The Miami Dolphins are holding the line on spending. After overspending on Ndamukong Suh last year, sparing no expense on Branden Albert the year before, and going nuts on receiver Mike Wallace the year before that, the team is refusing to overpay now.
Free agency began Wednesday and the Dolphins’ signature move of the day was adding Isa Abdul-Quddus, who got a modest three-year deal worth $12.25 million to become the presumed starting strong safety.
That deal is peanuts in NFL terms, especially when you compare it to the megadeal of the day: The New York Giants adding former Dolphins defensive end Olivier Vernon for a whopping $85 million over five years, with $52 million guaranteed and $40 million of that fully guaranteed.
Vernon’s deal should make everyone understand why the Dolphins threw up their hands, partly in disgust and partly as if surrendering, when they got wind of Vernon’s market and intentions the past month. There’s no way a team that pays Suh an average of $19 million per season can pay Vernon an average of $17 million per season.
And so the Mario Williams contract the team crafted early in the week to add the four-time Pro Bowl defensive end looks like general manager brilliance by comparison.
The Dolphins are paying Williams $17 million over two years. Wait. The Dolphins are paying Williams $8.9 million in 2016 and we’ll see what happens next year depending on what Williams does this year.
The Dolphins’ addition of Williams is more rental than purchase no matter what anyone says.
It fills the expected Vernon vacancy with a player who is older but also has a longer history of rushing the passer. The exchange makes sense over the short term.
But this is a problem with the Dolphins.
A lot of this thinking is short-term thinking.
VERNON GAMBLE BACKFIRES
Williams, 31, fills a spot the Dolphins should have considered filling last August with Vernon when he was only 24 and the market for a defensive end about to hit his prime was $12 million. The Dolphins thought Vernon wasn’t worth that last August. And they didn’t expect the market to rise to $17 million per year.
So, yes, they made the best of the situation they were dealing with the past few months as the market soared. But if they’d handled the issue in August of ’15, there wouldn’t have been a problem to address now.
That’s not the only worry.
In adding Williams, the Dolphins might hold serve with production on the field. They might even improve on that front short term.
But based on Williams’ history, the Dolphins locker room just got weaker. The culture that new coach Adam Gase will be charged with building potentially has been negatively impacted.
That’s because Williams, for all his fabulous physical gifts, has a reputation as a poor teammate. Multiple players in Buffalo, his last stop, believe that when times got tough for him last year, he simply quit on the team.
And this is not a big secret. Everyone knows this. Consider these words from ESPN analyst and former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark:
“You don’t bring a guy like Mario Williams, who was a malcontent all year last year, saying things in the media, unhappy about the way he was used, when already you have Ndamukong Suh, who all we heard about at his press conferences was leadership but we saw no leadership from Ndamukong Suh last year.
“So now you add a guy like Mario Williams, who can be just as divisive in the locker room as Ndamukong Suh … This is a guy who had five sacks last year. And the defensive end market is drying up … but there’s other guys who can give you five sacks and be a good guy in the locker room.”
The Dolphins had to measure this issue and thought adding Williams was worth it.
But that’s of little solace because they did the same thing with Suh last year. And while Suh was good-but-not-great on the field, and worked extremely hard, and practiced hard, he was an enigma in the building.
Multiple teammates developed a distaste for him. And they were joined by multiple staffers that are around the team every day.
The Dolphins also did the same with quarterback Ryan Tannehill. They proudly gave him a franchise quarterback contract because he checks a lot of the important franchise quarterback boxes.
But Tannehill has not been a good leader in the locker room. I’ve spoken with a handful of players there who don’t feel they know him. They don’t feel moved to follow him. They don’t feel as if he is part of them because, well, he is kind of disconnected from them.
Why does any of this matter?
Because the Dolphins have recently invested heavily in players that haven’t been great for the locker room. And while the team is slowing its spending now, it is still adding those same type of characters.