Ranking the 2014 Impact of Miami Dolphins' Free-Agent Signings so Far
The Miami Dolphins got busy upon the start of free agency this offseason, signing or re-signing seven players that will have an immediate impact on the team in 2014.
Miami addressed needs in the secondary and in the trenches this offseason, and based on the potential of the players signed, already find themselves an improved team from last season.
Which of these players will have the biggest impact in 2014? Will it come from their maintenance in the defensive backfield, their attempt to get younger on the defensive line or their addressing of the offensive line?
Join us as we rank the potential 2014 impact of Miami's free-agent class, ranked in order of how pressing the need was, how good of a player the team signed and how much better said player makes the Dolphins.
7. Cortland Finnegan
I really didn't like this signing when it first went down.
I still don't, especially since this signing pins the Dolphins into a corner (no pun intended).
The Dolphins signed Cortland Finnegan to a two-year, $11 million deal with $5.5 million guaranteed. You might recognize these numbers as the type you would pay a starter, something that Finnegan isn't supposed to be when you take into account his horrendously God-awful 2013.
Sports Illustrated gave the deal a D, and for good reason:
Well, this isn’t good. The Dolphins have proven in the last year that they have some serious gaps in their understanding of personnel, and even with a new general manager, that disconnect seems to still be in place. Finnegan’s tape matches his stats, which is not good. At this point in his career, he gets turned around by savvier route runners, and he gets flat-out owned by speed receivers outside and up the seam. It’s sad when a formerly great player loses it, but unless a miracle turnaround is on the horizon, the Dolphins made yet another highly curious move here.
Here's a look at what the Miami Dolphins could've had in lieu of Finnegan at cornerback, in terms of adding depth:
Nolan Carroll (two years, $3.65 million with $750,000 guaranteed)
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (five years, $35 million with $13.9 million guaranteed)
Antonio Cromartie (one year, $3.25 million)
Dimitri Patterson (unsigned, but would've been inexpensive due to injury concerns)
I could go on with this list. One would make the argument that this deal with this player shows that the Dolphins are encouraged with last year's second-round pick Jamar Taylor, and from my view, it's a very valid point.
But if that's the case, why sign Finnegan to starters money instead of just re-signing Carroll?
6. Shelley Smith
This is a signing based on need, and despite its position as the sixth-best, based off of possible 2014 impact, it's a good one.
Shelley Smith is locked down to a two year, $5.5 million deal with Miami, with $1.5 million guaranteed. It's a frugal deal that shows that Miami wants to see what the 26-year-old Smith can bring to the table in improving Miami's offensive line.
Smith will have to prove himself, as he didn't get a lot of playing time in St. Louis, starting only two games.
When Smith did play, he was effective, as Andrew Abramson of The Palm Beach Post points out, Pro Football Focus ranked Smith as the 26th best guard in the league, specializing in run-blocking, where he ranked fourth (he was 58th in pass-blocking).
Any new signing to the Dolphins offensive line is an upgrade, and if he can help Miami's poor run offense, that's even better. There are questions about his pass-blocking, but Smith has shown improvement in each of his seasons in the NFL, so it would be reasonably safe to expect the same improvement in pass protection out of Smith.
5. Louis Delmas
The Dolphins came into the offseason hoping to find an improvement in terms of creating big plays at safety over Chris Clemons, and feel that they've found said improvement with the signing of Louis Delmas.
Delmas' deal is a one-year, $2.25 million deal with only $1 million guaranteed, so financially I'd say the Dolphins did fairly well for themselves. If Delmas can create more big plays and stay healthy, Miami will get their money's worth.
Staying healthy is the issue for Delmas, who has the "injury-prone tag" following him, despite playing in all 16 games in 2013. This is due to some of his previous seasons in Detroit, where he missed 15 games in 2009-12, thanks to a degenerative knee condition that's highlighted in this piece from last September from Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free-Press.
Despite the missed time, you can't argue with the results, as Delmas has racked up six sacks, five interceptions and two forced fumbles in his five year career.
That continued success makes this deal a good one for Miami, if Delmas can stay healthy.
4. Earl Mitchell
I'm still a Paul Soliai fan, but as much as I love his play, he was a 3-4 nose tackle playing defensive tackle in the 4-3 the last two years in Miami, and was slightly overpaid in Atlanta.
Compare this to Miami's newest member of the defensive tackle rotation, Earl Smith. He was a 4-3 defensive tackle playing nose tackle in a 3-4. Despite being out of position like Soliai, he did well in Houston in his first year as a starter last season with 1.5 sacks and 30 tackles.
His reward came in the form of a four-year, $16 million deal with $9 million guaranteed.
Mitchell is only 26 years old and comes with plenty of upside. He has a fan in ESPN's Bill Polian, who had this to say about Mitchell (subscription required):
Mitchell has become a real inside force and one of the most productive penetrators in the NFL at generating consistent inside pressure. He is a much better athlete than most guys who play his position, and his effort is outstanding. He is a one-gap penetrator with good quickness and really works to finish the play. He is young and will only get better.
Adding him to a rotation that includes Randy Starks and Jared Odrick makes up for Miami losing Soliai, as they've managed to get younger on the defensive line.
3. Randy Starks
Sometimes the best move you can make in free agency is re-signing one of your own.
Randy Starks' deal with the Dolphins (two years, $10 million, $5 million guaranteed) counts as one of those moves.
What makes this deal even sweeter for Miami is the fact that practically no one, including Starks or the Dolphins themselves, expected such a deal to take place.
Prior to the start of free agency, Starks' agent Tony Paige said this about whether Starks would be back in Miami to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald: “As of now, it’s unlikely because we haven’t received an offer. He’s looking forward to moving on.”
An offer was made on day two of free agency, and Starks would re-sign.
This gives Miami much-needed continuity, and sets up a rather stellar rotation in the interior of the defensive line, allowing it to remain one of Miami's biggest strengths in 2014.
2. Brent Grimes
The continuity mentioned on the last slide is just as important in the secondary as it is on the defensive line.
If anything, it was more important, which is why going into the offseason, Brent Grimes was a priority for the Dolphins.
Before free agency even began, Miami addressed the need to re-sign Grimes by awarding him handsomely with a four year, $32.025 million deal with $16.95 million guaranteed.
The deal allowed Miami to keep their secondary intact, while signing their best defensive player. Grimes gave Miami 16 passes defended, four interceptions and 52 tackles in 2013, all while only allowing one touchdown when the ball was thrown his way all season.
That's the very definition of a shut-down corner, something Miami had been missing since the days of Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain.
Grimes also provided the secondary with some much-needed leadership and seemed to boost the play of the players around him. While this unit was overshadowed by poor linebacker play, the secondary was a gem for the Dolphins throughout the season.
With Grimes back in town, the Dolphins hope to see more of that in 2014, regardless of who lines up next to Finnegan at the position.
1. Branden Albert
I'll be the first to admit that the Dolphins overpaid Branden Albert, in comparison to the deals that Eugene Monroe and Jared Veldheer received from their respective teams (Albert signed for five years, $47 million with $26 million guaranteed).
I also think that head coach Joe Philbin and general manager Dennis Hickey should've heeded the advice handed down from Smokey Robinson (and later The Captain and Tennille) and shopped around before settling on Albert.
This does not mean that Albert was a bad signing, far from it, as the signing was still a good one and the most impactful signing of the offseason thus far.
Albert gives Miami a great blindside protector for Ryan Tannehill, something he was missing in 2013. He also helps with the flush of the putrid 2013 Dolphins offensive line that was as dysfunctional off of the field as it was on the field.
Miami also now can say they have two Pro Bowlers on the offensive line, something they haven't been able to say in a long time.
It was the first real free-agent signing for the Dolphins in 2014, and the most important one. Now the task is for the Dolphins to use the rest of free agency and the draft to complete the rebuild of the offensive line.