Miami Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey last week made the point that "difficult decisions" loom this offseason when it comes to the salary cap.
And I've been thinking about this because while I'm certain the team's cap braintrust (Hickey, Mike Tannenbaum and Dawn Aponte) have been thinking about those decisions and an action plan for tackling them, I hope they can do better than they've done in the past.
Tannenbaum hasn't been around so he doesn't own the past. Hickey has been around only a year so he only rents the past. Aponte has been here for years. She owns the past.
And the past has included some good cap decisions. And some terrible cap decisions.
That becomes abundantly clear to anyone looking at the charts overthecap.com published Monday in breaking down Miami's 2015 cap outlook.
To me, great use of cap space is defined by paying areas of your team worthy of that payment. I don't mind paying players that play up to their contracts. Amazing use of cap space is paying bargain prices for areas of your team that perform at a high level. And terrible use of cap space is paying a high price for little reward.
The Dolphins in 2015?
They are scheduled to pay exceedingly high value for areas of the team that simply have failed to reach the threshold of that compensation. Check the offensive and defensive spending published by overthecap.com and you see this quite clearly.
The Dolphins are scheduled to pay nearly twice as much for their wide receivers as the NFL average. Now tell me, which one of those players has been a Pro Bowl player for the Dolphins? None. Which one has been a game-changer for the Dolphins? None. Which one is elite? None.
So the Dolphins have agreed to pay elite value but have not enjoyed elite player dividends from that room.
The same holds true for the offensive line.
The Dolphins have been troubled along the offensive line for nearly a decade but the past three or four years have been particularly troubling. The chart shows the team has clearly thrown money at the problem, spending approximately $7 million more for the offensive line than the NFL average.
And yet ... this offseason it is clear Miami must somehow find two starting guards. So as much as the Dolphins have invested on the offensive line room, it remains incomplete.
That's wasteful use of cap space.
Defensively, the same problems abound at defensive line and linebacker -- or two of the four position groups on the defense.
The Dolphins defensive line was once the backbone of the team. But recently players have underperformed their contracts.
Last year, for example, the Dolphins gave Randy Starks a two-year, $10 million deal. It made him the third-highest paid player among 30 4-3 defensive tackles, according to overthecap.com. Did Randy Starks play like the third best 4-3 DT while the run defense finished 24th in the NFL?
Did he reach the standards he set earlier in his Dolphins career?
The Dolphins did (probably) get fair value out of Cameron Wake ($7.2 million for 11.5 sacks), Earl Mitchell and Jared Odrick. And they got excellent value for Olivier Vernon ($759,000 in cap space for 6.5 sacks). But the point is other teams are simply doing better.
The Buffalo Bills are spending a ton on their defensive line but they had three Pro Bowl players there and four players with 10 sacks or more.
The Baltmore Ravens, running a 3-4, have one of the dominant defensive lines in the NFL. They're on the hook for approximately $21 million in cap space for that room compared to Miami's nearly $30 million.
These are teams the Dolphins are directly competing against in the same conference. But the Dolphins are losing the battle at the bank because they're not getting the same bang for their salary cap buck.
The same problem is evident at linebacker.
What great linebacker do the Dolphins have? Let me help you: Nobody.
Jelani Jenkins is probably the most cost-effective of the bunch. He's a find. Everyone else? Too expensive and underperforming.
By the way, the last few weeks I've had at least four NFL people mock the Dolphins for the contracts they gave Phillip Wheeler No. 1 and Dannell Ellerbe No. 2. It is no surprise the Dolphins are likely to jettison both this offseason -- barring either agreeing to take a drastic pay cut.
Obviously, not everything is dire in the world of 8-8. Like the team on the field, Miami's contract negotiators more or less win about as much as they lose.
The tight end room was a bargain considering Charles Clay has played under his rookie contract until now. That, however, will change.
The cornerback room is not as bad as it seems in the chart because that includes Cortland Finnegan's $6.475 million cap hit in 2015 and the truth is Finnegan will either retire or get cut so $5.475 million of that is going to be savings.
(On this Finnegan contract ... What were the Dolphins thinking? Here's a player who had been bad for two consecutive years. His mentor Jeff Fisher decided he could no longer keep him on his team. He's cut. Finnegan is representing himself without an agent. And he gets $5.5 million fully guaranteed? In what world? The signing was not only questionable from a financial standpoint, but it caused the Dolphins to otherwise stand pat at cornerback, which proved unwise. This, by the way, is not a second guess. Check the archives. I hated the Finnegan signing when it happened. Antonio Cromartie, meanwhile, got a one-year deal for $4 million. And he was better than Finnegan the previous two years and went to the Pro Bowl this year.)
Anyway, aside from Finnegan the Dolphins have done a good job on cornerback deals. Brent Grimes was expensive but he was a bargain his first year with the team on a prove-it contract and went to the Pro Bowl this season. So far, so good.
Finally, to avoid confusion let me address a couple of questions the chart might raise:
The quarterback position is a bargain for the Dolphins right now because backup Matt Moore is scheduled to become a free agent and so his $4-5 million is not showing on the chart and Ryan Tannehill is playing under his rookie contract. All that will soon change so don't do handstands over that. The Dolphins obviously need a backup. And even if Tannehill is not extended in 2015, he will be very expensive starting in 2016.
The running back room is cheap according to the chart because Lamar Miller is still playing under his fourth-round draft pick contract. Also, Knowshon Moreno, who the Dolphins paid $3 million in 2014 in exhange for 148 yards before he was injured, is no longer counting because he is unsigned.