Armando Salguero

March 10, 2013

Armando Salguero: Pursuit of Mike Wallace shows paradigm shift in Miami Dolphins’ free agency approach

The story is not whether the Dolphins want to sign top free agent wide receiver Mike Wallace. The answer to that is yes, a resounding yes.

The story is not whether the Dolphins want to sign top free agent wide receiver Mike Wallace. The answer to that is yes, a resounding yes.

Yes, yes, yes.

The story is whether the Dolphins can actually land Wallace.

Wallace is the second biggest free agent this Dolphins administration has ever chased. The biggest was last year, when Miami took a swing and missed with Peyton Manning.

And as the Dolphins haven’t always been outstanding landing the guys they want — Jeff Fisher falls in that group, too — it’s fair to wonder if they can be successful trying to land a player some people within the organization wanted so much they began talking about him last year.

A note here: If you’re thinking back to last year and say the Dolphins chased and failed to land quarterbacks Matt Flynn or Alex Smith, I reject that idea. The team placed no “must-have” priority on either of those players.

The contract offered to Flynn was only borderline starter money, suggesting Miami could take or leave him. So Flynn took the greater certainty in Seattle.

As for Smith, I’m not even sure the Dolphins offered him a contract, and if they did, it definitely was not for the $8 million per year he was seeking. So, again, the team wasn’t all in on getting Smith.

I don’t see that as a failure of any sort. Indeed, hindsight has shown Ireland was wise to steer clear of both quarterbacks.

State of the Dolphins

The Dolphins did, however, fail on Manning. They not only didn’t land the biggest free agent they’ve ever chased, they also even failed to be among his finalists. Yes, the club managed a meeting with Manning, but if you remember, team representatives had to take a flight to see him. But Manning went to Denver and other places he was truly interested in to speak with those teams.

The Dolphins were in the hunt, but they were the hound way back in the pack gasping for breath and watching the lead dogs tree the game and get the big pat on the head.

(Where the heck did I come up with that analogy?)

Miami has also failed in other free agent attempts, to be sure, but one that should worry is the failed effort to land Ryan Clark. You remember Clark? He came to South Florida via Pittsburgh, apparently ready to sign a deal that would take him away from the Steelers.

He never signed. He returned to Pittsburgh.

Clark’s story is that the Dolphins offended him. They reportedly told him how he was flawed and not worth a ton of money. They made him feel unwanted.

The Dolphins have a different version, but that version won’t matter until team personnel actually get in front of Wallace and begin the wooing process.

That process will have to quickly erase any negative report Clark might have given Wallace about the Dolphins during their time as Steelers teammates

Despite the Manning miss and Clark fiasco, I’m deeply encouraged the Dolphins will land Wallace.

They have enough salary-cap space to do it. Owner Stephen Ross seriously wants a playmaker or three added to the offense, so he’s ready to spend. The business side of the organization needs fans to hear some good news. And general manager Jeff Ireland recognizes this offseason could determine his career path.

So the pressure is on. Much is at stake. The club’s will to get Wallace is steeled.

I’m not suggesting the Dolphins will be finished shopping in free agency if they land Wallace.

The truth is this offseason could bring several interesting signings as a result of a paradigm shift to the way the Dolphins approach free agency. That shift puts many more players on Miami’s list of possible additions. How?

Last week, the club confirmed it has “moderate” interest in the Green Bay Packers’ Charles Woodson.

Woodson will be 37 in October. He was sidelined much of last season with a broken collarbone. Regardless of how much he still might contribute to his next team, it’s doubtful he’ll be as good as he was for his last two teams.

And yet the Dolphins are among the interested teams.

Why? Because the team that once held itself to more rigid standards for adding free agents — had to be younger, had to come at seemingly perfect price, had to have right makeup — is loosening some of those bonds.

No, the Dolphins might not be ready to sign someone such as cornerback Aqib Talib and his awesome talent for making plays but also for causing his coaches headaches. But they are eager to win, to improve, to add playmakers. And sometimes getting those involves stretching some philosophical rules.

Maybe the fact the Dolphins are willing to do more than in the past is a reason one club source last week mentioned his affinity for signing Wes Welker in addition to Mike Wallace.

Free Agency Breakdown

Welker doesn’t fit the Dolphins’ structure if you’re going by the club’s old logic. He’s going to be 32 in two months. He’s going to cost a lot of money and would play a position where the Dolphins are already seemingly set with Davone Bess.

But, the source said, if Welker cannot return to New England with a good contract, he’d love nothing more than to stick it to the Patriots for not retaining him. And the Dolphins might welcome the chance to help Welker with that goal.

Why not?

He makes plays. A lot of them. He has caught more than 100 passes and gone over 1,000 yards in five of the past six seasons. He also has caught 37 touchdown passes in that span.

That makes Welker good enough to blip on the Dolphins’ radar. He is a possibility now — albeit a distant one — where in the past, the team wouldn’t have gotten past his age.

That’s an important shift. And shifting is something the Dolphins needed to do because the old approach was logical but didn’t produce more wins than losses in any of the past four seasons.

So these Dolphins are rethinking, adjusting, and, yes, aggressively trying to not miss out on Mike Wallace.

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About Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero


Armando Salguero has covered South Florida sports since 1982. He's covered the Dolphins since 1990. He is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector and annually votes on the Associated Press All-Pro team. He has worked nationally for ESPN and also writes general sports columns for the Miami Herald.

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