AC In The AM: Dolphins Off To Impressive Start In Free Agency

They moved swiftly, aggressively and with conviction. Sticking to their plan. Securing long-term pieces. Bringing in players, all in their 20's, with similar DNAs. Basically bystanders a year ago during the first days of free agency, the Miami Dolphins went at it full throttle this time around, clearly showing that this franchise is ready to take a major step forward.

In fact, it already has.

Look at the players they have signed over the first days of free agency. Look at the needs they have filled. Look at the pedigree those players arrive with. The Dolphins didn't merely dip their toes into the free agent pool. They did their own version of the cannon ball, making the type of splash that had to produce ripples traveling league wide.

They potentially added as many as six starters/key contributors to their defense, five of them bolstering the front seven, the sixth being one of the top cornerbacks in free agency, maybe the top one. They added two important pieces to the offensive line, a veteran running back and a young, talented special teams standout that also plays safety.

But this wasn't as much about each player individually as it was about a message being delivered, a message that the Dolphins were not sitting back any longer, that the often painful, payroll slashing, roster altering decisions of a year ago are now a distant memory, replaced instead by a carefully calculated strategy designed to turn this around in a hurry. This initial wave of signings is just the first of many steps thanks to the accumulation of that salary cap flexibility coupled 14 draft choices, including a team record three in the first round alone.

But what a promising beginning it has been, rapidly turning last year's pain into this year's gain, each of those signings further evidence that this is a franchise moving full speed ahead. At the very least, the Dolphins are clearly better today than they were yesterday. From this vantage point, a whole lot better.

We wondered how prudent the Dolphins would be with that financial windfall and how carefully they would follow a blueprint we have heard so much about, looking for players approaching their primes, players who have already had some success in the league but are just scratching the surface of their potential, players with long-term appeal.

Well, we're only entering the second week of free agency, but it's already clear the Dolphins are staying true to that blueprint. Sure, they have been aggressive in their spending, but not in a reckless manner. They have paid without hesitation what the market has dictated and have avoided the tempting lure of quick fix solutions that could come with a short-term expiration date. They have addressed so many of their most glaring needs and have done so with undeniable upgrades in talent.

Put simply, at a time when all of us need something to feel good about, the Dolphins gave us exactly that. They gave us real hope and a quick look at each of the new additions through this weekend, and what they can potentially bring to this team, only substantiates that. They are listed in alphabetical order.

  • Safety Clay Fejedelem: This signing probably had more to do with special teams than anything else, though Fejedelem did start six games for the Bengals at safety over the past four seasons. Bottom Line: Fejedelem is generally considered one of the league's elite special teams players and you can never have too many of those.
  • Offensive guard Ereck Flowers: The revamping of the offensive line, a key objective this offseason, got off to a promising start with the signing of this talented guard who figures to step in right away. His story is hometown good. He grew up about 15 minutes from training camp and played at the University of Miami so you can understand why Flowers said, "there is no better place to be." But this is strictly a football decision by the Dolphins, bringing in a former No. 1 pick who saw his career take a significant turn for the better after switching from tackle to guard last season with the Redskins. Bottom Line: A big upgrade at offensive guard.
  • Linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill: Speaking of not having too many quality special teams players, Grugier-Hill also fits that description, but he could be a factor at linebacker as well, having started 10 games for the Eagles there in 2018 and six games last season. Bottom Line: Like all of the others, he is in 20's (25) with his career arrow clearly pointing up.
  • Running back Jordan Howard: Woefully thin at this position when last season ended, Howard gives the Dolphins a badly needed veteran presence who has enjoyed success both with the Bears and Eagles, rushing for almost 4,000 yards, averaging 4.3 yards a carry and scoring 30 touchdowns in four seasons. Many believe, and rightfully so, that the Dolphins will take a running back, perhaps in the first two rounds, of the upcoming draft. But it's got to feel comforting with Howard now part of the equation. Bottom Line: Either as a starter or a change of pace back, Howard will get a lot of touches in this offense.
  • Cornerback Byron Jones: This was a huge signing, getting a top-tier cornerback, still just 27 years old and coming off two excellent seasons with the Cowboys. The Dolphins paid handsomely for his services, reportedly making Jones one of the league's highest paid cornerbacks. The prospect is indeed enticing of Jones teaming with Xavien Howard to give the Dolphins one of the most formidable starting duos in the league. Bottom Line: Jones is a lock down corner. Give credit to General Manager Chris Grier and his staff for doing whatever it took to get a player of this caliber.
  • Center Ted Karras: You can check off another major need. Karras is a four-year veteran who started 15 games with the Patriots last season and allowed just two quarterback sacks. He is expected to take the starting job previously occupied by Daniel Kilore, who was released. Bottom Line: Karras is a smart, tough, highly efficient player who will immediately help upgrade this offensive line.
  • Defensive end Shaq Lawson: A former No. 1 pick of the Bills who had his best season in 2019 with 6 ½ sacks in only a part time role, Larson is a 25-year-old who, like so many of the others, wears a label that shouts "the best is yet to come." Bottom Line: A former teammate of Christian Wilkins at Clemson, Lawson will quickly be in the mix for a starting job.
  • Defensive end Emanuel Ogbah: This is another one of those players who has already done some nice things – 5 ½ sacks last season with the Chiefs before going on injured reserve in November with a torn pectoral muscle – and like Larson figures to help fuel a pass rush that was last in the league last season. He's also versatile enough to play on the inside of the defensive line. Bottom Line: Signing Lawson and Oghab is a huge boost for the pass rush.
  • Linebacker Elandon Roberts: Another young player (25) from the Patriots who has a chance to contribute right away to this defense. He started 33 games in four seasons and even spent some time at fullback, catching a 38-yard scoring pass against the Dolphins last season. Bottom Line: This is a versatile player with an intriguing upside who could earn significant playing time.
  • Linebacker Kyle Van Noy: Last but certainly not least. This is my favorite signing so far and it makes sense every way you look at it. Van Noy played for Brian Flores in 2018 with the Patriots so the Dolphins know exactly what they're getting, which is a highly intelligent, highly productive player who is as disruptive as he is effective. He can rush the passer. He can stop the run. He plays with a passion and purpose that is hard to teach. Bottom Line: Where does he fit in with his multiple skills set? The better question might be: Where doesn't he fit in?

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