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Dolphins free agency grades all over the map

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NFL: New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins have had a busy offseason, signing and trading for players who should compliment players already on the roster, as well as re-signing some of their own players, preventing them from leaving. Last year, the Dolphins were criticized for allowing players like Olivier Vernon, Lamar Miller, and Reshard Matthews to sign with other teams, so this year, when they keep Andre Branch and Kenny Stills, the reaction must be better, right?

Not exactly.

Over the weekend, we took a look at ESPN’s Bill Barnwell’s grades of the two re-signings, giving each a D+. He also came in with a D+ for the team’s contract extension for Reshad Jones, using the passing stats against Miami’s defense getting worse without Jones than they were with Jones as implication that Miami was better without Jones, though he wrote, “That's not enough to say the Dolphins are better without Jones, of course, but it's interesting to see how they improved without him in the lineup in comparison to, say, how the Seahawks fell off without Earl Thomas around.”

So it was enough to use as an illustration of why Miami earned a D+ for signing Jones, but not enough to say the Dolphins were better without Jones? I’m confused. Maybe more of the write-up will help.

“Jones is a good safety being paid like a Hall of Fame-caliber defender. The Dolphins could have paid him $33.8 million or so over the next three years by going year-to-year and keeping Jones for the final season of his current deal before franchising him twice. They locked themselves in for the next three seasons instead. It's hard to see how they saved any money with this deal, and unless Jones hits a new level of play when most safeties are beginning to decline, it's close to impossible to figure Jones will outplay this contract.”


But, maybe Barnwell like the signing of Lawrence Timmons more. He gave that a C, so it must be a little better. “Timmons instead finds his way to Miami [rather than re-signing in Pittsburgh], which has struck out repeatedly in trying to sign linebackers in free agency and just gave Kiko Alonso a first-round tender out of the fear that somebody would grab him for a second-round pick with a large contract. (A second-round pick for Alonso, if I'm not being clear, would be an excellent deal for the pick-strapped Dolphins.) With Alonso likely moving to the weakside, Timmons will move to a 4-3 for the first time in his professional career and play middle linebacker behind Ndamukong Suh...It's hardly out of the question Timmons will be worth his deal, especially in the first year. I'd be worried about committing to a second season, as the Dolphins have done by guaranteeing $11 million of Timmons' $12 million total, for an inside linebacker who will be in his age-32 season in 2018...The Dolphins upgraded, but again, there's the question of whether they've paid a premium at a spot in their lineup where that wasn't necessary.”

First, no, a second-round pick for Alonso would not be an excellent deal for Miami, given all it does it create a complete re-build of the linebacker corps, keeps no continuity within the defensive system, and gets rid of a player who will only be 27 when the regular season begins. Adding draft picks is important, but just giving away players who did well in your system last year and was the one strong spot in the position group does not make sense - no matter how much Barnwell tries to explain it with the “pick-strapped” comment.

Second, Timmons’ age is an issue, but they are paying $6 million-per-season for what will likely be their starting middle linebacker which puts him ahead of D’Qwell Jackson ($5.5 million per season) and behind Derrick Johnson ($7 million), and 11th in average salary - in other words, they are not exactly paying premium money when Luke Kuechly is making more per season than Timmons entire contract value.

Jumping over to Pro Football Focus, the grades are probably better, right? Well...

The Stills re-signing was given a D. PFF’s “play-earned contract” for Stills was listed as a four-year, $16.7 million, $4-million guaranteed deal, compared to his actual contract of four-years, $32 million, $20-million guaranteed. Apparently, PFF feels Miami overpaid for Stills by nearly double. Of the grade, PFF explained, “Kenny Stills is getting that deep-threat boost to his finances. He did make some big plays for Miami last season, scoring nine touchdowns, but didn’t necessarily have to do a whole lot to score some of them. He is a legitimate deep threat, but doesn’t look particularly likely to develop into much beyond that.”

It only got worse for the Branch signing, which they gave an F after a play-earned contract projection was for three-years, $5.7 million, with $2.4 million guaranteed. Miami signed Branch to a three-year, $24 million deal. PFF wrote, “2016 may have been the best year of Andre Branch’s career, and there was little there to suggest he was worth this kind of contract. He did notch seven sacks, but rushed the passer 467 times to get them. His pass-rushing grade (67.9) ranked 61st among edge defenders.”

At least PFF gave Miami a good A for the William Hayes trade with the Los Angeles Rams (who received a D for their side of the deal). Miami sent a sixth-round pick to the Rams for Hayes and a seventh-round choice. PFF wrote, “William Hayes may be most famous for believing in mermaids but not dinosaurs, but he has also been a quality player on the field for the past five years or so, and instantly solves a problem the Dolphins have had at DE opposite Cameron Wake for several seasons. To acquire him for the price of moving 17 spots at the back end of the draft is a steal.”

The trade of Branden Albert to the Jacksonville Jaguars for a 2018 seventh-round draft pick received a C grade for both the Dolphins and the Jaguars. PFF explains, “Being traded for a seventh-round pick in the draft a year away is pretty much as little as a team can actually give up in a deal. It is literally just giving a team something to save them from releasing him and being able to jump the queue in terms of waivers or the free for all when he becomes a free agent.”

As for the Dolphins adding tight end Anthony Fasano as a free agent addition, bringing back a player who spent five years early in his career in South Florida back to the franchise, PFF predicted a one-year, $4.5 million contract for Fasano based on his play, with Miami signing him to a one-year, $3 million deal. Of the B grade the Dolphins received, PFF writes, “There’s still a place in this world for a blocking TE, and last season Fasano was as good as it gets in that regard. He still has enough about his game to be a viable component in the passing game too, but as a second TE he is an excellent addition to an offense.”

Miami signing safety Nate Allen picked up a C grade from PFF, who listed his play-earned contract as a one-year, $770,000 deal, while Miami gave him a one-year, $3.4 million contract. PFF explains the grade, stating “Nate Allen has seen little playing time over the past couple of seasons (459 snaps over the past two seasons combined), but in 2014 when he last started over a full season it was the best play of his career. He has the size and athleticism to succeed in any scheme, but his play is a projection at this point.”

PFF also graded the Dolphins’ addition of linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who they projected to receive a two-year, $2.1 million contract with $550,000 guaranteed, while Miami added the former Pittsburgh Steelers player to the roster on a two-year, $12-million contract with $11 million guaranteed. PFF graded the Dolphins’ move with a D, writing, “Lawrence Timmons has had a rollercoaster of a career in the NFL so far, but he is coming off back-to-back seasons of underwhelming play. He notched over 100 solo tackles in 2016, but missed 17.”

SB Nation’s Ryan Van Bibber was a little more positive on the Timmons signing for the Dolphins, giving Miami a C. Of the grade, they wrote, “I’m not exactly sure what the 31-year old linebacker brings to the table at this point, other than a part-timer. But at two years, $12 million, with $11 million guaranteed, the Dolphins probably don’t intend for him to be a in part-time role.”

CBS Sports seems to have the most positive outlook for the Dolphins’ moves overall. Giving Miami a B+ grade, they wrote, “The Skinny: The Dolphins made keeping their own a major priority. They re-signed receiver Kenny Stills and defensive end Andre Branch and also gave safety Reshad Jones a contract extension. I like teams that take care of their own. They also traded to get tight end Julius Thomas from the Jaguars. Thomas played his best football in Denver when Dolphins coach Adam Gase was the team’s offensive coordinator. They signed Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons and also added Titans tight end Anthony Fasano, one of the best blocking tight ends in the league. Timmons has slowed some, but he will be an upgrade in Miami. They also traded a sixth-round pick to get pass rusher William Hayes (and a seventh-round pick) from the Rams. They had a nice start to free agency.”

The then asked, “They have improved their team, but are they good enough to dethrone the Patriots?”

The Dolphins’ free-agency grades are all over the place, with some critical of Miami over-spending while others see value for the team. After years of criticizing the Dolphins for being “offseason champions” and a year after criticizing them for not keeping their own players, this year, the grades seem to be wanting Miami to go spend the big dollars on a big-name player and they are being down-graded for re-signing their own players.

You really cannot please some people.