Free agency started only three days ago and the drama is already starting to wind down. It started with a move that took everyone's breath away; Brandon Marshall was traded to the Chicago Bears for third round picks in 2012 and 2013. It was like a punch to the gut, but the move was later justified by news of Marshall allegedly hitting a woman in a New York City nightclub over the weekend. The Dolphins moved forward in free agency and news of Marshall took a backseat as other free agents signed huge deals. Peyton Manning is the only player left that could keep fans glued to the news as they seek updates.
To start the recap, I am going to focus on the moves the Dolphins have made during free agency. Let's take a look at how they've do so far.
Current Free Agents:
Chad Henne: Signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Ryan Baker: Remains unsigned.
Ikaika Alama-Francis: Remains unsigned.
Will Allen: Remains unsigned.
Ray Feinga: Re-signed with Miami.
Will Barker: Re-signed with Miami.
Vernon Carey: Remains unsigned.
Marc Colombo: Remains unsigned.
Austin Spitler (RFA): Received no offers by other teams.
Lex Hilliard: Remains unsigned.
Steve Slaton: Re-signed with Miami.
Paul Soliai: Re-signed with Miami.
Kendall Langford: Remains unsigned.
Jeron Mastrud (RFA): Received no offers by other teams.
J.P. Losman: Remains unsigned.
Phillip Merling (RFA): Re-Signed with Miami.
Marvin Mitchell: Remains unsigned.
Lydon Murtha (RFA): Received no offers by other teams.
Analysis: None of these players were great needs for Miami to re-sign. Soliai and Langford are best of the bunch and the Dolphins were able to bring back Soliai at a very good price. Jeff Ireland and Stephen Ross will likely be criticized by losing out on Peyton Manning, but they pulled a big victory with Soliai. While Soliai was paid more than $12 million with the franchise tag in 2011 and wanted a contract in which would make him one of the highest paid NTs in the NFL, the Dolphins were able to get Soliai back at a reasonable price for the short term in which they can judge his future with the team after 2013. None of the restricted free agents are expected to be starters for Miami in 2012, but they could provide valued depth. Merling may have the potential to take the biggest step forward and could play a vital role as a rotational DE in 4-3 formations. It's unlikely Murtha will start for the Dolphins in 2012, but he will bring valuable depth to the OT position.
Free Agent Signings:
Richard Marshall, CB/FS - Signed for 3 years worth $16 million: Marshall was a player I was liked when he was with the Carolina Panthers. He is solid in run support and has the ability to be very good in coverage. Marshall has shown great flashes as a CB, but inconsistency plagued him. The Panthers released him after 2010 and he signed with the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals moved him to FS and he had arguably the best season of his career in 2011. The Dolphins told Marshall they will determine whether he plays FS or CB during the spring. If he moves back to CB, he has the inside track for the nickel CB position and has the ability to push Sean Smith as the starting #2 CB. If he remains at FS, he is the ball hawk FS with great range the Dolphins desperately need. His solid tackling skills won't leave the Dolphins weak against the run either. A very good signing for a versatile player. Grade: B+
Jamaal Westerman, OLB/DE - Contract details unknown at the time of writing: He is a young role player the Jets have liked. His playing time was limited in New York with Calvin Pace, Aaron Maybin, and Bryan Thomas in the mix. He was inserted into the starting lineup for three games in 2011 to and finished the season with 3.5 sacks in 411 snaps. He also had 5 QB hits and 9 QB pressures along with 2 forced fumbles. Westerman learned after the season that he played the entire 2011 season with a torn groin and underwent surgery after the season. He's not the established pass rusher many wanted, but he does have potential and will provide depth even if he doesn't earn the starting job. It'll be interesting to see if he can improve on 2011 when he recovers from his injury. Grade: C+
Artis Hicks, G/T - Signed for 1 year worth $2 million: He started the season at RT and didn't play very well. He was injured after 3 games and missed much the season. Though he didn't allow any sacks in 194 snaps, he did surrender 3 QB hits and 11 QB pressures. The Dolphins could move him back to RG, but he didn't have much success there either as a Brown in 2010. At the age of 33, he is only a short term solution and not a very good one at that. It is an upgrade from Colombo, but that isn't saying much. Eric Winston would've been a better option even though he'd cost close to double what Hicks will earn. This will be a better signing if Miami plans on using Hicks for depth, but I don't believe they will. He gets a slight boost for being versatile. Grade: D+
Analysis: The Dolphins have moved on to trying to lock up Matt Flynn and they are also hosting Mark Anderson. Anderson, who finished 2011 with 10 sacks for the Patriots, would provide that established pass rusher that many Miami fans wanted. The Dolphins have approximately $6 million in cap space and are likely looking to restructure contracts to make room for more free agent signings. The Dolphins could continue to look at WRs such as Mario Manningham or look at Reggie Nelson, a FS under Kevin Coyle in Cincinnati, if they decide to move Marshall to CB.
Winners and Losers of the week:
Calvin Johnson: How can he not be with that $132 million contract?
Dallas Cowboys: They are rebuilding their defense and signed Brandon Carr (CB), Dan Connor (ILB), and Brodney Pool (S). All of them are expected to be starters in 2012. The also added Lawrence Vickers, a very underrated FB, on the offensive side of the ball. Kyle Orton was a great signing to provide depth behind Tony Romo. The Cowboys did a great job in free agency with the little amount of salary cap space they had.
San Diego Chargers: They may have lost Vincent Jackson, but they quickly replaced him with Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal. They were able to retain OT Jared Gaither and added FB Le'Ron McClain to bolster to the running game. Jarret Johnson may not be the pass rushing threat the Chargers need, but he's a solid OLB and is a stud against the run.
Buffalo Bills and Mario Williams: It was a win for both parties involved. Williams becomes the highest paid defensive player in the NFL and the Bills instantly have one of the most dominant defensive lines in the NFL. Williams will team up with Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus to form one of the best four-man fronts. That problem Buffalo has against the run and rushing the passer? That is a thing of the past.
Peyton Manning: Only a few months ago, Manning was only believed to be a coveted free agency if he could prove to teams he was on a good path to recovery. This week, Manning's health as been a mere formality as teams have lined up to sign him without going through an extensive workout.
Matt Flynn: As the race for Peyton Manning dragged on, Flynn found himself being courted by only two teams. One of those teams, the Dolphins, only wanted him as a Plan B. Flynn may not land a contract similar to Kevin Kolb after all.
Miami Dolphins: Once considered the favorites for Manning, the found themselves waiting on an answer. They finally received one, Peyton told them no, after two days. Though the Dolphins have been found to be justified in trading Marshall, they head into the weekend appearing to be weaker on offense. This can change, and most certainly will, but for now, they haven't done a lot to calm ensure Miami will upgrade their offense in 2012. Signing Flynn would be a start, but many Miami fans don't have faith in him either.
Paul Soliai: Simply put, he got much less than what he expected. It's very possible he found out he wasn't as coveted as he hoped to be and a contract on par with Vince Wilfork was never an option.
Kyle Orton: He was a started less than a year ago and wanted big money from the Dolphins to be their starter in 2011. What happened? The big money never came, Orton ended up being benched, and now finds himself firmly entrenched as a backup in Dallas behind Romo.
Tim Tebow: Peyton may have been the only QB in the NFL to make Denver fans want to move on from Tebow. Denver's brass is watching Peyton work out and if they land him, Tebow's future in Denver is in doubt. His value may be lessened by many teams based on his underwhelming play from the pocket in 2011.
Words of Wisdom: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have spent a lot of money in free agency on Vincent Jackson, Eric Wright, and Carl Nicks. Wright was an expensive signing for a CB that ranked 105th out of 109 CBs in the NFL in 2011. Jackson and Nicks are great players, but large spending in an offseason when you have tons of money could lead to a salary cap crunch in future years if the Bucs don't find success in 2012 and 2013. With the Saints and and Falcons in the same division, along with a rising Carolina team, success won't be guaranteed.