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Does spending money in free agency lead to success?

The Miami Dolphins started free agency 2013 off with a bang when they locked up wide receiver Mike Wallace on Tuesday. Then they proceeded to keep spending. And spending.

Following the Dustin Keller and Brandon Gibson moves on Friday, we're ready to call this race after less than a week: No team is going to out-spend the Dolphins this offseason. They are the "Offseason Champs."

But does getting fans excited in March help in December?

We decided to look back at the last five years of free-agent frenzy "winners" and see how much that money helped. This is far from a scientific study, but Dolphins fans may not want to read ahead.

2012: Buffalo Bills

Big names really do want to play in Buffalo! A ton of folks were talking up the Bills as a playoff team after spending huge money on Mario Williams in free agency. The team also added Mark Anderson from New England, and brought back Stevie Johnson on a big money deal.

What they were saying at the time: From ESPN's free agency "Winners and losers" article:

"This is where perception comes into play in a positive way. Signing the best free agent on defense is a big win for a franchise that has struggled for more than a decade. The $100 million contract given to defensive end Mario Williams placed the Bills back on the map. Bills general manager Buddy Nix proved to be a good salesman. The Chicago Bears, Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks couldn't -- and didn't even try to -- match or challenge the Bills."

How did it work it out?

Williams was a disappointment, Anderson was even worse and the Bills went 6-10. Coach Chan Gailey was fired after the season. In fairness, we could have chosen the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as 2012's "Offseason Champ." Their signing of Vincent Jackson worked out well, but cornerback Eric Wright was a bust, and guard Carl Nicks only played seven games. At least the team improved to 7-9.

2011: Philadelphia Eagles

Could the "Dream Team" really be only two years old? GM Howie Roseman and coach Andy Reid went wild in free agency, signing the top overall free agent Nnamdi Asomugha. They also signed Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin, Vince Young, Ronnie Brown, Steve Smith, and added Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in a trade.

This was a team coming off a division title and a great season from Michael Vick. The expectations were just a little high.

What they were saying at the time: From ESPN.com:

"They had one of the best flurries of moves we've witnessed in recent years," ESPN's John Clayton wrote. "The Eagles' cornerback trio of Asomugha, Rodgers-Cromartie and Asante Samuel might be one of the best ever. They also added Cullen Jenkins and Jason Babin to the defensive line, and Evan Mathis gives them depth at guard."

How did it work out?

Vince Young is now more famous for coining the term "Dream Team" than anything he did in Philadelphia. The Eagles collapsed under the weight of their Super Bowl expectations, starting the season 4-8. They rallied to finish .500, which only caused owner Jeffrey Lurie to make the mistake of bringing the gang back together in 2012 for an even more miserable season.

Honorable mention in 2011 goes to the Carolina Panthers, who gave big contracts to James Anderson, Thomas Davis, Charles Johnson, DeAngelo Williams, and Jon Beason. They also traded for Greg Olsen. The man who made all those moves, GM Marty Hurney, was fired midway through the 2012 season.

2010: Detroit Lions

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Full disclosure: There really wasn't a great team to pick from in 2010. There were some high-profile moves like Anquan Boldin's move to Baltimore and Aaron Kampman's signing with the Jaguars. I chose the Lions as the most notable offseason champ heading into Jim Schwartz's second season.

Schwartz was at Kyle Vanden Bosch's door just after midnight, ready to woo his ex-player. The team quickly moved to sign wide receiver Nate Burleson too. They traded away defensive tackle Corey Williams and traded for cornerback Chris Houston. The Lions did their best to show they were a legitimate NFL franchise again.

What they were saying at the time: "It's a surprise to see the Lions show up on any list of positive moves, but they belong after the aggressiveness they displayed in their free-agent signings of defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch from Tennessee and wide receiver Nate Burleson from Seattle," NFL.com wrote.

How did it work out?

The Lions improved from 2-14 to 6-10. The free-agent moves uniformly worked out; Vanden Bosch, Burleson, and Houston helped the Lions get back to the playoffs in 2011.

2009: Washington Redskins

The Redskins have annually made a ton of noise in March during the Dan Snyder era, with 2009 being the best recent example. They made Albert Haynesworth the highest paid player in football, gave cornerback DeAngelo Hall $54 million, and paid guard Derrick Dockery like a Pro Bowler.

What they were saying at the time:"The Redskins signed Albert Haynesworth to a $100 million contract, except unlike most of his free-agent predecessors, Haynesworth is in the prime of his career and arguably the best defensive tackle in football," AOL Fanhouse wrote. "Last season, Washington was the worst team in the league at pressuring the quarterback, and Haynesworth fills an obvious need. ...

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"Overall, it's hard to say that Washington isn't a better team right now than they were Thursday evening. And even though it was an expensive weekend, maybe this will be the year Snyder finally gets it right. The audacity of hope, people."

How did it work out?

How does it always work out for the Redskins? Washington fell from 6-10 to 4-12. Haynesworth goes down as one of the worst free-agent signings in NFL history. He helped torpedo the Jim Zorn era and gave Mike Shanahan headaches to start his tenure. Dockery was a complete bust. Hall was a typical Redskins starter: decent, but overpaid.

2008: Cleveland Browns

Coming off a 10-6 season, the Browns had momentum. So they went for the brass ring. Cleveland traded away four-fifths of their draft to acquire defensive tackles Corey Williams and Shaun Rogers. They signed Donte' Stallworth to a three-year contract and brought back quarterback Derek Anderson. This all looked pretty good back then.

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What they were saying at the time: "The lack of a pass rush from their defensive line was the Browns' glaring weakness last season, and Williams and Rogers provide a major upgrade," SI.com wrote. "In addition, I liked Cleveland's move to wisely secure starting quarterback Derek Anderson with a three-year deal and add a decent complementary receiving weapon in Donte' Stallworth (for whom I happen to think they overpaid).

"The Browns were a 10-win team in 2007, just like AFC North champion Pittsburgh. With the Steelers making no real noise thus far, it seems to me the Browns have closed the gap on Pittsburgh and then some. That makes Cleveland the team to beat in its division."

How did it work out?

Browns fans are no longer reading because they are curled up on the floor in a fetal position. The team went from 10 wins to 4-12. Their offense, led by then-coordinator Rob Chudzinski, went 24 quarters without a touchdown at one point. Everyone was fired after the season.

That's the trouble with offseason titles: They create big expectations. Big disappointment usually follows.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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