Not a soul in the world could have predicted this roller-coaster ride of a free agency period 3 weeks ago. The media was obsessed, the fans were obsessed, and even players were obsessed. For about a month's span, the entire NFL universe literally revolved around Peyton Manning. Teams took on the desperate mentality in which they would do anything in order to accommodate Manning, including either making big moves or holding off on big moves. Take a look at the San Francisco 49ers; their Quarterback had just gotten them to the NFC Championship, and they waited on Peyton Manning's decision before re-signing Alex Smith.
Never has an off-season been so tiresome, exasperating, and arduous to endur, especially for a Dolphins fan. Every day was a new developing story: Peyton Manning will wind up in Miami. Peyton Manning shows no interest in Miami. The Dolphins are back in the Manning race. All of these stories that came from reliable "sources" were annoying nuisances that got fans tired and frustrated. With David Garrard signing with the Dolphins yesterday, this fandom has now been split right down the middle with "Those who believe in the FO" and "Those who do not." So who is right?
March 13th 2012, fans across the nation awaited the suspenseful decision regarding Peyton Manning, and the start of free agency seemed like the appropriate time to do it. For some odd, unexplainable reason, Dolfans still had that one bit of optimism in their hearts that told them Peyton was taking his talents to South Beach. What enhanced that optimism was something that came flying out of the gates during the commencement of free agency. It was a trade that left the whole nation in shock. "Brandon Marshall has been traded to the Chicago Bears for two 3rd round picks." This couldn’t be true. Brandon Marshall? The man that consistently put up 1,000 yard seasons, the man that had the ability to spread out an entire defense, the man that this team gave up TWO 2nd round picks for, was being traded for a pack of gum? No worries, the trade was made to sign Reggie Wayne and Peyton Manning as a combo package...right?
Shortly after the Marshall announcement had been made, a report came out dealing with an incident Marshall had with a woman at a New York City nightclub the Sunday before the trade occurred. After the story broke, countless of people believed that trading Marshall was the right thing to do. "He is a locker room cancer! Philbin and Manning wouldn’t want that! Laurent Robinson is still out there!" These were all the reactions that were made after Reggie Wayne, Vincent Jackson, and Pierre Garcon had all signed with other teams.
Well then, if the plan wasn’t to replace Marshall with another elite receiver in FA, then what was the reasoning behind trading our best offensive weapon? And please, save me the "They probably thought he was going to be suspended and needed to get rid of him" talk. The Dolphins and the Bears had been talking "trade" since the Combine, and unless Jeff Ireland is Nostradamus, there is no way they could have predicted the Sunday incident. Matters were made worse as the days continued.
Following the bizarre trade, RT Eric Winston made a stop in Davie, FL to visit the Miami Dolphins at their training facility. This was a great sign; Miami was in desperate need for a Right Tackle, and signing Eric Winston would automatically eliminate them from wasting the 8th pick on a rookie Tackle. The Thursday that Winston was set the to visit the facility, he was called in for an interview with Joe Rose on 560 WQAM. Rarely have players conducted interviews on the radio immediately before a visit, however Eric seemed to be more than happy to do it. Throughout the interview, Winston talked about how his wife loved Miami, how his brother works for the Dolphins, and how he was excited to be visiting them for the whole day. Things were suddenly looking up the ‘Fins, and if Winston left the facility that day as a Miami Dolphin, then all might have been forgiven. Unfortunately, we all know that wasn’t the case.
Winston left Miami unsigned and THREE days later signed with the Kansas City Chiefs for an extremely reasonable four-year $22 million contract. It made me wonder as to why the Front Office wouldn’t take a chance on one of the most elite Right Tackle’s in the game for a contract like that. Perhaps they still had the "optimistic fan" mentality mentioned above about Peyton Manning, and they wanted all the cap money they could get. However, that also made little sense because only TWO days after the Winston visit, Manning had officially told the Miami Dolphins that he would not be signing with them.
So far, the "splash" the Front Office had promised fans before the off-season seemed more like a "drip." The boldest move this team had made so far was re-signing Paul Soliai. Miami had come up empty handed 4 times in a span of 3 days: The Marshall trade gained less than what they bargained for in 2010, Peyton Manning coldheartedly rejected them, Eric Winston chose Kansas City as his place to be, and every potential suitor to be Marshall’s replacement (including Laurent Robinson) had found better destinations.
NOTE: Before I go ahead and talk Quarterback, let’s look at some other moves the Dolphins made during Free Agency.
1) Richard Marshall DB: Marshall (5-11, 198 pounds) started 9-of-16 games last season with 69 tackles, three interceptions and two sacks. He spent five seasons with the Carolina Panthers before he joined the Arizona Cardinals last season. Marshall will surely add a much needed depth to the Dolphins secondary. It is speculated that Marshall will most likely replace Will Allen and take the Nickel Corner position, however there is still no report as what position he will play. Fortunately, Marshall’s versatility as a FS/CB and his ability to track down the ball at all times will surely improve this rising young defense.
2) Artis Hicks OG: One of the "Who is that?" moments of the off-season occurred 3 days ago as the Dolphins officially signed Offensive Guard Artis Hicks to a one -year $2 million deal. Hicks will most likely not end up playing RT for the Dolphins due to his ineptitude at the position, however he might be able to fill in at Right Guard. This certainly wasn’t a sexy signing for the Dolphins as Hicks is indeed an 11th year O-Linemen. We will truly see what Hicks is worth once training camp begins in August.
1) Kendall Langford: Unfortunately, the Dolphins were not able to retain every member of the dominant Defensive Line. With the re-signing of Paul Soliai, it was just a matter of time before the Dolphins released the 4-year starter. Although it’s sad to see such a dominant force leave your team, Jared Odrick proved his 1st round status last season and will most likely become a full-time starter.
2) Yeremiah Bell: One of Miami’s strongest leaders was released on Monday due to cap issues. Yeremiah Bell, the starting SS, team captain, and 4-time team leader in tackles was released most likely for a Mark Anderson signing, now that Alex Smith is returning to the 49ers. Bell’s cap hit $6.2 million, and the Dolphins felt as if they needed to put the money to better use. The Dolphins might re-sign Bell if no one takes a chance on him, however there are multiple strong safeties left on the market and the 2012 safety class is one of the strongest in the draft.
QUARTERBACK: The one thing that Jeff Ireland and Stephen Ross promised fans before the season ended included the following: "Finding a quarterback is obviously essential," "Hey, this is a quarterback league, so we’ve got to do our best to make the position better," "We need a quarterback that can lead us over the hump, no doubt about it."
With Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Peyton Manning all out of the picture, the only possible suitors left were Alex Smith, Matt Flynn, and David Garrard:
Matt Flynn: Flynn seemed to be the Miami Dolphins backup plan for about 2 months. If Manning didn’t work out, it was already presumed that Miami would be signing Flynn and bringing him back to his old offensive coordinator, Joe Philbin. After visiting with Seattle, Flynn came down to Davie to talk with the FO and it seemed as if everything went down smoothly. The following day Flynn had finally made his decision and his choice was a bit surprising. Matt Flynn had decided to play for the Seahawks with a three-year $24 million contract with $10 million guaranteed.
This was the breaking point of many Dolfans. They expected Flynn to come down to Miami with the same contract he got from Seattle, and then move on from there. Unfortunately, the situation was aggravated after Flynn was asked about his decision. He came out saying he liked the Seattle staff more than Miami’s, making his decision an easy one. After that, Ryan Clark came out with rude comments on his twitter page regarding Jeff Ireland and the entire Dolphins organization by writing that "No One" wants to go to the Dolphins. This too did not bode well with thousands of fans, which was understandable.
The argument for those in favor of not signing Flynn is understandable as well. If Joe Philbin truly believed in Flynn, then he would have made it happen. The fact that Miami didn't chase him down, with a similar contract he got from Seattle, should give you a feel of what Philbin truly believes of him. However, if Philbin didn’t see franchise material in Flynn, then why would the Dolphins have invited him to the facility in the first place? The answers lies with Philbin, Ireland, & Ross, and until they answer questions candidly, we might not find out for a while.
Alex Smith: Before Flynn officially signed with Seattle, Alex Smith took a visit with the Dolphins. It was speculated the Dolphins would have to pay Smith $8 million a year in order to sign. $8 million a year for a game manager is mind boggling. I (along with many of you) would rather stick with Matt Moore for the 2012-2013 season, who has proven himself in the eyes of many. And for the fans that were disgruntled at the fact that Miami didn’t sign Smith…WAKE UP!
David Garrard: David Garrard was recently signed to a one-year deal with the ‘Fins. Garrard impressed the Dolphins during his Monday workout, and signed shortly after. This was the signing that officially pushed many fans over the ledge. The hate towards Jeff Ireland was vividly shown as protestors stood outside the Davie facility throughout the day on Tuesday calling for his head. Overreaction? Maybe. Understandable? Yes. Fans are tired of mediocrity. ESPN is right when they say the only things the Dolphins have left is their logo.
Jeff Ireland promised us an improvement at the QB position, but unfortunately he lied. Do not be mad about the way he handled things with Flynn, Garrard, and Smith, however. Garrard is and will be a backup, Alex Smith was not worth the money, and perhaps Flynn wasn’t worth the coaches’ trust. The one thing you can take from this turbulent off-season so far is that the Miami Dolphins are in re-building mode. It seems as if they were in re-building mode for the better part of the last decade, but this year it officially starts. A lot of bad came out of this free agency period, including the way Ireland and Ross handled a few things, but there was also some good. As of today, the glass seems half empty. Hope for next season has dwindled into a small spec of dust, and blackouts seem to be among us. My message to you is to stand firm. Wait until the end of April before judging and deciding the fate of this team. In football, teams do not build themselves off Free Agency. The 2012 draft is one loaded with NFL ready talent. Judgement day will arrive, so simply wait.