The 2014 NFL season took off on Tuesday with a flurry of free agent signings. The new league year always means that some players are going to be wearing new uniforms that season and this always gets fans excited. So far, this year hasn't disappointed.
The initial rush came on offensive linemen, namely tackles as the top 4 free agents were signed within the first hour. The Ravens resigned Eugene Monroe. The Cardinals signed former Raider Jared Veldheer. Former Ram Roger Saffold signed with the Raiders. More importantly, to us anyway, the Dolphins locked up Branden Albert to fill what was clearly the biggest need for the Dolphins at left tackle. Albert got a 5 year, $47M deal with $25M in guaranteed money (the only part of the contract that really matters).
The Dolphins struck early with two deals, the Albert deal, and then announcing that Earl Mitchell, former nose tackle for the Texans, was coming to town. Mitchell played nose tackle for Houston, but many feel he was miscast in that role and would be better fit in a 4-3 front. The Dolphins are certainly hope so, as they expect Mitchell to improve the run defense AND generate an interior rush alongside Jared Odrick. Mitchell's deal was 4 years, $16M, with $9M in guaranteed money. He will likely be used in a defensive tackle rotation, either with current players A.J. Francis and Isaaco Aaitui, or with another acquisition in free agency or draft. Miami fans shouldn't expect the Dolphins to stop just Mitchell.
Unlike last season however, Miami stopped after those deals and remained quiet for the rest of the day. That doesn't mean other teams stopped though. The Falcons made it rain Tuesday signing three big name free agents within a short time period. The Falcons signed former Dolphin Paul Soliai, former Chief Tyson Jackson and former Chief offensive guard Jon Asomoah pretty quickly into the free agency period.
A couple of surprising moves was the New Orleans Saints signing arguably the top free agent available in Jairus Byrd, despite having salary cap issues. Byrd got his expected $9M/year deal with a 6 year $54M deal with $28M in guaranteed money. Look for the Saints to continue cutting players in order to free up cap space to fit this deal in. Aqib Talib signed a 6 year $57M ($26M guaranteed) with the Denver Broncos, which came as a surprise as it was expected the Patriots would resign him.
Another surprising development is that the wide receiver market was practically non-existent. None of the top free agent receivers moved in day one, which is atypical.
The only player from the Dolphins slate of free agents that signed on day one was Soliai. Randy Starks, Chris Clemons, and Nolan Carroll all remained unsigned, although Carroll did have a visit with the Bills. The 49ers expressed interest in Carroll also. That would be an interesting signing as Carroll was drafted with the pick Miami acquired in the Ted Ginn trade from the 49ers, so it would kind of come full circle there.
While the Dolphins didn't sign any more free agents, but made a huge move late Tuesday night. The Dolphins traded Jonathan Martin to the 49ers for a conditional 2015 7th round pick, contingent upon him being on the 53 man roster opening day. There are a couple of things with this deal. First of all, I commend new GM Hickey for getting something for Martin, who clearly wouldn't have been on the roster day one. The fact he was traded and not released is a positive mark for the new GM. Hickey said that he felt this was the best move for both parties and wished Martin well. Secondly, regardless of compensation, the Dolphins did well to get out of this situation looking good. Cutting Martin could have created public relations problems. Trading him to his former college coach in a familiar area looks like the Dolphins really wanted the best for Martin. In any case, the Dolphins have now rid themselves of the primaries of the scandal that plagued the locker room this past season and the organization and fans can finally move on.
Day one usually belongs to the higher priced, bigger named signings. Day two begins the bargain shopping segment as teams start looking for lower tier free agents to fill needs. Dolphins fans will be watching to see who Miami signs as well as where guys like Starks and Clemons sign. The biggest news will come from Tampa Bay as the Bucs will look to trade or cut Darrelle Revis tomorrow. The Patriots are reportedly in the running for Revis, so this is something Dolphins fans will watch.
The 2014 is off and running and the beginning of free agency is always exciting. Ryan Tannehill should be a happy camper now as he has a high quality pass protector at left tackle now. Hickey is off to a solid start with the moves he's made and looks to build on this with more signings in the next few days.