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Free Agency Review: The Miami Dolphins Improved On Their Terms

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A lot of fans are disappointed that Chris Grier hasn’t spent big money in free agency, but should they be?

Miami Dolphins fans have had the privilege to “win” a lot of off-seasons over the past decade. Players like Mike Wallace, Joey Porter, and Ndamukong Suh were brought in on big free-agent deals to get Miami over-the-hump. But in reality, how many of them stuck with the Dolphins through their entire contract? None.

How many playoff victories did they account for in a Dolphins uniform? A goose-egg, zero.

The players weren’t to blame for this, the front office was. Championship rosters aren’t built through massive free-agent deals, they’re built through the draft. Free agency can be used to address certain holes in your roster or to add needed depth, but it shouldn’t be the main tool for building a team.

There is one exception to this rule. Teams can spring for big-money deals and manipulate the cap to get players in the building when there’s already a solid foundation to a roster. When that time comes, throw caution to the wind and go win some rings. But, if we’re being honest with ourselves, the 2021 Miami Dolphins aren’t there–not yet.

For those reasons, the Dolphins slow-played this free agency period. Luckily, this column isn’t all doom and gloom. Miami’s front office was able to pull off some really intriguing signings. Not all of these players will make a huge impact on the team, but there could be some hidden gems unearthed from the NFL’s bargain bin.

To check out who I wanted Miami to sign, click here. <— A good laugh

Will Fuller, WR (6-0, 184 lbs), 26 years old

1 year, $10.6 million w/$3 million in incentives

Every Dolphins fan hopelessly refreshing Twitter let out a collective sigh of relief when this signing was announced. Fuller has been the big fish in free agency–so far–. And considering that New England signed Nelson Agholor to a two-year, $22 million deal and the Jets signed Corey Davis to a three-year $37.5 million contract, the Dolphins got Fuller at a bargain.

Agholor and Davis are both fine receivers, but they aren’t in the same galaxy as a healthy Fuller.

But availability is the issue. How many games will we get out of Fuller? At most, fifteen–because of a prior suspension that carries into 2021–but that is the beauty of a one-year deal. He has every reason to play as much, and as well, as he can in 2021. If he plays up to his potential, great. The Dolphins can resign him, tag him, or let him walk–and hopefully collect a compensatory pick.

Grade: A+

When on the field, Fuller is one of the best deep threats in the NFL. He adds a dimension to Miami’s offense that has been lacking for years and the Dolphins got him on the cheap.

Matt Skura, Center (6-3, 313 lbs), 28 years old

1 year, $1.75 million

Skura’s signing didn’t thrill many, especially after Corey Linsley, Davis Andrews, Rodney Hudson, and the option to resign Ted Karras were all available. After watching a few of Skura’s games, I walked away very encouraged. So encouraged that I think he could even be an upgrade over Karras.

Skura has had an interesting couple of years. He was entrenched as the Ravens starting center and in the midst of a career year- in 2019, he tore his MCL, ACL, and PCL. The injury was later in the season and threatened his availability for 2020. Miraculously, Skura was able to rehab his knee and played in Week 1 of the 2020 season. He was having another good season when he started having issues snapping the ball in week nine in Indianapolis. After a couple of costly botched snaps the following week in New England, he lost his starting position. One has to wonder if the pressure of rehab and coming back from such a catastrophic injury, in a contract season no less, took its toll on Skura.

With Skura, the Dolphins are getting a league-average NFL center. He’s limited athletically, but is seldom out of place. Skura was undrafted and he plays with a chip on his shoulder. He routinely sticks with his blocks until the whistle and can be effective as both a pass and run blocker.

Grade: B

He’s not going to blow anyone away, but he can fill in as a starter or provide needed depth. Barring any issues with snaps, Skura was a solid pickup for a very modest contract.

Justin Coleman, CB (5-11, 190 lbs), 27 years old

1 year, $2.75 million

The cornerback room may appear to be set at first glance, but I love this move in free agency. Coleman is one of the more experienced slot corners in the NFL, and is still only 27 years old. Coleman began his career in New England, but had his best years as the slot corner in Seattle from 2017-2018. After that 2018 season, he cashed in through free agency with a four-year $36 million deal to play in Detroit.

Like so many other promising defensive players, Coleman didn’t look great under the tutelage of Matt Patricia. His play never reached the level of what he showed in Seattle and a hamstring injury limited his snaps in 2020. Nick Needham has shown some promise as our slot corner, but has also struggled at times. As Needham gets older, we could see more development from him, but Coleman serves a great insurance policy if that doesn’t work out.

One concern is that Coleman played his best football in a zone-heavy defense–Seattle–and has struggled in defenses that run more man coverage–like Detroit and New England.

Grade: A

Coleman provides depth for the cornerback room and will be competing for the slot corner role against Nick Needham, Jamal Perry, and possibly Noah Igbinoghene. The slot corner is an important position, and Coleman improves that for Miami.

Vince Biegel, Edge (6-3, 246 lbs), 27 years old

1 year, $945,000 w/$112,500 in incentives

We all remember Biegel’s breakout season in 2019. He had some really terrific moments on that stripped-down Miami roster, but unfortunately tore his Achilles before the 2020 season. I went back and watched a few of his games during that stretch in 2019 to try and get a balanced perspective on what Miami is getting.

Biegel is a high-motor guy through and through. He’s average against the run and is dependable when asked to drop into coverage, but doesn’t bring much to the table as a pass rusher. You won’t typically see him line up across an offensive tackle and beat him with athleticism or pass rush moves. Most of his sacks or pressures on the QB need to be manufactured using a stunt or a blitz.

Grade: B

He may not be a pass rush threat, but he’s a quality, versatile edge player that should see significant snaps in 2021. Miami got him for very little, so it’s another quality signing through free agency.

Jacoby Brissett, QB (6-4, 235 lbs), 28 years old

1 year, $5 million w/$2.5 million in incentives

We have seen time and again how important a backup quarterback can be, and Brissett was one of the better options Miami had. The former third-round pick has some experience playing as both a starter and backup and was likely a target for the Dolphins because of his familiarity with Brian Flores and his staff.

Brissett isn’t super talented physically, but can step in if something were to happen to Tua Tagovaoloa and competently manage a football game. If Miami’s defense continues to play as well as it has, that will usually be enough.

Grade: A-

Tua has had a well-documented injury history, and from that standpoint, this move was a necessity. Good player, good price.

Adam Butler, (6-5, 300 lbs), 26 years old

2 years, $7.5 million

Butler has been a Patriot for the last four years and Miami essentially swapped Davon Godchaux out for him when he signed with New England. What is the main difference between the two? Well, Godchaux is making twice as much money. There are other differences between the two, but they’re very comparable in quality of play.

Where Butler excels is as a penetrator and pass rusher. He isn’t stout against the run and can get washed out by double teams, but he’s surprisingly agile and crafty with his hands. When given free reign to go after the QB, he can be extremely disruptive. I see a role for him on third downs and obvious passing situations.

Grade: B+

He’s a rotational player, but that has a ton of value as an interior defensive lineman. They brought in a cheap and interesting player through free agency, smart move.

Robert Foster, WR (6-2, 196 lbs), 26 years old

1 year, (official numbers haven’t been released)

Foster has one of the more interesting stories from this crop of free agents. I’m sure that most of you have already heard that he played a season at Alabama with Tua (2017), but there is a lot more to him. Foster was a five-star recruit coming out of Central Valley High School (PA) in 2013, was the second-highest graded WR recruit in the entire nation that year, and was the No. 23 overall recruit in the country, one spot behind Carl Lawson.

At the beginning of his sophomore year, he started to break out for the Crimson Tide. He tallied 116 yards and 2 touchdowns in three games, but then suffered a severe shoulder injury that ended his sophomore campaign. By the time he was able to reclaim a role in Alabama’s offense, he was in a crowded receiving corps that featured Calvin Ridley, Irv Smith, DeVonta Smith, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, and Cam Sims. Making matters worse, Alabama ran the ball almost twice as much as it passed. Had Tagovailoa been his starting quarterback for a full season, things may have turned out differently.

All this information makes it less surprising that Foster–an undrafted free agent–exploded onto the scene during his rookie season in Buffalo. The question we should all be asking is, why did his career sputter so badly after that? Buffalo acquired John Brown, a fellow deep threat receiver, that surely dug into his targets, but why wasn’t he able to catch on anywhere else? Either way, he’s signed to an inexpensive contract and could provide much-needed speed to Miami’s offense and their special team’s units.

Grade: B

We should all be rooting for him to regain that rookie form and it isn’t that far-fetched to think he can. Oh, and he seems like an awesome guy. Quality move.

Malcolm Brown, RB (5-11, 222 lbs), 28 years old

1 year, $1.75 million

Similar to the Skura situation, fans had plenty of alternative free agent running backs in mind that they were hoping Miami would sign. This was a move that seemed perplexing to a lot of Twitter GM’s, but it does make some sense.

Brown had one of his best games of the season prior to the Rams coming to Miami. In that game, he ripped off a couple of impressive runs and showed a lot of determination and power. Power running was something sorely missing from Miami’s 2020 offense.

In steps Brown. He can provide those sorts of runs in 2021 and came with very little financial investment. Ideally, a signing like this would accompany a drafted running back, but now that Miami has a complete enough RB rotation, they won’t need to force the pick.

Grade: B-

It was smart to not break the bank for a running back in this situation, but Brown is also not going to greatly improve the offense.

Brennan Scarlett, OLB (6-4, 263 lbs), 27 years old

1 year, $1,127,500

Scarlett is a back-of-the-roster depth player. He primarily played as an outside linebacker for the Texans last year. Scarlett has been asked to drop into coverage a decent amount in his career and won’t be a disaster when asked to do so in Miami. He fits into the mold of a Kyle Van Noy type of player, just not as versatile or talented.

Grade: B-

He’ll be solid on special teams and add depth at edge and linebacker, but that’s about it. Nothing flashy here, but a good move to fill out the roster.

LB Duke Riley, LB (6-1, 230 lbs), 26 years old

1 year, $1,127,500

If Brennan Scarlett is Kyle Van Noy-lite, then Duke Riley is Kamu Grugier-Hill-lite. Riley brings a bit more to the table in terms of pass coverage, but is not so great against the run. He’ll act as depth for Miami’s off-ball linebacker unit and could even see the field regularly in sub-packages.

Grade: B-

Riley was a third-round selection in 2017, so there could be more to work with here. But for now, he’s a nice depth piece and will be another important contributor to the special teams unit. Another good move to fill out the roster.

Cethan Carter, TE/FB (6-3, 248 lbs), 27 years old

3 years, $7.8 million

Cethan Carter is a versatile TE who was drafted out of Nebraska in 2017. He has mostly shined as a standout special teamer and blocking tight end or full back. Chan Gailey rarely employed a full back in his offense last year, but George Godsey used one more regularly in his stint with the Texans. It wouldn’t surprise me if that’s where Carter fits into their plans.

Grade: C+

At the very least, he should be a key part of their special teams unit and could be in line for an expanded role with the Dolphins. He’s being paid a bit more than most special teams contributors, but it’s still a good signing.

Michael Palardy, P (5-11, 200 lbs), 28 years old

1 year, $1.4 million

Palardy is a quality punter that missed the 2020 season because of a torn ACL. Before that, he was one of the better punters in the league and played for the Panthers from 2016-2019.

Grade: B

Most fans probably aren’t excited by this, but punters are people too and every football team needs one. Necessary signing.

The Bottom Line

We can all say it, this hasn’t been a very exciting free agency period. The Dolphins still have a few serious needs on their roster that should be addressed later in free agency or the draft. Miami’s top priorities should be to add an edge defender and an interior offensive lineman-preferably a center.

With that said, I’m happy with the process that Grier has implemented. These smaller moves are going to give the Dolphins a ton of cap flexibility for next off-season. If Tua continues to develop, 2022 should be the off-season where Miami signs some bigger names in free agency to go after a championship.

A life-long Dolphins fan that ended up in Texas after serving in the Air Force. I believe in using a combination of analytics, film-study, and misguided fan-instincts to develop pieces. I look forward to hearing from you, Fins Up!

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