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The Dolphins are spending their way to mediocrity ... again

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The Miami Dolphins have a plan: spend big on free agents, and dig out from under those contracts so they can spend even more on free agents. Guess how that's working out for them.

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Before the trade to acquire Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso from the Eagles, before agreeing to a deal with Mario Williams, Miami started its offseason by cleaning up the mess it made spending like a drunken sailor during last year's offseason.

They restructured Ndamukong Suh's massive contract, converting $20 million of his base salary into signing bonus. That freed up $16 million in cap space, but it also adds $4 million to his cap hit over the next four years, and if the Dolphins should decide to cut him before then, the rest of that money would be accelerated toward that year's cap. Of course, they can't cut him until 2019, not without incurring a small nation's GDP worth of dead money.

They also restructured tight end Jordan Cameron's contract, reducing his base salary for 2016 from $7.5 million to a mere $6 million. Cameron is the tight end they signed to a two-year, $15 million deal last year, with $12.5 million guaranteed. He had 386 yards in 16 games last year.

Miami also released Greg Jennings, whom they signed to a two-year, $8 million deal last April. They've reportedly been trying to trade Brent Grimes, their top cornerback who they signed to a four-year, $32 million deal in 2014. Surprise ... they aren't finding any takers, so they're expected to release him, freeing up $6.5 million in cap space.

Notice a theme here? The Dolphins are crawling out from prior free agent spending sprees in order to hit the town just in time for their annual March shore leave.

It's the same thing the Dolphins did last year, digging out from under the $160 million they spent in 2013 (maybe the worst offseason in history). That year's free agent spending was highlighted by a $60 million deal to Mike Wallace with $30 million guaranteed and another $35 million with $14 million guaranteed to linebacker Daniel Ellerbe. Those two players and the others from that spring's cash orgy were jettisoned last year, but they left the Dolphins a parting gift of nearly $20 million in dead money.

Last year's moves paved the way for Suh's gargantuan contract. And what did they get for the effort? A 6-10 record and last place in the AFC East. Worse, their run defense was mostly flat, from a -6.8 percent DVOA in 2014 to a -7.2 percent last year. The pass rush had an adjusted sack rate of 5.9 percent, a steep drop from 7.5 percent the year before, according to Football Outsiders.

Another cost of Miami's annual free agent spending sprees: the players they let get away. Sean Smith, one this year's prized free agent corners, got away in 2013, along with Karlos Dansby. Last year, Jared Odrick left for Jacksonville, where he had 5.5 sacks, a half-sack less than Suh.

The additions of Maxwell and Williams could spell the end of Cameron Wake's time with the Dolphins. They'll also miss the depth provided by free agent defensive end Derrick Shelby, who filled in competently for an injured Wake last year. It's looking more and more like they could lose running back Lamar Miller, too.

On Wednesday morning, the Dolphins rescinded the transition tag on Olivier Veron. It's great news for Vernon, who figures to get PAID as one of the top pass rushers on the market now. It's a terrible move for the Dolphins. They're essentially swapping out a 31-year-old defensive end known for taking some plays off in recent years for a 25-year-old entering the prime of his career.

On Wednesday morning ESPN reported that the trade was on hold over concerns about Maxwell's shoulder, so the Dolphins might have saved themselves from another pricey acquisition. But it still looks like this team wants to challenge for its offseason title once again.

Money aside, there's no guarantee Maxwell or Alonso will be successful in Miami. A zone corner by trade, Maxwell was miscast with the Eagles last year. Defensive coordinator Vance Johnson was a whiz as the defensive backs coach in Cincinnati, so there's hope for Maxwell here. Alonso never recaptured the lightning in a bottle he had with the Bills as a rookie in 2014, thanks partly to injuries.

Williams would be fine as a complementary player. He's definitely not worth losing Vernon for, if that does end up happening.

It's easy to point the finger at general manager Mike Tannenbaum, who once tried to spend his way to a March championship with the Jets. But his predecessor, Jeff Ireland, certainly made his mark in free agency too as the architect of the 2013 spending spree and was on board through last season. Blame for the Dolphins' troubles goes all the way to the top of the food chain, to owner Stephen Ross. Despite the lessons of the past, he's still intent on making the same mistakes over and over again.

The Dolphins have time left -- free agency doesn't technically start until 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, not that that's ever stopped Miami -- and money to spend. It's not shaping up to be a repeat of the great spending sprees of 2013 and 2015, but the end result, finishing the season somewhere around .500, already feels inevitable.

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