For what it’s worth -- and Dolfans will hope it is worth little -- ESPN.com gives the Miami Dolphins the worst grade of any AFC East team in its offseason report card out Tuesday.
Miami is graded a D+ by analyst Bill Barnwell, compared to a B for the New England Patriots, a B for the Buffalo Bills and a C+ for the new York Jets. The grades primarily encompass teams’ activity in free agency and the recent NFL Draft.
A summary of Barnwell’s analysis of the Dolphins offseason:
What he liked: “They hammered the draft on defense.” Liked that Miami spent the first three picks on D, “most notably edge rusher Charles Harris in the first round.” Also liked that the Dolphins “bought low” on trades for Julius Thomas and William Hayes. On Thomas: “You can certainly understand some of the logic in acquiring a tight end who excelled as a red zone weapon under [coach Adam] Gase [in Denver] before flopping in Jacksonville. The Dolphins aren't paying much to find out if Gase has something special up his sleeve. They'll pay $5.5 million to Thomas this season and can get out of the deal with a $2 million buyout next year.”
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What he says went wrong: “They repeatedly outspent the market to bring back their own players. It seemed that there was a two-week stretch in March when the Dolphins were handing out blank checks.” He cites Kenny Stills’ $19.5 million in guaranteed money in a four-year, $32 million deal; Reshad Jones’ five-year, $60 million deal with a huge $35 million guarantees; Andre Branch’s three-year, $24 million deal with $16.8 million guaranteed; and Kiko Alonso nabbed $18.5 million in guarantees in a four-year, $28 million contract. Barnwell also mentions that Lawrence Timmons’ two-year, $12 million deal include $11 million in guarantees, adding, “In each of those cases, the Dolphins were paying a massive premium, usually in guaranteeing extra years or extra dollars.” He called Jones the only of those players “likely to be very good over the length of his deal.” (Barnwell also notes the likelihood of additional massive spending to extend Jarvis Landry’s contract).
The spending this offseason indicates to Barnwell that the Dolphins “are too optimistic about their progress, and if they're wrong, they won't be able to get out of any of these deals until 2019.”
Barnwell also criticzes Miami for not sufficiently bolstering its offensive line.
My take? Barnwell is harsh with the overall D+ grade. The fiscal/salary cap end of it make the eyes glaze, but on the football side that most fans care about, the Dolphins are a better team now than the one that ended last season. Miami emphasized clearly emplhasized defense in both free agency and the draft, and that was smart.