February 28, 2015

Miami Dolphins add promised sports science expert

Mike Tannenbaum got his job, at least in part, because he impressed upon owner Stephen Ross the need to upgrade the Miami Dolphins in an outside-the-box fashion. And as sports science and analytics is still outside the box in traditional NFL circles, the team's new executive vice president of football operations is not only on board but is leading the team's charge to use the resource.

That's why Tannenbaum promised to upgrade Miami's sports science program when he got hired. And Saturday the promise was kept, with the Dolphins' hiring of Wayne Diesel as sports performance director, and the promotion of Dennis Lock to director of analytics after he served last year as head analyst.

Tannenbaum is serious about this. This weekend Tannenbaum, Diesel, Lock, and assistant strength and conditioning coach Dave Puloka are attending the 2015 Sloan Analytics Conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

So there's that.

In his role, Diesel will oversee all of the team’s sports science initiatives and will work with the training and strength and conditioning departments. His focus will include player injury prevention and rehabilitation in an effort to. as the team put it in its press release, "reach optimal performance."

Diesel joins the Dolphins after spending the previous eight years (2007-2015) as head of medical services with the Tottenham Hotspur Football Club of the English Premier League.

(Yeah, UK Dolphins fans who root for Arsenal may have a problem loving this move).

With Tottenham, Diesel oversaw the efforts of doctors, physiotherapists, sports scientists, podiatrists, nutritionists and chiropractors, and helped coordinate the medical service department’s work to optimize player recovery and prevent injuries.

So it is clear the Dolphins, who under Ross have added multiple layers of people on the business and personnel side, are now adding a layer to the medical department. 

Before his arrival at Tottenham, Diesel held the same title of head of medical services from 2003-07 at Charlton Athletic Football Club.

NOTE: I wish the English would figure out we Americans play football and they play soccer.

(Yeah, here come the globalists to the defense of soccer).

But I digress.

Diesel has 12 years of experience running private physiotherapy practices, including setting up the first physiotherapy practice at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa based in Cape Town. While in South Africa, he worked as head physiotherapist for a range of different sports, including national women’s gymnastics, men’s hockey, swimming, football and rugby as well as provincial cricket and football. Additionally, Diesel was appointed as the head physiotherapist for South African teams at the All African (1992), Olympics (1996) and Commonwealth Games (1998). He also held the position of president of South African Transplant Games Association and western province chairman of South African Sports Medicine Association.

A native of South Africa, Diesel graduated in 1986 as a physiotherapist from the University of Witwatersrand (the University of Witcementconcrete didn't offer him a scholarship, apparently) and then gained a first class pass in sports science in 1988 allowing him to proceed directly to a PhD in exercise physiology, which was completed in 1994.

I gave you an example of the team's commitment to sports science last year. And I'm not saying the Dolphins are going to be the Philadelphia 76ers, who are living and dying by the analytics sword.

But trying this cannot hurt. I applaud Tannenbaum and Ross for doing whatever they can to help the team. I would love to see a chart at the end of 2015 marking the number of injuries and the speed of recovery in the coming season compared to the last five-ten years.

February 27, 2015

Brandon Gibson released by the Dolphins

That roster purge I told you about four hours ago? It continues at this hour with receiver Brandon Gibson's release.

The release of the saves the Dolphins $3.26 million in cap space. It leaves $1 million in dead money.

 Gibson signed a three-year, $9.87 million deal in 2013. It wasn't a bargain.

Gibson got off to a hot start but suffered a patella tendon tear in his knee in October 2013. He really wasn't the same player early last season but got better as the knee improved.

It wasn't enough.

He had 29 receptions for 295 yards last season with one touchdown. He played 14 games.

His first season in Miami, Gibson had 30 receptions for 326 yards and three TDs. He played seven games that season.

So the Dolphins paid approximately $6 million for 59 catches and four touchdowns in two years. Not exactly a great success.

Fact is, the most memorable moment Gibson had in Miami was the '14 season-finale. In that game Mike Wallace complained about not getting the football and told coaches he might as well stop playing. Coach Joe Philbin took him up on the offer and benched him for the second half of the game.

After the game, in the locker room, reporters asked Wallace questions about the incident and Gibson, standing next to him, gave the answers while Wallace stood by silently.

Gibson said he was doing it to "protect my dog." Wallace approved.

This move surprises no one. Truth is in the spring of 2013 former general manager Jeff Ireland gave Brian Hartline a big new contract. He made Wallace the highest-paid receiver in the NFL. And he signed Gibson as a free agent.

Two of the three are already gone, as is Ireland.

Wallace might be the next out the door.

Miami Dolphins cut WR Brian Hartline

The Dolphins have begun the much-expected purge of their salary cap (and roster) this offseason by cutting wide receiver Brian Hartline.

The move -- confirmed by a league source and the Dolphins -- can go one of two ways: The release is either happening right away and goes on the books that way or is happening right away but is designated as a post June 1 cut.

Without the designation the move saves the Dolphins $3.1 million in cap space but leaves $4.2 million in dead money that Miami will deal with despite not having the two-time 1,000-yard receiver. If the move is designated post June 1 (and teams can use two such designations) then the move will save $5.1 million in space and leave $1.4 million in dead money -- but that space comes after June 1.

The Dolphins are not believed to have offered Hartline a pay cut. The receiver was open to a negotiable pay cut to stay in Miami, according to a source.

Hartline signed a five-year, $30.77 million deal in 2013 amid two consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. He caught 74 passes for 1,083 yards and one touchdown in 2012 and came back with 1,016 yards for on 76 catches with four TDs in 2013.

But Hartline became expendable for the Dolphins when he dipped to 39 catches for 474 yards last season. It seemed his previous role went to Mike Wallace and even rookie Jarvis Landry had more catches than he did.

That did not merit the 19th highest wide receiver contract for the Dolphins.

A source close to Hartline tells me he is disappointed but not shocked by this move. He hopes to catch on with a team closer to his native Ohio -- a team that has an accomplished quarterback.

Among the teams Hartline would like to play for is the Indianapolis Colts.

This is the proverbial first shoe to drop. There will be as many as half a dozen others. Among other Miami players who are at risk of being released this offseason:

LB Dannell Ellerbe.

LB Phillip Wheeler.

WR Mike Wallace -- although team is considering a pay cut or a trade.

WR Brandon Gibson.

G Nate Garner.

CB Cortland Finnegan -- either that or he'll retire.

DT Randy Starks.

OL Shelley Smith.

February 26, 2015

Lots to think about Mike Wallace

This is what I know about the Mike Wallace situation after talking to multiple sources to piggyback on what NFL Network said Wednesday evening that the Dolphins are "talking about possibly trading" the wide receiver:

Yes, the Dolphins are talking about possibly trading Wallace. It is an option.

But it is not the lone option.

The team has also discussed a pay cut restructure for Mike Wallace.

The team has also discussed cutting Mike Wallace.

The team has also discussed keeping Mike Wallace.

All of these are options. And the Dolphins are exploring, discussing, pondering all of them.

And here is the deeper dive on the matter:

I have severe doubts Mike Wallace will abide a pay cut. I'm told his camp is confident that if the Dolphins cut the wide receiver, he'll do just fine on the open market in free agency. He'll be able to pick his team. He'll be able to pick his quarterback. He'll get money up front.

If the Dolphins are going to cut Wallace, they will likely do it before a $3 million guarantee of his scheduled $9.85 million salary goes into effect on the fifth day of the NFL year. The league year begins March 10 so we're talking a decision by March 15.

And in all likelihood what will happen if the Dolphins cut Wallace is they will do so with a post June 1 designation. Teams get two such designations every year. It means the Dolphins will be able to carry the dead money left from the aborted contract over two years instead of just one year -- this year.

So if the Dolphins cut Wallace with a post June 1 designation it will save $6.5 million in salary cap space for the year while carrying $5.2 million in dead money. Without the designation, the move would save the Dolphins only $2.5 million and carry $9.6 million in dead money this year.

June 1 designations do not clear the cap room immediately. It is a vehicle by which teams can get players off the team immediately and still eventually enjoy the benefits of doing so post-June 1.

On the trade front...this is not likely. Yes, the Dolphins would like to get something for Mike Wallace if they can. But the fact is most teams will not trade for that contract. It is toxic. I refer you to Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti's words on the matter.

It is unlikely the Dolphins would trade within the division so the Jets are hard to include in the possibilities even though they have tons of cap space and a need at wide receiver.

There's also the cost of making a trade for that team: Not only must they consider compensation to the Dolphins but either taking the Wallace deal or doing a reworked deal with him. So Wallace would have say in the matter. If he doesn't want to do a new contract, he could possibly sabotage a trade.

The salary cap implications of a trade for Miami are it saves the team $5.5 million against the cap but leaves $6.6 million in dead money this year.

So is there any chance the Dolphins keep Wallace? Based on conversations with multiple people -- some within the team some on the Wallace side -- I find it hard to believe all this wrangling will lead to a happy ending where Wallace is smiling and the Dolphins are smiling and they're together and of one mind the first day of the regular season.

I simply do not see it.

It feels like once the headaches Wallace caused behind the scenes last year became public, the Dolphins moved in the direction of cutting ties. It feels like once this talk of pay cuts or trades became public the past two weeks, the Wallace side moved toward seeing a future away from Miami. 

Me?

For the record: I keep Mike Wallace. Period. It is not his fault Ryan Tannehill has misfired on deep passes. If the QB hits even 50 percent of those, we're adding maybe seven more TDs to the player's statistics and suddenly he's happy, the fans are happy and the team is more willing to put up with whatever private grumbling Wallace still displays.

I advocate making it work. No relationship is perfect.

But I do not get a say. So the Dolphins and Mike Wallace will do what they do.

 

 

February 25, 2015

Dolphins linebacker plans come into focus

Middle linebacker will be an area the Miami Dolphins will address in free agency or the draft and that has significance throughout the roster.

The team experimented with Koa Misi at middle linebacker last season but that is now considered an option of last resort for 2015. Misi is likely headed back to strongside linebacker if the Dolphins can find a new MLB.

As The Herald's Barry Jackson reported on his blog today the Dolphins have already been telling multiple sources they will be interested in New York Jets inside linebacker David Harris or Tampa Bay's Mason Foster.

The connections are obvious. Club executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum drafted Harris in 2007 and general manager Dennis Hickey is quite familiar with Mason from his time with the Bucs.

But there are issues with this initial plan.

The Jets are replete with salary cap space. They may have over $50 million in salary cap space and that's with contracts such as Percy Harvin's on the books. And the Jets may clear that deal off the books by cutting Harvin. So New York will not lose any player they feel they must keep and that likely includes Harris, who is a defensive leader and a highly productive player.

Tampa Bay is not quite so comfortable against the cap but they're currently better off than Miami. The Bucs will have between $32-$36 million in cap space when the league year begins. So if the Bucs want to keep Foster, they likely will be able to do so. Foster has prototype size and is productive. But he is not exactly a star.

Assuming Miami lands a middle linebacker in free agency or the draft, the linebacker corps would fall in line without Dion Jordan as a starting linebacker.

Although Jordan played about a quarter of his 223 snaps in coverage and as an outside linebacker last year, a linebacker corps with Foster/Harris in the middle, Misi at strongside and Jelani Jenkins at weakside leaves Jordan competing for snaps at both strongside linebacker and defensive end ...

... Again.

And unless Jordan, the No. 3 overall selection in 2013, is able to beat out Misi -- which is not likely -- Jordan may find himself coming off the bench again in 2015 because he is unlikely to win a starting job at defensive end over Cameron Wake or Olivier Vernon.

The fallout will continue with Chris McCain and Jordan Tripp competing for playing time but not the favorites to win a starting job, either.

Obviously, this can change if the Dolphins fail to land a MLB in free agency. They tried (sort of) to do that last year with D'QWell Jackson and failed. That would likely then keep Misi in the middle and open up the spot at strongside backer.

Interestingly, Jenkins, who started last year on the bench and was a relative unknown (even to coaches, apparently) until injuries befell the corps, is at the moment considered a heavy favorite to start again.

So where does that leave Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler -- the two most highly paid linebackers on the team?

They are salary cap cuts waiting to happen.

February 24, 2015

Ravens owner rips Dolphins' contract with Mike Wallace

The Baltimore Ravens today had a season-recap press conference featuring head coach John Harbaugh, general manager Ozzie Newsome and owner Steve Bisciotti.

And amid a presser where the team's failure (relative term because they had a good season in my eyes) over not winning the Super Bowl or advancing to the AFC title game led off proceedings, the Dolphins came up.

In discussing the high cost and high stakes of unrestricted free agency and the possibility of re-signing looming free agent receiver Torrey Smith, Bisciotti said, "Mike Wallace got $10 million. I don't think anybody thinks that was a good deal."

Shot fired.

I assume Bisciotti didn't mean to directly disparage Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, and the front office and coaching staff that had anything to do with the Dolphins signing Wallace in 2013.

But the comment stings because, well, it is true and rarely does an NFL owner involved with his own issues feel comfortable enough to rip another team's approach.

The truth of the matter is Wallace's deal that Bisciotti criticized is worse than he thinks. Wallace, who has not had a 1,000-yard season since coming to the Dolphins after having two in Pittsburgh, averages $12 million annually not $10 million.

Wallace signed a five-year, $60 million deal in March 2013. The deal included a whopping $27 million in guaranteed money.

Now, Dolphins fans and indeed the organization would be totally correct to tell Bisciotti to mind his own business. After all, the Ravens had the Ray Rice debacle last year and Bisciotti actually offered early support for Rice despite knowing the running back knocked out his then fiancée in an Atlantic City elevator -- an ugly domestic violence incident that eventually forced the team to cut Rice.

The Ravens also had issues with their security department. Security chief Darren Sanders was accused of a sexual offense when he allegedly groped a female stadium worker and forced himself upon her. Sanders remains on paid leave.

So there's that.

But the truth is Bisciotti is saying something that's accurate and something the new Dolphins braintrust -- primarily general manager Dennis Hickey and possibly executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum -- agree with ...

Which is Mike Wallace is overpaid.

Wallace's cap number for 2015 is scheduled to be $12.1 million. He is due a $3 million guarantee on his $9.85 million base salary if he's still with the Dolphins on the fifth day of the league year or March 15.

And that is why, as this space reported last week, the Dolphins should and are seriously considering and trying to work through a pay cut for Wallace.

The Ravens are scheduled to visit the Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium in the fall. It'll be interesting to see if Wallace is on the Dolphins at that point.

More Sun Life amenities, but what about home field advantage?

The Miami Dolphins have a new preview center up and running at Sun Life Stadium now.

They are quite excited about it. They are more excited about the continuing construction that will remake Sun Life in stages -- with new seating for the 2015 season and a canopy topper for 2016.

(Some fans have been very vocal about the extreme price hikes of some parts of the stadium where seats will cost as much as $1,875. Others are upset they're being displaced from seats they've had for years because they cannot afford the hikes. The Dolphins' counter is here.)

Anyway, what's the place going to look like?

Check out this video from the team:

 

A couple of notes:

Interesting that impending unrestricted free agent tight end Charles Clay is featured in the video even though he might not be on the team. The business side should talk to the football side on that.

On the other hand, Mike Wallace is not in the video. He's the team's leading receiver. He's the team's highest-paid player. But his future in Miami is murky at best. So maybe the business side did talk to the football side on this one.

Notice the video boards remain the same through the '15 upgrade but then get replaced for 2016 when the canopy tops things off.

The 72 club is the uber expensive area.

I counted four so-called clubs -- The Nine, the 72 Club, the North Sideline Club, and the Field Club -- along with upgraded concourses and an updated club level  And this is good, except it provides more opportunities for people not to be in their seats.

And if people are not in their seats, they are not making noise for the defense. They are not making the place uncomfortable for the opponent. They might as well be at home, as far as the football players are concerned. Yes, they're drinking and eating and churning revenue. But they're not providing a home field advantage.

The Nine, by the way, apparently has seats that place people looking away from the field where the action is. Yeah, I'm sure that's an oversight in the video and not going to be the actual arrangement of the couches, right? Notwatchinggame

Right!!!!???

[Update: I'm told the Dolphins will be given furniture options and so the couches facing away from the field are an option but not necessarily the one they'll pick. It is not set in stone.]

I would sell standing-room only tickets to the terraces or concourses. Make them cheap. Get more people in place. You have no seat. But you can cheer. Make it louder.

Anything to improve home field advantage.

That, along with comfort and modernization, should be a priority.

February 23, 2015

Not on my team: Price for Charles Clay is $6 million

You know that moment when teams that haven't won anything start paying young players who haven't won anything big salaries? That is a bad moment.

And that is where the Dolphins are getting to this offseason.

They are getting there with quarterback Ryan Tannehill who is likely going to get a $17-$18 million-a-year contract in the coming months because, as general manager Dennis Hickey said, QB salaries are what they are in the NFL -- even when the QB has never been to the playoffs or a Pro Bowl.

They are there with center Mike Pouncey, who is getting a new deal this offseason. At least Pouncey has been to the Pro Bowl.

And if they want to keep tight end Charles Clay and/or defensive tackle Jared Odrick they are going to be there with the two impending unrestricted free agents.

Clay's camp believes he's going to get a deal worth $6 million per season, according to The Herald's Adam Beasley. And he's going to get it either from the Dolphins or another team.

I've been told Odrick's camp, meanwhile, is certain their client will also get a deal whose floor is $6 million a year before free agency is over because Odrick has proven himself valuable as either a 4-3 defensive tackle or 3-4 defensive end.

You know how much that's going to cost the Dolphins to keep these players in 2015? It will cost approximately $30-36 million on an annual basis for players the Dolphins last year paid $5.21 million in base salary combined.

Indeed, the Dolphins invested $10.63 million in 2014 cap space on the four players combined. To keep them all this year will require about twice that cap space, if not more.

That's just to hold serve.

That's just to continue running in place.

That's just to not lose ground on talent.

For a team that has been 8-8 the last two years.

So what's the answer?

Well, I suppose the Dolphins could pay and keep everyone happy. But I don't abide that approach. I make difficult decisions, friends. I do not pay extra for players who are good but not great.

In other words, I cannot pay Charles Clay $6 million per year. Sorry.

Clay is a solid player. He's a 50-70 catches per year guy. He's a 500-700 yards a year guy. He's a 3-6 TD a year guy, maybe better with a great QB. But $6 million per year?

I let Clay go out and test the market. And if he finds that $6 million a year deal, from the Bills or anyone else, I wish him well.

And then I pick Clive Walford in the second round or Nick O'Leary (who reminds me of a slower Clay with better hands) in the fourth or fifth round. Cheap and possible long-term upgrade there.

Mando quickie plan: I sign Mike Iupati or Orlando Franklin in free agency to fill a guard spot. I ask Billy Turner to start at the other guard. I draft CB Trae Waynes from Michigan State in the first round. I pick Walford or a MLB in the second round. If I don't get Walford, I get O'Leary on Saturday or Sunday of the draft.

Hickey said tough decisions were coming this offseason. You should be starting to get the picture why he said that. 

When (no) personality requirement affect personnel decisions

Like it or not, true or not (Oh, it is true), the Miami Dolphins have gotten a reputation under Joe Philbin for not dealing sympathetically with players who have ... um, opinions, personalities, and off-field issues.

The Dolphins like their players to make statements with their play and not their mouths. Within the rules. Without any controversy. Without any issues, for that matter.

And that is an understandable approach because the nature of today's more politically sensitive NFL frowns on players that have any off-field issues of any stripe. It frowns on players that push the envelope on the field. And it actively punishes players that play or live to the beat of their own drum.

So Marshawn Lynch, you're going to get fined for not talking at the Super Bowl.

Doug Baldwin, you're going to get fined for mimicking a bowel movement as a TD celebration in the Super Bowl.

Ray Rice, you're suspended for punching your fiancée.

Adrian Petersen, you're going to get suspended for hitting your son.

Richie Incognito, you're going to get suspended for bullying your teammate.

And, by the way, I agree with all these actions. The lunatics, my friends, cannot be running the asylum.

But there is a way to play like a dog, be an individual, and still not embarrass yourself, your teammates, your fans and the league.

And that is where I have something of a problem with the Miami Dolphins.

In recent years they have, in my opinion, too closely straddled the line between what is improper and what is just human to the point it seemingly costs them talent.

Look, I agreed Chad Johnson had to go when he hit his wife. I agreed the team could not simply sit idly and leave the Incognito-Jonathan Martin issue unattended, although I think everyone, including owner Stephen Ross went overboard portraying Martin as a sympathetic figure.

(I remind you Ross said he wanted to visit with Martin to get his side, but never wanted to visit with Incognito. I think a more accurate portrayal would have been Martin as a troubled man -- talk of suicide and drug and/or alcohol use are obvious signs -- who was harassed wrongly and unfairly by Incognito but who also allowed lawyers and others to run roughshod over him in handling a situation that could better have been handled internally if he had simply told people in authority the problems early on.)

Where I depart from the Dolphins way of handling players that seem to be, well, a little different is in their breaking ties with players such as Karlos Dansby, Vontae Davis, and others because those players don't seem to toe the expected line exactly as the team wants or have maturity issues.

So Dansby talked a lot. He was open. He had thoughts he shared and didn't always agree with Joe Philbin. That got him in trouble a couple of times with the coach. And coincidently or not, he was cut soon afterward.

So Vontae was immature. So he went to the bathroom a lot one practice, which freaked Philbin out. No, he wasn't perfect, but he was also 23-years-old so there was so much room for growth. Yet coincidently or not, he was traded.

And I would say excluding players that don't strictly fall in line with a rigid definition of what is acceptable is not sound player personnel policy. Players are people. They have minds of their own. A great organization can find the most talented of those and get those individuals to fit in cohesively while still keeping their individuality.

I'm not sure the Dolphins allow for that as well as other teams. The team's reputation among some agents is it does not.

And that reputation wasn't helped when Dennis Hickey was asked at the Indianapolis Combine last week whether Philbin would rather not have outspoken players on his team.

“I think Joe is a principled leader and I know he cares for his players," Hickey said. "Puts them in a great plan and works together with them. Our goal is to get better and that’s what we’re going to do."

Yeah, that's not a denial or even a pushback on the idea that Philbin is unbending about players.

Why is this important? Well, unless Philbin is moving the line on what he deems acceptable behavior by players, the Dolphins in a few weeks will make personnel decisions that include his thinking on what kind of player profile is acceptable.

It will matter in who is coming and who might be going.

And what does that mean in a tangible sense?

Well, aside from the fact he is going to be extremely expensive, I believe it means Ndamukong Suh -- he of the sometimes questionable tactics and on-field approach -- is not a fit for the Dolphins. He simply isn't a fall in line kind of guy.

It means Antonio Cromartie, who has worn out his welcome on a couple of teams despite being a highly productive cornerback, probably isn't a fit for the Dolphins in free agency. He simply isn't a fall in line guy.

(Mike Tannenbaum's influence may shift Miami's course on this one).

It means Mike Wallace, who has complained openly to coaches about how often he gets the ball, is on the cusp of wearing out his welcome in Miami. He has tried publicly to put a good face on things. He works hard. But he isn't always a fall in line guy.

It means Jared Odrick, clearly talented and proficient at his defensive tackle position, may be judged by other means when the team decides whether he's worth a certain amount of money to retain in free agency or not. Why? He did yell at Philbin on the sideline last year -- which got him a talking-to from the coach.

The point is all teams judge off-field and character issues. It must be done in today's NFL moreso than in the past because those issues now determine actual games played on the field more than in the past. So the Dolphins are no different than any other team in that regard.

But it seems the Dolphins take extra steps to make sure the players on their roster fall in line more strictly.

Don't say the wrong thing.

Don't complain publicly.

Don't act out.

Don't have an opinion.

Don't be immature -- even if you're only 23.

Indeed, don't have a personality that doesn't mesh with your coach's personality.

This is dangerous. This sets limits on the Dolphins that other teams may not necessarily have. And with free agency and the draft looming, this doesn't put the Dolphins in the best position to compete for talent against teams not encumbered by such strict limits.

February 19, 2015

Dolphins should be talking pay cut for Wallace

Try as general manager Dennis Hickey might to evade and say nothing and give no clues that there is an issue between the Miami Dolphins and Mike Wallace, it is clear there is indeed an issue.

Up to now I've been thinking the issue is as simple as either cutting or not cutting Wallace following two seasons in which he has definitely not met the expectations of a $12 million-a-year contract and last year caused coaches headaches with his complaining about how often he got the ball.

Well, it may be more complicated than that.

It seems the Dolphins are trying to rehabilitate the situation rather than simply cut ties with Wallace. Otherwise what would be the need for Hickey to sit down for dinner with Wallace? Otherwise what would be the need to have some long, drawn out "process" of figuring out what to do next?

Yet, that is what has been happening.

“Well obviously, through our process we’re looking at each individual situation and with all of our players," Hickey evaded when asked about Wallace. "Obviously in the salary cap era you always have challenging decisions you have to make each year. So we’re going through that process and we’re further along in the process than we were let’s say a month ago when we talked at the Senior Bowl. We’re still working on it and we judge each player, each decision on the individual basis. And the goal is to make the best decision for the Miami Dolphins."

Working on what? Further along in what?

If the Dolphins were simply going to cut Wallace, that move doesn't need to be considered for a month and, indeed, nearly two months since the season ended (for Miami) with Wallace on the bench that final game.

Even the Dolphins, with their multiple layers of leadership and the organizational flow chart from the bowels of the earth, should be able to come to a decision on the team's highest priced player quicker than that.

 Nope, this is more complex than that.

I believe this is about, well, money. Isn't it always? I believe the Dolphins are trying to figure out a way to cut Wallace's salary. I believe the Dolphins are trying to find ways to make it acceptable to the Wallace camp. I believe the Dolphins want to pay Wallace to his performance level rather than his potential performance level, which is what they paid for when they signed him as a free agent in 2013.

The Dolphins made Wallace the highest-paid wide receiver in '13. He is now the NFL's fourth-highest paid wide receiver.

Has he delivered on that status?

Well, has he made the Pro Bowl?

No.

Has he had a 1,000-yard season?

No.

Has he consistently blown the top off the defense as was his imagined assignment when he signed?

No, although I blame quarterback Ryan Tannehill and not Wallace for this issue. Wallace has consistently gotten open deep.

The point is Mike Wallace caught 67 passes for 862 yards and 10 TDs last season. The 67 catches tied him for 39th in the NFL. His 862 yards tied him for 37th. The 10 TDs tied him for 12th with four others.

The point is Wallace wasn't Top 5 in anything except his salary.

And so it makes sense that the Dolphins would want to adjust that salary down as surely as they might want to adjust the salaries of other players -- Randy Starks, Brian Hartline, Dannell Ellerbe, Brandon Gibson, etc. -- that for whatever reasons were unable to deliver to expectations.

A salary cut makes sense for Wallace because cutting him outright, even after June 1, saves $6.9 million against the cap, but leaves a honkin' $5 million in dead money on the books this year and $4.4 million next year. It also deletes 10 TDs and a threat of a deep ball from the team.

Trading Wallace is practically impossible because I don't know of any team that would gladly absorb that toxic contract.

So all this processing that mends fences with Wallace also has to benefit the team and the biggest benefit the Dolphins should be aiming for is cutting his salary and cap numbers. This year Wallace is scheduled to count $12.1 million against the cap.

Tom Brady, a franchise-defining, Super Bowl winning, MVP QB, is costing the rival New England Patriots $14 million against the cap. WR Antonio Brown, who led the NFL with 129 receptions and 1,698 yards -- he also had 13 TDs -- is costing the Pittsburgh Steelers $9.78 million against the cap in 2015.

The Dolphins are overpaying right now for Mike Wallace.

And so if they're not trying to restructure his contract and, yes, cut his salary, something is amiss.

“I had a good conversation," Hickey evaded about his talk with Wallace. "Again, we have open lines of communication. I always feel like we have an open door for all of our players and whether it be from the coaching staff, myself, always keeping that open line of communication.

"You know, for all of us as the season unfolded and late in the year, we’re all frustrated about how the season ended. That’s where we’re focused on now, addressing, confronting the reality of where we’re at and how do we get to where we want to be? That’s what we spent the last five or six weeks looking at hard, in talking through and working together in a collaborative fashion to try to work through that. Because the goal is to be better."

February 18, 2015

Dennis Hickey: QB salaries are what they are

The Miami Dolphins are going to eventually pay quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Big time.

It's going to happen this offseason. Or it will happen next offseason.

But it will happen.

Miami will pay Tannehill just like other teams are paying their franchise-type quarterbacks. It's going to be a mega-contract sapping mega salary cap room.

And the Dolphins are comfortable with that.

"We feel really good about Ryan and obviously the market for quarterbacks in this era, the market is what it is," general manager Dennis Hickey said Wednesday. "But we're excited about the development that he made from Year Two to Year Three and that trajectory that he has. Learning in a new offense and working through that and the growth that he made throughout the season ... we're excited about his future as our quarterback."

That means Tannehill will eventually get somewhere between $15-$18 million per year over five or six years.

Boom! 

Hickey, who holds his cards so close to his vest you might think they're behind his back, would not say Wednesday how close the sides are to completing a deal for Tannehill.

"With all our players we're going to explore all options and obviously we're going through the process right now over the last month, really since the season ended of evaluating our roster both from a standpoint of where the team is at on offense, defense, special teams, position groups for each individual and adjusting and looking at each individual situation and making decisions based on that," Hickey said when asked specifically about Tannehill. "It's been a collaborative opportunity with the coaches sitting in and watching film, talking about players. Then going back and watching more film. We going through that process. We're further along in that process but we're still working through it."

Yeah, no idea.

Hickey also declined to specify whether the team is currently in talks with Tannehill agent Pat Dye.

"We're not going to comment on any contact with representation but we do have an open line of communication with all of our players and their representation," Hickey said.

New deal for Mike Pouncey not 'too hard'

The Indianapolis Combine is a time for teams and agents to gather in the same town and hold face-to-face discussions on multiple topics. Those conversations will be starting as early as today in Indy.

And those talks often range from interest in looming free agents (yes, this is tampering and yet everyone does it), talks about players about to get cut, talks about players the team has identified for salary cuts, talks for contract extensions.

In the next few days I expect Joel Segal, the agent for center Mike Pouncey, to meet with the Dolphins and talk about a new contract for his client.

This is going to happen this offseason, folks.

Why do I know this?

Well, I know Segal, based in New York, and new Dolphins executive vice president for football operation Mike Tannenbaum have worked on multiple deals in the past. I know they have a high degree of respect for one another. I know the two typically get things done when both are of the mind to do so.

And both are of the mind that Pouncey's future is with the Dolphins.

And both believe it is in their best interest to get this done.

Pouncey, due $7.4 million for 2015, wants to be among the highest paid centers in the NFL. And that means he wants to be in the same neighborhood as his brother Maurkice Pouncey, who last June  signed a five-year contract extension worth $44,136,625 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Maurkice got a $13 million signing bonus. And the contract calls for roster bonuses of $3.75 and $3.5 million in 2015 and 2016 if he is on the roster in March of those years -- which he will be, at least in a couple of weeks.

Base salaries of the contract are $1 million in 2014, $1.75 million in 2015, $3.5 million in 2016, $7.5 in 2017, $7 million in 2018, and $7 million in 2019.

And if Mike gets in that orbit, I imagine he will be satisfied.

The Dolphins, on the other hand, would like to not carry a $7.4 million cap number for Pouncey this year. They do that by, for example, giving Pouncey a $12 million signing bonus that prorates over the next five years at $2.4 million per season. If the team adds Pouncey's required minimum salary of $745,000 for 2015, his cap number would be $3.145.

That's a lot more palatable for the salary cap strapped Dolphins than $7.4 million.

Why would Pouncey go for that? Because he's getting a lump sum check for $12 million (minus federal tax) that's why. And $12 million is more than $7.4 million.

Obviously the cap value will go up in the coming years. Well, that's what happens when you are paying a player. The salary cap may be higher those years as well.

This is simply an example of the numbers can work. But the actual numbers should be fairly similar to manage.

That's why a source close to Pouncey told me recently a new deal "shouldn't be too hard."

I've been told the Dolphins agree.

So it is only a matter of time.

February 17, 2015

Miami Dolphins must avoid another small school binge

The NFL Combine begins this week and there will be players there from Ball State, James Madison, Harding, Hobart and William Smith, Lafayette, Norfolk State, Praire View A&M, Samford and William & Mary. And with all due respect to all those fine institutions and their football programs, I hope Miami Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey finds a way to avoid another binge of small-school talent in 2015 after going on one in 2014.

In the 2014 draft, you'll recall, Hickey selected for the Miami Dolphins players from the following:

Liberty.

North Dakota State.

Montana.

Coastal Carolina.

Marist College.

And the talent backwoods trails traveled by Hickey got him Billy Turner, Jordan Tripp, Matt Hazel, Terrence Fede and Walt Aikens.

And all those players started zero combined games for Miami. It got the Dolphins less than 200 total snaps on offense or defense: Fede 84, Aikens 64, Turner 17, Tripp 12, Hazel 0.

This while the two undrafted free agent rookies signed from big school programs -- Damien Williams and Chris McCain -- contributed 208 snaps on offense and defense.

So the two guys undrafted out of established programs contributed more snaps than the five guys drafted out of small programs.

What is my point?

The point is big school players are often ready to play at the NFL level quicker than players who come from the small programs -- even when those players from the small schools are drafted ahead of the players from the big schools.

I am not saying Turner, Tripp, Aikens, Fede and Hazel are or will be busts. They all have obvious gifts that Hickey identified and showed up to one degree or another on Miami's practice fields last football season.

But those gifts need a lot of refinement. Those players need more tweaking and teaching than players coming out of more established programs. And so an investment in any small school player is likely an investment that must wait a year or perhaps even two for a dividend.

And an investment on a big school player is more likely to pay off quicker.

Knowing that, when one invests not one but five draft picks on players from smallish, off the main line programs you are basically redshirting a big portion of your draft.

And the Miami Dolphins are not one of those teams that can afford to continually redshirt draft picks. This club in 2015 needs a fresh and certain infusion of good, productive draft picks that offer that production fairly quickly.

The team needs it. And just as importantly for Hickey and his personnel department, he needs it because if the Dolphins come away with multiple picks again this year that simply aren't ready to compete on an NFL level as rookies, the chances the Dolphins can improve diminishes.

And if the Dolphins chances of improvement diminish, Hickey's chances of keeping his post diminishes right along with it.

Now, I don't know if last year was a freakish moment in time for Miami's new GM. I don't know if five of his draft picks simply happened to come out of small schools by sheer happenstance. I also don't know if that is a Hickey strategy he thinks is an outline for finding untapped talent and thus is driving a dusty trail looking for a starting cornerback nobody else knows about right now.

I don't know if looking under rocks is what this former scout does by instinct and what we saw last year will repeat again in the future.

I hope not.

Because what was true last year remains true now: Small school players need more time to adjust. They haven't played at the highest levels of college football and their introduction to the professional game can be more difficult initially than players who played in, say, the SEC or ACC or Big 10(12).

There may be a prodigy out there who is an exception. But five of them? Nope.

Let's hope Hickey, in a year the Dolphins need an immediate talent upgrade, sees that now.

Let's hope when the Combine opens, Hickey is checking out the guys who made big plays in big games at big schools. 

February 16, 2015

Miami Dolphins use of franchise tag unlikely

The window for NFL teams to provide the franchise or transition tag designation on any pending free agent opens today and I can assure you the Miami Dolphins are unlikely to tag any of their players because, well, we don't even know the official tag values yet.

Perhaps the NFL has already signaled teams the likely values but the numbers aren't public.

So I doubt you'll see much action from Miami immediately.

But once the numbers are established, would the Dolphins have use for the tags?

Even that is highly questionable.

First, understand the rules for franchise and transition tags have changed. It is no longer the average of the top five-paid players at a position for the franchise tag and the average of the top ten players at a position for the transition tag.

The franchise tag made it impossible (in most cases) for other teams to negotiate with a free agent. The transition tag required a team signing a player tagged to give up a first-round pick and sometimes other compensation for signing that player.

The lawyers got involved in 2011 and now the franchise tag is based on the five-year average cap percentage for the tag at each position.

The Dolphins have only two free agents even remotely worthy of discussing in franchise tag conversations: DT Jared Odrick and TE Charles Clay.

I doubt either gets tagged.

The likely one-year guaranteed salary for a defensive tackle that receives the franchise tag will be in the $11 million neighborhood. Is Odrick worth that?

The likely one-year guaranteed salary for a tight end that receives the franchise tag will be in the $8 million neighborhood. Is Clay worth that.

Odrick is a good player. He's developed into a starter and is solid against the run and can push the pocket with some regularity. But he's not Ndamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy. He should be a priority to re-sign but failing that, a one-year $11 million tag for him is outrageous and poor use of cap space the Dolphins don't really have anyway at this point.

Clay hurt himself in 2014 by, well, being hurt. He struggled with a knee injury that kept him from practicing most weeks. He also had drops early in the season that were inexplicable. Despite the injury and the inconsistent early play, Clay plowed through. He showed grit and toughness.

But his stats early in the season dipped from 2013 when he caught 69 passes for 759 yards with six TDs. Clay did finish strong with 17 catches the final three games. But his 2014 stats of 58 catches for 605 yards with three TDs was something of a disappointment for everyone expecting him to take the next step in his progression.

Keeping Clay would be a wise thing. Pairing him with a more traditional and proven seam-threat tight end in a double-tight type look would cause headaches. But nowhere in that sentence does it say paying Charles Clay $8 million for one year makes sense.

So no franchise tag that I can see this year by the Dolphins. 

February 12, 2015

Backup QB a big decision for Miami Dolphins

What shall the Miami Dolphins do with their quarterback position this offseason?

It's a fair question because the team obviously is going to engage starter Ryan Tannehill's representatives about a contract extension. If no extension can be worked out before May, the team will exercise its option of putting a one-year extension on the deal that is guaranteed for injury only but ties Tannehill to Miami through 2016.

So longterm or not, high-priced or not, the Dolphins have their starting quarterback.

But what about a backup?

It is an important question as well because Matt Moore is an unrestricted free agent. It is an important question because the state of the Miami offensive line has been such that Tannehill has been sacked more than any NFL quarterback the past two years and that statistic is like playing Russian Roulette with your quarterback's health and durability.

It is an important question because the Dolphins need a certain type of backup -- a veteran backup. And the market of those guys who are somewhat reliable does not exactly offer a deep pool of talent.

Let's tackle that issue first. The Dolphins -- indeed every team, in my estimation -- would be wise to draft a quarterback every single year. Every single year. The position is the most important on the team and stocking it makes sense, albeit not necessarily on the first or even the second day of the draft.

Young, project QBs can be valuable because even when they don't become a starter for the team that picked them, they often pay dividends in trade to another quarterback-needy team. Former Green Bay general manager Ron Wolf is a newly minted Hall of Famer and part of his annual draft strategy was adding a quarterback.

Those guys didn't always play for the Packers. Indeed, few ever did. But Wolf drafted Mark Brunell in the fifth round of the 1993 draft and traded him to Jacksonville two years later for a third and a fifth-round pick. He selected Matt Hasselbeck in the sixth round in 1998 and traded him to Seattle for a first round pick three years later.

Quarterbacks are commodities that can be grown and then traded for profit. So the Dolphins might do well to pick up on that.

But I am not advocating picking a QB late in the coming draft and expecting him to be the backup. And I don't believe that's going to be Miami's thinking, either.

The fact is the Dolphins coaching staff (particularly coach Joe Philbin) needs a veteran backup who can have a reasonable chance to salvage a season if Tannehill is injured. The staff's job status is tenuous in 2015, as everyone knows, so they will want to maximize every opportunity to win. Losing the starting QB and handing the reins to a rookie selected late in the draft is career suicide.

And I do not believe Philbin and Co. are ready to commit to that.

So a veteran backup it is.

The most obvious choice is, hmmm, thinking, pondering, studying the lists, oh yes, Matt Moore.

Moore has been with the Dolphins since 2011. He took well to the Bill Lazor offense last year. He is a very good sounding board for Tannehill. He understands his role. He doesn't make trouble.

But if there is trouble on the injury front, Matt Moore has started 25 NFL games.

So re-signing Moore is probably option No. 1.

If, however, Moore thinks it is time to move on or gets a better offer from, say, Arizona, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Houston, Chicago, the New York Jets (Todd Bowles was Miami's interim coach in 2011 when Moore started 12 games), Tennessee, or Tampa Bay, then the Dolphins will have to go shopping.

And the list of free agent quarterbacks is loooong.

To wit:

Mark Sanchez.

Blaine Gabbert.

Josh Johnson.

Shaun Hill.

Tarvaris Jackson.

Josh McCown.

Jimmy Clausen.

Dan Orlovsky.

Matt Flynn.

Christian Ponder.

T.J. Yates.

Colt McCoy.

Michael Vick.

Tyrod Taylor.

Jason Campbell.

Brian Hoyer.

Ryan Mallett.

Hasselbeck (assuming he doesn't retire).

Jake Locker.

Sanchez has New York Jets ties to Mike Tannenbaum, the new Dolphins executive vice president in charge of everything and everyone except Joe Philbin, Tom Garfinkel, Dan Marino and Dennis Hickey. 

Flynn has ties to Philbin from their days at Green Bay.

Campbell (Washington), Hasselbeck (Seattle), Vick (Philadelphia) have ties to OC Lazor from his time with those teams as a quarterback coach.

And then there is one more name that you should not forget ... Josh Freeman.

Freeman was out of football in 2014. His fall from grace, not to mention accuracy, was both curious and cataclysmic. I mean, the guy is 6-6 and 240 pounds. He threw 25 TDs and only six INTs his second year in the league in 2010. He completed 61 percent of his passes. The future was sunshine bright.

And then he fell off the table.

His completion percentage dropped. His interception rate rose. He fell out of favor in Tampa Bay. He went to Minnesota and bombed. He was signed by the Giants last April but was cut in May and was out of the league last season.

He is an enigma.

And yet Dennis Hickey was part of the Tampa Bay personnel department that pegged Freeman as a first-round pick in 2009.

I'm not saying Hickey loves Freeman. I'm not saying he's interested.

I'm saying Freeman has ties to the Miami general manager. He is out there.

As is the next Dolphins backup quarterback.

February 11, 2015

On Miami Dolphins players at risk in the next couple of weeks PLUS Jimmy Wilson, LaRon Landry,

The Indianapolis Colts cut safety LaRon Landry five minutes ago. And not one Miami Dolphins fan has asked me on twitter (@ArmandoSalguero) if their team will be interested in signing the player.

What's the matter with you people?

Slacking?

That move by the Colts will signal the first of many cuts NFL teams, including the Dolphins, will make of veteran talent between now and the third or fifth or seventh day -- depending on the language of individual player contracts -- of the new league year, which begins March 10.

(Multiple players, including Mike Wallace, have clauses in their contract that stipulate teams must pay out a bonus or guarantee monies in the contract by the third-fifth-seventh day of the league year. This clause is meant so teams and players can have certainty because it is rare for a team to pay out guaranteed money for that year and then cut that player. Most of those type of players are cut before the guaranteed money deadline, which is always early enough that they can make themselves available by free agency -- a protection of sorts for them).

But I digress.

The point here is teams in the coming weeks will be finalizing their plans for cutting or keeping players that are under contract. Those decisions are often unveiled to player agents at the Indianapolis Combine, which is scheduled for next week.

So by next week, you'll start to hear of veterans under contract about to get cut.

For the Dolphins the list of signed players whose future with the team is unresolved include:

LB Dannell Ellerbe.

CB Cortland Finnegan.

OL Nate Garner.

WR Brandon Gibson.

WR Brian Hartline.

WR Rishard Matthews.

OL Shelley Smith.

WR Mike Wallace.

LB Phillip Wheeler.

DT Randy Starks.

All these players are signed for 2015. But for salary cap or other reasons the team must decide whether or not to cut ties in the coming weeks.

Some cuts, it must be noted, may take longer because the players don't have any contract clauses forcing Miami to action now and the team wants to wait until after June 1 to break ties for short-term salary cap benefits.

The problem with such cuts is the team doesn't typically want those players in the offseason conditioning program our at OTAs or minicamps because if they suffer a significant injury, the team could be on the hook for paying them.

Anyway, back to the safety issue ...

The Dolphins need to find a player to pair with Reshad Jones, who last season played great after his four-game suspension. Jones was simply one of the best safeties in the game once he came back. The only reason he wasn't in the Pro Bowl is because he was not eligible because of the suspension.

But the Dolphins need another safety. Louis Delmas was injured last year and is not signed for 2015.

I believe an easy, relatively inexpensive answer is right there -- under the Dolphins' proverbial bottlenose.

Jimmy Wilson.

Wilson is an unrestricted free agent in 2015. I believe the Dolphins would be wise to re-sign him now, if possible, to maybe a two-year deal worth $4-$5 million. That would be a raise for Wilson from the $1.4 million he earned last year and it would be a savings for the Dolphins from the $3.5 million they paid Delmas last season to be their starter.

Wilson wants more? Well, then let him go into the market and see what a mid-tier safety gets.

That's the business side.

On the football side, the reasons I like Wilson at safety are two-fold: He's tough. He's good in the locker room. He's a downhill player. And he's simply better at safety than at slot corner where the Dolphins have been playing him the past few years.

Safety Jimmy Wilson I can handle.

Slot corner Jimmy Wilson not so much. Poor.

The Dolphins need to address that slot corner spot and perhaps Jamar Taylor is the answer there.

And, yes, I know defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle has spoken about how much he likes Wilson at the nickel cornerback spot. But the metrics do not backup up the plaudits.

Wilson was the No. 94 graded cornerback in the NFL out of 108 according to ProFootballFocus.com. That is, um, not good.

But at safety, where Wilson started the first four games while Jones was suspended and the final three games after Delmas was injured?

Wilson was the No. 34 rated safety out of 87, according to PFF. That's not all-star material but that is solid. And with added experience and good coaching, Wilson, who will be 29 in June, may get better.

And what about Landry or re-signing Delmas?

Landry was 39th in the PFF ratings of safeties. Delmas was 51st.

Wilson was better.

Jimmy Wilson is a safety. If he and the Dolphins are smart, he can get a sizeable pay increase this year, stay with a team he knows in a place he knows, be a starter, and the Dolphins can fill a need while paying $1-$1.5 million less to upgrade the position from a season ago.

Not.

Rocket.

Science.

February 10, 2015

Where Miami Dolphins stand: You're going to HATE this

My short vacation allowed me to do some thinking about the Miami Dolphins (I'm a sick dude) and, unfortunately, that extra thinking gave me a headache because my opinion of the team's immediate future is not bullish.

My opinion right now is more like a reading of the Book of Revelation -- with plagues and tribulation, famine and drought before anyone comes out the other end.  

And "right now" is the key phrase here. Obviously things can change. Obviously free agency will  come around. So will the draft. Changes will definitely happen for the team this offseason and for their AFC East division rivals as well.

Things can change for the better.

(Yeah, things can get worse, too).

But right now, relative to the rest of the division, I'm simply down on the Dolphins. I feel pessimistic. And at the risk of bringing you down with me, allow me to explain why I feel how I feel to an audience of people that I recognize wants to believe everything will be alright and their team will be good in 2015 and unicorns will roam the sideline at Sun Life Stadium soon.

My thinking:

It starts with where the Dolphins find themselves today: They are an also-ran. They are neither good nor bad. They are, well, mediocre. This is a fact that has not changed over years of 7-9, 7-9, 6-10, 7-9, 8-8, and 8-8. This has been the case for years and spanning different coaching staffs.

And my trouble with this is not all mediocre teams are the same. Yes, their records may be the same but they may be in different cap situations. They may be at different stages of maturity. They may be at different moments in their history.

A team that is 7-9 under a first-year coach with a rookie QB seems promising. That kind of team has an arrow pointing up next to its name. A team that is 7-9 with an aging roster and looming cap troubles has an arrow pointing down next to its name.

And on this front I don't see the Dolphins in the best situation.

Consider that three years ago, in 2012, a new head coach with a rookie quarterback and a brand new and unproven coaching staff took the Dolphins to a 7-9 record. I think that was Joe Philbin's finest coaching job so far.

The Dolphins -- missing playmakers on the outside, installing a new offense and defense, in obvious building mode, and with significant cap space and draft picks ahead of them -- got to 7-9.

It was a time to feel good about the future.

But here we are two seasons later and the many and high draft picks, the tons of salary cap space, the added experience for the coach and his staff, adjustments, changes, and maturity resulted in ... one extra win in 2013 and status quo in 2014.

So the feeling that the Dolphins were steadily building toward something, that they were climbing toward better seasons has faded in my mind. Think about this: The Seattle Seahawks in 2011 had a 7-9 record just as the Dolphins did in 2012.

But they had a young and building roster. Although we didn't know it, they had a coaching staff that would include two men who would go on to become NFL head coaches. They found a rookie QB the next year and improved to 11-5. And won the Super Bowl the year after that. And went back to defend the title the year after that.

The progression was obvious in that, well, there was progression.

That, by definition, is building.

The Dolphins?

The record has stagnated.

But it is worse than that, in my opinion. While the record has not improved, the defense has aged. Cameron Wake and Brent Grimes, the two best defensive players, are in their 30s now. The interior line that was once so strong has become a question mark this offseason -- with the status of Randy Starks and Jared Odrick uncertain.

Meanwhile, the linebacker corps is worse now than it was in 2012. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan may retire or be cut.

Holes have popped up, as they always do. 

All this while the many draft picks the Dolphins accumulated haven't yet offered to fill the voids. Dion Jordan hasn't done anything yet despite his ample talents. Jamar Taylor and Will Davis cannot seem to stay healthy to the point defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said he still is not certain what he has there.

Offensively, I remind you the 2012 Dolphins were 7-9 with Brian Hartline and some slappys at wide receiver. So the team went out and fixed the problem.

Except, as any Dolphins observer understands, the problem is not quite fixed. Mike Wallace for multiple reasons hasn't been the dynamic deep threat he was supposed to be. Brandon Gibson has offered little more than a shrug's-worth of performance for a fairly high salary. Hartline got better in 2013 but his statistics fell off the table in '14 for multiple reasons.

And most fans are asking, does this team need to address the position again this offseason by cutting salaries or players or both? 

The offensive line, problematic in 2012 when it gave up 37 sacks, gave up 46 sacks in 2014. The rushing game, which gained 1802 yards with 15 TDs in 2012, gained 1872 yards with 12 TDs last season. In other words, two offseasons passed and the offensive line still is not fixed. The Dolphins hope, HOPE, left tackle Branden Albert will return to form after a significant knee injury last season. They hope right tackle Ja'Wuan James improves and Mike Pouncey can return to being a very good center. But the guard spots are still in flux. No certainty.

The backfield? The Dolphins need a running mate for Lamar Miller and possibly even an upgrade, too.

Charles Clay is scheduled to be a free agent as is backup quarterback Matt Moore.

On the bright side, which I have considered, quarterback Ryan Tannehill has taken significant, encouraging strides since his rookie season. If the rest of the team and coaching staff and win-loss record had improved as much as Tannehill has the past two seasons, the Dolphins would be a playoff team.

But ...

The window for error is almost gone because Tannehill's rookie contract offers only one more season. So now that period where the Dolphins were getting encouraging quarterback play at a relative bargain -- allowing them to use the savings to address other areas -- is just about up.

Ryan Tannehill may still offer encouraging play. But the Dolphins will pay approximately $15-$17 million per season in return. Before they were paying about $3 million per season.

The extra $7-$12 million in cap space Tannehill's new contract (depending on structure) will eat up means that is one or two fewer elite free agents the Dolphins can chase.

The margin for error will soon be smaller.

And here's the thing: Am I supposed to believe that a team that didn't make a significant jump with a wider margin for error will do exactly that with a smaller margin for error?

The Dolphins, I remind you, needed every inch of that wide margin for error the past two years. They had, off the top of my head, approximately $36 million in cap space in March of 2013. They had a high first round pick and two second round picks.

And that grand opportunity and vast improvement by the quarterback resulted in one more win in 2013 and the same 8-8 record, or no growth, in '14.

This offseason, before the team gets about the business of taking steps forward, it will have to take some significant steps back.

Players will be cut or asked to take pay cuts to make salary cap room because the Dolphins are scheduled to be about $2 million under the cap otherwise.

And fans that greet this with a cheer must remember this: When you cut a player, the mistake doesn't simply disappear because you typically have to replace him. So resources that might have been used to address another area of need, of which the Dolphins have several, now has to be used to retrace an old step and replace that cut player.

In other words, the Dolphins will be plugging holes they thought they plugged in the past on top of the holes they failed to plug. 

So folks saying, "Cut Wallace, cut Ellerbe, cut Wheeler, cut Starks, cut Gibson, etc ..." also have to complete that thought and say, "And draft or sign linebackers, and draft or sign a WR, and draft or sign a defensive tackle and then address the needs the team had before it cut those guys." 

That is a lot of work to do in one offseason.

Which leads me to another truth ...

The 2012 Dolphins were a building team. They had holes. They knew it. But despite all that they salvaged a 7-9 record (again, good job by Philbin) and went merrily into an offseason expecting to make an exponential improvement.

The 2015 Dolphins are not a building team. On defense they are an aging team with no obvious stars waiting in the wings to pick up slack much less offer significant improvement. On offense, they are still dealing with obvious holes and may have to deal with more holes depending on salary cap cuts.

The building program that started with such promise in 2012 failed. The team hasn't been to the playoffs. The bonus draft picks are gone. The whopping cap space is gone.

It is going to take a superhuman effort to get better.

The only way it happens is if Tannehill becomes Tom Brady and carries the team on the field while Joe Philbin becomes Bill Belichick and figures out how to maximize talent that other teams dismiss.

Yeah, I don't see both ends of that possibility actually coming to pass.

That's why I'm not feeling optimistic about the Dolphins today.

February 04, 2015

Miami Dolphins rolling out new season ticket prices

The Miami Dolphins this weekend or early next week will roll out a new pricing plan to their season ticket members that club Senior Vice President - Chief Marketing Officer Jeremy Walls says will reflect the upgrades to Sun Life Stadium without necessarily digging much deeper into the pocket of the club's fans.

Yes, that still will mean a ticket increase in some sections of the stadium. The most expensive seat in the house, which will come with a litany of perks, is going to exceed $1,500.

But Walls, who declined to outline the entire ticket structure until season ticket holders see them, said Wednesday that prices for 56 percent of seats in the stadium are staying flat. He said 14 percent of seats will be going down in price. That means more than 45,000 seats will either stay flat or drop in price.

That also obviously means 30 percent of the 65,000 seats in the new Sun Life will be priced higher than seats in the same area in 2014. But 17 percent of those 65,000 will be going up less than $5.

Walls said only 13 percent of the stadium's seats -- or approximately 8,000 seats -- are going up more than $5.

The median Dolphins season ticket was No. 19 compared to the cost of season tickets for other NFL teams last year. Walls said that will rise but not substantially.   

"We will still be somewhere in the middle to the bottom tier after the price adjustments," Walls said. "The overall view of this, as I look at a construction crane outside my window here, is the bowl as we knew it is completely different. We've already ripped out all the seats. We're in the process of knocking down the concrete along the sideline. So the seating bowl is totally different. And from there we've created all new seats and seating experiences for fans across all budgets."

Sun Life Stadium will go from approximately 75,000 seats to 65,000 for 2015 as the stadium is modernized. Despite the lower capacity and a $400 million price tag on the modernization, the club is not going to require fans purchase a personal seat license (PSL) as other teams opening new or modernized stadiums have done.

The modernization will make Sun Life different. And so season ticket customers will get an opportunity to adjust their seating arrangements.

"Sometimes you'll see a team select the seats for the ticket members," Walls said. "We chose to say, 'No our members will want to pick their own.' So we're going to let them do that. It will all be based on tenure so the longer you've been a member of the Dolphins, the sooner you'll be able to pick your new location in the stadium. And they'll be able to do that several different ways."

A preview center will be finished at Sun Life within a week or so. That will provide a virtual view of the stadium as it will look in both 2015 and '16 when the modernization is completed and topped off with a canopy over the stadium. Visitors will also be able to sit in actual seats. There will also be opportunities to picks seats online or over the phone with the team's service representatives as well.

The biggest price change will come to the seats that were previously at the 30 yard lines on the south side (no sun side) of the stadium.

"For the handful of people whose seats were changed, we definitely took that into consideration," Walls said. "We have seating options for them at the same prices they're paying now a section over from where they're at or across the way, if they want to sit on the north side, and pay the same price. We wanted to have good options for everyone. We did factor that in when we set our prices." Living room 2

There will be 16 "Living Room Boxes" on each south side 30-yard line. Each box has four seats with televisions and access to a club -- called the '72 Club -- that will offer all-inclusive food and beverages, including liquor. Folks who don't want to walk to the '72 Club have the option of having wait service staff attend to their needs.

Living Room Box members will also get private sedan service to and from the game.

"It's a high-end, exclusive experience," Walls said. "We did not have that in our current stadium so we felt in addition to building experiences for fans that want to come to the game at a lower price point, we also want to offer a high-end premium experience."  

Not everyone can opt for those seats. There are other choices.

There will be an basketball arena sized number of seats under $50. The Dolphins will also have seats that are $34 and others that are $42. The lowest priced seats will be in the upper bowl. Most of those will stay flat in price.

"We took out the 10,000 worst seats," Walls said. "But we will still have 17,000 seats that will be under $50."

The seats that coming down in price?

The former end zone club seats will be among those because they no longer exist. That means the end zone seats are coming down from $160 to $85.

"If you're a club seat holder now, you're in between the sidelines," Walls said. "If you want a nice seat in the 200 level in the end zone, you're paying $85 versus $160. The only difference is you don't access to that club anymore."

Walls said the Dolphins policy is to communicate and perhaps "over communicate" with season ticket holders. So club representatives have been talking to fans for several weeks about the new stadium and the new ticket plans.

"We've been spending the last three weeks," Walls said. "We've been having two-way conversations with almost half of our season ticket member base. Explaining this is a whole new stadium. It's a complete reset. But, 'Hey, you get to come down and pick based on your tenure.'

And what is the reaction so far? Are people accepting the changes?

Walls says he expects the retention rate to be better than 80 percent. He also said The Dolphins have 3,500 new deposits for season ticket memberships which is double what the team had at this time in 2014.

"Early indications show that," he said. "I think people are understanding the scarcity. We had seven games paid over 70,000 last year and we're going to have 65,000 seats next year. We took out the 10,000 worst seats. I think people are getting excited about the new stadium and that it is actually happening."

But what about the team? The team was 8-8 last year. It was 8-8 the year before. Why should fans pay more for that?

"That's a great question," Walls said. "And I would say 70 percent of our seats are staying flat or going down. Only a small portion is going up."

February 02, 2015

Patriot: Wallace issue a sign of mental weakness

[Note: One final post from the Super Bowl before I take a few days off.]

PHOENIX -- I was at one of the New England Patriots media availabilities last week, sitting with a Patriots veteran, when he apparently noticed my media badge that obviously had my name and affiliation on it.

"Miami Herald, huh? What up with your boy Mike Wallace?" this player asked.

Well, he's not "my boy," but I guess the fact I cover him associated us in this player's mind. So I told him how Wallace was not completely thrilled with the number of opportunities he had (or didn't have) to help the team. I didn't even get into the season-finale benching thing.

And this is what this player told me that I had not considered before:

"To me, that's mental toughness," he said. "When things ain't going your way you got two choices in my mind. You can bow up and get tougher and fight through to try to change the situation. Or you can complain.

"Even if you got cause and complaining is what most people would do, if you take that road that makes you mentally weak in my book. This team here, the men in this room are some of the most mentally tough [expletives] I've been around. They don't bitch. They don't quit. They just work."

So, I asked, isn't easier to be mentally tough when things are going well and you're on a winning program? Wouldn't it be tougher for those same "mentally tough" Patriots to plow through if they were on a floundering team like the Dolphins?

"You must not of known about how we started the year," this Patriot said. "We [were] not a good team then. The Dolphins kicked our behinds. The Chiefs kicked our behinds. But we put our nose to the grind. We put our heads down. We worked. We focused on what we had to do to make it right. Nobody was happy. Nobody. But nobody complained. We worked. We didn't blame coaches. We didn't blame each other. We didn't say [expletive]. Every man did his job."

And those four minutes I spent with this New England player who I cannot name because we were just talking and I'm not sure he knows my phone's recorder was on has made me think of the Wallace issue in a different light.

Look, Mike Wallace is a hard worker. He is not a quitter. He is not soft when he's on the field. But he obviously allowed the pressure of performing up to his contract to get in his head. He allowed his frustration to be well known among his coaches, teammates, and finally the public.

And that, in the eyes of other professionals, is a sign of weakness. It's not about physical weakness or toughness. It's about mental weakness.

I never considered that before.

Patriots just ... keep ... winning ... year after year

PHOENIX -- I've been witness to the last 14 years in the AFC East. I've watched the Miami Dolphins closely. I've seen the Patriots as they've won the division 12 of the past 14 years and then have advanced to the Super Bowl six of those years, winning four of them, including Sunday evening.

And it is clear to anyone with eyes:

The Patriots are going to keep doing this.

What they've done is not a coincidence. It is not happenstance. It is, as I write in my Super Bowl column, part of the Patriot Way.

As long as Tom Brady continues to be the quarterback. As long as Bill Belichick continues as the New England head coach, the Patriots will continue to dominate the AFC East. For our purposes, I'm not even talking about winning Super Bowls, which the Patriots are excellent enough to do. I'm talking just winning the division so forget the idea that one handoff to Marshawn Lynch would change things.

And that simply means Buffalo, New York and the Dolphins will by playing for second place again in 2015. That is simply the way it has been. That is simply the way it will be until or unless something significant changes.

By significant, I'm talking something significant happening in New England. Maybe Brady finally retires in two or three years. Maybe he gets injured as he did in 2008, which opened the door for the Dolphins to win the division. Maybe Belichick moves on.

But as long as those guys are running things in New England, the rest of the division simply is not good enough to overtake them.

Brady, by the way, has no plans of retiring or losing his abilities anytime soon.

"I have a lot of football left in me," he said Sunday evening after winning the Super Bowl MVP trophy for the third time, this time coming off a four-touchdown performance against the NFL's best defense.

“Well, I love doing it, so I don’t want it to end any time soon," he added this morning. "A lot of decisions that I make in my life are about how to sustain it, and that takes a commitment in and of itself. ‘You’ve got to put it in the bank,’ as Coach always says. It’s there when you need it."

Brady is committed to working hard, eating right, living in a manner that will help him extend his career. And so far, at age 37, he's still going strong. Last night, with his team down 10 points in the fourth quarter, he directed two touchdown drives, going 13 of 15 on consecutive TD drives.

It can be depressing to Dolphins fans.

Belichick, meanwhile, will continue to do what he does in surrounding the quarterback with talent we may not think is good enough but he thinks is right for his team. And he knows what that talent looks like. And he and his people have found it consistently. And those guys continue to make plays, as Malcolm Butler did Sunday.

It is uncanny.

But, again, it is not coincidence.

If you are among the AFC East group that has been trying in vain to unseat the Patriots the past 14 years, you have to hope for a lightning bolt to help you overcome.

Maybe you find a quarterback that suddenly is much, much better than Brady. Maybe you hire a coach that can do Belichick one better. Maybe your roster of complementary talent overflows and becomes better than New England's.

Something.

So far, none of that has happened in Buffalo. Or New York. Or Miami.

The Dolphins might (and this is a big fat hopeful might) have that quarterback in Ryan Tannehill. Maybe Tannehill takes that giant leap next year that he hasn't yet taken his first three seasons and becomes elite. Me? I'm more confident Andrew Luck will be the AFC's next dominant elite quarterback. But do the Dolphins have the coaching to compete with Belichick?

The Bills might (and, again this is a big might) have that coach in Rex Ryan. Ryan has had more success against the Patriots with no quarterback than anyone else in the division. But do the Bills have a quarterback to compete on the level of a Brady?

The Jets have neither the quarterback and their coach is unproven.

So unless something truly fantastic happens in one of these places ...

... Or unless Brady and/or Belichick collapse in New England ... the Patriots will remain the class of the AFC East.

Yeah, depressing.