March 25, 2015

The strategy for addressing the rest of Miami's WR room

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said this week the club decided this offseason change had to come to the team's receivers room. 

"We changed the whole room," Ross said, "and obviously we're not done changing."

Indeed, the Dolphins have added Kenny Stills via trade to Rishard Matthews and Jarvis Landry. Brian Hartline, Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson were cut or traded.

And as interesting as those moves were -- both coming and going -- the next couple of moves might be even more interesting.

The next two moves involve drafting a receiver and signing a veteran.

The Dolphins are likely to do both and, according to a team source, they are more likely to come in that order -- draft first, veteran afterward.

Why?

Well, the Dolphins have indeed visited with Michael Crabtree and although the anticipated meeting with Greg Jennings did not happen here, it may happen back in South Florida at a later date.

There is no real rush to sign either player.

The reason is defining that veteran receiver's role is difficult at this point. Because that veteran receiver could be the team's No. 1 option ... Or he might be the team's No. 4 option behind a top draft pick, and Landry, and Stills.

Such uncertainty makes it hard to define that player's role to a free agent -- particularly one with so much pride as Crabtree or Jennings after they've accomplished so much in their careers.

More importantly, because the role might vary so greatly, from the team's top option to fourth option, the economic value on that player is hard to set.

So if Crabtree came to Miami expecting an offer as a No. 1 receiver, he was disappointed because the Dolphins weren't ready to make that commitment. The Dolphins would not be able to make that commitment to Jennings, either.

The Dolphins would not currently be ready to make that commitment to, well, anyone.

So it is a little more likely the Dolphins wait until after the draft for that veteran when that player's role would be defined.

And what would define that role?

If the Dolphins draft a wide receiver in the first round ... someone such as Amari Cooper, DeVante Parker or Kevin White in the first round, that guy is expected to start immediately. Indeed, even if Breshard Perriman, Jaelen Strong or Phillip Dorsett come in the second round, they have to play immediately.

But if the Dolphins go, for example, cornerback in the first round and don't find a receiver they're comfortable with in the second, then the veteran receiver route becomes a priority.

Miami Dolphins love Suh, reject idea he is dirty

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- The Miami Dolphins not only signed Ndamukong Suh as a free agent, they're doing all they can to make sure they love their newly minted multi-millionaire.

And so the team braintrust has made a conscious decision to overlook Suh's history in some regards that make the player not so lovable.

The team is overlooking the $216,875 in fines the NFL has levied on Suh for eight separate incidents of unacceptable play -- including stomping on an opponent, stepping on an opponent, kicking an opponent in the groin, and driving an opponent's head into the turf.

Suh has previously been voted as the NFL's dirtiest player in a Sporting News poll of 103 players.

But the Dolphins aren't buying all that. The team sees no irony in that in 2013 the club was rocked by a bullying scandal and a couple of weeks ago the team added the NFL's dirtiest player.

"He's probably one of the highest character people I've met," Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said at the Owners Meetings this week. "I don't believe he's the dirtiest player in the NFL and I'm very proud he's a Miami Dolphin. I totally disregard that statement, being the dirtiest player. I wish all the players were the character of Ndamukong Suh."

Suh is a great player, of that there is no doubt. And he may be of high character. But he's a dirty player, too. The evidence is unimpeachable. Hasn't Ross seen the videos?

"People do make mistakes," Ross said. "I haven't heard from him directly that he did. I mean, there were appearances. But I'm not going to make that conclusion from that standpoint."

Ross has not heard from Suh that he stomped on a guy so he's not going to come to a conclusion? Ross hasn't heard from Suh that he was suspended for a game by the NFL for dirty play so he's not going to  come to a conclusion?

Well, here you go ...

The Dolphins are turning a blind eye to the troubling part of Suh's history even while embracing his history for stopping the run and pushing the pocket on passing plays. They are, indeed, excusing the behavior to youthful inexperience.

"Some of those incidents occurred a long time ago and obviously players learn from situations as I think he mentioned," coach Joe Philbin said at the Owners Meeting. "What we’re really focused on is his contributions and his performance and his leadership as a Miami Dolphin. I think he’s at a little different stage in his career now. Certainly, those are things that are important. I think he realizes that. We realize that. We’re excited about the working relationship that’s going to get started here real soon."

Philbin said this to a table of reporters Tuesday. At that table was a Detroit reporter who has covered Suh throughout his career. And that reporter reminded Philbin that one of Suh's most publicized incidents didn't happen years ago but mere months ago -- last December when he stepped on Green Bay quarterback's injured calf (in one of the videos above).

So it hasn't really been that long ago as Philbin portrays.

"Yeah, like I said, I’m comfortable right now and looking forward to getting to work with him," Philbin responded.

Philbin also seems comfortable with Suh's history for never showing up to his team's offseason program. The Dolphins offseason program begins in a couple of weeks and Suh might be there. And he might not.

His history suggests he won't be.

“Yeah, we talked. We’ll see how things go and we’ve talked," Philbin said. "He knows how important the offseason program is. We’ve had great attendance at our offseason program every year. That being said, it’s voluntary and none of the players have to be at the offseason program until the mandatory minicamp."

So will he be at the offseason program?

"Yeah, we’ll see," Philbin said. "I expect to see him there, yeah. But we’ll see how it goes."

March 24, 2015

Afternoon news, notes from owners meeting

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Dolphins general manager Dennis HIckey met with the media this afternoon and revealed a couple of newsy nuggets:

Hickey said the team's timetable for having safety Louis Delmas ready for full participation on field work is the June minicamp.

That is obviously great news and suggests Delmas will also get work in training camp and indeed be ready for the regular-season opener, barring a setback.

Delmas suffered a torn ACL in a knee last December.

Despite their confidence in Delmas being ready for June, the team was careful to pay for that idea. It gave him no guaranteed money when he signed last week with a per-game roster bonus worth up to $750,000 bonus for 16 games. He has a $1.25 million playtime incentive. His base salary will be $1.475 million on his one-year deal.

Offensive tackle Branden Albert had a more significant knee injury in November in that he tore his ACL and MCL. But he also is the subject of positive news.

Albert's rehabilitation is "on track" and the team's starting left tackle should be ready to play in the 2015 regular season opener.

Last season the Dolphins got precious little help from running back Knowshon Moreno. He had a breakout performance of 146 yards against New England in the opener but suffered a dislocated elbow in the second game of the year and weeks later when he came back from that, he blew out his knee was done for the season.

Moreno is not rehabbing with the Dolphins. But Hickey said the team is keeping tabs on him and is not eliminating the possibility of bringing him back in 2015.

Moreno is an unrestricted free agent. It is possible the Dolphins look at him as a one-year, stopgap after the draft if the team fails to get a runner in the draft.

The Dolphins are also looking for a veteran wide receiver at the right price -- more likely after the draft.

And while Michael Crabtree visited the team last week, there have been rumors Greg Jennings was possibly going to visit with club officials here during the owners meeting.

That meeting, per a source, has not happened. It is possible the meeting will happen at a future date.

 

 

Breakfast with Joe Philbin: Notes, quotes

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- I had breakfast with Joe Philbin this morning as the media does every year at the annual meeting. I had scrambled eggs, bacon and taters. He had coffee.

Miami Dolphins football was discussed.

The highlights:

Not to beat a drum I've been on the past couple of days but it is clear Billy Turner will get the chance to win the starting RG job in training camp while Dallas Thomas gets his chance at LG. The reason Turner is at RG?

Philbin said it is as simple as he likes how Turner lines up in a right hand stance more than the left hand stance. "You can't play the position if you can't get in the stance," Philbin said. So there is that.

Philbin made the point that tight end Jordan Cameron is a much different type of tight end than the departed Charles Clay. Cameron, Philbin said, is more a seam threat. "His catch radius is bigger," Philbin said.

Philbin said he spoke with re-signed Louis Delmas on Friday and that the safety is "progressing well" from knee surgery last November to repair his ACL. Philbin stuck an optimistic tone to the Delmas recovery, even suggesting the player will be ready for the start of the season.

"We're optimistic he's going to make a full and quick recovery," Philbin said.

The Koa Misi middle linebacker experiment is back on, apparently suggesting the expected chase for free agent middle linebackers will not necessarily bear fruit.

So "as of right now" Misi is Miami's MLB again.

Dion Jordan is going to be a defensive end almost exclusively at this point. Philbin said the Dolphins want the 2013 No. 3 overall draft pick to concentrate on learning to rush the passer and he cannot do that playing linebacker.

So the plan at this point is he's going to be immersed at defensive end.

Philbin explained why he kept defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle. He said he recognized the defense's performance at the end of 2014 was unacceptable but he elected to take a long view of the work Coyle had done over three years rather than what happened over the last six games of last season.

"We had a number of different discussion," Philbin said. "We went back and forth and I like our defensive staff. We have things we must do better. But at the end of the day we went in the direction that is the best thing fore the team."

Philbin said he has asked Coyle to "simplify." The Dolphins had too many personnel packages and combinations. That will change.

Philbin said Kenny Stills seems to be a "good scheme fit" for what Bill Lazor will be doing with the offense. The Dolphins studied Stills and saw that his catch percentage (targets to catches) is among the best in the NFL.

Philbin was asked more Ndamukong Suh questions than anything else. And he defended the idea that Suh has grown and matured from the stomping, groin kicking incidents that have made headlines and gotten Suh suspended in the past.

"Some of those happened a long time ago," Philbin said. "What we're focused on is his contribution and leadership. He's at a different stage in his career."

The problem is, a Detroit writer brought up the fact Suh had a stomping incident at the end of last season against Aaron Rodgers.

Philbin dismissed that.

Philbin was asked multiple questions about the improvement of the Bills, Dolphins and Jets in the AFC East as they chase the New England Patriots.

"It's going to be a very, very competitive division," Philbin said. "It's going to be fun."

Miami Dolphins rebuild pays stars, hinges hopes on young, cheap talent

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- The Dolphins are, as I tell you in my column Tuesday, rebuilding on the fly this offseason.

And part of that quick rebuild process is the fact the team has to make some sacrifices because that's what must happen when a team pays $114 million for defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh ... and is going to pay between $17-$20 million per season to quarterback Ryan Tannehill ... and soon center Mike Pouncey and defensive end Olivier Vernon will want approximately $10 million per season from their extensions.

These things happen so everyone cannot get paid. Everyone cannot be retained in free agency. Some folks are going to get cut. Some guys are going to "graduate" to other teams, as executive vice president for football operations Mike Tannenbaum calls it.

And where does that leave the Dolphins for 2015?

Depending on young talent.

Banking on the draft, both past and present.

The reason for that is the draft and young talent is cheap. It can fill gaps and turn question marks into exclamation points and do it at reasonable cost.

It's a great way to do business when the stars are getting paid.

But it is a troubling way to go when the young talent doesn't respond.

We shall soon see if Miami's young talent is ready to respond.

The Dolphins this season will bank on young players such as cornerback Jamar Taylor, cornerback Will Davis, wide receiver Rishard Matthews, linebackers Jordan Tripp, Chris McCain and Jelani Jenkins, guards Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner and tight end Dion Sims to fill big roles while making relatively little money against the cap.

And maybe the team hits the lotto and those youngsters respond.

Maybe the coaching staff that has done a marginal job of developing players in recent years develops the living heck out of these guys this year.

But there are question marks.

A team source confided to me he wishes there was more certainty about Taylor and Davis and Matthews. Let's face it, Taylor has been injured much of his first two seasons and when he wasn't injured -- particularly last year -- he didn't exactly prove himself definite starter material.

That's not a great career arc for a former second-round draft pick getting ready to start his third season.

Davis, a former third round pick, has similarly shown durability issues atop performance questions.

In a perfect world, those two high draft picks going into their third season would be the answer to the question about who is starting opposite Brent Grimes at cornerback. But while both may get that chance, the Dolphins may have to invest a draft pick to address the issue as well.

In a perfect world, Dallas Thomas and Turner -- former third round picks in 2013 and '14 respectively -- would be the answers at guard. Well, they may be the answers anyway, as I told you in this post. But there is no certainty either will be good enough because neither has proven anything despite the team's confidence in both.

The Dolphins found something of a raw jewel in Matthews in the seventh round of the 2012 draft. But his time in Miami has been a roller coaster. He's performed when he's gotten the chance but he's also had issues with tardiness and one issue with a coach last year.

The Dolphins think he is potentially their third receiver. He's potentially that good. But he might also be Miami's fourth or fifth receiver. The fact Matthews was inactive the final two games of '14 for disciplinary reasons shows how volatile the situation seems. He can be in the plans ... or not.

Nobody seems to know for sure. There is uncertainty.

Matthews nonetheless remains on the team because he is young and cheap and promising.

Are you seeing a theme here?

Young, cheap and promising is good.

"When you look at player who is young and ascending and still in their rookie deal those are gold chips in the system," Tannenbaum said.

But uncertainty is not good.

The Dolphins have to nonetheless go the uncertainty route in some instances because, unlike in the past, they cannot simply push the bounds of the cap and sign a top-of-the-line player to fill in. They might even struggle to sign stopgap type veterans at $3-$5 million per year -- something they've done multiple times in the past with guys such as Tyson Clabo, Dustin Keller, Brent Grimes, Cortland Finnegan, Daryn Colledge, and Samson Satele.

Those days may be gone for cap reasons.

So young fill-ins it is. Young, cheap players have to perform for the Dolphins rebuild to be a success.

This is going to be interesting.  

March 23, 2015

Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross addresses multiple issues

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross addressed the media for 25 minutes today and offered some newsy nuggets about his team.

1. Ross confirmed my report from January that he has in fact given coach Joe Philbin a one-year contract extension. So Philbin is now signed through the end of the 2016 season.

Why?

Ross said he doesn't think he gets the best out of someone "when they're operating with a gun to their head." Obviously, Ross didn't want his coach feeling like he must win or be fired.

Of course, that's exactly what it might feel like regardless of a new deal because Ross also said he believes the Dolphins are a better team today than they were when the 2014 season ended and the upgrade is not yet complete.

Ross also said he expects to see "improvement" from the team in 2015. Asked what that means specifically -- whether it means 9-7 is good enough to qualify as improvement -- Ross said he wants the team in the playoffs.

"I'm looking to make the playoffs and Joe's looking to make the playoffs," Ross said, "so the expectation is that we'll be better."

2. Ross remains quite proud of the Ndamukong Suh signing. He had a hand in the signing and even the idea of getting Suh was born to some degree with Ross. So he thinks it is a great idea.

"Owners from his division [NFC North] thank me for getting him out of their division," Ross said of his interaction with other owners here.

The Miami owner said he sees no irony in that the team that in 2013 was troubled by the NFL harassment scandal in 2015 signed the player who has often been referred to as the NFL's dirtiest player.

"He's probably one of the highest character people I've met," Ross said of Suh. "I don't believe he's the dirtiest player in the NFL. I'm very proud he's a Miami Dolphin. I totally would disregard that statement -- being the dirtiest player. I wish all the players were character Ndamukong Suh was."

Suh, you may remember, had multiple incidents in which he kicked a quarterback in the groin, stepped on Aaron Rodgers' leg, and stomped on a Green Bay offensive lineman's ankle while the lineman was on the ground. Suh was fined and even suspended a game for those actions.

"I haven't heard from him directly that he did, I mean, there were appearances," Ross said of those episodes. "But I'm not going to make conclusions from that standpoint."

Ross went further...

"I'd be very proud to have him as my son," Ross said of Suh. "He is outstanding."

3. Ross also thinks very highly of quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

The owner acknowledged Tannehill has not proven he can connect on the deep passes, but said the quarterback did not play a lot of quarterback in college and continues to work on that with Miami.

For that reason, Ross said he wants to make sure Tannehill remains with the Dolphins and would like to give him a longterm contract extension this spring-summer.

4. Ross said he has no intention to sell the team anytime soon.

"Right now I love owning the Dolphins and I have no intention of doing to the contrary," Ross said.

Ross said he's not going to "relent" until the Dolphins are "first in class."

4. Ross said wide receiver Mike Wallace "apologized" to GM Dennis Hickey and executive vice president for football operations Mike Tannenbaum about "what he did" in the season-finale in 2014.

"That says it all right there," Ross said. "But I thought there needed to be a change in the receiver room. And certainly you've seen a lot of change. And we're not done changing."

Investment in Tannehill probably won't include spending on a guard

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- The Miami Dolphins eventually are going to make quarterback Ryan Tannehill a very, very, very, very rich guy.

"I think you forgot one 'very,'" Miami Dolphins executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum said to me at the NFL owners' meetings

Nothing on a new deal is imminent. The Dolphins have told Tannehill what they can do on a longterm deal so, yes, offers have been exchanged.

"He knows what we can do," Tannenbaum said.

But as nothing is imminent today the option of placing a one-year option on Tannehill for 2016 remains viable. The Dolphins have no current plans to let Tannehill walk after his deal ends after the 2015 season. They plan to make a big investment on their quarterback.

But an investment on protecting their quarterback might be another story.

Speaking with Tannenbaum, it is clear the Dolphins are satisfied with their two tackles -- Branden Albert and Ja'Wuan James. The team believes center Mike Pouncey is also a fine player who will remain an anchor on the line.

But the guard spots are a question mark.

And the team's answer to the questions may not necessarily include adding quality free agent help or drafting a guard in the first or second round.

The answer the team proposes is addressing the issue from within ... with players already on the roster.

Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas.

Now, Turner I can abide. He was a third-round pick last May and was hurt much of the season so he was basically redshirted as a rookie. He gets the opportunity to make a jump to starter in 2015.

But Thomas?

Really?

"To me one of the best parts about our sport is the untold player development," Tannenbaum said. "So maybe we're sitting here in a year or two and you're saying, 'How can you not have Dallas Thomas or Billy Turner?' They could be the next Mike Iupati in free agency.

"They are two young guys that have great potential. How do we know they won't be the two young guys you have to keep. Maybe they're not household names today but we have two great tackles we feel good about, we have a great center and we have questions about the guard play. You have to develop from within."

The Dolphins are obviously the experts on this. The coaches and personnel people are paid to know who can step in or step up and perform.

But, to me, suggesting Dallas Thomas is an answer as a starting guard is simply repeating the mistake of last season. Last season, you may recall, Thomas was given a chance to win a starting guard spot in training camp. He failed to do so. Then when Branden Albert was injured, James moved from right to left tackle and Thomas became the starting right tackle starting in November.

And he failed miserably.

Week after week after week after week. (At least he was consistent).

And while inexpert folks such as the media repeatedly asked why not move Jason Fox to the starting spot ahead of Thomas, the coaching staff stuck with Thomas, saying things like, "He may have given up two sacks but there are a lot of pictures of him doing good things on other plays."

Yes. But those two sacks!

Eventually, Thomas got hurt and Fox was forced into the lineup the final two games. And Fox played better than Thomas.

The stubborn approach to playing Dallas Thomas was a curiosity. And that stubborn approach is seemingly about to repeat.

The Dolphins are obviously planning to give Thomas the opportunity to win one guard spot while Turner gets the nod at the other.

The book is still open on Turner. We haven't seen what he can do. But the book on Thomas has multiple chapters already written. He's not shown himself able to win the spot in training camp. He's not shown himself proficient in games. He's struggled physically and "from the neck up," as one source told me.

He's not been good enough.

But at this moment that is exactly the direction the Dolphins are headed.

Dolphins explain why they love Stills, Wallace trades

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- On the surface it seems the Miami Dolphins got worked in trading away Mike Wallace after acquiring Kenny Stills.

Miami gave up Wallace and a seventh-round pick to Minnesota for a fifth round pick.

The Dolphins had already traded linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and third-round pick to New Orleans for Stills.

But the Dolphins are very happy with the deals they made and don't see a disparity in losing Wallace for only a fifth while getting the less accomplished Stills for a third. Why?

Because the team doesn't view Wallace and Stills in the same market.

The Dolphins see Stills as a young, ascending, proven receiver who is still cheap because he's still playing on his rookie contract. The Dolphins saw Wallace as an older, more expensive and somewhat troubled veteran.

The Dolphins actually traded Wallace to Minnesota for the same compensation the Chicago Bears traded Brandon Marshall to the New York Jets -- the player and a seventh-round pick for a fifth-round pick.

And both teams -- Miami and Chicago -- view the player they dealt as somewhat troubled.

"Mike contributed the last few years," Dolphins executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum said during a break at the NFL owners' meeting. "We felt once we had Kenny Stills, it was a good opportunity for [Wallace] in Minnesota. They were interested in him a couple of years ago when he was a free agent. It was good for him and we felt it was good for us. It gives him a chance to get a fresh start and for us with Kenny Stills in our offense and where we project him with Jarvis Landry we just thought it was the right fit to do that now."

Make no mistake this wasn't merely an exchange where talent was considered. Salary cap was considered. Chemistry in the locker room was considered. And, yes, that episode in which Wallace left the field complaining in the 2014 season-finale, the one that led to his benching by coach Joe Philbin for not being in the game, was considered.

"I wasn't here for all that," Tannenbaum said. "There were challenges that were in the past. We're not hiding from that. With that said, we have to look at all those things. We could have made the cap work but you do have to look at the economics when you make a decision in our system. At the end of the day when you look at who we had and where we're going to go, it was the best decision for us.

"It leaves us with flexibility moving forward not only this year but in the future. I would say the variables you want to balance short term and long term is we have Kenny Stills here. And I don't want to say we're replacing Mike Wallace one-for-one [with Stills] because he's not, but we have another young receiver who's played in the league, who is explosive. It gave us the confidence to make that move."

The Dolphins may use their first-round pick on a wide receiver. Tannenbaum acknowledges that. He also says maybe the team won't go that direction but the fact he's open to the idea suggests a wide receiver could be added in the draft and then a veteran could come afterward.

(Nothing is imminent on adding a veteran, per a source).

But Stills is a player the team has very high hopes for.

"That old axiom I believe a lot in that the tape sets the floor and the character sets the ceiling," Tannenbaum said. "He's played in the league. He's had a fair amount of production. His production is what it is -- it's been good. It hasn't been prolific by any stretch but we felt for what we're asking that position to do there was explosiveness. And the routes he runs well were responsibilities we felt were pretty close to what we're going to do with our offense.

"The more research we did on Kenny not only at Oklahoma but New   Orleans we felt football was important. He's young, there's a lot of good football ahead of him. So we really feel he has a bright future."

March 22, 2015

The reason the Dolphins didn't use the franchise tag on Charles Clay

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Charles Clay's agent did a great job getting him a big contract from the Buffalo Bills. But it was obviously a much better job than even he expected to do, apparently.

Clay and his representative are getting $23 million from the Bills the first two years of the tight end's new five-year contract with his new team.

That is $10 million more, per a Dolphins source, than the last contract Clay presented the Dolphins before they tagged him with the transition tag. And, interestingly, the Dolphins' negotiations with Clay prior to them tagging him never rose above $6.8 million per season.

That explains why the Dolphins did not use the franchise tag on Charles Clay.

The team using the $7 million transition tag was actually above where contract talks had reached with the tight end at the time. Putting the $8.2 million franchise tag on Clay would have effectively been $1.4 million more than what Clay was asking at the time on a one-year basis.

Obviously, neither the Clay camp nor the Dolphins expected the Bills to come into the picture with such urgency to sign Clay. And urgency is exactly what the Bills showed with their contract to Clay.

They gave Clay $38 million over five years, or $7.6 million per year and, yes, made Clay the highest paid tight end in the NFL next two seasons, averaging $11.5 million per season.

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The Dolphins may meet with wide receiver Greg Jennings while their contingent is at the owners' meeting here in Phoenix.

Jennings was scheduled to be in the area for other reasons and so a tentative meeting later this week was set.

The Dolphins may address the wide receiver position with a free agent addition but not necessarily before the draft.

The team is 45-55 percent going to address the position before the draft, meaning more likely afterward, according to a team source.

The Dolphins have shown interest in both Michael Crabtree and Jennings.

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The one-year contract quarterback Matt Moore signed with Miami to be Ryan Tannehill's backup is worth $2.6 million plus incentives.

The incentives obviously would drive up Moore's salary if he actually plays, which he has did sparingly the past two years after getting $8 million for two years.

 

March 19, 2015

Gone: Miami Dolphins not matching Charles Clay deal

Tight end Charles Clay is a Buffalo Bills player now.

A source today texted the entire Earth saying the Miami Dolphins will not match the five-year, $38 million deal Clay got in an offer sheet from Buffalo.

The same source then went into spin mode, saying the Dolphins feel "strongly about Jordan Cameron and Dion Sims going forward."

They felt so strongly they had a $7 million transition tag on Clay so I'm not buying that piece of swamp land. Face it, Clay, Cameron and Sims is way, way better than Cameron, Sims and probably a draft pick.

But I understand the reasoning behind not matching. The Clay offer from the Bills was onerous and reportedly included a $12 million cap charge in 2016.

Too onerous for the Dolphins, apparently.

The fact Clay goes to Buffalo means the Dolphins now free up $7 million in cap space. And so the team is now free to shop in free agency.

That's the reason WR Michael Crabtree continues his visit with Miami today. That's the reason backup center J.D. Walton (New York Giants) and backup QB Tarvaris Jackson (Seattle Seahawks) are visiting the Dolphins today.

The fact the reserve QB and center are visiting should tell you the Dolphins are more than prepared to move on from Samson Satele and Matt Moore -- both of whom are also unrestricted free agents. Satele, I'm told, wants to go someplace he can compete to start after he did a good job as Miami's starter all of last season. He would not have that opportunity again in Miami with Mike Pouncey moving back to center.

The Dolphins have now effectively traded, cut or let walk in free agency four pass catchers. Mike Wallace was traded to Minnesota. Brian Hartline was cut and signed with Cleveland. Brandon Gibson was cut and signed with New England. And Clay is with the Bills.

So the men who caught 16 of Miami's 27 TDs and 193 of the team's 392 completions are gone. All of them are done, primarily, for salary cap vs. production vs. fit reasons.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is going to have to adjust and learn his new set of primary receivers -- Kenny Stills, Cameron, perhaps Crabtree, perhaps a draft pick, fairly quickly. He may also lose his sounding board -- Moore -- from the quarterback room.

Jackson over Moore would obviously also be a cap decision. The Dolphins paid Moore $4 million last season. Jackson made less than $2 million in Seattle.

Much of this is an outgrowth of the $114 million Ndamukong Suh signing and pending big contracts for Pouncey, Olivier Vernon and Tannehill. The cap is the cap. If you pay over there, it is hard to pay over here as well.

The Bills, who finished 9-7 last season and ahead of the Dolphins in the AFC East, have this offseason hired Rex Ryan as coach, added Clay at tight end, RB LeSean McCoy, WR Percy Harvin, and Matt Cassel at quarterback. They already had WR Sammy Watkins.

The team did lose running back C.J. Spiller to New Orleans.

 

March 18, 2015

Miami Dolphins to host Michael Crabtree

When the Miami Dolphins bring free agents in for a visit, they are typically serious. The team last year offered contracts to all the players it hosted. This year it has hosted two players and signed both.

That's why one can only conclude the Dolphins are serious about wide receiver Michael Crabtree.

Crabtree is scheduled to visit the Dolphins later Wednesday and Thursday.

He better come cheaply because he is not necessarily an upgrade over what the Dolphins have cleared out recently.

Crabtree, 27, has been in something of a decline the past couple of years since a fine 2012 season. He was injured much of 2013, which limited him to only five games and 19 catches.

Last year he played all 16 games and caught 68 passes for 698 yards. But something was missing. Never the fastest receiver, Crabtee lacked explosion. His per-catch average dipped to 10.3 yards per catch from 14.9 the year before and 12.5 career mark.

Crabtree also had a tough year catching the football because ProFootballFocus marked him at a 12.82 drop rate which was fourth highest out of 50 wide receivers wide receivers. Jarvis Landry's drop rate, by comparison, was fifth-best in the NFL at only 2.33.

Hmmm.

Anyway, the Dolphins like him. Certainly, executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum likes him. Tannenbaum graded Crabtree highly -- a near the top of the draft type -- when Crabtree came out in 2009.

He has never delivered to that height. But obviously the Dolphins are serious about him.

Miami Dolphins won't lose Charles Clay if they don't want to

We expect to see the actual true and complete numbers to the Charles Clay contract today.

They will be ugly for the Dolphins, I'm sure, because that's what the Buffalo Bills intended when they gave the restricted free agent tight end a five-year, $38 million offer which Clay reportedly signed Tuesday.

But if, and this is a huge if, the Dolphins are of the mind to absolutely not lose Charles Clay to a divisional rival, they probably could match the offer. It can be done.

Obviously we are working off reporting and not the numbers filed to the NFLPA yet but it is clear the Clay offer from Buffalo is meant to be a salary cap nightmare for the Dolphins this season and more importantly in 2016.

Why 2016?

That's a huge year for the Dolphins and everyone in the NFL knows it because that's when the onerous portion of Ndamukong Suh's record $114 million contract comes into play. Suh is scheduled to cost the Dolphins $28.6 million against the cap that season.

That's not good.

Add to that the fact the Dolphins will also be dealing with the added costs of a new contract for Ryan Tannehill, a new contract for Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey, and a new contract for defensive end Olivier Vernon and you see the Dolphins are carrying Suh at a premium in 2016 and must do major business with three other very good players as well.

So how does one handle those four significant deals, plus Cameron Wake, plus Brent Grimes, plus Reshad Jones -- all of whom have cap numbers north of $8 million in 2016 -- and also carry the expected $12 million cap hit the Bills put on Clay for 2016?

Well, if the Dolphins are of the mind to absolutely not lose Clay, they could conceivably opt to restructure the source of the pain, which is the Suh contract, and make it more salary cap friendly.

Yeah, this can be done.

The Dolphins could simply convert $22.7 million of Suh's $23.4 million base salary in 2016 into a new and guaranteed signing bonus before next spring. Doing that adds to the prorated portion of Suh's cap number in 2016, '17, '18, '19 and '20. It effectively raises his cap numbers in 2017-20 by $4.5 million each year.

But it lowers Suh's cap number next season, the all important 2016, from $28.6 million to $10.5 million. This, combined with an expected rise to the salary cap the Dolphins believe they have a good handle on suggests the math may work.

(Plus, there are again next offseason a number of contracts that Miami can jettison if the players don't perform at an extremely high level in 2015. led by tight end Jordan Cameron's second year of his two-year deal).

The math can work.

More or less.

In theory.

The question is and will remain, for a couple of days at least, whether the Dolphins want to institute such a plan -- mortgaging their future despite, you know, not winning a Super Bowl -- to keep a player they themselves didn't value so highly during last season, as I reported here?

The question is to what level of desperation the Dolphins are willing to go to keep Clay?

And make no mistake, all these cap modifications and gesticulatons are desperate measures when the team doing them isn't a championship team trying to keep together some sort of dynasty.

Remember, the Dolphins are doing this and they've been 8-8 the past couple of years. They've not been one player from a title at any point since, well, probably 1984.

So there is sound logic to simply not bust the cap and move on.

One final thought: The University of Miami is less than 40 miles from the Dolphins training facility. The U has a football team. That team had a tight end the past couple of years named Clive Walford. He's raw. He's not as fast as Clay. But he has the makings of a solid NFL tight end once he learns to follow instructions and learns the game better. He'll probably be available in the second or third rounds. He could replace Clay for about 25 percent of the price.

March 17, 2015

Buffalo (finally) makes offer to Charles Clay: Whopper

The Buffalo Bills waited ... and waited ... and waited to give restricted free agent tight end Charles Clay an offer sheet. But when they did moments ago, it was a whopper -- so much so it calls into question whether the Dolphins can or will want to match it.

According to the Buffalo News, Clay has signed an offer that is for five years and $38 million with $20-plus million guaranteed. That's a lot of dough for Clay but the issue is not the annual average. The issue is the numbers the first couple of years where the Dolphins might struggle to match the offer because of their current and 2016 cap situation.

And those numbers, if the report is accurate, are also whoppers.

Clay gets $24.5 million the first two years of the deal.

Would you like fries with those whopper numbers?

The Dolphins have five days to match the offer or lose Clay to their division rival. If they elect not to match the offer, the Dolphins get no draft pick compensation.

And this is where it gets interesting: The Dolphins never offered Clay a deal that eclipsed $6 million annually throughout the 2014 season. As recently as prior to the start of free agency they never got close to $7 million.

This, I am told, frustrated Clay who was expecting (rightly, I guess) a market well north of those numbers. The Dolphins, on the other hand, were not thrilled with the negotiations of late, either, I'm told, to the point they simply stopped negotiating until seeing the offer sheet.

There seemed to be a bit of a fracture.

One more thing: Chalk this up to the Dolphins current salary cap situation and moreso their situation next year.

With Ndamukong Suh counting $28.6 million on the cap next year and the team needing to address new contracts for quarterback Ryan Tannehill, defensive end Olivier Vernon and center Mike Pouncey, giving Clay a deal that would require they allocate significant cap space this and next year is perhaps problematic.

There are those second-guessing the Dolphins in that they didn't tender Charles Clay with the Franchise Player tag -- which would have virtually assured the team would keep the tight end for one year at a cost of $8.4 million.

I'm not second guessing. I don't think Clay is worth that.

The truth is there were four games last year in which Clay caught two or fewer passes. The Dolphins were 3-1 in those games.

There were 10 games in which Clay caught three or more passes last year. The Dolphin were 4-6 in those games.

Clay had 58 catches for 605 yards with three TDs.

Is he a Franchise Tag player?

If the Bills believe he's that and more, that is their right. If, however, after sitting on numbers belw $6 million for a year, the Dolphins suddenly match this deal, then it shows they had no plan from the start.

But if they let Clay go, I can live with that.

Sometimes teams have to let good players walk.

As long as there was a plan executed and it has next logical steps, I can live with losing Charles Clay.

 

 

Miami Dolphins in the running for New England guard

While the Buffalo Bills are messin' with a Miami Dolphins tight end, the South Florida team is apparently among the teams trying to mess with a New England Patriots offensive lineman.

The Dolphins are one of a handful of teams interested in veteran lineman Dan Connelly, per Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network.

The Dolphins view Connolly, 32, as a guard. The Seattle Seahawks view him as a center option to replace the traded Max Unger. Tampa Bay views him as a center and the Bears see him as a guard.

The point is Connolly is a commodity in the second-tier free agent market as much because of his talent as versatility.

The Patriots want him back, as well, to play guard.

Connolly has started all 43 regular-season games he has played for New England since 2012. Obviously he is not a long-term answer but the Dolphins may have to acquire a short-term gap filler. The team cut Shelley Smith this offseason after realizing he was too expensive, too soft, and not very good after signing him as a 2013 free agent.

Connolly is more seasoned and obviously more accomplished.

March 14, 2015

Miami Dolphins trade draft picks for cap space PLUS Kenny Stills talks

The Miami Dolphins definitely are valuing salary cap space over draft picks now.

The team traded Mike Wallace and his high cap number and toxic contract for a fifth round pick Friday. That was the same day they traded with New Orleans for Kenny Stills, a less accomplished wide receiver than Wallace, for a third-round pick as long as they took linebacker Dannell Ellebrbe and his toxic contract.

Draft picks for cap space ... And a lesser player.

Obviously, the Dolphins see it as addition by subtraction.

Stills spoke to the South Florida media Saturday. Here is everything he and general manager Dennis Hickey said:

General Manager Dennis Hickey:

(Opening statement) – “Thanks for venturing out on a Saturday. As always, this is an exciting time of the year as we continue to look to add talent. As an organization, we’re always looking through all of the different avenues to add players and obviously there are the signings, there are trades. We’ve had Kenny Stills on our radar for some time here, did a lot of research and watched him as a player. The opportunity to add a talented, young, athletic, fast, consistent receiver, to our roster, was something that we definitely looked into. We were very excited we were able to trade with the New Orleans Saints and add that caliber of player, caliber of person that’s going to be a positive teammate, both on and off the field. We have quite a few connections with Kenny and several of our players on the team, and as we talked to them they were very excited about the opportunity to add such a good player and such a talented, young, ascending player. It’s with that, I want to introduce Kenny Stills, the newest Miami Dolphin.”

Kenny Stills:

(On his connections with Dolphins players) – “Just knowing Damien Williams and Jamar Taylor, San Diego boys being here. Damien was a roommate of mine at Oklahoma. He called me immediately yesterday, it was great to hear from him and know that I’m going someplace where I know a couple of guys and I’m going to be comfortable.” (On how much that increases his comfort level in Miami already knowing) – “It’s always great to go somewhere where you’re going to know other guys and other players. I’m still going to have to meet guys in the locker room and introduce myself. It’s just a starting point for me.”

(On how high he thinks his ceiling is considering he is still just 22 years old) – “I’m not really looking and focusing on my ceiling right now. I’m just excited to be here, happy to be here and working my tail off to make sure that I can maximize my potential.”

(On if there were talks during the trade about extending his contract) – “I have no clue.”

(On being known as the speed receiver on this team and if he likes that label) – “Whose label is that?”

(On the thinking that WR Mike Wallace was the speed receiver and now that he’s gone, he will assume that role) – “I don’t think I was brought in to replace anybody. I’m just here to do whatever I can to help the team win. Mike’s a great player and I’ve looked up to things that he’s done. Like I said, I’m just here to help the team win in any way that I can.”

(On what he learned from New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees that he can take with him) – “A lot. I learned a lot from Drew. He’s a great professional, a great person. The little details and paying attention to the little details every day and coming to work every day with the right attitude and mindset. Just being a professional.”

(On how he would describe himself as a receiver) – “I would describe myself as a complete receiver. Every day, I come to work with the right attitude. I’m trying to get better and maximize myself in all facets of the game. I’m 22 and I’m young and I’m still working on my game. There is still plenty for me to improve on.”

(On which receivers he looked up to as a child) – “I wouldn’t say any heroes, but I loved watching Randy Moss, I loved watching Hines Ward. There are guys that I can name, a list of guys. Just what Randy Moss did in his rookie year and his whole career, it was something that really inspired me.”

(On if he was surprised that the Saints traded him) – “Definitely, I would say that I was surprised. I’m surprised with everything that’s going on in free agency right now throughout the league. Like I said, I’m happy to be here and I was really with my time in New Orleans, I had a great time there and learned a lot from Drew (Brees) and from the rest of the guys and (Head) Coach (Sean) Payton.”

(On his impression of the Dolphins and the direction they are headed) – “It’s a really exciting time here, bringing in Jordan Cameron, Ndamukong Suh and myself. Everything that’s been going on around here, it’s really exciting for everyone and you can tell that they’re looking forward to winning a lot of games and trying to bring a championship here.”

(On if moves like the Dolphins have made thus far excite players) – “Definitely. We’re all in this business to win, so when you see big moves being made like that, you see your opportunities and chances to win going up. Everyone is excited about that.”

(On his friendship with WR Jarvis Landry) – “Jarvis and I actually pretty good friends as well. I had a chance to meet him when I was in New Orleans. Obviously, he did his thing last year and I’m excited to team up with him and get out there and make some plays.”

(On what he was doing when he found out about the trade) – “I was at the gym.”

(On what his initial reaction was to when he found out he was being traded) – “It’s a different process. It’s definitely a whirlwind, knowing that you’ve just been traded. It’s different. I was surprised, I was excited, I had a bunch of emotions. I’m just happy to be here. It’s a fresh start and a new chapter in my life.”

(On if he’s kept track of QB Ryan Tannehill’s development from afar) – “Definitely, we had a chance to play against (Texas) A&M in college, so I saw Ryan playing receiver as well. He’s progressed over the years that he’s been in the league. I’m excited to work with him and get out there and make some plays.”

(On if having DT Ndamukong Suh on the roster helps recruit players, and if it helps the overall feeling of the team when they take the field) – “We know what he’s capable of and what he can do and I definitely think it’s a recruiting tool for other guys on the defense and on the offense as well. We know what we’re going to get from him. That’s exciting for this team.”

(On if being traded to a great city like Miami eases the shock of being traded) – “Miami is a great place, I’m excited to be here with this team regardless of the city. This is team is on the up and up and we want to win games. That’s what I’m excited about.”

(On how much time he’s spent in South Florida) – “Not much.”

(On if he’s been to South Florida before) – “Once, for a second to catch a flight.”

(On if anybody has told him what his role will be yet) – “No. I’ve expressed I’m here to do anything I can to help the team win. I think they will use me that way.”

March 13, 2015

Mike Wallace on way to Minnesota

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace has been on the phone with the Minnesota Vikings much of the afternoon and the player believes a trade to the Vikings is likely, per a source close to the player.

Wallace moments ago got off the phone with Vikings staff and has been telling friends and associates he is gone from Miami.

Wallace told teammates and family members.

[Update: A source tells me Wallace isn't kidding. He's been traded.]

Not coincidently, when Wallace was an unrestricted free agent in 2013 the two teams most interested in him were the Dolphins ...

And the Vikings.

Terms of the deal are not known at this time because, well, there is no deal at this time. The Dolphins have no comment.

[Update: The Dolphins get a fifth round pick from the Vikings. The Dolphins send Wallace and a seventh to the Vikings.]

Miami Dolphins trade for WR Kenny Stills

Mike Tannenbaum mentioned wide receiver and cornerback as two Miami needs while doing a segment on the Joe Rose Show earlier this week.

The Dolphins are addressing the receiver part as they've traded for wide receiver Kenny Stills, per a league source.

The compensation for Stills is not known, but ProFootballTalk.com is reporting it is LB Dannell Ellerbe and a third-round draft pick that goes to New Orleans. I have not confirmed the compensation package.

[Update: Ellerbe tweeted his good-bye to Miami and excitement about his "new team" so obviously he is on the move.]

[Update: The Saints announced they traded Stills for Ellerbe and a Dolphins 2015 third-round pick.]

[Update: The Dolphins have announced this move as well.]

Stills is a young, 22, and productive wide receiver. He's also cheap on the salary cap.

Stills had 63 catches for 931 yards and three TDs in 2014. His career yards per catch average is 16.5 per catch, so yes, he is something of a deep threat.

Stills was a fifth- round pick in 2013.

That's the same offseason the Dolphins went crazy, cutting productive Karlos Dansby and signing Ellerbe to a five-year, $35 million deal in free agency.

The Dolphins never got their money's worth. Ellerbe was not the middle linebacker Miami hoped he'd be in 2013. He often was pushed around and was poor in coverage. Last year he was moved to outside linebacker but even that was a failure because Ellerbe suffered a season ending hip injury in the season opener.

If Ellerbe has indeed been traded, the Dolphins save $5.65 million of salary cap space with the move.

Jordan Cameron speaks on QB, Miami Dolphins offense, concussions and joining the team

Tight ends catch touchdown passes in the red zone all around the NFL.

It is a fact. The statistics show how effective good players at that position damage defenses in the red zone and come up with TDs.

The Dolphins now have a legitimate red zone threat in 6-5, 265-pound Jordan Cameron.

"Any time you can add talent to your roster, especially Pro Bowl talent, it's always a good day for the Miami Dolphins," general manager Dennis Hickey said in introducing Cameron to the media Friday.

Hickey said Cameron brings "playmaking ability" and "mismatch ability" to the team.

And Cameron agreed with him.

"I can run," he said, having covered 40 yards in the 4.5 range at the combine years ago. "And I can win."

He can win match-ups. And in Miami he'll have help because two primary factors Cameron saw in Miami helped him pick the team as an unrestricted free agent.

"This system is similar to what I had two years ago when I played in the Pro Bowl," Cameron said. "In the NFL a lot of the success you have is the quarterback and the system you're in and those two things are here."

In Cleveland the quarterback situation is uncertain. Their best QB on the roster now is Josh McCown. Johnny Manziel is on the roster but currently in rehab to address a personal addiction.

In Miami, Ryan Tannehill is the unquestioned starter.

"He's an up-and-coming guy, very young, working hard and they were saying a lot of good things about him yesterday in this building," Cameron said. "And that's a big part of my decision. I'm very excited to be here. It's going to be a good fit."

It would not have been a fit had Cameron's physical showed significant issues. Cameron has suffered three concussions the past two years and that forced him to miss some time last season. But apparently everyone is satisfied all is well.

"If it was a concern for me, I wouldn't be here right now," Cameron said. "I've seen a lot of specialists and talked to a lot of people. It's clear. My baseline is the same as it was six years ago. I don't have any cause for concern on my end and the Dolphins felt the same."

There was an hour or so Thursday during which it seemed Cameron was supposed to be headed back to Cleveland, if multiple national reports could be believed. But Cameron said he never agreed with any other team and obviously, he never left South Florida.

"The Dolphins were aggressive," Cameron said, "and talks were heating up, and the Dolphins were pretty adamant about bringing me here. I wanted to be here and that was one of the things, the mutual agreement. We made it happen."

March 12, 2015

Jordan Cameron signs with the Miami Dolphins

No. Yes. No. Yes.

In a bizarre twist, the Miami Dolphins and tight end Jordan Cameron have agreed to a contract, per a source. He is Miami's new starting tight end.

UPDATE: The Dolphins have confirmed a two-year deal is signed.

Reports earlier today from multiple national media platforms had Cameron going back to Cleveland on a two-year, $15 million deal.

Well, not exactly.

The Dolphins are getting Cameron instead.

UPDATE: Multiple reports have Cameron getting a two-year deal for $15 million. It will be interesting to see the structure but I'm certain the cap number is not more than $6 million the first year.

Cameron, 26, has suffered three concussions the past two years. He underwent a physical with the Dolphins so one assumes he passed and the team is comfortable with his situation.

The addition of Jordan Cameron assumes the Dolphins are done with Charles Clay. That, however, is only an assumption.

As Cameron's back-and-forth earlier this evening proves, assume nothing until we see the numbers on the contract.

Clay spent three days in Buffalo and did not get the much-expected offer sheet from the Bills everyone has been awaiting. Clay is still a target for the Bills.

The Dolphins have not pulled their $7 million transition tender on Clay. He is still tied to them, as well.

Cameron back to Cleveland, Clay still option in Miami

Forget Jordan Cameron. Yes, he visited the Miami Dolphins today. And then he re-signed with the Cleveland Browns, per reports by NFL.com, Yahoo and ESPN.

But the Dolphins are still aggressively trying to re-sign tight end Charles Clay.

Although executive vice president for football operations Mike Tannenbaum has never met Clay, the player is very well respected within the Miami organization and practically everyone is saying this is a must-get.

So the Dolphins, led by Tannenbaum, are trying to get him.

Interestingly, the much-anticipated offer sheet from the Buffalo Bills still has not come in at this hour.

The Bills are not giving up.

So in that respect, the two division rivals are battling.

With Cameron going back to Cleveland, the Browns are apparently out of the chase for Clay. Cameron got a two-year deal worth $15 million, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.