As a diehard Dolphins fan since infancy (okay, since 1971, but it sure seems longer), I’m excited to see the Dolphins make a huge splash right out of the gate in free agency, signing Ndamukong Suh to anchor the interior defensive line and terrorize Tom Brady. In doing so, the Dolphins acquired the king of the free agency prom for the third year in a row, and hope springs eternal for Dolphins fans at this time of year. I’m excited to see how this new acquisition transfers to onfield success in the upcoming season.
And while there is no doubt that Miami’s defense should be vastly improved in 2015, I feel a twinge of trepidation, a ‘queasiness’, if you will, that the Dolphins may end up paying dearly for this move later.
What concerns me is the eventual price to pay the proverbial piper, and the resulting good players that may find themselves tossed to the curb over the next few years as the cost to fit their contracts under the salary cap becomes more than the team can bear. Simple math tells us that when there is a massive cost in one area of the roster, other parts of the roster are going to be filled with lessor players, role players, and young players in their first contracts with the team. And when you rely on young, inexperienced players, the margin for error becomes very small, and the abilities of the coaches are magnified.
One constant among many in the Joe Philbin era, is that the coaches don’t seem to like young players in their schemes. This is especially true on defense, where a veteran presence is preferred. In fairness to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, rookies Ja’wuan James and Jarvis Landry did make significant contributions on offense last year. But defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle appears to have a marked aversion to putting youngsters on the field.
More concerning is the fact that the Dolphins currently have very large amounts of money invested in recent free agents WR Mike Wallace, OL Brandon Albert, and now DT Ndamukong Suh. If the team keeps TE Charles Clay, there will be a significant investment there. And then quarterback Ryan Tannehill is entering the last year of his rookie contract, and he will command a high price to retain as well. When you add up the yearly salary cap hits for just those five players, Miami could be paying upwards of $60 million (on average) for less than ten percent of the roster. Even the man in charge of the Dolphins admits this could be troublesome, as Mike Tannenbaum told the SunSentinel’s Dave Hyde after Suh’s introductory press conference yesterday, “So did we pay him handsomely? Absolutely. Is it going to make some of the choices extraordinarily tough down the road? It sure is.”
This all puts added pressure on the team’s front office, as they need to hit paydirt in the draft and then do a great job developing that young talent to complement the star players on the Dolphins roster. While GM Dennis Hickey did a good job last year finding talent in the draft and free agency, it remains to be seen if the current front office and coaches have what it takes to continually find and develop rookies who can contribute right away.
In the short term, all eyes will be on the team this coming season, and everyone, from the owner to the ball boys, knows that if marked improvement isn’t seen this year, heads will roll. Along with most fans, I fully expect to see significant improvement this season. It’s in the subsequent years, when the bills come due for these massive contracts, that I worry that too much talent in others areas will have to be purged to meet the financial commitments of the few chosen superstars.
Hopefully, the Dolphins are prudent in their planning, and have already taken all this into account. If so, I’m worrying over nothing, and I can say with assurance that this wouldn’t be the first nor last time for that! But if not, Dolphins fans could be in for a very bumpy ride in the years to come.
This article was written by Eldon Jenson. Follow him on Twitter @ejfootball