Mike Wallace, Dannell Ellerbe Make Dolphins Front Runners, But Patriots Are Still Kings of AFC East

Jerod MayoBuyer beware. That’s usually sound advice for shoppers looking to make a major purchase. But not the Miami Dolphins.

As the free-agent flood gates broke open last week, the Dolphins quickly jumped aboard their life raft and began paddling upstream with a plan in place and stacks of cash to spend.

First came the big catch, handing over five years and $60 million to Mike Wallace. After reeling him in, they turned their attention to some of the smaller pieces on the market, locking up linebackers Dannell Ellerbe for five years and $35 million and Phillip Wheeler for five years and $26 million. That’s a total of $125 million over the next five years and more than $56 million in guarantees — holy overpaying, Batman.

Reeling in such big fish definitely stirred up some intrigue in Miami, but are they the trophy fish?

The Dolphins have been the Patriots’ AFC East doormat for over a decade now, with the exception of the Tom Brady-less 2008 season.  They’ve made the playoffs just once since the Patriots won their first Super Bowl in 2002, and while progress is being made they don’t seem like imminent threats anytime soon either.

Sure, they have a budding young quarterback in Ryan Tannehill. Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller offer them a promising pair of young running backs and Cameron Wake frustrates opposing quarterbacks on the regular to lead the defense. Now, pairing Wallace with a newly re-signed Brian Hartline and adding two linebackers to that defense only makes them more dangerous.

But enough to compete with the Patriots? Not quite.

New England has won 22 more games than the Dolphins over the past four seasons (MIA: 27-37, NE: 49-15) and claimed the AFC East title in each year. They still boast arguably the best coach in the NFL in Bill Belichick as well as one of, if not the, best quarterback in the game today. Not to mention, those three Super Bowl rings — even if the last one came nine years ago.

The Dolphins aren’t the only ones paying out, either. The Patriots are spending, too. Maybe it’s not quite as much as the Dolphins, but laying out some cash for impact players like Danny Amendola, Aqib Talib and Adrian Wilson is nothing to scoff at. New England has been atop the division for over a decade now for a reason, and a few big free-agent splashes won’t be enough to change that fact.

The big spenders in free agency usually aren’t the ones who win big during the season anyhow. The Philadelphia Eagles supposed “dream team” flopped horribly in 2011, and the Bills, Buccaneers and Chargers all spent big last offseason yet none of them made the playoffs. So, don’t correlate the Dolphins big spending to big success just yet.

There is no denying that the Dolphins have a better roster now than they did at this time last year. A 7-9 campaign in 2012 should only add to the optimism. But games are not won on the market in March. Belichick knows that, as do Jeff Ireland and Joe Philbin.

The Dolphins have put their money where their mouth is. You’ve got to respect that. Now, they need to prove their more than a group of money bagging blowhards.

Yes, the Dolphins are building something in Miami. They’re just not on the same level with the Patriots yet.

Have a question for Luke Hughes? Send it to him via Twitter at @LukeFHughes or send it here.

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