Armando Salguero

Miami Dolphins have rewarded their own players, now it needs to be a two-way street

Miami Dolphins vice president Mike Tannenbaum (center), coach Adam Gase (left) and GM Chris Grier have decided rewarding their own players is the best approach to free agency.
Miami Dolphins vice president Mike Tannenbaum (center), coach Adam Gase (left) and GM Chris Grier have decided rewarding their own players is the best approach to free agency. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

The Miami Dolphins made a promise to their players, to their fans and to themselves before free agency opened this year: They were going to put the greatest value on their own players. They were going to keep their own guys.

The same team that in free agency last year lost running back Lamar Miller, defensive end Olivier Vernon and receiver Rishard Matthews -- all productive, very good players -- vowed there would be no repeat going forward.

And the team has kept its word.

As of Saturday morning the Dolphins have written $167 million worth of contracts this offseason. Out of that enormous expenditure, $139 million went to players who were already Dolphins.

Cameron Wake, Kenny Stills, Andre Branch, Reshad Jones, John Denney.

They’ve all been re-signed or extended

Kiko Alonso, Michael Thomas and Damien Williams have all been tendered as restricted free agents.

The Dolphins this offseason lost one of their own players they wanted to keep -- tight end Dion Sims.

That happened because Sims got a very, very, very good contract from the Chicago Bears for three years and $18 million. That’s more than the Dolphins wanted to pay. That’s more than anyone should be paying for an in-line blocking tight end with Sims’ skills.

So good luck to him.

The Dolphins replaced Sims the same day he signed with the Bears. And, amazingly, they added a player who had played in Miami before -- Anthony Fasano -- who still had a good reputation in the team’s building among players and personnel people left over from his five seasons with Miami in 2008-2012.

And Fasano doesn’t even count among that $139 million the Dolphins have paid their own.

The Dolphins have accomplished a major priority of free agency and have sent a loud message within their own locker room that they intend to reward their own first, before searching outside for answers.

And now, starting with the 2017 season, the locker room has to give a full-throated response to that loyalty.

The Dolphins, you see, have banked that players they rewarded will not just continue to produce at a level they did before when they were making less money but will improve with higher salaries.

The Dolphins are betting against their players regressing to the mean.

In other words, Andre Branch, who has averaged slightly fewer than four sacks per season during his career, had 5.5 sacks with the Dolphins in 2016. He made about $2.5 million last season.

This season, however, he’s an $8 million per year player, so he cannot get comfortable and feel like he’s arrived and revert to the four-sack a year guy. Indeed, he’s got to be better.

Stills, who has averaged 41 catches 684 yards and five TDs per season during his career, had higher production than that in 2016. In his contract year he caught 42 passes for 726 yards and nine TDs.

The Dolphins can rightly expect better from Stills going forward.

Yes, better.

He just signed a four-year, $32 million deal that comes with a $7 million signing bonus and $19.995 million in guaranteed money. His base salary of $1.975 million in 2017 is guaranteed. His base salary of $7.975 million in 2018 is guaranteed.

Now Stills has to find a way to guarantee higher production.

There can be no regression to the mean by him. The team has rewarded him for last season and going forward. He’s getting paid at the top of the No. 2 receiver charts. He needs to produce like it.

Same with Reshad Jones, who got a huge raise despite missing most of 2016.

The Dolphins have bet on their own.

Those players need to play up to that loyalty and higher expectations.

One more thing: The Dolphins are doing this, in part, because it is supposed to be easier to know exactly what your own players can offer. You’ve been around them. You know their work habits, their strengths, their weaknesses, their personalities. You should be able to make wiser decisions about paying those players than you do about players who’ve never been in your building before.

That is the reason so many free agents becomes busts. They go to a new team and they don’t fit the culture or the system and so they don’t produce. Rewarding your own is suppose to decrease the gamble.

It is a solid, logical approach.

We’ll see.

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

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