Greg Cote

Not everybody loves Dolphins’ haul in free agency. Miami’s future still rests with draft | Opinion

We’re going right to the big-spending Miami Dolphins’ free agency haul to this point, and whether or not the AFC East hierarchy has suddenly changed. We’ll also list the Top 10 biggest NFL free agency moves thus far.

But first, a quick thank you is in order.

Thank you, Tom Brady.

I don’t mean thank you for 20 years of excellence and six Super Bowl championships. We’ll leave the schmaltz to wistful Bostonians.

I mean thank you for the diversion. The escape. The respite.

At a time like no other, when the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything, when leagues across the land have canceled sports, when “shelter in place” is the new term because it sounds softer than “stay at home!” it took something as stunning as what Brady has done to truly get America (or at least its sports fans) thinking about something else for a minute.

On Tuesday morning, Brady announced his divorce from the Patriots. By later that day, he was a Tampa Bay Buccaneer.

Pats to Bucs is the football equivalent of going from Wagyu filet mignon to a can of Spam, but it tells you how eager Brady was to ditch New England after it became evident Bill Belichick didn’t really want him back all that much.

It was a center-stage head-butting between two G.O.A.Ts, winner to be determined.

Brady wins if he turns the Bucs from off-radar losers to playoff-good. Belichick wins if he keeps the Patriots atop the AFC East to prove himself right in letting Brady go. They could both win. They could both lose. We’ll begin to find out in about five months — presuming there is sports again and a return to normalcy by then.

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I’d sooner think and predict that both G.O.A.Ts will win than both lose.

Brady will be hell-bent to prove he isn’t washed up and takes over a Bucs team that won seven games and had the league’s third highest-scoring offense despite Jameis Winston throwing 30 interceptions.

Bruce Arians is a good coach. And Mike Evans and Chris Godwin give Brady two elite wideout targets. (With rumors of Antonio Brown joining).

Belichick?

He’s still Belichick. He’ll be hell-bent to prove he was right in moving on from the aging Brady. Winston is a free agent. Cam Newton, Andy Dalton and likely Nick Foles are obtainable by trade. And if Belichick thinks of highly of Jarrett Stidham, you wanna be the one to argue with him?

Don’t write off the Patriots, in other words. Or believe any hyperventilating out of Miami, Buffalo or Jetsville that we now have a massive AFC power shift.

Las Vegas isn’t buying it, anyway. As of Wednesday morning the Patriots still were AFC East favorites at minus-110, as per sportsbetting.ag. And that’s with a question mark (for now) at quarterback!

The Dolphins have had a big free agency thus, throwing money in the air like dollar rain at a strip club. They’ve improved the roster substantially, especially on defense, with additions led by Byron Jones, the top-ranked available cornerback and 21st overall on ESPN’s top 100 available free agents.

Our own top 10 biggest free agency moves thus far includes Miami getting Jones:

1. Brady from Patriots to Bucs could fill all 10 spots; 2. Cardinals pickpocket Texans in trade for elite WR DeAndre Hopkins; 3. Cowboys keep QB Dak Prescott by using exclusive franchise tag; 4. Titans keep Ryan Tannehill (4 years, $118M) to erase one of Brady’s landing spots; 5. Panthers sign QB Teddy Bridgewater (3 years, $63 million), free Cam Newton to seek trade; 6. Ex-Charger QB Philip Rivers signs with Colts for one year at $25 mill; 7. Dolphins make Byron Jones, No. 1-ranked available cornerback, NFL’s highest-paid at position; 8. Bills get WR Stefon Diggs from Vikings for multiple draft picks; 9. Colts get top defensive tackle DeForest Buckner but give up first-round pick to 49ers; and 10. As expected, QB Drew Brees and Saints re-up for two years at $50M.

Apart from Jones, Miami’s only three top 100 gets have been linebacker Kyle Van Noy (59th), edge rusher Shaq Lawson (66th) and running back (Jordan Howard (97th). Van Noy and Lawson each had 6 1/2 sacks last year. Howard is a limited back of the type they could have gotten as good or better in the middle draft rounds.

For what it’s worth, ESPN’s Bill Barnwell deemed five of Miami’s free-agent acquisitions “notable” enough to give grades. Jones and Lawson gets C+ each; Van Noy gets a C; offensive lineman Ereck Flowers gets C-; and Howard gets a D.

That may be a tad harsh. Jones was coveted, and alongside Xavien Howard gives Miami premier bookend corners. Lawson and Van Noy will help in an area that needed it. A weak roster overall has gotten better, though at enormous cost.

Bottom line, though, nothing the Dolphins have done in free agency will move this franchise back to where it needs to be nearly as much as landing the right quarterback high in next month’s draft — and being right about him.

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