Mediocrity. It’s a term that has been associated with the Miami Dolphinsfor the past five years. The Dolphins’ regular season record since 2009 are the following: 7-9, 7-9, 6-10, 7-9- 8-8.
That is an amazingly consistent string of mediocrity.
Dolphins fans have become accustomed to this sort of mediocrity from their team. The Dolphins are never too bad to be the joke of the league, and they’re never good enough to be a playoff team. They’re always a team somewhere in the middle-of-the-pack with the hope that they can take that next step toward becoming a playoff team.
Jason La Canfora CBSSports.com wrote an article detailing the Dolphins’ problems relating to the salary cap and the re-signing and rebuilding of the offensive line in 2014. La Canfora documents how the Dolphins’ signings of free agents such as Mike Wallace, Philip Wheeler, Brian Hartline and Dannell Ellerbe rolled over about $18 million in unused cap space for 2014. As highly touted as those signings were, it brought the Dolphins from seven wins in 2012 to just eight wins in 2013. One year after the free agent spending frenzy of former general manager Jeff Ireland, it’s safe to say it has been a failed experiment so far.
Ellerbe and Wheeler provided absolutely nothing to the Dolphins. In fact, the Dolphins got worse with Ellerbe and Wheeler involved in the front seven compared to when Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett were with the team in 2012. In 2013, Miami ranked 26th in run defense. They ranked 13th in 2012. So essentially, the Dolphins paid an average of $7 million per year for Ellerbe and $5.2 million for Wheeler so the team could regress in terms of run defense.
The problem isn’t that Wheeler and Ellerbe were paid so much in 2013—they were paid a collective total of just under $5 million a year. The problem is they received back-loaded contracts, meaning their cap numbers are immense from 2014 onward. Ellerbe will have a cap hit of $7.5 million in 2014 while Wheeler’s cap hit is $6.4 million. And what exactly are they providing to the Dolphins?
The Dolphins will have $32 million in cap space for 2014, but they have so many holes to fill that $32 million really isn’t a lot. Miami will have to re-sign Brent Grimes, and they will have free agents Dimitri Patterson and Nolan Carroll at cornerback. The Dolphins need defensive backs with starting safety Chris Clemons also a free agent.
To make matters worse, the Dolphins need to rebuild their offensive line with left tackle and left guard glaring holes given the impending departures of Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito. The interior of the defensive line has a void with Paul Soliai and Randy Starks free agents. Only one of the defensive tackles are likely to be retained.
If the Dolphins could rid themselves of Ellerbe and Wheeler at this point they would. The issue is both linebackers are signed through the 2017 season with each owed a signing bonus of $1.4 million per year for the next four seasons. The Dolphins will likely try to restructure with both veteran linebackers this offseason, but it remains to be seen if Ellerbe and Wheeler are willing to take pay cuts.
Unless the Dolphins are able to find low-cost free agents and young draft picks who can make an immediate impact for the team in 2014, it’s hard to envision the Dolphins changing their fortune of mediocrity in 2014. The free agent spending frenzy of 2013 has this team financially strapped for the next several years. Unless the free agents of the 2013 class such as Wallace, Ellerbe and Wheeler perform to the level of their contracts, we might just be looking at a team destined for mediocrity for several more years.