Armando Salguero

Miami Dolphins learn all that glitters in free agency is not gold

Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (93) sacks New York Giants running back Rashad Jennings (23) in the first quarter. Miami Dolphins host the New York Giants at Sun Life Stadium on Monday, December 14, 2015.
Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (93) sacks New York Giants running back Rashad Jennings (23) in the first quarter. Miami Dolphins host the New York Giants at Sun Life Stadium on Monday, December 14, 2015. adiaz@miamiherald.com

Of all the star-named and high-priced free agents who took big bucks from new teams a year ago, exactly four made the Pro Bowl at season’s end.

Mike Iupati.

Darrelle Revis.

Richie Incognito

Tyrod Taylor.

That’s it. Four out of the hundreds of free agents who hit the market and signed contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars were so good so fast that they made the NFL’s all-star game in their first year with their new teams.

DeMarco Murray didn’t do that. Neither did C.J. Spiller. Nor Torrey Smith. Nor Julius Thomas. Nor Brian Orakpo.

Nor Ndamukong Suh.

No other signature free agent addition who was supposed to immediately redirect the course of his new franchise when he put his signature to that big contract’s last page had a Pro Bowl year.

And what does this say about the current free agency period the NFL is teasing us with this spring?

It says buyer beware.

Look, the Pro Bowl is by no means the only measure of the greatest and most consistent play among NFL players. It is not the last word on anything. The game itself is actually a poor facsimile of professional football that somehow still gets good TV ratings.

But the Pro Bowl is a measure of players, coaches and fans voting on men they believe to be at the top of their profession in a given season.

And last year’s measure said loud and clear that free agency — no matter how exciting or expensive — was not a guarantee for team or even individual success.

Dolphins fans should know this by now.

The Dolphins, you’ll recall, were the talk of last offseason with the Suh addition. It was bold. It was attention-grabbing. It was also meant to greatly improve a team that had managed to win as many games as it had lost the year before but needed to improve the defense to challenge for a division title.

Well, the Suh addition neither helped the Dolphins challenge for a division title, nor helped the team win more. It didn’t even make the defense better.

No knock on Suh, who is a good player when measured individually. But the offseason championship he brought the Dolphins last March translated to six wins from September to January.

Phfffft.

And the thing is, last spring’s offseason title for the Dolphins was maybe the second or third since 2013, depending on your point of view about such unofficial crowns.

My point is NFL free agency often offers fool’s gold.

The consistently good teams don’t rely on it. The consistently good teams often don’t much participate in it.

Right now as we speak, Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson is doing zero work in free agency. None. He’s working on the draft because that’s how he is going to build his team.

Thompson is an extreme case, but the Patriots, Seahawks, Panthers and others have been very careful about how deep they dive into the free agent pool. They don’t completely ignore free agency because it is a wonderful tool when used wisely. But neither do they depend on it to build their teams.

And that’s at times what the Dolphins were doing in free agency — signing two free agent linebackers in 2010 and ’11 and replacing them with two new free agent linebackers in 2013, while at no point making enough of an impact to become playoff-relevant.

This year, the team is taking a different approach.

You’re seeing the Dolphins walk away from huge contracts such as the $85 million one Olivier Vernon signed with the New York Giants.

You’re seeing the team be measured at signature positions such as running back, where Lamar Miller left for a $6.5 million-a-year deal in Houston and the Dolphins tried to replace him by offering C.J. Anderson a $4.5 million-a-year deal.

Miller, born in April 1991, has averaged 4.6 yards per carry over his career. Anderson, born in February 1991, has averaged 4.8 yards per carry over his career.

Is this possible exchange an upgrade? I don’t know. But does the logic behind it makes fiscal sense? Yes.

By the way, anyone who says the Dolphins are still in splash-making mode because they added Mario Williams has not studied what actually happened. The Dolphins signed Williams for two years and $17 million. That’s an $8.5 million-per-year average that is exactly half the $17 million per year average Vernon is getting in New York.

And although I’m not a fan of adding Williams because of his age (31) and how he quit amid adversity in Buffalo last season, this addition of a big NFL name is actually the Dolphins paying less at defensive end.

And, oh yes, the Dolphins think Williams is better than Vernon — something that we’ll have to wait to grade after the season.

The point is the Dolphins are not vying for another offseason title this year. Talking to people within the organization, they are using words such as “measured” and “calculating” and “efficient” to describe their efforts.

Will that translate into a better team or better regular-season record? I’m out of the optimistic prediction game when it comes to this team.

I just know what they had been doing in the past didn’t work and a new approach is welcome.

Armando Salguero: 305-376-4993, @ArmandoSalguero

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