Barry Jackson

A dozen notes and thoughts on Dolphins’ first week of free agency

ctrainor@miamiherald.com

The Dolphins, by all measurements, had a highly productive first week of free agency, acquiring two starting-caliber defensive ends (Andre Branch, William Hayes), a starting tight end (Julius Thomas), a starting safety (Nate Allen), a starting guard (Ted Larsen), re-signing their deep threat receiver (Kenny Stills) and adding a backup tight end (Anthony Fasano).

They’ve assuredly had a better week than the Jets and Bills.

And yet the gap between the Patriots and the rest of the division seemingly continues to widen.

Even though they lost Martellus Bennett to Green Bay and have been unable (as of yet) to re-sign Dont’a Hightower, the Patriots strengthened themselves by trading for Brandin Cooks (78 catches, 1173 yards, eight touchdowns for New Orleans last season), signing Pro Bowl cornerback Stephon Gilmore (five interceptions for the Bills last season), trading with Carolina for defensive end Kony Ealy (14 sacks in three seasons) and trading with the Colts for tight end Dwayne Allen (35 catches, 406 yards, six touchdowns last season).

Plus, they resigned defensive tackle Alan Branch and still could likely get at least Cleveland’s No. 12 pick for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo if they choose to trade him.

• New Dolphin Lawrence Timmons is a significant upgrade over weakside linebacker Jelani Jenkins. (Yes, they don’t play the same position, but Timmons presumably will play middle linebacker, with Kiko Alonso moving to weak side.)

And Timmons is still productive, as his numbers last year show (114 tackles, 2.5 sacks, two interceptions).

The fact he’s switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 doesn’t concern me.

But a couple things do: He’s not great in pass coverage. He has a lot of mileage on his 30-year-old body, having started every Steelers game the past six years and all but four in the past eight.

And while he has traditionally been strong against the run – playing bigger than his 236-pound frame – Pro Football Focus graded him only 82nd among 89 linebackers against the run last season.

• ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, who is grading every deal, said this of the Timmons signing:

“It was unlikely that Timmons would return to the Steelers because of the hometown premium, the weird economic problem where players are more likely to take pay cuts from other organizations than they are from their own. Timmons made $8.8 million as part of his staggering $15.1 million cap hit with the Steelers in the final year of his oft-restructured deal, and it was tough to imagine Pittsburgh matching that annual salary while managing raises for Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell.

“So, Timmons instead finds his way to Miami, which has struck out repeatedly in trying to sign linebackers in free agency and just gave Kiko Alonso a first-round tender out of the fear that somebody would grab him for a second-round pick with a large contract. (A second-round pick for Alonso, if I'm not being clear, would be an excellent deal for the pick-strapped Dolphins.) With Alonso likely moving to the weakside, Timmons will move to a 4-3 for the first time in his professional career and play middle linebacker behind Ndamukong Suh.

“It's hardly out of the question Timmons will be worth his deal, especially in the first year. I'd be worried about committing to a second season, as the Dolphins have done by guaranteeing $11 million of Timmons' $12 million total, for an inside linebacker who will be in his age-32 season in 2018. Timmons will be a much-needed upgrade on Jelani Jenkins in Miami's nickel packages, but Timmons himself was taken advantage of at times by teams who exploited his declining foot speed. The Dolphins upgraded, but again, there's the question of whether they've paid a premium at a spot in their lineup where that wasn't necessary.”

(I don’t agree with some of Barnwell’s analysis, including his thought that trading Alonso for a second-rounder would be an excellent deal.)

• Loved the Dolphins’ trade for William Hayes, because over the past two years, he was one of the best run stuffing defensive ends in football – fifth among all edge rushers in 2015, 11th last year. There was no free agent defensive end available this year who graded out as well against the run as Hayes. Miami had to relinquish only a sixth round pick in exchange for Hayes and a seventh rounder.

As we reported last March, Miami made a strong push to sign him last spring and he said today he was “very close” to joining the Dolphins at that time. “It came down between them and L.A. and I guess I chose to continue to go with the coach (Jeff Fisher) I knew. But I was maybe 10 minutes away from taking a flight here and probably signing (with the Dolphins)."

• Though the Dolphins made a late attempt to keep Dion Sims, they ended up offering about $2 million less per year than Chicago did, according to a source. Sims’ three-year Bears deal pays him, on average, $6 million per year. The Dolphins are getting Anthony Fasano for $3 million.

But here’s the upshot: Pro Football Focus rated Fasano by far the best run-blocking tight end last season. Sims was 41st. And Fasano had a slightly higher per catch average (10.4 to 9.8).

• After extending Reshad Jones, the Dolphins need to turn their attentions to Jarvis Landy, a potential 2018 free agent. But those talks haven’t yet begun, according to a source.

• The Dolphins still need another guard to play opposite Ted Larsen, but that isn’t a huge concern. This could end up a competition among Kraig Urbik, Anthony Steen, another reasonably priced veteran and perhaps a low draft pick.

• Of more urgency is adding a strongside linebacker (to replace or compete with Koa Misi, who’s coming off neck surgery) and a No. 3 defensive tackle or someone who could challenge Jordan Phillips to start opposite Ndamukong Suh.

A few starting defensive tackles remain on the market – Dontari Poe, Jonathan Hankins, Bennie Logan, Tyson Alualu – and there are a bunch of affordable backup types. Miami is among the teams seeking a visit with Poe, according to CBS’ Jason LaCanfora. He would be pricey.

• One upshot of acquiring Timmons, signing Andre Branch and trading for Joseph: The Dolphins aren’t absolutely compelled to use the No. 22 pick on front seven help, though that could be the way they ultimately go because of the quality and depth at those positions.

These free agent moves could allow them to take Michigan safety Jabril Peppers, for example, if they fall in love with the players.

• Beyond being a competent right guard, Larsen said: "I feel like I'm fairly versatile. I can play right guard, left guard, center - wherever the team needs me - and I feel like I can play at a high level, at a starter-quality level."

• Timmons said of Alonso: "He kind of reminds me of (Pittsburgh’s Ryan) Shazier because he's very fast. He's got a lot of range. He's all over the field. I like the way he plays and he picks the ball off pretty nice."

• Branch, on how life with change after signing a contract that could be worth $27 million:

"I talked to my financial guy. I was like, 'So what different can I do?' He was like, 'Um, you really don't spend money on anything but fashion and food.' Other than that, I might just eat out a little bit more and buy another item per month, but other than that I'm living a good life already.

“The only way it's going to impact is: This contract was for my mother. I'm able to take care of her and give her what she wants. She'll tell you she doesn't want anything but I guess I can spoil her now."

And we close on that uplifting note.

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