By Brandon Niles Explorebigsky.com Sports Columnist
The frenzy that follows the official start of the league year every March has NFL fans repeatedly hitting “refresh” on their browsers, waiting to find out which free agents their teams have signed. This information now comes out quicker than ever, as social media like Twitter has changed the game for fans. The popularity of the NFL has grown exponentially, making off-season activities such as the start of free agency or the NFL draft large media events.
This year free agency and the start of the league year began at 4 p.m. EST on Tuesday, March 12, and immediately the internet was swirling with transactions and rumors about some of the league’s top players.
While many of the signings in the moments and days that followed were notable, perhaps the most decisive move occurred within 30 minutes of the new league year. The Miami Dolphins signed former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace, one of the most prized free agents available this year.
Wallace, only 26-years-old, is one of the fastest players in football. Between 2010 and 2011 he posted more than 2,400 total yards on 132 receptions, and scored 18 touchdowns. Despite a down year in 2012, Wallace still scored eight touchdowns for the Steelers. Now entering his fifth season, he’ll bring much needed big play ability to a Dolphins offense that’s been sorely lacking speed for much of the past decade.
The Dolphins have been lauded for the move, and Wallace should help the development of second year quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who showed promise in his rookie season and has the arm strength to make use of Wallace’s blazing speed. However, the move has also been criticized. The biggest risk in signing Wallace comes down to money. The Dolphins made him the third highest paid receiver in the NFL, guaranteeing him 27 million dollars in a five year, 60 million dollar deal. If Wallace doesn’t pan out, Miami will be hampered by this contract going forward.
The Dolphins also signed two new linebackers, former Ravens standout Dannell Ellerbe and former Raider Phillip Wheeler. On the surface, these contracts appear large as well, but a closer look at the deals shows that most of the hit to the salary cap will occur in 2014, making both contracts reasonable over the course of the next five years. The Dolphins should also be able to improve their salary cap situation by signing franchised defensive tackle Randy Starks to a more cap-friendly long term deal.
The Dolphins certainly made a risky move by spending so much money in the early days of free agency, and these three moves likely won’t be the end of their shopping spree. However, there is a difference between these moves and the signings made by perennial big spenders like the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles. While the Redskins and Eagles have generally signed older, veteran players, the Dolphins have invested in players just entering their primes.
The amount of money involved may be risky, but Dolphins fans should be excited about a youth movement in Miami. Risky or not, if there’s anyone worth overpaying, it’s a young wide receiver with supersonic speed and nose for the end zone.
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