The Dolphins’ free agent signing frenzy drew generally — but not entirely — positive feedback from national pundits.
Some of the reaction:
▪ Former Texans and Redskins general manager Charley Casserly, now with NFL Network, loves what the Dolphins have done: “Byron Jones comes in, press corner. Now you got two corners.
“You want to set the edge to stop the run and turn back to the tackles? That’s what New England did. So you bring in Shaq Lawson at one defensive end spot, Emmanuel Ogbah at the other. [That’s] two run defenders to set the edge. Kyle Van Noy comes in as a versatile linebacker to blitz and rush off the edge.”
▪ ESPN’s Louis Riddick has consistently praised Miami’s moves this offseason: With Jones, the Dolphins are adding “a 27-year-old lock-down corner that now is at the top of the market per year at $16.5 million, and you pair him with Xavien Howard, who is the second-highest-paid corner at right around $16 million a year. I love this move because what they have now are two lock-down corners who are very good at playing aggressive, tough man-to-man.
“Byron Jones, in particular, is a guy that can play four or five different positions. He can play corner, nickel, dime, safety. The Dolphins are looking like a team that can be a force to be reckoned with in the AFC East.”
▪ Longtime NFL writer and author Doug Farrar, now with USA Today, gave Miami an A: “Similar to the vision we saw from the Cleveland Browns the past few days, we saw the future of the Miami Dolphins defense as free agency unfolded. Brian Flores looks to be building a man coverage, pressure defense similar to what he coached in New England, and the additions reflect that thinking.
“Byron Jones gives Flores another talented man coverage corner, and gives the Dolphins the highest-paid cornerback tandem in the league between Jones and Xavien Howard. Kyle Van Noy gives Flores a Swiss Army knife-type of linebacker, who can pressure passers or drop into coverage. Shaq Lawson gives them an option on the edge, as does Emmanuel Ogbah. They had money to spend, and they added a ton.”
▪ ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, who has griped about a lot of Dolphins moves historically, said the four-year, $51 million for Van Noy is “a lot of money for a guy who would have probably come in closer to $10 million per year if he had been playing for a different team. This is really a one-year, $15 million deal with Van Noy’s 2021 and 2022 base salaries guaranteed only for injury, which gives the Dolphins more flexibility if they want to get out of the contract.”
Barnwell called the Howard signing “a brutally bad decision. Howard is a totally reasonable one-cut back without top-end speed who doesn’t offer anything in the passing game, and there are approximately 30 of those guys for NFL teams to sign at any given time. The 49ers have five of them on the roster right now. It’s arguably the most fungible player type in football.” (I would argue that the 4.3 career rushing average and third-most rushing yards since 2016 make him a solid 1A back.)
Barnwell was more accepting of the Lawson signing, noting: “I’m not sure Lawson will ever hit the heights that were expected of him coming out of high school or college, but as a useful run defender on the edge who can occasionally get after the quarterback, he should be productive as a poor man’s Arik Armstead. He’ll make less than Armstead on this deal, but the Dolphins are still paying Lawson like they expect him to be a starter, given that this three-year deal includes $21 million guaranteed at signing and could max out at $36 million.”
On the Byron Jones signing, Barnwell notes: “On one hand, signing Jones limits Howard’s value. Miami moved Howard to both sides of the field during his abbreviated five-game season in 2019, often to cover the opposing team’s top wide receiver. The Dolphins have to choose between playing sides, which would limit Howard’s value, or moving their corners to account for matchups, which would put Jones in an unfamiliar role.
“At the same time, opposing teams now can’t hide their No. 1 wide receiver from a top-tier cornerback…. It’s interesting to see Brian Flores play things like one of the rare Patriots veterans [coaches] who seems to have learned from what Bill Belichick values in New England.”
And on offensive lineman Ereck Flowers, Barnwell said: “The Dolphins see upside here, and this deal will be fine if the Flowers from 2019 shows up and does his job, but this is a lot of guaranteed money for a player who has one year of competent play under a great coach across five pro seasons.
“Is he likely to keep that up? We can’t be sure. For one, he spent 2019 learning underneath excellent offensive line coach Bill Callahan, who has a long track record of getting the most out of his [players]. Callahan is now in Cleveland, and Flowers’ new offensive line coach is Steve Marshall, who struggled to develop linemen during his time with the Jets. Flowers’ indifference toward preparation during his time with the Giants was well known; he can’t go back to his old habits now that he has signed a multiyear deal with nearly $20 million guaranteed.”
▪ Pro Football Focus’ thoughts on some of Miami’s signings:
Van Noy: “Had 24 more total pressures in 2019 than anybody that was playing for the Miami Dolphins. His overall PFF grade was 14 points higher than his previous career best. Van Noy should provide an immediate upgrade to the Dolphins pass rush, and gets to stay within the New England coaching family tree. Van Noy generated the 18th-highest WAR [wins over replacement] among edge defenders in 2019, though we see that production leveling out at a more similar number to previous years.”
Byron Jones: “Doesn’t get the respect he deserves from many, because he doesn’t get interceptions — just one over the past two seasons and two in his entire NFL career — but few corners make it tougher to complete passes on them, particularly in man coverage. The Dolphins, coming from the Patriots defensive coaching tree, play a lot of man coverage, so Jones is a natural fit within that defense. Over the past two seasons, Jones has the eighth-best PFF coverage grade among all corners and has allowed a completion rate of just 50 percent when targeted.”
On Lawson: “Got a massive payday by receiving a three-year, $30 million deal, which was far more than anyone expected. In fact, he was really projected to receive only a one-year, $5 million deal. Lawson has progressed nicely as a pass-rusher, raising his pass-rush grade in each season played to the 41st best at his position in 2019. Lawson is a good pass-rusher, but the price is a smidge high.”
On Flowers: “As a team, the Dolphins’ offensive line had the lowest overall grade in the NFL by over five points. They were the only team in the NFL to be below 50.0 (47.3). Getting Flowers at $10 million per year with nearly $20 million guaranteed is not the way to go about fixing that offensive line.
“He has yet to record an overall grade of 70.0 in five years in the NFL, and though he did show signs of improvement at guard for the Washington Redskins last season (finishing the season ranked 19th out of 39 qualifying left guards in PFF grade), Flowers has simply not shown anything that would warrant him getting paid like a top-10 guard in the NFL. We see the Dolphins gaining only 0.02 WAR [wins over replacement] with this signing.”
▪ NFL.com’s Greg Rosenthal wasn’t impressed: “Building the defense from back to front is similar to what’s worked in New England, and Jones is a fine place to start. The other Dolphins agreements provided less confidence. Miami agreed to terms with two chronic underachievers — offensive lineman Ereck Flowers and pass rusher Shaq Lawson — on matching three-year, $30 million contracts. Be wary of former high draft picks who put together one good half-season stretch before getting paid in free agency. The description applies to both Flowers and Lawson. Kyle Van Noy, who agreed to a deal with the Fins on Monday night, can still play quality football, but the Patriots nabbed him when he was truly a bargain.”
The view here? Miami did very well, upgrading at multiple positions. With the market bereft of top left tackles, the only move I would have liked them to make - which they didn’t - was importing a high-impact defensive tackle.
Please check back daily for a Dolphins piece every weekday until the NFL Draft and beyond.
And here’s my Tuesday piece with a look at the Miami Heat’s first-round draft options.