Why are the Dolphins a losing team with no cap space?

As much as the Miami Dolphins don’t want to admit it, they are in rebuilding mode.  And they should be.  Why?  Because the team has gone 7-9, 7-9, and 6-10 over the last 3 seasons and the roster needs more talent.  The Dolphins don’t want to tell us that they’re rebuilding because rebuilding means patience….and patience isn’t exactly something us Dolphins fans have much more of at this point in time.  We’ve suffered over the last decade without so much as 1 playoff win. All the while, we’ve seen the Patriots make it to (and win), multiple Super Bowls.  We’ve seen the Jets go to 2 AFC Championship games, winning 4 road playoff games along the way.  And yet the Dolphins have 1 AFC East Championship to show for their efforts over the last handful of seasons.  Even that Division Title is somewhat flawed because the Dolphins won the division in a year that Tom Brady was out for the year and the Dolphins had the easiest schedule in the NFL in 2008.  Oh yeah, and Chad Pennington fell from the heavens right before the season started.

What’s more frustrating is that teams that are better than the Dolphins have A LOT more cap space.  The Bengals have about $20 million.  The Titans have over $18 million.  The Broncos have over $13 million.  The Eagles have over $16 million.  Even the Patriots have over $9 million.  And those numbers take into account what the teams did in free agency….You know, free agency, where the Dolphins resigned Paul Soliai and brought in Richard Marshall as their 2 big moves?  It’s frustrating, I know.

So the question of the day is: If the Dolphins are a mediocre team, at best, why do they have no cap space?  Simply put, it’s because their experiments in free agency have failed AND they have not build the team properly, through the draft.  Remember in the early days of the Ireland/Parcells era when they brought in the Gebril Wilson’s, Jake Grove’s, and Ernest Wilford’s of the world?  They stunk and yet they were paid good money, thus taking up valuable cap space.  They were not  long term solutions.

As for the draft, that is the root of the Dolphins problems today.  Since 2008 the Dolphins selected 13 players in the top 3 rounds of the draft.  We won’t even get into the later rounds.  Of those 13 players selected with premium draft picks, 9 remain on the Dolphins roster today.  That is basically like throwing away 4 premium draft picks over the last 4 years.  The picks that are no longer with the Dolphins: Pat White, Patrick Turner, Kendall Langford, and Chad Henne.  Out of the remaining 9 players, 1 has been to a Pro Bowl, and that was the #1 pick in the 2008 draft, Jake Long.  Of those 9 remaining picks, 4 are average NFL starters, at best, at this point in their careers: Phillip Merling, Koa Misi, Daniel Thomas, and John Jerry.  That means the Dolphins have 5 of 13 players selected in the 1st 3 rounds of the last 3 drafts, that are solid NFL players: Jake Long, Mike Pouncey, Vontae Davis, Sean Smith, and Jared Odrick….and some might debate whether Smith and Odrick have been solid thus far in their careers.  The inability to build the roster properly through the draft is the primary reason the Dolphins are in the salary cap mess they are in right now.

Why is this is hot topic right now?  Well, the Dolphins best player on offense (Jake Long) and best player on defense (Cameron Wake) are BOTH set to become free agents after the 2012 season.  BOTH want new contracts, but Jeff Ireland has painted himself in a bit of a hole because he only has about $6.4 million left in cap space.  That may seem like a lot of money, but you have to remember that $4-5 million of that is designated for rookie contracts.  See the problem?

It’s hard to imagine that a mediocre team cannot afford to resign it’s best players.  It’s easier to understand when you look at the salary cap hits for the 2012 season.  Here are the highest cap hits for the Dolphins this year, per Spotrac.com :

Karlos Dansby – $12,800,000

Jake Long – $11,200,000

Reggie Bush – $6,025,000

Randy Starks – $4,875,000

Anthony Fasano – $4,450,000

Kevin Burnett – $3,950,000

David Garrard – $3,350,000

Richie Incognito – $3,300,000

Tony McDaniel – $3,000,000

Davone Bess – $2,983,000

Of those top 10 players, 2 were acquired via the draft (Long 1st overall, Bess undrafted free agent).  The draft is an NFL team’s resource to find cheap, quality players.  When a team tries to build through free agency and misses on top draft picks, they end up in situations like the Dolphins are in right now.  So Jeff Ireland can talk to Jake Long’s and Cameron Wake’s agents about the lack of money to sign their players.  But in reality, it’s Ireland’s fault (and the Dolphins draft scouts) that he doesn’t have the money to spend.  With 4 picks in the top 74 of the upcoming draft, now would be a good time for Mr. Ireland to hit one out of the park on draft day.  Otherwise, the mediocre football and limited cap space issue, will continue.

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