Of the Dolphins’ veteran pickups that didn’t pan out in recent years, there was a common theme: The players were on their third or fourth contracts, past their prime, and either soon turning 30 or on the backside of that age.
Lawrence Timmons, Julius Thomas, Arian Foster, Mario Williams and Nate Allen all fit into that category. All arrived with high hopes. None fulfilled expectations.
So why did the Dolphins go out this offseason and sign a 35-year-old in Frank Gore and two 32-year-olds in Josh Sitton and Danny Amendola?
In these particular cases, the Dolphins diligently studied their 2017 seasons, speaking to people who worked with them, and emerged with credible information and compelling data to convince them that all three are still productive performers, not past-their-prime players.
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Some background on each decision, based on conversations with team sources:
▪ In Gore’s case, even though his per-carry average was 3.7 last year (below his 4.3 career average), we’re told the Dolphins put considerable stock in the fact his yards after contact has increased the past few years. So the lower per carry average appeared more of a byproduct of deficient Indianapolis Colts blocking than Gore losing a step.
Though Miami brought in DeMarco Murray for a visit before Gore, multiple sources insist the team always preferred Gore, believing he would be the perfect complement for Kenyan Drake.
They love Gore’s professionalism. They love his durability (he hasn’t missed a game in seven years) and how he takes care of his body. They love the fact he wanted to be here, in his hometown.
As one team official said: “He looks the same as he did 10 years ago.”
▪ In Sitton’s case, the Dolphins had the benefit of employing two men who coached him in Chicago last season and thus watched every one of his snaps: offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains.
Both indicated to the Dolphins’ decision-makers that Sitton hadn’t fallen off at all from the guard who was a four-time Pro Bowler, most recently in 2016. And those coaches also knew what lineman was responsible for what assignment on each play, so the Dolphins had access to information not necessarily obvious on tape.
But besides soliciting opinion from Loggains and Washburn, top Dolphins officials also watched Sitton’s tape on their own and were thoroughly impressed by how well he still moved laterally for a man his size (6-3, 320). That convinced them he wasn’t washed up.
As one source said: “We wanted a guy who was smart and still a good player. We wanted [Laremy] Tunsil to be able to trust that guy.” They’re convinced they’ve found that guy in Sitton.
▪ In Amendola’s case, the Dolphins studied his 2017 New England tape closely and were watching for this, among other things: Did Amendola still create separation from cornerbacks to make the throw easier for the quarterback? And could he still run well?
The Dolphins, after watching the tape, were convinced he still did both at a high level. What’s more, “he’s built for this offense,” as one source said.
Plus, they liked having another older receiver — besides Kenny Stills — who was a leader and worked diligently and could show the young receivers how to do things right.
They also were impressed how fellow former Texas Tech alum Kliff Kingsbury (now the school’s head coach and a person that Dolphins people respect) raved about Amendola.
So the Dolphins have good reason to believe these three older veterans will pan out, as the William Hayes pickup did a year ago, and not mirror some of the veterans signings that didn’t work out.
The Dolphins spend time each offseason evaluating moves that didn’t work out in an attempt to avoid similar mistakes.
With Timmons, the lesson learned was that he wasn’t an ideal scheme fit and that must always be a key consideration. (And the team didn’t anticipate non-football issues that surfaced, causing him to go AWOL for the opener.)
With Thomas, the Dolphins believe the reason that acquisition didn’t work out is not because Thomas lost all of his ability (though he remains unsigned) but because Miami didn’t get in the red zone enough to maximize his greatest skill (an ability to ward off defenders and catch passes in the end zone).
But the Dolphins did not conclude that they should stay away from older veterans in free agency, period. They’re optimistic that Sitton, Gore and Amendola will validate their decisions.
“For us, any of our older players, they don’t look any different than what we thought we were getting when we brought them here,” coach Adam Gase said on the first day of training camp. “Danny looks the same player that we played against. Frank is the one guy that every time I watch him, you just shake your head when you see him make some of these cuts and the acceleration through the hole. The guy is ageless.”