Lessons from 2013 free agency

Eric Decker figures to be the top receiver on the free-agent market this offseason. Steve Nehf/Getty Images

The NFL combine isn't just for evaluating young talent. It's also a useful period for teams to conduct meetings with agents of pending free agents in advance of the new league year. And with this year's combine coming to a close, free agency is the next major event in the NFL offseason.

Major money will be spent (expect Jimmy Graham to cash in) and prominent names will be on the move (Eric Decker could parlay a career season into a No. 1 receiver role elsewhere).

But here's a word of warning: Free agency is not a cure-all for team holes. The now-infamous 2011 spending spree by the Philadelphia Eagles, highlighted by the signings of cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and defensive end Jason Babin and trade for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, yielded little in return. The Dolphins were perceived as offseason winners in 2013, but a cash splurge netted them an improvement of just one win compared with the 2012 season.

Before we turn our focus toward this year's crop of free agents, let's revisit three big hits and three big misses that took place in free agency last season, with an eye toward what it means for the 2014 offseason.

Three signings that haven't gone as planned (at least not yet)

Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace

The skinny: Miami moved fast to ink Wallace to a five-year deal worth as much as $60 million, $30 million of which was guaranteed. And what did the Dolphins get from their speedster? Just 930 receiving yards and five touchdowns, his fewest in any pro season. To be fair, Wallace was impeded by the inaccuracy of quarterback Ryan Tannehill on downfield throws, which is where Wallace stresses a defense most. Is that a fixable issue for Tannehill? Yes, but marked strides in improvement must take place this offseason. Wallace is at times misperceived as a one-trick pony, but he's actually a capable route runner who can gain separation on intermediate routes. The Dolphins will need that next season.