drafted in the fourth round of '69, was cut by the Eagles and then signed and cut by the Falcons.  In '70 he played seven games of semi-pro ball with the Chicago Owls before he was signed by the Miami Dolphins.

    Kuechenberg was a versatile player who rarely missed games.  

    In 1978, he played eight games at guard and seven at tackle, earning a Pro Bowl berth as a guard and Sporting News All-AFC Honors as a tackle.  

    He also had consecutive starts of 53, 42 and 49 games during his career.  By his retirement he had played in more games than any other Dolphins player with 196.  

    The record is now held by Dan Marino (242).  Good company.

1. Jim Langer, C-G

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    1970-1979

    • six-time Pro Bowler
    • four-time first-team All-Pro
    • two-time second-team All-Pro
    • NFL 1970's All-Decade Team
    • Dolphins Honor Roll
    • Hall of Fame
    • two-time Super Bowl champion

    Langer signed as a free-agent rookie with the Browns in ‘70, he was cut during training camp and later signed with the Miami Dolphins where he saw limited action in his first two seasons as a guard and special teams player.

    In ‘72, he switched to center, won a starting job and played every offensive down during the perfect season.  

    This was also the same season that he began his 141 consecutive games played streak.  

    Langer was known as a hard-working professional who developed from an obscure backup into one of the top centers ever to play.  

    He was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987 and he was one of the original members of the Dolphins Honor Roll inducted in 1990.

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