The Miami Dolphins did what everyone expected them to and signed left tackle Branden Albert to a five-year, $47 million deal that includes $25 million guaranteed during the opening hour of free agency.
The writing had been on the wall since news initially broke on Saturday that the Dolphins preferred Albert to Eugene Monroe. I, along with many others, ranked Monroe higher than Albert in advance of free agency. Pro Football Focus agreed with that sentiment, slotting Monroe 12th overall and Albert 28th overall among offensive tackles in 2013.
Seeing as though Monroe’s market was relatively weak, forcing him to return to the Baltimore Ravens at a discount — a five-year deal that will pay him nearly $10 million less than Albert — teams around the NFL didn’t think of him as highly as most media and fans. Regardless of why interest in Monroe was low, it’s fair to assume that the Dolphins locked up the market’s top left tackle in Albert — at least in the eyes of front office executives around the league.
Now that the ink on Albert’s new deal in Miami is dry, did GM Dennis Hickey overpay to land his services? It’s a rather straightforward question, but it has many layers.
According to OverTheCap.com, the $9.4 million the Dolphins will pay Albert on average per season ranks as the seventh most among left tackles while his $4 million guaranteed average ranks ninth. Those figures suggest the Dolphins should have signed a borderline elite left tackle.
Although Albert finished 28th in Pro Football Focus’ overall standings at offensive tackle, he conceded the 10th fewest sacks at the position among those who played at least 800 snaps. Also, his overall pass blocking efficiency ranked 11th, higher than three of the six blindside protectors who are compensated more lucratively.
Albert posted mediocre run blocking grades in 2013, but after Ryan Tannehill was sacked a franchise record 58 times, the Dolphins sensibly placed a higher emphasis on adding the market’s most proven commodity in pass protection. Albert was certainly worthy of that title, having allowed fewer sacks over the past three seasons combined (10) than the 13 Jonathan Martin and Bryant McKinnie combined to grant at left tackle for the Dolphins in 2013.
Albert might not be an elite left tackle or worthy of the seventh highest salary at the position on paper, but he isn’t a far cry from qualified. And considering how desperate the Dolphins were for reliable protection on Tannehill’s blindside, the deal — more specifically the price — was fair.
Sitting with the No. 19 overall pick in May’s draft, the Dolphins weren’t in position to select one of the class’ top left tackle prospects. And there was simply no way to justify going into the 2014 season with a question mark at the position all over again. Tannehill is at least entitled to quality blindside protection in his third season. Without it, the Dolphins migh be left in the dark in regards to Tannehill’s capability as a starting quarterback for the second consecutive year.
Now, assuming Hickey can patch up the line’s other holes, Tannehill will have adequate time in the pocket to take the next step. Therefore, the Dolphins’ desperation for an above average to elite left tackle rightfully inflated how much money they were willing to spend.
Oftentimes when a team becomes desperate, they sacrifice the future of the organization to solidify the present. $47 million is a steep price for Albert, especially considering he comes with some durability concerns having only played a full 16-game season once. With that in mind, cap guru Dawn Aponte flexed her expertise once again, providing sufficient exit strategies during the third, fourth and fifth years of the contract.
If Albert’s play begins to worsen or he has a difficult time staying healthy, the Dolphins can save over $5 million against the cap in 2016, over $7 million in 2017 and nearly $10 million in 2018 by cutting him. Ideally, Albert would play out the entire commitment at a high level, but the Dolphins have structured the deal in a way that protects them in case he doesn’t.
At first glace, Albert’s new contract appears gaudy and reeks of desperation. While Miami was desperate for Albert, they hardly spent recklessly to nab him. The Dolphins now possess a Pro Bowl left tackle, and they got him at an equitable price.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.