The Miami Dolphins have kept up their yearly trend of making big off season roster moves before the draft. Free agent signings and trades often seem like victories for teams in the moment, but can turn out to be complete disasters once the season starts. The defending 2015 Super Bowl Champions Denver Broncos show that assembling veteran talent through free agency can put a team over the hump and yield a championship. John Elway brought in Peyton Manning, DeMarcus Ware, Emmanuel Sanders, Aqib Talib, among other veteran talent that helped the young talent like Von Miller, Demaryius Thomas etc develop and produce success on and off the field. However the 2011 “Dream Team” Philadelphia Eagles team serves as a cautionary tale that “winning” free agency can lead to losing games and the coach’s job, if the pieces brought in do not produce. After bringing in Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Jason Babin, Vince Young, among other big names, the Eagles were crowned off season champs and were even coined “...the Miami Heat of the NFL” by Jason Babin. However all the off season hyped yielded in an 8-8 record in 2011 and then 4-12 in 2012. The off season offers tempting “quick fix” solutions, and if used effectively can help bolster and build a winning roster, but it can also can create dysfunctional and problematic front office and locker room. Denver’s off season success and Philadelphia’s failure is largely due to their commitment or negligence to three basic principles- fit, value, and development. Unlike fantasy football, the NFL off season is not about acquiring the best talent available, without considering these three factors bringing in a good NFL player can still be detrimental. These three basic principles, of course are an oversimplification, but are a useful tool to assess the worth of proposed off season moves.
Fit- . Fit is determined by assessing a player’s physical and mental ability to accomplish the assignments, responsibilities, and expectations of the position in the system. Each NFL team has their own unique set of styles and schemes, and depending of the system run by the offensive and defensive coordinator can ask radically different things from the same position. A good fit is when the system calls for a player to utilize their strongest abilities of attributes in their role.
Value- Value is determined by assessing a player’s on-field production and off-field contribution compared to their contract or trade price. NFL players acquired during free agency or trades are often overpriced due to the competitiveness of the market, but undervalued assets that outperform their price can also be found. Player’s health, age, personality, public perception, and fit can be factors outside of just their production in determining value. A simple test way to test value is to compare a player’s statistical production ranking and their contract ranking at their position.
Development- When players are brought in through free agency and trades, not through the draft, they can stunt and prevent the growth of the young talent already on the roster. Picks given away in trades and inflated free agent contracts can prevent teams from drafting and resigning younger players. Furthermore teams can also attempt to solve holes in their roster with short-term veteran solutions. These band-aid acquisitions can prevent a team from expending a draft pick or roster spot to develop the future replacement at that position. Development is often the most easily ignored factor in off season acquisition decisions, but can have the most serious long term effects. Veterans can come in and provide tutelage and mentorship, but also detract critical practice and game reps from the younger players.
Overall Grade- The overall grade is determined by adding the rankings out of 20 for fit and value, the most important aspects, and adding the rankings out of 10 for development. Off season acquisitions are highly competitive and rarely our complete successes for a team due either to high costs or high risks. Teams that are consistently able to secure acquisitions that ranks between a C+ to a B+ and hopefully an occasional A are able to improve their roster without harming their cap situation, but it only takes a handful of notable D and F graded moves to be catastrophic to an organization.
The following articles, “The Good: Denver 2015” and “The Bad: Philadelphia 2011”, will go into greater detail into the success of Denver and the failure of Philadelphia, and explain what factors led to the two very different outcomes. Then the final article “Miami 2016” will assess the current Dolphins off season and provide individual off season acquisition evaluations for each move made my Miami. It is impossible to fully assess any off season acquisition before the season even begins, but it is possible to hone in on certain aspects of a off season move to predict the outcome with moderate accuracy. Miami Dolphin fans were let down by the disappointing and chaotic 2015 season, especially after starting the year with the preseason hype and excitement around Ndamukong Suh, the top free agency prize of 2015, coming to South Beach. It now time to take a closer look at the moves made by the Dolphins this year to see if the big free agency and trade splashes of the off season lead to big waves made in the 2016 regular season by the Dolphins. Look for my next articles analyzing the Broncos (the good), the Eagles (the bad), and the 2016 Miami Dolphins.