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Free Agency - So Far So Good
Unlike the last several years, Miami entered the 2002 FA period on fire, first re-signing Big Tim Bowens to a 5 year deal that is a much friendlier salary cap contract, (at least in the immediate future), and re-signing DB backup Shawn Wooden to a one year deal. The Dolphins also signed Larry Chester to a 4 year, $9 million dollar deal with incentives.
I was pleased with all of the above transactions, though I'll admit I was a bit of a skeptic about Chester at first. However, I did re-watch part of the Dolphin/Panthers game. I also found a website that had several video clips of Chester in action. (Click HERE to see them.) So I am certainly warming to the idea, as well as the idea of moving Gardner to DE. Both could prove to be a huge help to Miami's run defense. On the down-side, Miami lost DE Kenny Mixon to the Vikings. However, I don't see this loss as being that big a deal. Mixon was a solid run-stopper for the Dolphins, but had trouble getting after the QB. So before that 2001 season, Mixon dropped some weight to try and improve his passing rushing skills. Unfortunately, it didn't help. In the end, it backfired as Mixon was no longer as effective against the run, and could not rush the passer consistently either. So Mixon's loss will probably not be felt. I do hope that DE Lorenzo Bromell will return. I feel that he is just started to show his potential, and I'd hate to lose a player who is on his way up.
Of course the big splash this year is the trade of RB Ricky Williams. Williams instantly provides Miami with a legitimate rushing attack, something the Dolphins have not had since the days of Hall of Famer Larry Csonka. And what's more, Ricky William's contract is so cap friendly it is almost criminal. (Note to self: Don't hire a Rapper as your agent.) Williams will make league minimum for the next 4 years, until 2006. And the maximum he can make off of incentives is $500,000 annually. I wouldn't be surprised to see Miami possibly re-work at least a portion of his contract, but he still will not make a huge dent in Miami's wallet. Should the "Dread-locked one" do half as well as most Dolphin fans anticipate, then Rick Spielman should have worn a mask and gun to the Saint's negotiation table. Miami also added RB Robert Edwards to backup Ricky Williams. Edwards has been removed from the NFL since 1999, but Miami gave him a 1 year, incentive laden deal, hoping that Edwards has fully recovered from this terrible leg injury.
The Dolphins also re-signed S Brock Marion to a 5-year deal somewhere in the $9-10 million dollar range. This is the second year in a row that Marion has tested the free agent waters, only to come swimming back as a Dolphin. Personally, I'm glad to have him back. Marion posted 79 tackles in 2001 and 5 INTs, 2 of which were returned for TDs. He is also a solid punt return man. While his tackles are down from 2000, his ball-hawking ability seemed to remain the same. Marion will get beat deep from time to time, but he provides leadership and experience to an already strong Dolphin secondary. Unfortunately, the Dolphins lost S Brian Walker to the Detroit Lions. I always liked Walker, and will certainly miss him. But the Dolphin management are hoping that Auturo Freeman will fill the void that the departed Walker leaves.
I was a little saddened when Pro Bowl OC Olin Kreutz chose to re-sign with the Chicago Bears. The Dolphins offered about $3 million more, but Kreutz remained loyal and stayed in Chicago. However, it certainly displayed Miami's willingness to do whatever it takes it improve a porous offensive line and the team as a whole.
The Dolphins did bring in former Miami Hurricane Leon Searcy to challenge Todd Perry for the RG position. Leon signed a 1 year deal worth about $750,000, but will count only $450,000 against the cap. (The NFL has set some new salary cap rules, according to the Palm Beach Post, that allow teams to sign older vets that would normally cost to much.) Searcy is a physically dominating player. But there is a big question mark. Can Searcy come back from injuries that have plagued him for the last few seasons? If so, Miami may have found a partial solution to their OL problems.
The Dolphins traded RB JJ Johnson to the Browns for a conditional 2004 7th round pick. You have to credit Rick Spielman with this deal. Most teams were aware that with the signing of Robert Edwards and the trade for Ricky Williams, JJ Johnson was most certainly on his way out of town and could have simply waited for Miami to put the little used RB on the chopping block. Yet Spielman managed to get something for the departing Johnson. Another brilliant move on his part.
Heath Irwin, Scott Galyon, Hunter Goodwin, and OJ McDuffie were all handed their walking papers over the last few weeks, and odds are that none will return. Goodwin was a solid blocker, and I hate to see him go. But if our offense is going to improve, the Dolphins will have to sacrifice some areas to improve in others. I especially hated to see OJ McDuffie go. I wish that McDuffie would have simply retired as a Dolphin. He was a valuable team member and a personal favorite of mine. But his best days were behind him, and his contribution to the team would never have been what they once were. I just hate to see him leave the way he did.
The only other free agent that is scheduled to visit Miami as of this writing is Raven's WR Patrick Johnson. I don't see him being used much in the receiving corp, as he had only 5 receptions last year for 57 yards. (Most of that came against the lowly Bengals.) In fact, Johnson's best season was 1999 where he caught 29 passes for 526 yards and 3 TDs. But Johnson is a capable return man, and could fill the void if Jeff Ogden leaves via free agency.
All in all, I think that most Dolphin fans (myself included) are thrilled with the aggressiveness and determination that the Dolphins have displayed so far in free agency. And others have taken notice. One odds-maker in Las Vegas improved the Dolphins'odds of making it to the Superbowl from 12-1 to 8-1. Does Miami have a shot to make the Superbowl this year? I'm not sure, but I certainly feel better about our chances than I have in almost 10 years! GO DOLPHINS!!!