March 23, 2014

Steve Ross: Not worried about the offensive line

ORLANDO -- Are you worried about the Dolphins offensive line situation today? Club owner Stephen Ross isn't, even though the team has obvious holes at right tackle and at least one guard spot.

"I'd be worried if it was all taken care of by now," Ross said Sunday after he arrived at the NFL annual meeting. "We know it has to be addressed and it will be addressed the right way."

Ross said the Dolphins have a plan for addressing the line and added, "We'll get a right tackle in the draft and then we'll see what else he have to get."

The annual meeting begins Monday morning. Among the major topics of discussion among owners will be workplace conduct -- that includes both on field use of the N-word and taunts of any kind as well as locker room behavior.

The Dolphins last season suffered what was recognized leaguewide as a failure to monitor and handle behavior in the locker room among players and some staff. That failure led directly the Dolphins firing an offensive line coach, the team's head trainer, and making a decision to not bring back Richie Incognito, John Jerry and trading Jonathan Martin.

It is possible Ross will be asked to give an update on what the Dolphins have done and will continue to do going forward to avoid a repeat of 2013.

March 21, 2014

Giants announce signing of John Jerry

The Giants announced moments ago they have signed free agent guard John Jerry.

Jerry, who had lukewarm interest from Oakland as well but very little (any?) from the Dolphins, has been a starter for the Dolphins the past two seasons. He actually has started 45 of 57 games with Miami.

But he's not been a good player, however.

Atop the fact Jerry has been mostly just a guy is the fact he was prominently mentioned in the Wells report as one of those harassing former Dolphins tackle Jonathan Martin. Jerry faces possible sanctions for his role in the scandal.

Jerry's time with the Dolphins will be most noted for being the player the Dolphins picked in the third round of the 2010 draft instead of former University of Miami tight end Jimmy Graham.

That, folks, says it all.

Comparing strategy: GM decisions have consquences

Championships are not won in March. Everyone's heard that right?

Well, in the NFL that is true but it is also true that decisions by NFL front offices this time of year have consequences. And there is indeed much winning and losing going on right now.

As this offeseason progresses, indeed, as free agency eventually bleeds into the draft and teams morph toward improvement or decline, what is happening right now is likley at the root of that future change.

And so I present to you a comparison of multiple teams and multiple relatively new general managers.

Their decisions, in the open for all to see, will be remembered and judged in the coming year as we measure how much what happened this March affects their teams from September through January.

The GMs we look at today?

John Idzik of the New York Jets.

Steve Keim of the Arizona Cardinals.

Tom Telesco of the San Diego Chargers.

Ray Farmer of the Cleveland Browns.

Dennis Hickey of the Miami Dolphins.

All are in their first or second offseasons with their teams. All made intertwined decisions this offseason that will be measured against each other for the next year.

To wit:

On March 5 the St. Louis Rams did as expected and released cornerback Cortland Finnegan. The move was a no-brainer. Finnegan, who played poorly for the Rams in 2013, saved the team clear $4 million in cap space at his release.

Four days later, the New York Jets, hoping to clear cap space, cut cornerback Antonio Cromartie. The move was a no-brainer. Cromartie, who played poorly at times for the Jets in 2013, saved the team $4.3 million in cap space at his release.

And then is when the GMs we mentioned went to work.

Hickey, wanting a cornerback who could compete for a starting job but also perhaps play the slot against multiple receiver sets, brought in one cornerback and signed him. He selected Finnegan, 30, and paid him $11 million over two years. The contract paid Finnegan $5.45 million guaranteed in 2014.

Idzik, wanting to upgrade at cornerback, instead brought in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and apparently tried to get a short-term prove-it deal done with him. It wasn't until the crosstown New York Giants stepped up with a big offer that Idzik, flush with cap room, also presented a better deal.

Too late.

DRC picked the Giants. Cromartie, who had earlier said he'd like to retire with the Jets, was still on the market but by then had already visited the Arizona Cardinals. And Keim, who last year did a good job bringing in several veterans on prove-it deals including former Dolphins linebacker Karlos Dansby, struck before Idzik could recover.

The Cardinals signed Cromartie, 29 and with experience in both press and off-man schemes, to a one-year deal worth $3.25 million plus another $250,000 as a per game roster bonus. The bonus is paid on a per game basis at $15,625.

So two corners at or nearing 30. Three general managers. Two deals.

Well, Idzik got no one. The Jets today are searching for cornerback help and will likely have to look to the draft for it.

The Dolphins got Finnegan for the most expensive contract that actually includes guaranteed money.

The Cardinals got Cromartie for the least expensive contract that has no guaranteed money.

[Update: The official Cromartie contract is in and it does have guaranteed money, although he's still at $3.25 million this year. He got a $1 million signing bonus and his base salary of $2.25 million is guaranteed.]

Which GM won? That will be determined during the season when we can compare how Cromartie vs. Finnegan vs. air works out for the three teams. (Air has trouble playing press-man, by the way).

Right now, it seems Keim has the overall advantage although that can change.

Young general managers also made interesting decisions on running back, too.

When free agency opened, Donald Brown, Ben Tate, Knowshon Moreno, Darren McFadden, Toby Gerhart, Rashad Jennings and others were available.

The San Diego Chargers and Telesco stepped out almost immediately and signed Brown to a three-year, $10.5 million deal. The deal includes $4 million in guarateed money. If you do the math the deal averages $3.5 million per year.

The Cleveland Browns and Farmer, more cautious, nonetheless landed Tate. He signed a two-year deal for $6.2 million with $2.5 million guaranteed. If you do the math the deal averages $3.1 million per season.

Gerhart, the understudy to Adrian Peterson, went to Jacksonville for $10.5 million over three years or $3.5 mill a year apy. McFadden, often injured, remained in Oakland for one year and $1.654 million with only $100,000 guaranteed. 

Today the Dolphins and Hickey are hosting a visit with Moreno. As I noted yesterday, the Dolphins have so far been serious about the players they bring in for visits. So I would expect something to happen today -- at least an offer to Moreno.

So mulitple running backs. None of them stars. All of them accomplished to some degree. All of them experienced and adept in pass protection. All available at the same time to the different general managers.

Do the Dolphins get rewarded for waiting the most by paying the least? Or do they pay the same for Moreno that Cleveland paid for Tate or San Diego paid for Brown?

Hickey paid more once before.

We'll see which general manager actually gets what he paid for -- in January.

March 20, 2014

Moreno to visit the Dolphins Friday

Denver unrestricted free agent running back Knowshon Moreno will meet the Dolphins on a visit Friday, according to a league source.

The Dolphins do not confirm or deny visits until they are over.

The Dolphins are apparently interested in the veteran running back's ability to help a backfield looking for upgrade from Lamar Miller or Daniel Thomas. The Dolphins like Moreno's ability to pass-protect -- something he was adept at while helping to protect Peyton Manning in Denver.

Moreno, 26, is coming off his best NFL season. He rushed for 1,038 yards on 241 carries (4.3 yard-per-carry average) in 16 games for the Broncos. It was the only time in his five years with Denver that Moreno eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark.

Moreno also caught 60 passes for 548 yards.

The Dolphins have been looking for a bruiser back -- someone who can break some tackles and help the club in the four-minute offense and protecting the lead. Moreno, at 5-11 and 215 pounds, has not been that in his career.

But Moreno is a good player. He's been dependable, fumbling only once in 241 attempts last year.

The running back market has been a buyer's market this free agency period. No player has gotten a deal worth over $3.5 million per year.

By the way, the Dolphins under Dennis Hickey have been serious about the players they bring in. Every player who has visited has signed except for linebacker D'Qwell Jackson. Every player who visited got a contract offer, including Jackson.

Hickey not picking former boss as assistant GM

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a 4-12 record last year and that got general manager Mark Dominik fired. Meanwhile Bucs director of player personnel Dennis Hickey got promoted to general manager by the Dolphins.

And as Hickey worked for Dominik for quite some time and the two seemed to get along there was speculation that Hickey, now in charge of his own personnel department, might hire Dominik as his assistant general manager.

That seemed particularly possible after Hickey fired former assistant general manager Brian Gaine.

But no.

Dominik today accepted a post at ESPN as an NFL front office "insider." He will appear on the seemingly infinite ESPN platforms -- you know, NFL Insiders, NFL Live, SportsCenter, ESPN2, ESPN radio, ESPN the bus, ESPN the kitchen utensil, ESPN in your underwear -- to provide commentary and insight.

And while that assignment does not preclude Dominik from joining a front office in the future, it clearly shows he's not joining any NFL front office, including the Dolphins, anytime soon.

The Dolphins don't currently have an assistant general manager as they enter the homestretch of their draft preparations.

The Dolphins, by the way, still don't have a head trainer, either, following the February firing of Kevin O'Neill as a fallout from the Wells Report. And while O'Neill is preparing legal action against the Dolphins for what he apparently believes to be wrongful termination, the Dolphins are going slow methodically in their search for a replacement.

FoxSports1 (sports network that doesn't have a bus or kitchen utensil) reported the search continues with names under consideration including Dave Price, former trainer of the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets, Green Bay Packers assistant trainer Bryan Engel, and Kevin Bastin who was the head trainer for the Houton Texans from 2001-2009. 

March 19, 2014

Winston is NFLPA president but not a Dolphins option

Today was a good day for Eric Winston. The former University of Miami offensive lineman was voted president of the NFL Players Association. So he will help lead the union that represents players' interests.

As to Winston's own career interests, there is none from the Dolphins at this point.

The seemingly annual flirtation with Winston as a free agent right tackle possibility has not begun -- not yet, anyway. The Dolphins have shown no interest even though offensive line coach John Benton coached Winston when the player was with the Houston Texans.

Indeed, the Dolphins have also shown no interest in bringing Bryant McKinnie back as a project move from left to right tackle (and they won't) and they've shown no interest in re-signing Tyson Clabo at this point.

The Dolphins, I'm told, are thinking of filling their right tackle need in the draft. No surprise there.

Obviously, it's a long offseason and things can change in the coming months. But right now the search for a starting right tackle has not yet devolved to seeking a veteran stopgap on a one-year deal.

By the way, if you're wondering why this blog (and my columns) have focused so much on the offensive line this offseason, then check out the video below ...

Dolphins defense trying to change ... but not to 3-4

Last season, as the Dolphins declined in multiple defensive categories from the season before -- run defense, third-down defense, pass completion percentage, first downs allowed, yards allowed, and the the big one, points allowed -- there was the suggestion in cyberspace that perhaps the defense would be better off as a 3-4 defense rather than a 4-3 defense.

I know the idea was out there because, well, I helped create it. It just seemed to me the Dolphins defense that was pretty good in 2011 as a 3-4 unit was less effective in 2012 as a 4-3 unit and then was worse again in 2013 in multiple categories in that same 4-3.

Well, forget that switch to the 3-4.

It is not happening.

The Dolphins are indeed doubling down on the idea of running the 4-3 and this brief free agency period has already shown the team's intent. When the club had linebacker D'Qwell Jackson in for a visit weeks ago, coaches told him they saw him as a middle linebacker fit in their 4-3.

When the club first contacted and talked with defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, they told him that though he'd played in the 3-4 in Houston, they saw him as a 4-3 defensive tackle. Indeed, that was  a selling point for Mitchell.

"I definitely wanted to be a part of a 4-3 team," Mitchell said, "so I’m definitely ... I’m excited and I really appreciate getting involved with this organization for giving me an opportunity."

Mitchell sees the chance to play in the 4-3 as an opportunity because he likes it more. He believes he's better suited for it. And, by the way, he won't have centers and guards diving at his knees from multiple angles like they do to 3-4 nose tackles.

"I think it will definitely give me an opportunity to showcase my skill and just, it will definitely be a time where I can definitely just be able to make more plays and be part of a, just getting after the quarterback," said Mitchell, who played in the 4-3 in college.

So that's that.

The Dolphins are and will remain a base 4-3. That doesn't mean they don't plan some changes.

Obviously, the Jackson flirtation made it clear the team wants to move Dannell Ellerbe, signed last year to replace Karlos Dansby in the middle, to outside linebacker. The team has also told linebacker Koa Misi he might be moving him to the middle unless the draft or the remainder of free agency yields a middle linebacker type, a fact also reported recently by The Herald's Barry Jackson.

What does this front seven shuffling say?

Well, obviously the Dolphins are looking for upgrade. But in toying with the idea of upgrade, the consideration to change the scheme has been discarded.

Yet ... and I'm just talking to myself here ... I'm convinced Jared Odrick and Randy Starks playing the five-technique would be excellent, and indeed Starks went to a Pro Bowl playing that spot and Odrick was drafted in the first round specifically for that spot.

I believe Mitchell is a good nose, although the loss of Paul Soliai to play that spot stings and crimps my potential 3-4 lineup.

The linebackers?

Cameron Wake, Dion Jordan and Olivier Vernon outside in some sort of rotation. Ellerbe, Phillip Wheeler and Misi inside in some sort of rotation.

Voila!

Your revamped 3-4 front.

By the way, when the Dolphins brought Ellerbe over from Baltimore last year, they took him away from the more familiar 3-4. Jordan looks like a prototype 3-4 linebacker much more than he seems suited to play 4-3 DE.

Cameron Wake, obvioulsy, is a wash because he's been effective in both schemes. I've had multiple personnel people tell me Vernon, smallish as a 4-3 end, would be well suited as a 3-4 OLB.

OK, end of sermon.

The point is the Dolphins defense that needs to stop the slide in mutliple areas from the past couple of years since the scheme change is looking to make some adjustments. A change back to the 3-4 isn't one of them.

March 18, 2014

Hester or not, Dolphins can use return competition

Devin Hester apparently is going to have a decision to make soon.

The former University of Miami standout who happens to also be a former Chicago Bears Pro Bowl returner is apparently noticing his market in free agency is heating up and he has a decision to make.

 

So, yes, with God's help Hester is going to decide where he'll be playing in 2014. He told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel last week he'd like to play for the Dolphins. I'm certain if a paper in 30 other NFL cities had been asking, he might have told them he'd like to play for their teams as well.

It's called marketing.

I suppose that's why he's visiting the Atlanta Falcons today and has other visits set up as well.

Yes, Hester back in town would be good for him. But it's also about the right money and there is no knowing what kind of value the value conscious Dolphins would put on a 31-year-old returner.

But I will say this ... The Dolphins should put some value into improving their return game because last year it took a something of a step backward.

The Dolphins averaged 21.3 yards per kickoff return last year and that was 26th in the NFL. A season earlier, in 2012, the Dolphins averaged 27.1 yards per kick return and that was No. 3 in the NFL.

Marcus Thigpen saw his kickoff return numbers drop from 27.4 yards per return in '12 to 22.5 yards per return last season.

On punt returns the Dolphins went from 11.2 yards per return in 2013 to 7.8 yards per return in '13 and that meant a drop from the sixth best return unit in the league to 23rd. And again, Thigpen's stats suffered in direct parallel to the team's.

Thigpen averaged 7.8 yards per return last season with 20 fair catches. He averaged 12.2 yards per return with only six fair catches in 2012.

And Thigpen, who had a kickoff and punt return TD in 2012, didn't score on either a kickoff or punt return last season.

Hester?

He averaged 27.6 yards per kickoff return, which ranked him sixth in the NFL last season. And he averaged 14.2 yards per punt return, although he only had 18 of them with 11 fair catches.

Now here's the rub ...

How much would Hester expect from the Dolphins? Or anyone?

The last time he signed a new contract was 2010 when he got a four-year, $21.956 million deal from the Bears. That was a different time and different set of circumstances.

The Dolphins aren't likely to pay anywhere close to that because, well, Hester's not 26 anymore, they don't value him as a wide receiver as the Bears did back in the day, and the team has approximately $19,185,752 of salary cap space as of Monday afternoon.

Also, Thigpen is cheap by comparison. He's only scheduled to make $570,000 in 2013.

So whether Hester is a fit and whether the Dolphins value him enough to outbid other teams for him is the question.

But as to Thigpen, there is little question.

The team will either replace him or bring in some competition for training camp. If he wins the competition, great.

If Thigpen cannot win the competition, the same relatively inexpensive salary that makes him so attractive also makes him a target. Because if the Dolphins cut him before the start of the regular season, they will carry only $2,500 in dead money.

March 17, 2014

Dolphins commit to Cortland Finnegan

Last year the Dolphins needed a veteran cornerback and got Brent Grimes to do a one-year prove-it contract worth $5.5 million.

This year, the Dolphins wanted a veteran cornerback -- in case youngsters Jamar Taylor or Will Davis do not step up and start -- and they went further to land Cortland Finnegan than they did for Grimes last year.

The contract Finnegan signed Friday was indeed for two years and worth $11 million, as first reported by NFL Media. The deal includes a $2 million signing bonus and a $3.5 million base salary for 2014 that is guaranteed.

The deal's second year is for $5.45 million in base.

The deal also includes $25,000 in workout bonsuses in both '14 and '15.

What does that mean?

It means the Dolphins are fully committed to Finnegan in 2014.

If he is bad in camp, he probably doesn't get cut because the investment is significant. Last year Finnegan was not very good for the Rams and that, plus his big contract signed in 2012, is the reason he was cut.

If he gets injured, well, that's the breaks.  Last year, Finnegan finished the season on injured reserve as he fractured an orbital bone in his face.

The sides did agree to a skill/injury provision to the base salary guarantee to mitigate but not totally alleviate damage if things don't go as planned.

Finnegan said during a conference call on Friday he expects to compete for a starting job in Miami. He better. He's getting paid like it.

The point is, for a prove-it contract this deal shows the Dolphins are either very confident or very foolish that Finnegan will do exactly that. Prove it.

OL free agency possibilities: Stopgap, projects

Zach Strief re-signed with the New Orleans Saints today. He got a five-year deal worth $20.5 million with $8.4 million in guaranteed money, per a league source.

The Dolphins offensive line, meanwhile, will continue to seem incomplete as general manager Dennis Hickey now shops for bargain additions.

The Dolphins have a guard and right tackle spot open if one assumes sometimes NFL starter Shelley Smith -- signed Friday -- can become a fulltime NFL starter for the Dolphins.

So at guard one name that become prominent for the Dolphins now is John Benton. No, he's not a player. He's the new offensive line coach. And he happens to have been the Houston Texans offensive line before he came to the Dolphins.

And he's got his guys in his sights.

Sooo...

The Dolphins have shown preliminary and lukewarm interest in two former Texans linemen -- guard Wade Smith and tackle Ryan Harris.

Harris, 29, has been mostly a backup type during his six-year career with Denver and Houston. He started 10 games for the Broncos in 2010 but that's the last time he actually has been a starter. His time in Houston was spent mostly in a backup role. He is a depth guy and would likely be insurance, if signed, to a rookie draft pick starter option.

Smith is familiar to Dolphins fans. He was once the Dolphins starting left tackle.

That's right, that Wade Smith.

Smith was Miami starting right tackle in 2003 -- his rookie year after being drafted in the third round out of Memphis. And it wasn't a great experience (I recall one three-sack game). Smith started only two games the next three seasons and nobody seemed to notice when he departed in 2006.

But after languishing four four years and two teams, Smith's career hit a stride when he joined the Texans in 2010. He was a guard by then. And he was a starter -- putting a string of 64 consecutive starts at the position the next four years.

Smith is a veteran guard option for Miami. He's 32. He's a stopgap guy.

He'd like to return to the Texans but they have a new coaching staff and would like to upgrade their line. They encouraged him to test free agency.

As Benton has been his coach for years and the Dolphins will run the same (or very similar) zone scheme he's known in Houston, Smith could be an answer for the Dolphins. And the Dolphins could be the way he bookends his career, finishing where he started.

March 15, 2014

Dolphins concerned about what you think of them

Early Friday the Dolphins, looking around the free agent market for a right tackle and finding very few left, tried again to get Zach Strief of the New Orleans Saints to visit.

He declined.

And the news was reported by The Herald's Barry Jackson thusly: Free agent right tackle Zach Strief declined an offer to visit the Dolphins. Indications are that he prefers to return to New Orleans.

And the nugget was picked up by ProFootballTalk.com.

And the Dolphins apparently freaked.

The team that has suffered its share of notable rejections -- Jim Harbaugh, Peyton Manning, Jeff Fisher, Nick Caserio, Ray Farmer, Tom Gamble, and Lake Dawson -- is sensitive to the idea that it is being rejected on any front by anybody.

And the club apparently felt there was a perception the Strief decision not to visit stirred the rejection pot again. This despite the fact neither report by The Herald nor PFT mentioned the words "rejection" or "spurned" or anything close to it.

The Dolphins complained to Strief's representation, anyway.

And so this morning agent Ralph Cindrich went on his twitter account to correct the record that, frankly, didn't need correcting because the facts were all there and the perception he was trying to correct wasn't shared by everyone, anyway.

So Cindrich tweeted:

"I was made aware from the Dolphins that there was an incorrect perception the Dolphins were spurned-not the case. Saints negot's heated up."

As I've been reporting on my twitter account, the Dolphins like Strief. He's actually the only proven right tackle left on the market. But he's 30, has roots in New Orleans, loves the team and wants to stay there. The Saints want to keep him but their salary cap situation is so problematic they're being forced to trade or cut good players. 

So Cindrich, a longtime good agent, was hedging his bet by seeking other teams -- including the Dolphins. Cindrich has no issues with the Dolphins. Strief has no issues with the Dolphins. They don't talk on the phone and giggle like little girls about how ridiculous playing for the Dolphins would be.

It's just that Strief wants to go back to the Saints. It's business.

"Saints Mickey Loomis could not promise Strief home-cap rm," Cindrich tweeted. "Concerned, I sought teams, Dolphins fr start-every day. Great place for new start."

That does not mean, however, there will be a new start. It just means the Strief camp isn't mocking the Dolphins.

"Last tweet: Dolphins front office class people. Team took a hit when talks heated up with Saints. We never had a Miami visit set," Cindrinch added.

So where does this leave us?

Zach Strief, as of this writing, is not visiting the Dolphins. He has declined the invite. He's negotiating a return to the Saints. But his agent wants you to know that doesn't mean he's spurning the Dolphins.

More interestingly, the Dolphins want you to know they're not being spurned.

They're kinda sensitive that way.

Read more here: http://miamiherald.typepad.com/sports-buzz/2014/03/encouraging-outlook-for-um-hoops-heat-dolphins-marlins-chatter.html#storylink=cpy

March 14, 2014

Finnegan: Coming to compete for starting job

Cortland Finnegan represented himself in his free agency negotiations and one thing Finnegan the player wanted Finnegan the agent to get him has apparently been delivered.

The player wanted a chance to start again in the NFL.

And Finnegan says the Dolphins are going to give him that chance.

"I'm coming in to compete for a starting job," Finnegan said on a conference call with reporters.

That competition ostensibly will include 2013 draft picks Jamar Taylor and Will Davis and any other younger corners the team adds in free agency or the draft.

As to Finnegan's much criticized play in 2013, it is not a new topic for the player. And he seems to relish the critique as motivation. "Good, love it," he said when told there is such criticism.

"At times I played good and at times I didn't," Finnegan said. "I know I was hurt most of the time."

Finnegan played only seven games last season. He finished the season on injured reserve with a fractured orbital bone. He said he will be completely healthy for the start of offseason camps.

The full Finnegan interview is below. Listen, it contains a little flub by Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey -- he's human:

Download 3.14.14 Cortland Finnegan

 

 

Report: Finnegan (who is he?) close to signing

The Dolphins are closing in on a two-year deal with free agent cornerback Cortland Finnegan, according to NFL Media's Albert Breer, so it seems Miami's search for a slot/No. 3/emergency starter cornerback will be filled soon.

[Update at 4:19: A league source says the deal is done.]

[Update at 4:26: Dolphins now confirm the confirmation. Deal is done.]

But ...

What are the Dolphins actually getting?

As I've told you previously, Finnegan was available for a reason because he has not been very good the past couple of seasons. 

So, assuming no hitches in the final negotiating movements, what cornerback are the Dolphins getting? The team's history with bargain preseason acquisition at conerback has been hit and miss.

There's the home runs: Andre Goodman (2006), Brent Grimes (2013).

But there's also been some swings-and-a-miss: Richard Marshall (2012), Benny Sapp (2010), Eric Green (2009).

Which category is Finnegan more likely to be in?

Well, the folks at ProFootballFocus.com would tell you it doesn't bode well:

 

 

Free agency gives the final view of drafts

One thing the annual foray into free agency does -- particularly once the early mad rush to the best players and biggest contracts ends, as it has this year -- is it allows time for reflection on past drafts.

It is my belief that you judge a team's draft once that draft class hits free agency, normally four or for some players that sign longer deals, five years later.

And doing that exercise we already know that six years after the 2008 draft, which was the first undertaken by the Bill Parcells-Jeff Ireland-Tony Sparano administration, we can judge that undertaking as an unmitigated disaster.

No player from the 2008 draft class is left on the Dolphins roster today. That means that no player taken that year was judged good enough to keep through a second contract once he hit free agency. Talk about no value out of a draft.

Left tackle Jake Long at No. 1 overall was let go by Miami last year. Long, a good player, proved to be not durable -- which I remind you is a critical factor in judging players. He'd finished two consecutive years on injured reserve when his contract came up last year and the Dolphins were wary of that lack of durability so he went to the Rams. And then he finished his first season in St. Louis on injured reserve.

Well, you know who this year's signature free agency signing is for the Dolphins?

Left tackle Branden Albert, who was taken No. 15 overall in the same draft that Long was picked No. 1.

The 2009 draft was a much greater success for the Dolphins but only in the sense they have one player from that draft on the roster today.

Wide receiver Brian Hartline, a fourth-round pick in 2009, is the only player the Dolphins deemed worthy of keeping long-term through a second contract. First-round pick Vontae Davis was not, second-rounder Sean Smith was not. Second-rounder Pat White and third-rounder Patrick Turner didn't even make it out of the their first contracts with the team.

(The Dolphins kept fifth-rounder Chris Clemons through a second contract but it was a one-year, fill-a-gap kind of deal and we all know Clemons is done with the Dolphins now.)

That brings me to the 2010 draft ...

First round pick Jared Odrick is still on the team as a sometimes starter and contributor. But his first contract is not complete yet. His deal expires after the coming season so it will be interesting to see if the Dolphins deem him worthy of a second contract.

Second round pick Koa Misi, a starter, got a second contract from the Dolphins. No, he's not a playmaker. He's not the pass-rusher the team billed him as when it drafted him. But, hey, judging against the return the 2008 and 2009 draft offered, Misi is a stud! (Yeah, not good.)

Interestingly, the Dolphins this offseason were very interested in signing guard Zane Beadles as a free agent before he went to Jacksonville for more money. Beadles was picked five slots behind Misi in 2010.

Guard John Jerry has not been offered a contract by the Dolphins and has been told to test the market, which is a huge indictment on him considering what a significant need offensive line help is for the Dolphins. Jerry was a key figure in the workplace harassment scandal involving Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito and his days as a Miami Dolphin are likely over unless the Dolphins become extremely, extremely desperate to find some guard help.

So that third round pick was a waste, especially when you consider ... yes, it's coming ... that tight end Jimmy Graham was picked 22 slots after Jerry in the third round.

Indeed, San Francisco picked Pro Bowl linebacker NaVorro Bowman 18 slots after the Dolphins picked Jerry. Tennessee picked Pro Bowl cornerback Alterraun Verner and Baltimore picked former Pro Bowl tight end Dennis Pitta one round after the Dolphins picked Jerry.

The Dolphins picked A.J. Edds in the fourth round in 2010. He never played for the team. The Cincinnati Bengals selected Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins the very next pick after Edds.

The 2010 draft is often shown to be something of an embarrassment to the Dolphins because of the players they took and the players listed above on which they passed. But compared to the disastrous 2008 and 2009 drafts, this one was actually a success.

That's because when all is said and done at least two players, and perhaps three depending on what happens with Odrick, will have been judged valuable enough to keep through their second contract: Misi and safety Reshad Jones.

I realize two and maybe three solid-but-not-great players staying on the team isn't exactly great return value for an entire draft. I suppose that's the reason the Dolphins are a mediocre team.

 

March 13, 2014

Report: Cortland Finnegan to visit Dolphins

Once upon a time Cortland Finnegan was an excellent cornerback who had the ability to get under the skin of most every wide receiver he faced.

Finnegan, 30, still drives receivers crazy. But he isn't an excellent cornerback anymore.

The Dolphins nonetheless are interested in him because he is taking an unrestricted free agent visit with the team Friday, according to NFL Media's Albert Breer.

Finnegan was cut by the Rams on March 5th -- only two years after he signed a whopping five-year, $50 million contract that included $27 million in guaranteed money.

Why did the Rams cut ties with such a big-name and big-money player?

He didn't live up to his reputation or the contract.

Finnegan apparently played hurt much of 2013 which might have something to do with his diminished level of play. He played in only seven games but was benched for two of those. He finished the season with only one pass defensed and one interception.

Finnegan is not going to command big money.

He's not that guy anymore.

 

Dolphins think value with benefits and repercussions

It's not right to say the Dolphins are bargain shopping in free agency. Not when Brandon Albert got $20 million in guaranteed money two days ago and the highest average per year salary of any left tackle signing during free agency.

It is more accurate to say the Dolphins are value shopping. General manager Dennis Hickey has said that over and over, again and again.

"Again, we always look at value," he said. "That’s what we’ve done so far, and that’s what we will continue to do. Putting a number on those things, again we are just trying to get the best 53-man roster."

And so this is what you must keep in mind as free agency continues ... According to sources familiar with the Dolphins thinking, the club is now value shopping for a cornerback. Miami is value shopping for a running back -- and on this one, the shopping may very well lead to the draft. (More on that in a moment).

The Dolphins are still shopping for both a guard and a right tackle, although getting good value on this front may be more tricky, one source tells me.

Value shopping takes time.

And it is risky because other teams with similar needs can easily set higher values on players.

But this is apparently what the Dolphins are committed to doing. Sometimes it works and the value the team places on a player leads the player to or back to Miami -- think Randy Starks. Sometimes it fails and the value the team places on a player leads him elsewhere -- think Paul Soliai.

There are other instances where setting a certain value or price point for a player doesn't get it done. And the offensive line offers multiple examples of this.

The Dolphins offered guard Zane Beadles a contract they believed to give them (and him) good value. But the Jacksonville Jaguars blew Miami out of the water with a five-year, $30 million deal that included $12 million in guarantees.

That's right tackle money, folks.

Beadles is a guard.

The Dolphins also wanted Rodger Saffold to play alongside Albert at left guard or perhaps right tackle. But the Oakland Raiders blew Miami out of the water with a five-year, $45 million deal that included $21.5 million in guarantees. Think of this: The Raiders were going to pay Saffold, who is not durable and not a home run as a left tackle, more guaranteed money than the Dolphins were going to pay a proven Pro Bowl left tackle.

And the Dolphins offer was to pay Saffold as a guard or right tackle.

They couldn't compete. Thankfully, actually.

Well, last night the Raiders either got buyer's remorse or the team doctor became the smartest man in the organization. The Raiders failed Saffold in his physical.

Saffold is now going back to the Rams.

So where does that leave the Dolphins?

Again (as Hickey likes to say) the Dolphins are hunting for a veteran cornerback, a guard, a right tackle and a running back.

The cornerback issue is one where value has just reared its head. The Philadelphia Eagles this morning announced they agreed to terms with now former Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll.

The Dolphins like Carroll. He's big, he's fast. His best football is in front.

But they didn't value him as a starter. They valued him as a No. 3 type guy.

Carroll valued himself as a starter, or at least someone who could compete to start. And the Eagles convinced him he had a place there. So the Dolphins lose the player who started 22 games for them the past two years -- more than anyone else.

The hunt continues for a veteran corner -- one who can compete to start but can slide into the No. 3 role if he doesn't win the competition. The Dolphins like San Francisco's Tarrell Brown. They've shown interest in Walter Thurmond.

Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie and Antonie Cromartie are out there. But both are starting corners who expect to be paid like big-time starting corners. Do the Dolphins value them as such? That's the only way Miami has any interest.

I have no idea who the Dolphins are targetting at guard and right tackle now. [Update: The Miami Herald has confirmed Rams guard Shelley Smith is scheduled to visit tonight and tomorrow. He has visited the Giants and is currently in New England. He's looking for around $3 million a year. Good luck with that. He'll soon understand Dolphins are looking for value.]

The Dolphins initially called on New Orleans right tackle Zach Strief and apparently were scared away by 1. His strong desire to return to New Orleans. 2. His price. (Perhaps this changes, perhaps not).

The team desperately and I do mean desperately needs to add a couple of more veterans on the line. The consensus top guards and right tackles are apparently spoken for. What is mostly left are mid-level players.

So can Hickey fight off desperation and not sign a mid-level player for starter money because those mid-level players are going to start?

As to the running back issue, the Dolphins are in something of a tight spot. It is no longer a question of whether the team will add one. Sources tell me that is definitely the plan. The Dolphins want a big, bruising back that can pick up the short yards and also run over people in late-game situations protecting the lead.

(Good-bye Daniel Thomas).

Is there anyone out there like that? Ben Tate is available, but I don't know that is likely because he wants a bundle of cash to be the man. The Dolphins intend to run by committee.

I'm told the team believes there can be value in finding that RB in the draft -- and not necessarily early in the draft. So this can happen later.

I suppose that's what hunting for value is about. Waiting for the right time to strike. And that is often ... later.

 

March 12, 2014

Randy Starks contract a win for Dolphins

The re-signing of Randy Starks was a win for the Dolphins because it brings back a two-time Pro Bowl player who happens to play a position of need (until he signed his name on the contract) for the Dolphins.

It was also a win for general manager Dennis Hickey and Executive vice president of Football Administration Dawn Aponte -- who are working the contract for Miami -- because the deal they got seems beneficial for the Dolphins.

The reported deal of two-years worth $12 million is a mirage.

Oh, it might be worth that $6 million per year annual average if Starks maxes out and actually sticks around for the two seasons because there are $1 million in incentives each year -- in 2014 and 2015.

But the deal is actually for a total of $10 million with $5 million guaranteed in the form of the $2 million signing bonus and his $3 million base salary this coming season. The other $5 million comes in the form of 2015 base salary.

What does that mean?

Starks, 30, is really only assured of being with the team in '14. If for whatever reason his play drops off or, God forbid, he gets hurt, or the Dolphins simply want to go in a different direction, the team can cut the defensive tackle next year and save $4 million in cap space even while carrying $1 million in dead money.

And because there is no triggering mechanism that would force the Dolphins to make a decision on Starks next offseason, they could carry his contract through training camp 2015 before making their final decision on his future.

I suppose Starks understood all this when he met with the media Wednesday and didn't exactly do cartwheels over signing the deal.

“I mean it feels really good," he said. "It could be worse, I could be out on the street, but for the most part I’m glad to be back. I’ve been in this organization for six years and I think I’m established here. I’m just happy to be back."

The reason Starks is glad to be back "for the most part" is because he clearly expected a bigger payday in perhaps his last big bite of the contract apple. A league source tells me Starks' representation was talking about a $7.5-million-per-year-plus salary for Starks before free agency began.

Obviously, that never materialized. So Starks was sort of forced to go back to the Dolphins, who had balked at his initial asking price and told him to go shop himself in the market.

"I had options out there, but like I said this is where I want to be," Starks said. "I want to finish my career here, and I think this two-year deal gives me a chance to do that.”

Hickey on Starks return, Revis rumors, Dolphins future

Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey said he is "optimistic" the Dolphins will be able to re-sign defensive tackle Randy Starks on Wednesday, meaning the Dolphins defensive tackle position could be resolved soon.

"We're talking and negotiating to his representation," Hickey said after the Dolphins introduced both Branden Albert and Earl Mitchell as their new free agent additions. "Dawn Aponte is up there right now and we're talking. We're optimistic and we'll see how that happens. We'll let you know."

Obviously the deal is not yet done as has been reported elsewhere. But the Dolphins are going well down that road.

[Update at 3:10: The Starks deal is now done. He agrees to a 2-year deal that pays a maximum of $12 million.]

Hickey did nothing to douse the smoke to any rumors the Dolphins will be interested when/if cornerback Darrelle Revis is released from Tampa Bay and becomes a free agent.

While the New England Patriots are mentioned prominently among teams that will chase Revis, it must be noted Hickey was prominent in the Bucs' chase for Revis a year ago when they traded for him.

"I'm not going to comment on players on other team's rosters," Hickey said about Revis.

Hickey would not say if adding more free agent offensive linemen -- the Dolphins have voids at both guards and right tackle -- would continue to be a free agency focus. "The priority is always good players," he said.

"We always look at value. That's what we've done so far and that's what we're going to continue to do. We're trying to get the best 53-man roster.

Hickey obviously feels good about what the Dolphins are today and what they can become by the time this offseason is over.

"We're confident we're going to build or are in the process of building a championship team," he said. "We're going to keep adding pieces and keep developing the pieces that are already here. We feel we have a quality team and we'll keep adding to that trying to get the best 53 man roster."

On Ben Tate ... run defense ... need for more upgrades

In the last two days, the AFC East has seen the departure of Antonio Cromartie from the Jets, Jairus Byrd from the Bills and Aqib Talib from the Patriots. So until Darrelle Revis is cut by Tampa Bay today and decides whether to go to the Patriots or not, the airways promise to be kinder to Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Doesn't matter.

My column in today's Miami Herald says the Dolphins need to improve the ground game -- on both sides of the football.

Yes, the Dolphins signed Brandon Albert to their left tackle job (press conference today) and agreed to terms with defensive tackle Earl Mitchell on Monday. But that better be a start rather than a finished work.

With all due respect, the Albert signing replaces Jake Long one year later. It doesn't make everything better. He's not by himself getting the Dolphins to the playoffs. The Mitchell signing may or may not be an upgrade over Paul Soliai.

So the Dolphins have to giddyup and do more to make their rushing attack and poor run defense -- neither of which was even remotely close to mediocre last year -- a team strength rather than an obvious weakness.

They're not getting Austin Howard. He's gone to the Raiders. Howard will reunite with his former New York Jets offensive line coach who is now the Raiders OL coach -- Tony Sparano.

So ... Zach Strief, please.

[Update: The Dolphins have shown interest in Strief but at this point there is no further movement on the issue. Stay tuned as I work to get more. No visit is planned at this point. Strief wants to return to the Saints.]

Older?

He's 30 and will be 31 in September. I get it, that's not what the Dolphins like to do. So get him for two or three years if possible. Geez.

I give you compelling examples of how improving the running game and run defense can help a cellar dweller become a playoff caliber team and how a good team goes to a championship right here.

And I give you one name that could go a long way in helping the Dolphins improve their rushing attack ... Ben Tate.

The Dolphins have shown lukewarm interest in Tate, I'm told. Not surprisingly, most NFL free agent running backs don't exactly break the bank these days. Donald Brown, for example, signed a three-year deal for $10.5 million Tuesday night.

Tate might get more. But not necessarily a ton more.

So why not?

By the way, Dolphins new offensive line coach John Benton should be able to give the Dolphins a solid report on Tate's practice habits, on his affect on the locker room, things that in the wake ofthe Wells report are important to the Dolphins.

Use that information.

If not Tate, would it kill the Dolphins to check in on LeGarrette Blount?

He is a known player to Hickey, who was in Tampa when Blount played for the Bucs. Yes, he knows Blount punched that kind while at Oregon and another one as a rookie while with the Titans. But I imagine he also knows Blount can return kickoffs because he runs a 4.5 in the 40 and is a LOAD at 248 pounds. Blount is a career 4.7-yard-per-carry back.

Blount has seven 100-yard rushing games since 2010 -- as a part-time player. The Dolphins have had a player turn in a 100-yard rushing games only nine times since 2010.

On another front, there is no way the Dolphins don't need to keep addressing the run defense that has gotten progressively worse the past two years ... from No. 3 in 2011 to No. 11 in 2012 to a disappointing and unacceptable No. 24 last season.

Losing Randy Starks (might happen, might not as team has an offer in for him) and Paul Soliai (to Atlanta for a reunion with former coordinator Mike Nolan) while adding Mitchell doesn't exactly scream upgrade. It suggests holding your ground while paying less for the players involved.

But it is not a certain upgrade.

More must be done.

Maybe on Day Two of free agency.

March 11, 2014

Jonathan Martin traded to San Francisco

The nightmare is over -- for all parties involved.

Following through on owner Stephen Ross' words that neither Jonathan Martin nor Richie Incognito would return to the Dolphins after the 2013 harassment scandal, the Dolphins confirm they have agreed to trade Martin to the San Francisco 49ers.

Martin thus rejoins former Stanford coach and current San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh in the Bay Area.

Terms of the trade were not immediately available. But it is likely for a low-round pick. ESPN was the first to report this story.

The Dolphins invested a second round pick on Martin in 2012.

In 2013, Martin imploded.

Plagued by depression and self-esteem issues, and tormented by poor treatment from Incognito, John Jerry and Mike Pouncey, Martin admits in the Wells Report he felt suicidal in May 2013.

In late October he left the Dolphins in the middle of the season.

Now he's left the Dolphins for good.

Martin's reaction?

"Big news," he tweeted moments ago. "Opportunities are few in the NFL. Can't wait to get to work."

He added the hashtag: 9ersempire.

The Dolphins will carry $959,734 in dead money against their cap for the Martin trade.