Armando Salguero

Miami Dolphins resist urge on one big-time free agent and one homegrown temptation

Grier: The ultimate goal is to win Super Bowls and championships and be a consistent winner,

Chris Grier, the Miami Dolphins GM discusses his goals during a press conference at the Dolphins' training facility in Davie, FL
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Chris Grier, the Miami Dolphins GM discusses his goals during a press conference at the Dolphins' training facility in Davie, FL

There were numerous and persistent reports over the weekend the Miami Dolphins were showing a strong interest in New England Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers. Those unconfirmed reports suggested new coach Brian Flores was putting his stamp on what would be an early and bold signature move in free agency by chasing a player he loves.

Flowers is a player Flores coached in New England.

Flowers, a versatile defensive end, is a player who is highly productive at a premium position.

Flowers is about as clean — meaning great in the locker room, great on the field, great in the meeting rooms, great away from the facility — as one can have.

And because the Dolphins instituted something of a radio silence starting Monday, it’s impossible to know how accurate those reports are. But ...

Regardless of whether the Dolphins had interest in Flowers or not, I’m told by league sources the chase for the defensive end wasn’t especially close. No one — and that would obviously include the Dolphins if they were actually involved — got within shouting distance of the Detroit Lions’ offer for Flowers.

Flowers agreed to a five-year deal that multiple news outlets, including the NFL Network and ESPN, estimated at $16 million-$17 million annually. So about $80 million-$85 million.

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The Dolphins could have afforded this. If or when they cut Robert Quinn and his $12.9 million cap number, signing Flowers at the reported number would have been a net $4 million-$5 million per-season addition.

And right now you’re thinking the Dolphins should have done this.

And I’m thinking I’m glad Flowers is Motor City-bound.

Because I’ve seen the Dolphins fall for the free-agency-banana-in-the-tailpipe trick before. I’ve seen them preen about big-time free-agent signings practically every year since free agency began in the early 1990s.

And I’ve yet to see one of those guys carry the Dolphins to any great heights.

Instead, what I’ve seen is the Dolphins collect high-priced and highly touted free agents one year and cut or trade them one or two years later.

Keith Jackson.

Eric Green.

Jake Grove.

Karlos Dansby.

Mike Wallace.

Dannell Ellerbe.

Phillip Wheeler.

Ndamukong Suh.

Mario Williams.

Lawrence Timmons.

Even when the free agents worked because the Dolphins were guarded by using one-year commitments, it sometimes went sideways later because Miami followed solid, cheap signings with big paydays the following year. For this, I point you to Brent Grimes and Andre Branch.

So fool me 4,390,308 times and I eventually get it: The high end of free agency feels good. It draws attention. It raises hope.

But it rarely accomplishes the goals stated at introductory press conferences. Maybe that’s one reason the Dolphins stopped making their general manager or executive vice president or coach available for such things.

So the Dolphins didn’t do anything huge and exciting on Monday. They didn’t agree to add a big-name, big-contract player.

And everyone should be fine with that.

Maybe general manager Chris Grier, who has seen all those signings and additions and been part of some of them during his 20 years with the team, also understands those players rarely move the needle.

The Dolphins, we all know, are trying to establish a template similar to the one that New England has used to win more Super Bowls than anyone the past 18 seasons.

So they hired Flores, the former Patriots defensive coach. And they hired multiple assistants, including his offense and defensive coordinator, he met when they coached with the Patriots. And they signed a former Patriots tight end over the weekend.

But if following the Patriots’ model is the thing and copying the Patriot Way is the goal, then I remind you the Patriots also did nothing on Monday by way of making a free-agency splash.

That’s not to say the Patriots have never done such things. They’ve picked their spots over the years. But it’s never about one make-or-break move for Bill Belichick’s team. And it’s never about overpaying.

I remind you Flowers — who is going to play for Detroit head coach Matt Patricia, his former Patriots defensive coordinator — will not be back in New England. The Patriots let him walk.

And they let left tackle Trent Brown walk in free agency to Oakland. After one whole year of success in New England, Brown agreed to a four-year, $66 million deal that makes him the highest-paid offensive lineman in the league.

The Patriots are very good at pushing back from the free-agency feeding frenzy. So maybe the Dolphins have learned this lesson.

Which leads me to Dolphins right tackle Ja’Wuan James. His days with the Dolphins are over.

James, a good-but-not-great right tackle, is getting a great contract to start for the Denver Broncos, per ESPN. He has reportedly agreed to a four-year deal worth $51 million with $32 million in guaranteed money. That’s an average of almost $13 million per season.

And more power to him. I root for players to get all they can get every time they can get it.

But I also root for teams to avoid doing dumb things.

The Dolphins wanted to keep James. Said as much.

But would it have been smart for them to pay James almost $13 million per year? That number makes James the highest-paid right tackle in the game. And that probably makes him feel appreciated and motivated.

But would it move the needle for the Dolphins?

Personally, I don’t see it.

Remember, a couple of years ago the Dolphins were demanding their own free agents accept less to stay with Miami. It didn’t turn the Dolphins into winners because some of the guys accepting the smaller deals weren’t really worthy of those deals.

But just because the players were not right doesn’t mean the philosophy was not right.

The Dolphins should stick with that approach with one small change: Find the right players and get them to play for slightly less — just like the Patriots do.

Overpaying and making a big splash on the first day of free-agency negotiations? That approach is proven to fail.

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Armando Salguero has covered the Miami Dolphins and the NFL since 1990, so longer than many players on the current roster have been alive and since many coaches on the team were in middle school. He was a 2016 APSE Top 3 columnist nationwide. He is one of 48 Pro Football Hall of Fame voters. He is an Associated Press All-Pro and awards voter. He’s covered Dolphins games in London, Berlin, Mexico City and Tokyo. He has covered 25 Super Bowls, the NBA Finals, and the Olympics.
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