April 23, 2014

Miami Dolphins 2014 schedule here (free)

So the Dolphins open the season against the Patriots at home and end the season against the Jets at home.

In between?

The first three games include games against two playoff teams (Pats and KC) and at the team that swept Miami last season (Buffalo).

The Raiders game in London on Sept. 28 followed by the bye.

Cold weather and outdoor game at New England prior to the season finale.

The team will play two prime time games -- hosting the Bills on Thursday night Nov. 13. and at the Jets Monday night Dec. 1.

“Our organization is excited about the schedule and we look forward to playing our home opener in front of our great fans,“ said coach Joe Philbin. “We also start our season with two division opponents, travel to London and finish the year with two home games. As always, our off-season program and training camp will be paramount in preparing us for the upcoming season.”

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First leak of NFL schedule upon us

The Dolphins will play at the Detroit Lions in Week 10 of the NFL season, the Detroit Free Press just reported.

The full schedule will be announced at 8 p.m. and I assume some reporters (me included) are trying to get as much of the schedule as possible prior to the announcement.

Miami's opponents in 2014 posted a record of 103-103-2 in 2013.

The team will host Minnesota, Green Bay, Baltimore, San Diego and Kansas City as well as AFC rivals Buffalo, New England and the Jets.

The Dolphins will host Buffalo on Thursday, Nov. 13 for a prime time game.

The Bills will be Miami's second game of the season as the Dolphins will travel to Western New York on  Sept. 14 at 1 p.m.

The team will visit Detroit (in Week 10), Chicago, Jacksonville, Oakland (in London on Sept. 28), and Denver, as well as divisional opponents New England, Buffalo and the Jets.

The bye week will be Oct. 5 -- following the trip to London.

[Refresh as I will continue to update as more information comes in.]

April 22, 2014

Jordan beat teammates to offseason program

Amid rumors (so far unfounded and as I previously reported untrue) that the Dolphins are either shopping or willing to trade Dion Jordan, the player who is the hope of the team's pass rush in the future is taking his current status seriously.

Jordan, according to Joe Philbin, showed up at the team's training facility "a couple of weeks ago," the Dolphins coach told the team's in-house website Tuesday, to begin training for the 2014 season. The majority of the rest of the team showed up Monday for offseason conditioning and strength training.

(By the way, the Dolphins are not making coaches and players available to legitimate media during this period).

And so why is Jordan's early attendance to the offseason program notable?

Because Jordan played fewer snaps than just about any first round pick selected last season despite being No. 3 overall.

Because he had only two sacks and five quarterback hits along with 24 total tackles -- which did not meet anyone's expectations.

And because, I'm told, Jordan wants to be much, much, much better than that in 2014.

So the fact we are three months from the start of training camp and slightly more than six months before the start of the season and Jordan is already pushing to get better is great news. It speaks to his work ethic and his realization that better things must come in 2014.

It should be pointed out that Jordan missed the entire offseason conditioning program last year because, well, he was a rookie and even after being drafted he was still nursing a surgically repaired shoulder injury.

That issue also kept Jordan sidelined much of the training camp and limited him during the season.

So what you saw last year was a diminished player not fully healthy, not fully integrated into the Miami system and not fully prepared to compete. With a full offseason (and then some) of work between now and July, the Dolphins hope to see a different player -- the guy they drafted No. 3 overall.

On another matter, the Dolphins added free agent punter and kicker Matt Szymanski on a one-year contract today. Hear that Caleb Sturgis?

 

April 21, 2014

First day of offseason workout in the books

The typepad platform that supports this blog has been down for a couple of days and has been having trouble all the way back to Friday. As it now lends itself to updating, here we go:

The Dolphins began their 2014 offseason workout program on Monday. Only one player of note did not attend -- wide receiver Mike Wallace. I am told Wallace will be part of the program in the coming days, perhaps as early as Tuesday.

And that's good because, frankly, one of the areas quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the offense must improve in 2014 is the deep ball, particularly to Wallace who is the team's most explosive and dynamic deep ball receiver.

Any Dolphins observer paying attention in 2013 knows Wallace scored only five touchdowns but might have had two or even three times that many scores if the number of deep passes that went his way when he was open behind defenses had been on target.

They mostly were not.

Tannehill is accepting responsibility for this issue. As he told the team's website (as in the past independent media was not allowed to speak to players at the start of offseason conditioning) the deep pass and accuracy has been a primary focus and he has been working on it.

That work, however, has not included Tannehill and Wallace on the same field playing pitch and catch -- doing things to improve their timing or chemistry or anything else. Wallace has spent much of his time since the end of the season in Houston with his family. Tannehill has spent most of his time locally.

That doesn't mean the two aren't on the same page. "I love Mike," Tannehill said, "He's a great guy."

And it doesn't mean what is happening in the synching of this combo is unusual as many receivers and quarterbacks don't necessarily throw it around between February and April.

But it is clear Wallace and Tannehill have important work to do and that work should begin now so that there is no repeat of 2013's underachieving results.

Speaking of underachieving, last season the Dolphins did not get what anyone would expect from the No. 3 overall selection in the draft. Rookie Dion Jordan was at times an afterthought in the defensive game plan.

Part of that was Jordan missing much of the preseason because the team was managing his surgically repaired shoulder. Part of it was what seemed like a tough marriage of talents (Jordan seems suited for the 3-4 more than the 4-3) to Miami's defense.

The injury part of that must be worked out and defensive end Cameron Wake suggested in his interview with the Dolphins website that was happening. Wake told the website he had spoken with Jordan, who is taking part in his first offseason program with the team, and "he's ready to go with that wing," meaning his shoulder.

This means Jordan is telling teammates, including Wake, his shoulder iss healthy and ready for competition. That was never really the case in 2013.

So the bar of expectation that was set so high for Jordan last year might be actually something he can reach for now without it hurting his shoulder.

 

April 18, 2014

Opening the pages to the notebook

Here are some notes I've collected this week:

We already now the Dolphins are showing interest in former University of Miami quarterback Stephen Morris. Well, they're apparently somewhat keen on former Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray as well.

A league source tells me Murray has met with some Dolphins representatives during the current draft process and there could be a future meeting that would suggest a greater desire by the team to understand what makes Murray tick.

Murray, it must be mentioned, is not expected to be selected high in the draft. Despite being a four-year starter at Georgia and throwing threwing 121 TDs and only 41 interceptions, the player who competed at the highest level against SEC competition is considered a likely third-to-fifth round draft pick, depending on varying opinions.

Murray suffered a torn ACL in November and did not compete at the Indianapolis Scouting Combine. But he was sufficiently recovered -- he'd say fully recovered -- to show his wares at the Georgia Pro Day.

Murray didn't seem to have any limitations at that workout --  which is stunning considering the knee reconstruction was done six months ago. But he did wear a brace for the session.

This is how NFL.com's Gil Brandt broke down Murray's Pro Day:

"Murray — who has 9 1/8-inch hands — threw 54 passes at the pro day, with just two that would be considered not catchable. He showed good velocity on the ball, but toward the end of the workout it appeared as if his arm got tired. His knee looked stable, but he did wear a brace on it.

"Murray — whose mother and father were both present to watch the workout — had a very good pro day. He’s a not-get-too-high or not-get-too-low type of player. If there’s a run on quarterbacks in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft, he could wind up being selected in that round."

We'll see about that second-round prediction. Despite his NFL-caliber arm and production in college, Murray is not one of the new-thing running QBs. He's a pocket passer. And his size (6-1) is not prototypical. But then you come back to his production and, well, it makes a good case for him.

By the way, the fact the Dolphins are doing so much homework on Morris and Murray and other QBs should plant the seed that the team is seriously going to consider drafting a quarterback in this coming draft.

It may not happen early -- as Miami doesn't even have a complete offensive line to protect starter Ryan Tannehill so that's kind of sort of the priority -- but if a value pick in later rounds is available, new general manager Dennis Hickey may take him.

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As I posted a video highlight reel of Morris, here's one for Murray:

 

 

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The Dolphins have assigned numbers to all their new players.

Knowshon Moreno will wear No. 28.

Branden Albert will wear No. 71.

Louis Delmas will wear No. 25.

Cortland Finnegan will wear No. 24.

Earl Mitchell will wear No. 90.

Shelley Smith will wear No. 64.

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This blog has devoted much space to the coming negotiations for an extension between the Dolphins and center Mike Pouncey.

Well, Pouncey isn't the only one who will be in line for an extension. The team is aware defensive lineman Jared Odrick and tight end Charles Clay are going into the final year of their rookie deals. And as both are young and productive, it will be interesting to see how the team handles the issue.

By the way, how the team handles Odrick and Clay will be on the radar for younger players and their agents. They want to see if Hickey will reward draft picks worthy of keeping.

And so far, Pouncey, Odrick and Clay have shown they are worthy of keeping at the right price.

The Dolphins in the past gained a reputation in the agent community for rewarding free agents but being less likely to pay their own draft picks when they came up for their second contracts.

With the notable exceptions of Reshad Jones, Koa Misi and Brandon Fields, the Dolphins have often let their picks go without extensions or even eventually walk away in free agency. That's what happened with Paul Soliai, Jake Long, Sean Smith, Chris Clemons, Nolan Carroll, John Jerry, Chad Henne, Jason Allen, Ronnie Brown and others.

(I suppose one reason the Dolphins let so many draft picks walk is because they decided, after four years, that they weren't worth keeping even when other teams decided those players had value.) 

Regardless, how Hickey and Dawn Aponte approach Pouncey, Odrick and Clay will be watched by agents and, I suppose, players in the locker room as well. 

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Have a blessed Good Friday and a wonderful Easter on Sunday.

April 17, 2014

Latest Kiper mock shows recurring Dolphins issue

For years it has pained Dolphins fans to watch their team be built and rebuilt and rebuilt again simply because, well, the rebuilds never seemed to get it quite right.

Remember the use of a second-round pick to address the center spot with Samson Satele in 2007? And then the use of valuable salary cap space to replace Satele with Jake Grove in the spring of 2009? And then the use of a first round pick to fill the spot again with Mike Pouncey in 2011?

The Dolphins have felt the need to do this a lot at a lot throughout the roster. (Don't even make me go through the 17 quarterback names who have started since Dan Marino retired. Don't make me remind you of the investment at cornerback. Don't make me remind you about all the safeties and offensive tackles).

Well, the linebacker spot seems to be the latest and most likely spot for more rebuilding to follow the rebuilding that was done last year to replace the rebuilding that was done just before that.

You'll remember that last season the Dolphins signed Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler to big and curious free agent contracts. The curiousity was caused in that Miami had two high-priced free agents already playing the spots Ellerbe and Wheeler were signed to play.

The Dolphins, you see, had previously spent sizeable money and cap space to sign Karlos Dansby (in 2010) and Kevin Burnett (in 2011) to fill the jobs.

Well, here we are a year after Ellerbe and Wheeler replaced Dansby and Burnett and the Dolphins are apparently looking to replace either Ellerbe or Wheeler.

We already know neither player lived up to expecations last year. But it was apparently so bad the Dolphins have toyed with shaking things up. New general manager Dennis Hickey offered free agent D'Qwell Jackson a contract to play the middle in Miami. Under that scenario, Ellerbe would have been shifted outside and Wheeler would have had to compete for playing time with Koa Misi.

The team is also toying with the idea of moving Misi to the middle thus letting Ellerbe head to the SAM (strongside) or WILL (weakside) LB spot.

And Miami's desires to makes these shifts is apparently no secret league-wide. Today, for example, ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper put out his latest mock draft and he has the Dolphins taking Alabama inside linebacker C.J. Mosley with their first round pick at No. 19 overall.

Let that possibility marinate for a second.

One year after the Dolphins signed Ellerbe and Wheeler to contracts worth a combined $60.75 million with $27 million in guaranteed money, the team is needing to upgrade the positions those players were supposed to upgrade.

And that Ellerbe-Wheeler "upgrade" came on the heels of another $69 million "upgrade" made with Dansby and Burnett.

And the Dolphins may have to funnel resources to address that issue away from resources that attend to other obvious needs, such as offensive guard and right tackle.

This, folks, is the reason this team has been to the playoffs only once in a dozen years (2008 season) and hasn't won a playoff game since 2000. The decisions made to fix problems require almost perpetual adjusting, mending, revamping to fix the same problems again.

None of this is Hickey's fault, by the way. He's new. He's getting his first crack at his set of fixes.

So one cannot put it on him that he's studied the tape and feels Ellerbe would be better outside rather than in the middle and that Wheeler might be better off the field altogether if Ellerbe takes his spot.

That, by the way, was exactly what was coming had Jackson signed. That's exactly what would be coming if, as Kiper's mock suggests, the Dolphins select C.J. Mosley in the first round.

April 16, 2014

Former UM QB Stephen Morris on the Dolphins radar

While much of their draft focus is rightly on offensive line, it should be noted the Dolphins have a long list of needs, wants and must haves. And while quarterback is neither a need nor a must have, it definitely is a want -- one which the team might fill with a local player.

The Dolphins had University of Miami quarterback Stephen Morris at their facility last week as one of the "locals" visits they're allowed. Coaches also had dinner with Morris the night before the visit. And it should be noted that general manager Dennis Hickey and coach Joe Philbin attended the University of Miami Pro Day where Morris showed his skills two weeks ago.

Morris, I'm told, has impressed several Dolphins people -- including general manager Dennis Hickey -- with his maturity, intelligence and overall approach.

So does this mean the team is going to draft Stephen Morris?

That is not certain. But it means Morris is on the radar and the Dolphins are doing their due diligence on him. And that's a good thing because the Dolphins are going to have to draft a QB soon enough or find one through free agency or some other means.

Why?

Well, Ryan Tannehill is the starter. There is no controversy or question about that.

And Matt Moore is well-liked and appreciated as the backup while Pat Devlin recently signed his exclusive rights tender to be the No. 3.

But Moore is in the final year of his contract and while his experience is valuable, paying $4 million per year or more for a backup quarterback isn't the most efficient use of salary cap space. Devlin, meanwhile, has been in the Dolphins program for three years and it seems he's no closer to challenging for the backup job than he was in 2011 when he arrived.

Indeed, it has not been a competition for the No. 2 job at all.

So the Dolphins can obviously be improved by adding a young, talented quarterback with a Pro caliber arm (like Morris or someone else) to push Devlin for the No. 3 job but also to make a strong push for the backup job as well after 2014.

Maybe Stephen Morris is that guy.

Anyway, check out some 2013 highlights:

 

April 15, 2014

Tannehill much to prove, but not the most to prove

This is the time of year we get caught up in bottom of the roster free agent signings and the visits of college prospects that will be drafted on May 10 (in rounds 4-7) or picked up as undrafted free agents.

Can we be honest?

All that is well and good, but the difference for the Dolphins in 2014 will rest mostly in the hands, and right arm, of quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Entering his third season and first season away from the Mike Sherman offense he's known and sometimes but not always loved the past five years, Tannehill has a ton to prove. Is he ready to make a jump from mediocrity? Is he the future of the Dolphins franchise? Can he be a winner?

Tannehill recently told ESPN's Keyshawn Johnson that, "I've got to make a big jump."

So the Miami quarterback understands the grace period of the past few years is over. Fans want to see more from him -- in the pocket, in big games, on his deep throws, on the leadership front. And coaches, who are counting on him to produce so they can stay employed, are similarly going to ask him to raise his level of play.

But as with all things, the local focus clouds the reality that even though Tannehill is under the microscope in South Florida, he's not nearly under as much pressure as other quarterbacks around the league.

ESPN's NFL live today had a segment on quarterbacks with the most to prove in 2014. It was an interesting exercise. And it showed why Tannehill may feel the need to show significant growth ... but he's not under the kind of pressure other QBs are about to face.

Consider the Salguero list of QBs with the most to prove in 2014:

10. Tony Romo ... He's coming off back surgery and he has the weight of the Metroplex and America's Team on his back. His defense has been terrible and if he doesn't play well, his team will stink. Oh, and by the way, critics don't trust him in late-game situations and he hasn't gotten his team in the playoffs since 2009.

9. Joe Flacco ... That $120 million contract was a wonderful reward for winning the Super Bowl in Feb. 2013, but what did he do for an encore? Flacco's defending champions missed the playoffs last year and were actually eliminated from the playoff hunt in a game Flacco threw three interceptions. Flacco finished 2013 with 19 TDs and 22 INTs.

8. Jake Locker ... This is probably his final chance to prove he's a franchise quarterback before the Titans move on to finding a new franchise quarterback. Locker, going into his fourth season, not only must prove he's a good player but that he's also durable. He played only seven games last season and hasn't played more than 11 in any of his three NFL seasons.

7. Andy Dalton ... It's no longer about the regular season for Dalton and the Bengals, although he's had some notable failures there as well. But Dalton has been terrible in getting what is considered an otherwise very good NFL team to play well in the playoffs. And if you cannot play well in the playoffs, you aren't elite.

6. Eli Manning ... He had a terible season (27 interceptions) behind a terrible offensive line. And he's recovering from ankle surgery. The fact he recovered from his last terrible season with a Super Bowl win and has won the Big One twice is good enough to give Manning the benefit of the doubt for now. But keep playing poorly in 2014 and New York will turn on him.

5. Geno Smith ... Terrible quarterback play was a thing in New York last year. The difference between Smith and Manning is the Jets went out and got a guy to replace Smith in Michael Vick. So the job is Smith's for now, but he has to prove he's better than slightly terrible to keep it.

4. Josh McCown ... Remember him? He was in the Dolphins' 2008 training camp but became expendable when Chad Pennington decided he wanted to play for Bill Parcells. Well, last year McCown was the Godsend, this time to the Bears. He was amazing in throwing 13 TDs and only one INT. And now he's Tampa Bay's starter. But he has to stay on the course he plotted last year to keep the job. And given his career history, that will require hard work.

4, tied. Sam Bradford ... The Rams are committed to him as their franchise quarterback and are paying him $14 million this year as a result. But that takes a lot of faith because Bradford has been unable to stay on the field long enough to convince many people outside the Rams organization he's elite. Pressure is on to do that this year.

3. Colin Kaepernick ... He's been good and he's helped a very good team get good results. But he wants a new contract that pays around $18 million per year and doesn't have the benefit of a championship or classic QB style to drive home the point. So what's it going to be? Are you an $18 million QB? Are you championship caliber? Or not?

3, tied. Matt Schaub ... In 2009 he threw for the equivalent of 2.7 miles (4,770 yards) and was considered a solid if not spectacular starter. But last year, playing for a talented team with great receivers, a fine running back and behind a solid offensive line, Schaub became a human pick six machine. And that got him benched and eventually cut. He's been exiled to the NFL version of Siberia (aka Oakland) now were he must play well to simply stay in the league.

2. Johnny Manziel ... He's not even in the NFL and already he's a magnet for controversy. Does he have a bad attitude? Does he feel entitled? Or does he indeed have that magic he showed at Texas A&M and will it translate to the NFL? Is he the next Russell Wilson or Fran Tarkenton? Oh yeah, whatever QB needy team that takes him will be under immediate pressure to play him.

1. Robert Griffin III ... The Redskins in this draft will continue to pay the ransom of draft picks they gave up to get him and hope that after a terrible sophomore campaign, RG3 can return to his rookie form. The question is will he prosper under QB whisperer Jay Gruden? Will he stay healthy? Will he be more than a spread option, one-read thrower?

So you think Tannehill has a lot to prove? He's not even in the top 10.

It's all relative, folks.

April 14, 2014

Prove-it contracts past and present

The one-year contract, known to some as a prove-it deal, was put to good use by the Dolphins in 2013. About half a dozen players and the team agreed to one-year deals -- helping some of the players rehabilitate their reputations while also helping the team add talent while also not committing to that talent long-term in case something went wrong.

This offseason the Dolphins have once again made use of the one-year contract but as the general manager is different it's not surprising that so is the philosophy to some degree.

While former GM Jeff Ireland seemed to take bigger gambles on 2013 one-year deals, chasing bigger talents at higher prices, current GM Dennis Hickey is for the most part using the one-year deal on less accomplished and cheaper players.

There are exceptions, of course. Runnning back Knowshon Moreno is being paid the average of what the free agent running back market bears in 2014 and he is quite well known.

Below is the breakdown of the prove-it deals the Dolphins did last year, along with how those turned out:

DT Randy Starks (1 year, $8.45 million): Starks was Miami's franchise player. And although it is hard to play up to an $8 million salary, Starks did indeed play very well for the Dolphins in 2013. The one-year deal kept the Dolphins from committing to Starks long-term, which ultimately proved the right thing to do based on his age, and it helped keep the player performing at a high level so that he could go out and get a good payday this offseason. Verdict: Good for both sides.

CB Brent Grimes (1 year, $5.437 million): Grimes had to take a chance on himself because he was coming off an Achilles tendon tear that sidelined him all of 2012. The Dolphins took a chance that Grimes could return to the Pro Bowl status he reached in 2011 and he did exactly that. Verdict: Good for both sides.

RT Tyson Clabo (1 year, $3.5 million): Clabo was said to be a salary cap casualty by the Falcons after 2012 and, unfortunately for the Dolphins, he played down to that stigma through the first half of 2013 -- leading the team in sacks allowed. But after being benched, Clabo recovered somewhat during the season's back end. He provided good but expensive insurance against the departure of Jonathan Martin. Verdict: A push in that he filled a need but didn't do it well enough.

LT Bryant McKinnie (1 year, $1 million): The Dolphins took on McKinnie in October to serve as relief for the failed experiment of Martin as a left tackle. As part of the trade, they gave him a chance to become a free agent in 2014 rather than take on his original contract he signed with Baltimore. McKinnie was solid in the locker room and a C-plus player on the field. Verdict: Served its purpose.

TE Dustin Keller (1 year, $4.25 million): Like Grimes, Keller needed to prove he could stay healthy and return to his former heights after an injury-plagued 2012. He couldn't do it. He suffered a terrible knee injury in the preseason -- an injury that ended his season -- and the Dolphins got nothing for their money. Verdict: Nobody's fault but it was a disaster.

S Chris Clemons (1 year, $2.75 million): The Dolphins wanted more plays out of their deep secondary but understood that not every so-called "want" could be addressed in one offseason. So they re-signed Clemons, understanding that he rarely makes big plays but rarely makes big mistakes. And that's exactly what he delivered -- no big plays, but no huge mistakes. Verdict: Fill the gap move filled the gap temporarily.

Bottom line? The Keller contract was a waste and the Clabo deal didn't help. The Grimes deal was genius and the Starks, McKinnie and Clemons deals accomplished what they were supposed to accomplish.

So this year, Hickey has some notable players signed to one-year deals. But unlike Ireland, the Dolphins are being more frugal with their one-year deals. The deals:

WR Damian Williams (1-year, $800,000): Williams is getting only $70,000 in guaranteed money to come to camp and compete for a No. 4 or No. 5 wide receiver job. Maybe he competes for the kick or punt return job as well.

S Louis Delmas (1 year, $2.25 million): He is a physical, downhill tackler and that's something the Dolphins want more of on their defense. They want to be more physical. They want more defining plays out of the back end. And there's no doubt Delmas is arrives at the ball angry and makes more plays than, say, Chris Clemons did. But the knock on Delmas is he hits so hard, he often injures teammates or himself when he's hitting the ballcarrier. He also has been known to give up the long completion. So will the Dolphins get the dependable playmaker or the injured guy who gives up bbig plays?

RB Knowshon Moreno (1 year, $3 million): The Dolphins want more production out of the backfield and want better pass protection from the running back corps. Moreno is known as one of the best in pass pro at his position. He is not a big-play running back. He has not often faced the kind of run-stopping fronts playing with Peyton Manning that Miami runners faced with Ryan Tannehill.

RT Jason Fox (1 year, $795,000): Typical of Hickey's one-year deals, this has only $65,000 in guaranteed money. So if Fox makes the team as a backup at RT, great. And if he doesn't, the pain is minimal. If he does make the team, the Dolphins are banking Fox can stay healthy, something that hasn't been the case lately.

WR Kevin Cone (1 year, $570,000), WR Michael Rios (1 year, $420,000), QB Jordan Rodgers (1 year, $430,000): All fall under the category of no guaranteed money money given to young players who will have a chance to come to camp and compete for a bottom-of-the-roster spot. No risk whatever.

It's interesting that the Dolphins signed both Cortland Finnegan and Starks to two year deals, but both are really one-year deals in disguise.

Finnegan, unspectacular for the Rams the past two years no matter what the Dolphins will argue, got a two-year, $11 million deal. However, all of his $5 million in guaranteed money is being paid this year and all but $1 million of it goes on the cap this year.

Next year, if Finnegan disappoints in any way, the Dolphins can cut him. And while they would absorb $1 million in dead money, they would save his $5.45 million in base salary. So he has to play well this year to get that payday in 2015.

Meanwhile, the two-year, $10 million deal Miami signed with Starks gave the tackle $2 million to sign and his $3 million base salary is guaranteed. In 2015, however, Starks has no guarantee and the team can save $5 million (his base salary) by cutting him before the start of the regular-season. So this also is a one-year commitment with a club option to go another year if the player succeeds.

April 11, 2014

Getting Zack Martin may require trade up contingency

I spent the morning talking to three NFL scouting and personnel department sources and, of course, my interest was centered almost exclusively on the situation the Dolphins will face at No. 19 when they are on the clock a month from now during the draft.

And the read I'm getting is the Dolphins are going to be wholly dependent on what happens in front of them, barring a trade up, if they are to get the starting right tackle everyone says should go to them -- Notre Dame tackle Zack Martin.

There are apparently four consensus first round tackles in this draft. They are in order from the folks I'm talking to, Auburn's Greg Robinson, Texas A&M's Jake Matthews, Michigan's Taylor Lewan and Martin.

Yes, there are other tackle possibilities such as Virginia's Morgan Moses, Tennessee's Ju'Wuan James, Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio and even perhaps Nevada's Joel Bitonio, who jumps in there if you're talking to people who don't mind an undersized tackle. But those guys are not considered first-round values. Solid players. Good prospects.

But not as good as Robinson, Matthews, Lewan and Martin coming out.

Having said that, the Dolphins are not getting Robinson or Matthews. Both of them are top 10 picks. And without multiple picks in the first couple of rounds, the Dolphins don't have obvious ammunition to execute a trade up that high unless they want to go without picks in the second and third round or are willing to invest 2015 picks.

Lewan and Martin will be more attainable if Miami wants to grab either of them in a trade up. Why would the Dolphins have to consider a trade up to get one of those, you ask?

Well, apparently neither is certain to be there when the Dolphins pick.

As there are four first-round tackles, there are five teams already ahead of Miami that can use tackle upgrades. St. Louis, Atlanta, Detroit, the New York Giants and Baltimore may all be considering getting help at tackle before the Dolphins are scheduled to pick.

So if things go exactly wrong, with five teams picking before Miami vying for four sure-fire first-round tackles, the Dolphins are left ... well, needing another option.

Furthermore, Arizona (20th overall), Kansas City (23), and Carolina (28) have tackle needs to varying degrees and may consider jumping up ahead of Miami.

The point here is the idea of Zach Martin, who by all accounts is a clean pick and a value at No. 19, being available to Miami when the time comes is very nice and almost convenient. But it is hardly a certainty.

Last year, there was a run on tackles early in the draft and teams were willing to pick players they ended up using on the right side as rookies simply to solidify their lines for the present and the future.

Are teams this year suddenly going to decide the tackle spot is less important and let a solid one be available at No. 19?

Dolphins fans would love to believe so -- especially since Martin is seemingly perfectly suited for Miami's need at right tackle. But a sure thing? No.

General manager Dennis Hickey is going to need trade-up contingencies to be certain he gets Martin.

April 10, 2014

Dolphins sign WR Damian Williams (updated)

Damian Williams had a solid season in 2011 when he started 13 games, caught 45 passes for 592 yards and five touchdowns for the Tennessee Titans. The past two seasons? Williams has been something of a ghost.

The Titans went in a different direction and relegated Williams to No. 4 wide receiver status and that meant he started only three games in two seasons and didn't get in the end zone at all.

Well, Williams is a free agent now and looking for an opportunity to contribute somewhere. So he visited the Dolphins on Thursday.

[Update: Williams signed a one-year deal worth $800,000, The Miami Herald's Barry Jackson has confirmed. ESPN's James Walker was the first to report the transaction.]

Why is this a thing?

This insightful report earlier this week explained the Dolphins are looking for some experienced insurance to hedge their bet should Brandon Gibson (who tore his patellar tendon last October) not be ready for the start of the coming NFL season. The team expects him to be ready but one never knows and having a backup plan is good business, especially with No. 5 wide receiver Armon Binns also coming off knee surgery.

So Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey was looking around.

And that search, which started with Nate Burleson but changed when he signed with Cleveland, re-focused on Williams as a cheap option.

Williams also had moderate success returning kickoffs last season. He only returned five but did average 24.6 yards per return. Cannot hurt. 

 

Mack contract will impact Mike Pouncey extension

The biggest NFL story the past 24 hours and perhaps for the rest of this day is the drama playing out between Cleveland and Jacksonville and the contract center Alex Mack will soon sign. Mack, a two-time Pro Bowl center, is set to sign a deal with Jacksonville that is expected to pay roughly $9 million per year over the next two years and approximately $27 million over the next three years.

Do the math. That's a $9 million annual per year average (apy).

For a center.

And that matters to you because, why?

Because the Dolphins also have a Pro Bowl center. And he wants a contract extension. And he is watching the Alex Mack situation and ensuing contract with a lot of interest.

Pouncey is set to make $1.63 million in what is scheduled to be the final year of his rookie contract in 2014. Yes, under the collective bargaining agreement, the Dolphins can exercise an option next month and add another year to the deal. I have reported in this space the Dolphins absolutely will add that year to Pouncey's deal next month.

But the issue is Pouncey wants a contract extension regardless of the option. He believes he's out-played his rookie contract, which he has, and deserves to be rewarded for doing so.

He also believes he's become a leader on the team -- Wells Report nothwithstanding -- and the Dolphins have already conceded that point in both words and actions. Remember that when left tackle Branden Albert was signed the team brought two players to the celebratory dinner with the new acquisition and coaches. Those two were quarterback Ryan Tannehill and, of course, Pouncey.

That spoke to Pouncey's standing.

So the next few months as we head to the start of training camp will be an interesting time as the sides discuss an extension for Mike Pouncey.

So what does Alex Mack have to do with any of this?

Well, Mack's contract is likely to make him the highest paid center in the NFL. And while Pouncey likely won't reach those heights because he is not as accomplished as Mack and hasn't actually hit free agency, as Mack did, he might not get $9 million apy.

But $7 million apy?

Perhaps $8 million apy?

Those numbers will be in play.

Yes, the Dolphins can argue no center is worth that kind of annual salary. There are excellent left tackles in the NFL making between $7-$8 million. They can argue that unlike Mack, Pouncey has not hit free agency and is not designated as a transition player. They can even argue Pouncey is actually under contract for two more years, once the option takes effect, and so an extension is not in the offing at all.

But those arguments will fall on deaf ears for the player and his agent because they see themselves as being among the best at their position, going into the final year of a rookie contract, and being grossly underpaid.

And the only way to correct that is with an extension.

And once they win that argument, and they will, the next question is what is Pouncey worth? And that's when the Alex Mack deal will be raised. I suppose it may not be matched by the Dolphins. But it will surely be raised and used as a ceiling for Pouncey.

That's why it matters here.

April 09, 2014

Dolphins preseason schedule here

MIAMI DOLPHINS’ 2014 PRESEASON SCHEDULE

DATE           OPPONENT                  SITE                  TV           TIME*

Aug. 7-10      at Atlanta Falcons      Georgia Dome     WFOR        TBD

Aug. 14-18    at Tampa Bay Bucs      Raymond James   WFOR        TBD

Aug. 21-24    DALLAS COWBOYS       SUN LIFE          WFOR        #TBD

Aug. 28         ST. LOUIS RAMS          SUN LIFE         WFOR        #TBD

 

*Dates and Times will be announced at a later date.

#Game will be broadcast live if sold out 72 hours in advance of game time.

April 08, 2014

Hazing will be thing of the past for Dolphins

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell today will meet with the braintrust of the NFL Players Association, including new president Eric Winston, executive director DeMaurice Smith and other members of the recently elected executive committee, and one major topic on the table will be workplace conduct.

The meeting, part of Goodell's attention to fostering respect and good conduct in the workplace, is a direct result of the Dolphins 2013 harassment scandal.

And out of this and other meetings may come tangible conduct guidelines from the NFL on how players (and others) should interact in the workplace -- which includes the locker room, the practice field, and practice facility as well as the football field every game day.

(Sad it has come to this, but grown men are about to be told how to act because a handful of guys on the Dolphins and elsewhere crossed the line.)

Anyway, one area that is most definitely in the crosshairs on a league and local level with the Dolphins is the subject of rookie hazing.

The idea of older, more established players wielding power over younger, newer players is not new to the NFL. It's been going on forever. And much of the time it has been innocuous.

The idea of rookies bringing breakfast to camp every morning, or meals for veterans to team flights, or singing their alma mater in front of a team meeting hasn't really bothered too many people before -- except Tim Bowens once upon a time. (More on that later).

But when you have an annual practice, which rookie hazing is, and you have no guidelines for it and thus no limits, and then some folks get out of control, the practice often is assigned governing parameters.

Look for rookie hazing on a league-wide level to soon be governed under some parameters. And do not be surprised if those parameters include prohibiting much if not all rookie hazing altogether.

And even if rookie hazing league-wide is not severly limited, look for the Dolphins to do so going forward.

Why?

Well, the NFL believes the players should operate in a workplace environment of respect and professionalism. And hazing -- which includes practices such as  players giving other players embarrassing haircuts and forcing them to do sophomoric things -- does not outwardly portray a strong sense of respect and professionalism.

You may recall during the past two preseasons Dolphins veterans have cut and dyed the hair of rookies in all sorts of unfashionable ways. In 2012 Jonathan Martin was made to look like a monk, with his hair shaven on top and allowed to grow out on the side.

Josh Samuda's hair was sculpted in such a way as to resemble a penis. And although Samuda tried to wear a hat to cover the carving, it was nonetheless uncovered during a team meeting ... on Hard Knocks.

You'll recall the scene on national television of coach Joe Philbin smiling uncomfortably as he saw the hairstyle unveiled. And you'll recall him joking about how classy that made the Dolphins organization look.

Well, Philbin last year got a taste of what can happen when playful rookie hazing grows up, gets angry, and is put in the hands of exactly the wrong people -- people who have no barriers holding power over people who have no ability to stand up for themselves.

Philbin obviously doesn't want a repeat of veteran players forcing younger players to do things they don't want -- such as pay for trips to Las Vegas, the strip club or expensive dinners -- which were some of the allegations of what was going on within the Dolphins.

So Philbin is going to draw a line on hazing in the coming training camp even if the NFL does not.

(Peanut gallery: But Mando, rookie hazing serves a purpose. It draws the players closer. It is a rite of passage. It brings the rookie outsiders into the fold. It is a team-building exercise).

Thank you, peanut gallery for making the argument used throughout time to defend the practice.

In truth, many NFL coaches past and present would not allow hazing at all and had close teams and, indeed, successful teams without it.

Bill Walsh, who won four Super Bowls for the San Francisco 49ers, would not allow rookie hazing. Pete Carroll, whose Seattle Seahawks just won the Super Bowl, does not condone rookie hazing.

"The way Bill saw it, if you hazed rookies you might get them so scared they couldn't focus on the game," running back Roger Craig said in the book 100 things 49ers fans should know and do before they die.

"You might destroy their confidence. So Bill didn't allow that. After all they were there to help us win more Super Bowls."

The Dolphins have had rookie hazing since, well, perhaps 1966 when the team was founded. Don Shula allowed it. But Shula's pragmatism always took precedence over tradition. Yes, the Dolphins had a tradition of hazing, but Shula believed more in the idea of winning.

And when tradition threatened winning, tradition lost.

In 1994, first-round pick Tim Bowens was ordered by veterans to sing in front of the team in keeping with the hazing tradition. Bowens refused and actually started packing his bags to leave the team and head home to Mississippi.

Shula stepped in.

Bowens didn't have to sing. He didn't have to be hazed.

All he had to do was play well and help the team win. 

April 07, 2014

Burleson would have been insurance Dolphins still want

The interest in Nate Burleson by the Miami Dolphins was not so acute that they would get into a bidding war with the Cleveland Browns. Indeed, it was portrayed to me as a chance to investigate a solid veteran receiver who might be available at a relatively inexpensive price.

Burleson signed a one-year contract with Cleveland instead.

But the interest the Dolphins had raises some questions because it suggests the team saw the opportunity to purchase something that should not go unnoticed and now is unattended: Insurace for the health of Brandon Gibson and Brian Hartline.

Gibson and Hartline finished last season with knee injuries. Both are expected back for 2014 and, indeed, Hartline is conservatively expected back for June's mandatory minicamp, if not earlier. Gibson, who suffered a more serious patellar tendon tear in New England last October, is expected back at some point in training camp in late July and August.

But no amount of optimism about the recovery of two-thirds of the Miami starting receiver corps overshadows the fact the Dolphins felt a desire if not a need to shop for insurance (in the person of Burleson) against the possibility one of the two receivers (more likely Gibson) might not be ready for the 2014 season.

This raises the question whether the Dolphins will continue shopping for that insurance now that Burleson has gone to Cleveland? I believe the answer is yes. If another veteran receiver who the Dolphins think can be a good locker room add at a relatively cheap price comes along, I'd expect the Dolphins to show interest.

It speaks to having a secondary plan in case Plan A doesn't play out to script.

The script the Dolphins are operating under says Gibson and Hartline will be ready to play the 2014 regular season. Look for general manager Dennis Hickey to continue looking for opportunities to hedge his bet ... just in case the script doesn't go as planned.

April 03, 2014

Seantrel Henderson unable to finish Pro Day

Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey and head coach Joe Philbin attended the University of Miami's Pro Day today and one of the players they obviously wanted to put eyes on was offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson.

Henderson, 6-8 and 344 pounds, might be a project later-round draft pick and the Dolphins are obviously in the market for young, cheap offensive tackles.

But the view the Dolphins got of Henderson was not as good as hoped. Henderson was unable to finish his workout and by several accounts did not impress in the drills he did complete. The University of Miami, unlike other universities, keeps the workouts closed to the media so this is all second-hand from witnesses and sources.

Henderson did not speak with the media after the workout. David Levine, Henderson's agent, told The Herald's Barry Jackson that Henderson felt dehydrated and sick and that was the reason he had to stop.

Whatever the reason, it is not good news for the player. You may recall Henderson was once one of the country's most prized prep recruits. He initially committed to USC and then went to Miami when the NCAA hammer came down on the Trojans.

But he never lived up to his reputation at Miami. He was suspended multiple times. He was often out of shape. And he failed to solidify himself as the dominant linemen his physical gifts suggested he could become.

Will this scare the Dolphins away? Henderson was one of the players they wanted to closely study and that review will continue, with a local visit to the team's training facility next week.

At that point Henderson will have to explain what happened today.

[Update: Henderson bench pressed 225 pounds 23 times. He checked in at 6-7 and 339 pounds. He was 331 pounds at the NFL combine.]

WR Nate Burleson visiting Dolphins today

The Dolphins have shown no intention of standing pat as the bargain-hunting portion of free agency is well underway and to prove it, beyond the signing of Jason Fox on Wednesday, the team is bringing in veteran receiver Nate Burleson today, per sources.

Steve Wyche (Miami Herald alum) of NFL AM was the first to report the story.

Frankly, this one is a little curious. Burleson is not young (32), he's not particularly fast (4.51) and he's not particularly big (6-foot). He might be cheap, agreeing to a veteran minimum salary contract because he's coming off a two unimpressive years in Detroit.

Still, I do not get it.

Burleson isn't really an upgrade over any of Miami's top four wide receivers -- Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, Brandon Gibson or Rishard Matthews. He obviously could be a good experienced backup as a No. 5 wide receiver to guard against Hartline or Gibson not being fully recovered from last year's knee injuries.

But the No. 5 wide receiver rarely makes it to the game-day roster and when he does, usually has to play special teams. I don't think Burleson would be enthusiastic about either of those two ideas because he hasn't returned a punt since 2009 nor a kick since 2010.

Another thing: This draft is deep in WR talent. Rookies cost one-third against the cap that a veteran such as Burleson costs. 

This move reeks of something else being afoot. It demands explanation.

On the other hand, Burleson hasn't exactly been in demand so maybe ....

Dolphins need to let Mike Wallace run up on safeties

The last week of seemingly non-stop coverage of DeSean Jackson got me to thinking about, what else, the Miami Dolphins.

Much like the Eagles a season ago with Jackson, the Dolphins have a lightning-fast wide receiver in Mike Wallace. Unfortunately, the Miami coaching staff failed miserably to maximize Wallace and so he caught 73 passes for 930 yards and five touchdowns.

That's good, but not dynamic player good, not $60 million contract good.

But here's the thing, if the Dolphins in 2014 apply some of the principles to Wallace the Eagles applied last year to Jackson, there is a very good chance Wallace's statistics will grow to dynamic proportions.

And, with new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor coming from his job as the Eagles quarterback coach a year ago, he is perfectly suited to apply those principles to the equally explosive Wallace that Eagles coach Chip Kelly applied to Jackson.

More specifically, I'm talking about how the Eagles moved Jackson around -- sometimes putting him in the slot -- so that he could use his speed against a linebacker or a No. 2 or No. 3 cornerback and then deep against the safety.

If you'll look at the highlights below, you'll see at the 3:30 mark, Jackson in the slot against Tampa Bay. (I'm sure former Bucs personnel man and current Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey loved seeing this). And the Bucs play a zone with a LB under and a safety over the top.

Well, Jackson runs out of the LB's zone in a blink and the safety is not nearly fast enough to pick him up over the top.

The touchdown is caused because Jackson is extremely fast. But it also happens because the Eagles gave Jackson a matchup that allowed his gifts to simply blow away the Tampa scheme.

The Dolphins didn't do that last year with Wallace. He lined up 90 percent of the time on the right side of the line of scrimmage out wide. He rarely went into the slot. He rarely motioned.

Look again at the 5:27 mark of the highlights against the Vikings. The Eagles line up Jackson in the slot and the Vikings answer by matching up with safety Robert Blanton.

How do you think that went?

Jackson ran up on the safety and left him in the dust.

Lazor saw this time and again last season. He has a player on the Miami roster that offers exactly the same kind of explosion as Jackson.

If he's smart, Lazor will give Wallace the chance to run up on safeties in 2014 as Jackson did last year for his Eagles. The results could be dynamic.

 

April 02, 2014

Dolphins add OT and WR

Busy day for the Dolphins ...

Right tackle Jason Fox, who is visiting the Dolphins today, has signed a one-year deal with the team, according to a league source. ProFootballTalk.com was the first to report the signing. I don't expect this will be much more than a minimum salary type addition.

[Update 1:44: The Dolphins have confirmed the signing.]

[Update 1:51: An NFL source tells me Fox got $795,000.]

Meanwhile, the previous blog discussed how the Dolphins are not in the market for high-end wide receiver but will be adding receivers for the bottom of the roster, for depth, for special teams possibilities and he will preferrably be a bigger body type.

Well, the Dolphins have agreed to terms with receiver Kevin Cone, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Cone is 6-2 and 216. He is what former Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland would have termed an acorn. Despite four years of experience, Cone has one career reception.

He has played 28 career games but most of the work has come on special teams.

Clearing out the notebook: Free agent Fox visits, more

The Dolphins are bringing in former Detroit Lions right tackle Jason Fox, formerly a University of Miami standout, for a visit, according to a league source.

The idea of Fox is to add a veteran presence and competition for the right tackle spot that currently has no clear cut starter at the position. If all else fails, Fox offers depth for the position, assuming he signs.

Fox, 25, has started only three games in his four NFL seasons.

This is not the right tackle answer for the Dolphins. This would be a move to shore up depth.

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The Dolphins have the second-most salary cap space in the AFC East this morning with $16,680,752. They have only 58 players under contract and that represents the fewest players under contract of any team in the NFL.

But the interesting thing is the players the Dolphins have under contract generally represent the core of the 2014 team.

Said another way, if you look at the Dolphins current roster, you can pluck out the starter or potential starter at every position except only two -- right tackle and one of the guard spots. And even at guard, the Dolphins have players on the roster such as Dallas Thomas, Nate Garner and Sam Brenner, who will likely get an opportunity to compete for the starting job.

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I care about Dolphins fans. I work for Dolphins fans.

And so I try to keep a finger on the pulse of what you're talking about and one thing that I simply cannot understand is the constant conversation about the wide receiver position.

It seems, based on some of what I've heard, that Dolphins fans think the team should add more wide receiver talent. And I'm talking serious talent.

When DeSean Jackson was cut by Philadelphia last week, fans asked me on twitter about the chances the Dolphins would chase him. A couple of bigtime Dolphins fans were discussing picking a wide receiver in the first round on twitter this morning.

I. Do. Not. Get. It.

The Dolphins wide receiver corps may indeed get three or four young players infused into it before the offseason is over. But those players will be back-of-the-roster possibilities.

I doubt seriously it will be a first-round pick.

Why?

Mike Wallace.

Brian Hartline.

Brandon Gibson.

Rishard Matthews.

Those are your four receivers on game day. And to answer the questions before they arise, Wallace is not being traded according to club sources, Hartline will be ready for the offseason camps after suffering a knee injury in the season-finale, and Gibson is on schedule to be recovered by the start of the regular season, according to a source, after blowing out a knee at New England last October.

So where is there room for a first-round pick? With the money committed to Wallace, Hartline and Gibson, where is the logic in investing more money in a player in free agency when the right tackle spot is bare and the tight end spot needs depth?

The Dolphins would like to add a bigger receiver type. Most of their receivers, outside of Armon Binns, are on the midsize body type. They'd like to add a bigger target receiver. But not at a high price. Not early in the draft, barring the dropping of Mike Evans to No. 19.

Wide receiver is a spotlight position. So I understand the attention. But the Dolphins seem to have the spotlight position covered, for now.