The Dolphins’ $24-million risk

The Brandon Marshall trade illustrates a few maxims in the league, especially at this time in this year.

First, Marshall is an example of what we predicted – a highly inactive restricted free agent (RFA) market in this new uncapped world of football. As we’ve repeatedly noted, the true talent in this year’s free agent market was the RFA group, with players such as Marshall, Elvis Dumervil, Vincent Jackson, Miles Austin and others. The unrestricted free agent (UFA) group – beyond its bonus babies of the first weekend in March – was largely ignored due to age and/or ability. So too, however, was the RFA market, as teams were not going to part with valuable draft picks and prohibitive contracts to pry these players away. The draft is too deep and the money is too tight.

Thus, Marshall’s first-round tender became, in effect, an opening offer for trade negotiations between the Broncos and other teams. When talks with Seattle stalled, the Broncos turned to Miami and found a deal to their liking. No one was going to present Denver an offer sheet to give up a first-round pick; the tender was all about setting a price for a trade.

Another maxim here – as discussed in the Santonio Holmes column on Tuesday – is that character counts, as Denver (like Pittsburgh) has unloaded a player with indisputable talent but questionable character.

It’s one thing to have a character risk on the team at a reasonable price, as they had, but that situation was going to fester unless and until a contract negotiation occurred. That was not going to happen in Denver.

It is reportedly occurring in Miami, as the Dolphins want return on the investment of two second-round picks beyond a one-year contract.

Marshall had a previous three-game suspension in 2008 (later reduced to one game and a one-game fine after appeal) for conduct and has had seven separate cases of alleged domestic abuse in the past four years, including charges for false imprisonment and domestic violence.

Now the Dolphins have reportedly signed for him for $24 million in guaranteed money with $29 million total over the first three years. This doesn’t sound good. I hope and trust the Dolphins’ negotiators protected their downside risk as much as possible in this negotiation, although with $24M guaranteed, they are married to Marshall for a while.

Finally, the Marshall trade proves the maxim that, in most cases, big free-agent signings or blockbuster trades are the price paid for high draft picks who don’t pan out. Ted Ginn, now being shopped at a bargain price, was the ninth pick in the 2007 draft – with $14M guaranteed -- and was projected to be the Dolphins’ breakout star at the position. And after trying the free-agent route a couple of years ago with Ernest Wilford and another $7M, the Dolphins are now taking a different route to fix the mistake of Ginn.

We’ll see how the Marshall trade and contract play out. My sense is that people don’t change with a new environment and more money; they are only further emboldened to continue previous behavior.

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