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The Turtle Approach: Tackling Free Agency the Non-Miami Way

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The Dolphins have tried a similar approach the last few off-seasons with the same underwhelming results. What would happen if they completely switched their game plan up for a change?

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last week I introduced you to the idea of the Turtle Approach, a bold new outlook on how I'd like Miami to approach this offseason. We already looked at what I'd like to see happen with our current free agents as well as the necessary changes I believe Miami should make to their current roster. Today we will address NFL Free Agency and the moves that Miami should (and should NOT) look to make.

The Turtle Approach

Another Year of Making It Rain? Or the start of a new drought?

Dolphins fans love free agency, and can you blame them? What better way to forget about last year's disappointing season than with some brand new players!

All we need is to just upgrade a few positions and they will fit in perfectly and nothing bad can happen and everything will be amazing! This is the year, I can feel it!!!!" - Me, every single offseason in the history of forever

The NFL Free Agency is the equivalent of when your parents used to take to the toy store after the dentist. They made you deal with absolute hell, but hey at least you got a new toy out of it, so everything's cool now, right?

Before we begin I feel as if I need to put a few disclaimers out there to explain how free agency in the modern era of the NFL works. Every year I see more and more people type out their "Free Agency Wishlists" like a 4-year-old's letter to Santa. Guys, pump the breaks.... you're not getting a pony, sorry to break it to you. Here's a few undeniable truths to NFL Free Agency:

  • Free Agents get grossly overpaid.

It happens every year and guess what... It's going to happen this year. The fact that these players are grossly overpaid has to do with the fact that teams have to spend money regardless. If a good player hits free agency and fits a need you can always do your part to get your guy, no matter how your team performed last year. You just have to cough up the cash. It's why good free agents get elite money and elite free agents get record-breaking contracts. Look no further than Ndamukong Suh last year and his astronomical contract and why Lamar Miller and Olivier Vernon will probably be in the top 10 highest paid in their positions at the end of free agency. It's also the reason why Von Miller and Josh Norman were franchised by their team without a thought. Those guys would easily get Suh-like contracts if for some reason Denver or Carolina let them hit the market. But elite players like that rarely do, which is mostly why I still stand by the decision to bring Ndamukong Suh in last year; those are once in a blue moon opportunities. Critics will always sound off anyways, "Well, I wouldn't pay that much for him!" - guess what, you're not an NFL owner so you don't have to. But somebody will.

  • There are 32 NFL teams out there.

Another shocker, huh! People forget that there's something called competition in the NFL. Every good player out in free agency will have suitors, and this year Miami is at a disadvantage to most teams considering their cap space (or lack thereof). Nonetheless, some people will suggest that Miami should sign multiple top free agents before the start of free agency and then get ultimately start complaining when it doesn't happen. This to me is very strange considering...

  • The Dolphins are the Kings of Free Agency

Below is a list of teams that have spent more money than Miami in free agency over the last 5 years:

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You get the point right? Miami spent nearly half of a billion dollars in contracts and investments last season,  which was easily the most in the NFL by a wide margin. This included approximately $155 million spent in free agency, mostly by the acquisition of Ndamukong Suh, but also by bringing in guys like Jordan Cameron, Brice McCain, Zach Bowman and Spencer Paysinger (so judging by production... pretty much just Suh).

Most of us agree that the key to wins is NOT measured by success in free agency, yet every year we view free agency as the "quick fix" to patch our holes and turn everything around as quickly as possible. Fox Sports looks a bit deeper into this claim and confirms that teams who win free agency are the ones losing on the football field.

Miami is in a league of it's own though, after having nearly the top paid free agent for the last three seasons! Mike Wallace was signed for $11.9 million/year in 2013 (#1 highest paid free agent that year), Brandon Albert was signed for $9.4 million/year in 2014 (#2 highest pad free agent that year right behind Aquib Talib's $9.5 million/year) and Ndaumkong Suh broke the bank for over $19 million/year (highest paid free agent in NFL history). Miami has been crushing it in March and April! We're the champions!! Right? Umm......well you should probably see this...

Free Agency Spending v Wins (per Fox Sports)

Free Agency Spending v Wins (per Fox Sports)

The figure above shows everything you need to know and why I want to see Miami make big changes to their offseason approaches moving forward. Besides being in a league of their own in terms of free agent spending, it has not translated to wins and since this period Miami hasn't had one winning record. It's time for a change, boys and girls.

Cool story, bro. So we are still gonna sign everybody right?

Despite a weak overall NFL free agency, there are quite a few guys out there that in reality should be good fits for this Miami Dolphin team. But let's look at the positions Miami should look at in depth during the 2016 free agency campaign.

Defensive End- The Dolphins will likely lose Olivier Vernon and guys like Jason Pierre-Paul and Mario Williams would be good fits but they are big names and will likely get paid pretty well for that reason. I already mentioned that Miami should re-sign Derrick Shelby and Cam Wake and if I were them I would possibly look at lower tier ends like William Hayes, Jeremy Mincey or George Selvie for the right price.

Defensive Tackle- This is a surprisingly deep defensive tackle free agency class with veterans like Knighton, Ngata, Raji Mebane and Devito trying to show they still have some gas left in the tank. While replacing Earl Mitchell with a productive veteran next to Suh makes sense, I wouldn't want to see Miami invest in tons of money at the tackle spot, where it could hamper the progression of Jordan Phillips. If Miami has the opportunity to sign Paul Soliai for dirt cheap and have him a serve a rotational run-stopping role, I think that is their best move. I think the deep group of tackles makes an opportunity for Miami to good value here.

Running Back- If possible, Miami should likely try and re-sign Lamar Miller to avoid having to search for a RB this offseason, and they look to be in the process of trying to make that happen. If for some reason a deal can't be made, guys like Matt Forte and Arian Foster could be good names to consider to pair with Jay Ajayi, but only for the right price. For cheap, guys like Alfred Morris, Chris Ivory and James Starks could be worth a look and better value anyways.

Linebacker- As much as this team needs linebacker help, I would avoid going after linebackers in free agency. They are too hot a commodity nowadays for teams to be releasing them without major question marks being asked. As intriguing as names like Laurinaitis, Beason and Derrick Johnson may sound, their best years are behind them and they really won't be an option for the future of this team. The only way I look at linebacker is if the price falls for a guy like Mark Barron at OLB or if Miami is seriously contemplating switching to 3-4, players such as Vincent Rey or Rolando McClain could make some of sense. But overall I'd say these scenarios are unlikely and I'd look to build up our linebackers primarily through the draft.

Cornerback: Miami desperately needs corner help and there area handful of guys who really do make a ton of sense in free agency. I think Janoris Jenkins is an excellent corner who has a chance to have an impact season like Josh Norman did this year. Unfortunately, I think he's going to get paid handsomely, and may not even leave Los Angeles. Sean Smith, Leon Hall and Prince Amukamara are all worth looking at but will get pretty decent contracts as well in my opinion. Instead, because I suggested releasing Brent Grimes before, we look to replace him with a sound veteran who will likely cost half the price. I'm thinking Adam Jones and Brandon Boykin would fit those shoes nicely, so I would sign either to a 2-year deal. I don't really want to break the bank here either because I'd want to save the majority of our money for our largest hole to address via free agency.

Guard/Tackle- It won't be splashy by any means, but I think if Miami needs to make one big signing this year, it's a guard. We've tried to address this position the last few years via the NFL draft and it hasn't worked out well for us. The last big signing we made on the offensive line was Brandon Albert in 2013, and besides his injuries I'd say he's done his job. In fact, Ryan Tannehill has been sacked significantly less since Albert's arrival, but he still continues to be abused primarily due to our interior line getting blown up at the line of scrimmage.

Kelechi Osemele is the crown jewel of this class and honestly he's the perfect fit for Miami. He's young and versatile and is one of the league's best guards. Not only that, but he filled in at left tackle when Eugene Monroe got hurt and he showed he can play there too. The fact that Miami can play Osemele at guard or tackle is intriguing and he should be the team's top target in my opinion. The main issue though is that he may command a left tackle salary and would Miami want to pay all that for a player who might end up playing guard? If not, there are quite a few consolation prizes as Alex Boone, Evan Mathis, Richie Incognito, Ramon Foster and Jahri Evans may all be available. The Dolphins can probably easily sign two of those guys for the price of Osemele so it will all come down to pricing here. This is the position to watch in my opinion. If it were up to me one of those guys would be a Miami Dolphin soon enough.

In closing, I think Miami should reverse the trend in free agency spending until cap room AND our record gets to somewhere more comfortable. But I think guard should be on the radar as our top priority and I'd keep a huge eye on Kelechi Osemele as our top target. However, he will likely get overpaid to play tackle by a team like Oakland so I'd use some of that money to negotiate a deal to lock up Lamar Miller and still have plenty to sign a guy like Alex Boone from San Francisco. I'd use whatever dollars leftover to sign DE William Hayes, DT Paul Soliai and CB Adam Jones. After a quiet free agency, I'd expect Miami to receive some help via compensatory picks in the 2017 NFL draft if in fact Vernon does in fact leave. The draft is where Miami will really need to do their best work... so for my next article we will take a look at the 2016 NFL Draft and the Dolphins best options.

-Turtle