Miami Dolphins GM Chris Grier talks free agency at combine
Let me start with this: The Miami Dolphins aren’t going to love reading what’s coming in this post.
That’s fine. If they want to read how everything they’re doing this free agency period is absolutely perfect and correct and a stroke of genius they should read their own website. Over here, where it’s not sunny and 72 degrees every day, I’m going to give you options and a different viewpoint.
For the record this isn’t contrariety for its own sake.
Even when you think everything is horrible and I think there’s hope, I’ll say that as well. Just think back to this on Oct 1, 2016.
So here goes...
The stated purpose of the Dolphins this offseason was to keep as many of their own players as possible. They like what they began building last season and they see great reward in keeping as much of that nucleus together as long as they don’t overpay for the privilege.
“...like you're still trying to build the team and you want to take care of your own as well,” general manager Chris Grier said last month. “For us, we just want to take care of our guys first and we'll build ...”
I have no problem with that as long as it comes with nuance. Yes, keep your own if they’re extremely valuable players. Keep your own if they are not robbing you of valuable cap space that is not commensurate with their production. Keep your own, but also do it early enough so as to not let those players become too expensive because you’ve misjudged their worth.
The Dolphins last year didn’t keep their own in losing Rishard Matthews, Lamar Miller and Olivier Vernon. And they got shredded for that.
But the failure was not in failing to keep to their own. That didn’t bother me.
The problem in my mind is the Dolphins underestimated Vernon’s market value well before he broke the bank in free agency. And that misjudgment cost them a good player.Last week they still had to pay for that misjudgment by paying about the same on an annual basis to Andre Branch as what they offered Vernon when they opened negotiations with him in August 2015.
Some history: The Dolphins were not certain Vernon was worthy of an all-in offer that August of 2015. So a source familiar with the talks says the team came with an offer that included somewhere around $11 million in guaranteed money. (Vernon eventually got $52.5 million in guaranteed money).
Now, the team improved its original offer to Vernon in September 2015, but even that was rejected out of hand because it didn’t fully commit to the player based on the guaranteed money being offered. The Dolphins were hedging their bet. So the defensive end’s departure seemed sealed.
That hurts because the Dolphins, in their revamped push to keep their own, were quite aggressive in trying to keep Branch -- even though Vernon is a better player than Branch.
Miller? I never said one word about him leaving. I liked him a lot but some guys do move on. I think running backs should be used and discarded. You draft them, use them, let them go in free agency and draft another one. The only exception to that Mando rule is if you happened to find Curtis Martin in the draft. Then you pay to keep him. Otherwise ...
There are too many solid running backs coming out of college every year to pay $6.5 million -- which is what Miller got on an annual basis -- in free agency.
Rishard Matthews? That one hurt. He signed for $5 million per year in Tennessee and turned in a 1,000-yard season in 2016. But, again, I cannot quibble when Matthews wanted to be a starter and the Dolphins had Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills on the roster.
So, bottom line, the only stinging loss last year’s philosophy cost the Dolphins was Vernon going to the New York Giants -- and not because he left, but because the team could have had him on an $8 million per year extension seven months earlier if only they’d offered him more guaranteed money right out of the chute.
Fast forward to this offseason.
The Dolphins kept Kenny Stills.
Extended Cam Wake.
Extended Reshad Jones.
The team wants to sign Kiko Alonso to a long-term deal.
There is a thoughtful priority in place here: Keep your own guys if you can. The Dolphins are trying to upgrade a 10-7 team by so far keeping their own and adding moderately priced pieces here and there..
But to suggest this is the way to do it is wrong.
I point you to the evil empire in Boston -- the same one which recently celebrated another Super Bowl victory and last season won the AFC East for the 13th time in the last 14 seasons.
The empire, which should be motivated to keep together a team that had enormous success, is seemingly not all that keen on the idea at all. The evils are actually aggressively reshuffling their roster with new players, at the apparent expense of players that just delivered, again, the freaking Super Bowl title!
The empire let tight end Martellus Bennett walk and before he had signed with Green Bay, it had traded for Dwayne Allen.
The evils let Logan Ryan go and are probably going to trade former Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler to New Orleans, so both cornerbacks who started in the Super Bowl could be outtie.
But the team chose to pay Buffalo cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
They let Jabaal Sheard walk and traded for Carolina’s Kony Ealy.
Chris Long is not going to come back. LaGarrette Blount is unsigned. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower who isn’t coming to the Dolphins (sad face Mando) is visiting with Pittsburgh and has already visited the Jets. So the evils aren’t exactly rushing to keep him.
That’s after they already traded away Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins.
These aren’t Joes off the street this team is letting walk. All are good players. Some are Super Bowl heroes.
And yet the evils are replacing them. Turning toward a new direction. Moving on from, again, a Super Bowl team.
I’m not saying the evils are right and the Dolphins are wrong. Neither am I agreeing the Dolphins have the better approach. It is just fascinating that a team needing to make big strides is keeping the band together. This while a team that just won a Super Bowl is flushing part of its roster and betting on the reboot.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter @ArmandoSalguero