Monday, March 5, 2007

The Proverbial Chill Pill

I was going to write this article on the first day of free agency, when most fans were foaming at the mouth and ready to crucify Miami's front office for its lack of action. However, I decided to let the weekend pass, not only to let the situation play itself out more fully, but also to allow most enraged fans to gain a larger perspective free from knee-jerk reactions.

To all true fans of the Miami Dolphins, please, get a glass of water and take a chill pill. Contrary to what some people believe, the front office is not clueless as to how to conduct their jobs simply because they didn't sign a free agent immediately, let alone the two or three high-end talents that some were expecting. In fact, in this shallow market, I would argue that Mueller and Cameron know a lot more about how to construct a winning team than most of those teams who jumped right into free agency and subsequently threw record amounts of cash at players who, on the whole, are unproven.

Yes, Nate Clements is an impact player and as close to a shutdown corner as was available - but the 49ers handed him the largest contract in NFL history for a defensive player. There are several cornerbacks, let alone the broader category of defensive players, who are better than Clements. There's no doubt he will make San Fransisco better, but how much will his salary hamper them down the road? Will they end up losing a rising young talent because of the financial restrictions of such a large contract? While that is unknown, such a huge contract only makes it more likely. Deals like Clements' were the rule, not the exception, as free agency got under way. Derrick Dockery signing with the Bills for $49 million over 7 years? Thats equivalent to the deal that Steve Hutchinson got from Minnesota last year. The only difference between the two players: how about four Pro Bowl selections for Hutchinson and zero for Dockery. Eric Steinbach signing with the Browns for $49.5 million? These deals are unprecedented, and what's more...they are for offensive guards! Don't get me wrong, I fully believe that the offensive line is the most important unit on the entire team, but with contracts being thrown around like those, one would think it was the only unit on the team. These 7 year, $49 million contracts seem like the norm, with Leonard Davis signing with the Cowboys at just such an asking price. Can someone tell me what Davis has done in his career (aside from being selected with the second overall pick in the draft) that would warrant such riches being thrown his way? Some people believe he still has potential despite the disappointing start to his career, but is fading potential really worth one of the largest contracts ever given to an offensive lineman? Surprisingly, even a fiscally shrewd team like the Patriots who get more bang for their buck than any team in recent memory, are reportedly ready to sign our very own Wes Welker to a deal that would pay him an average of $5.5 million per year!

Alas, all these monstrous contracts do is raise questions. Only after a couple of seasons will teams be able to look back and say, "Was it worth it for us to devote so much money to a single player?" Fortunately, one doesn't have to wait for the current crop of free agent millionaires to prove or disprove their worth. We just have to look at past free agent signings. When is the last time a franchise-type player was available in free agency (and by franchise player, I mean someone who may actually be deserving of such a high contract)? The simple answer is that teams just don't let those players hit the market. And if franchise players never hit the market, then where do they come from? That's right - the NFL Draft. Free-agents can certainly help teams, but a team cannot be built around them. The talent that is cultivated from the draft is what eventually becomes the core foundation of a team.

It might make sense for a team that has a realistic chance of contending for a championship to add a high-priced free agent in their 30s in an attempt to get over the top, but the only way that team reached its contender status in the first place was by building a solid foundation of players brought up through its own organization. The Miami Dolphins should not realistically be considered contenders this season. We have more needs than one player can fill.

So, why are most fans proclaiming Mueller and Cameron as imbeciles for their inaction? I think it's because most casual fans or ones who can't grasp a rebuilding project, simply want that one player who will create buzz and excitement due to the name on his jersey. The value of most players in free agency is so inflated that fans are tricked into thinking that one high-priced guy is enough to change all the losing and disappointment. How did Lavar Arrington and Edgerrin James work out for their teams last year? They may be good players, but not good enough to change things on their own.

Essentially, I hope that true Dolphins fans will relax and give the front office a chance to build the team from the ground up. Obviously, the team's approach in the recent past has not worked. Now the team is trying another direction and they shouldn't be berated for it. This is called learning from mistakes. And who knows, with a good draft, Miami could always surprise. That's the great thing about the NFL - on any given Sunday...

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