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Dolphins land on ESPN ‘outsized’ contracts list twice

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

The Miami Dolphins were deliberate with how they attacked free agency this year, not making the giant splash deals that have been linked to the team in the past several seasons. That said, the Dolphins still had two players who landed on ESPN Bill Barnwell’s list of the NFL’s 25 most outsized contracts - though one of the two he seems to agree was what Miami had to do.

Barn well attempted to baseline every position’s value by looking at the multi-year deals for every spot on the field, explaining, “I've gone through every multiyear contract I could find since the new collective bargaining agreement was signed in July 2011 and measured each deal's three-year value, which is the actual money a player would take home if he stayed on the roster for three seasons without departing or renegotiating his contract. Several NFL organizations use this metric as a simple measure of a contract's value.” He adds, “I built a baseline three-year value for each position by taking the average of the top 20 contracts during this time frame at each spot. This includes both active and inactive contracts signed since 2011, because the latter still play a part in defining the market.”

From there, Barnwell then calculated the percentage each contract was over the baseline, and ranked the top 25.

At the 20th position, Dolphins safety Reshad Jones makes an appearance on the list. Barnwell writes of Jones’ contract extension, which was signed back in March:

Three-year compensation: $33 million (34.6 percent over baseline)

You can understand why the Dolphins wanted to re-sign Jones, a good safety who was entering the final season of the four-year, $28 million extension he signed in August 2013. At this price, though, Jones is probably overpaid. He's made one Pro Bowl in seven seasons and hasn't sniffed a first-team All-Pro nod. Eric Weddle is older, but he's been more successful and got less money in true unrestricted free agency. Devin McCourty is younger than Jones, has played cornerback and free safety, and the same is true for him. The Dolphins had a year of contractual control and still gave Jones more than the Ravens handed to Tony Jefferson, who could negotiate with 32 teams and is more than four years younger. Jones' deal is also structured in such a way that the Dolphins are basically guaranteed to pay him through 2019. He's not going to suddenly be bad, but this is a top-three contract for a player who just hasn't been a top-three safety.

Barnwell does not seem to be a fan of Jones’ contract - especially not as much as Dolphins fans seem to like it. As Barnwell wrote, Jones was entering the final year of his contract, and he is becoming one of the elite safeties in the league, even if he “hasn’t sniffed a first-team All-Pro nod.” He was ranked 64th by the NFL players in their 2016 Top 100 Players list - and probably would have been higher on the 2017 list if he had played all of the season. He only played in six games last season after a shoulder injury forced him to have surgery.

Jones is going to come out this year looking to prove that he is one of the game’s best safeties, returning to the elite group after the shortened 2016 season. Barnwell may not agree with Jones’ contract right now, but it should look better after this season.

The other Dolphins contract to make the list should not surprise anyone. The second “most outsized contract” in the league is Miami defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who signed a six-year, $114.4 million contract with the Dolphins in 2015. In the write up about Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry, who is ranked third on the list, Barnwell ends his explanation writing, “The injuries are a concern, but players like Berry almost never hit free agency ...”

He then starts his write up on Suh where he left that off on that sentence.

Three-year compensation: $60 million (80.4 percent over baseline)

... I say almost never because of Ndamukong Suh, a future Hall of Famer who hit the free-agent market at 28 by virtue of the Lions' being bad and amassing useful top-five picks at a time when those picks cost an exorbitant sum of money. Suh had grown to be such a burden that the Lions ended up paying $9.7 million in dead money on their 2015 cap, which was Suh's first season in Miami. Even now, Suh makes as much as two star pass-rushers on other teams. You can fit the first three years of the extensions handed to J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus combined under $60 million with room to spare.

If you want to get a sense of what top-tier talent is truly worth in the NFL, though, Suh is the best example we have of how dominant players are underpaid. His deal is way above even the other members of the big six -- and the Dolphins built the contract knowing they would restructure it in a dangerous way -- but Suh is as good of a bet as anyone in football. Even if Suh has lost some explosiveness, he's still good for 20 quarterback knockdowns and a run at the league lead in run tackles for loss on a near-annual basis. Suh also hasn't missed a game via injury as a pro, having sat out only two games in 2011 for stomping on Evan Smith. This is market value for a superstar.

Despite Suh’s contract being 80.4 percent over baseline, Barnwell seems to agree that it is actually market value for someone of Suh’s ability. The Dolphins targeted and signed a player who was surprisingly available despite being a superstar in his prime. Suh has played up to his contract, even at the huge number that $114 million represents, and he pairs with defensive end Cameron Wake to provide the Dolphins with an elite defensive line. Suh’s contract may be well over the baseline for defensive tackles, but he is a player who is well over the average defensive tackle in the league.

On another note, former Dolphins tight end Charles Clay, who was signed by the Buffalo Bills in 2015 after Miami placed the transition tag on their 2011 sixth-round draft choice. The Bills built an offer sheet that would make it nearly impossible for Miami, who had just signed Suh, to be able to match - now the Bills are dealing with a player who is struggling with injuries and has not played up to the same level as he was playing with the Dolphins. Ranked 16th, Barnwell writes of Clay’s contract:

Three-year compensation: $29 million (37.5 percent over baseline)

There might not be a worse contract in football than the five-year, $38 million deal Whaley used to extricate Clay from the Dolphins as a restricted free agent. The Bills gave Clay a $10 million signing bonus in Year 1 and a $10 million roster bonus that the team converted to a signing bonus in Year 2 for cap reasons. As a result, the Bills ensured they would be keeping Clay on the roster for four years, given that they won't realize any cap savings by cutting or trading Clay until 2019, when they'll owe $4.5 million in dead money.

At his best, Clay was a useful tight end, but he has played through knee injuries since arriving in Buffalo that aren't going away. This is the exact sort of downside risk teams try to avoid by keeping guarantees within the first two years of contracts. The Bills signed themselves up for that risk and ended up with a contract that was almost immediately underwater. It's a reminder of how bad organizations trick themselves into making foolish decisions.

The Dolphins have two contracts on the outsized list, though neither one of them seems to be over-value for the individual player - to the point that even Barnwell agrees with one of them. Miami also avoided being on the list for a third time by no choosing to match the Bills’ offer to Clay. What do you think of the Dolphins’ contracts?