The Dolphins personnel department got lots of things absolutely right in 2008. Signing receiver Ernest Wilford as an unrestricted free agent was not one of them.
And while just about any fan would say the best way to correct the mistake is to simply cut Wilford this offseason, the Dolphins have not and might not be able to take that quick road to redemption with their enigmatic receiver.
The reason? NFL accounting rules have changed this offseason and that means teams, including Miami, must immediately account for the salary cap consequences of the moves they make. The fact there is no scheduled salary cap in 2010 has forced the NFL to change rules and one rule change is that teams can no longer defer the cap hit for a player into next year by releasing the player after June 1.
If a team releases a player this offseason, be it before, on, or after June 1, the entire amount of prorated guaranteed money comes due immediately.
So what does that mean to Miami as it pertains to Wilford?
Well, believe it or not, it would cost the Dolphins more money to cut Wilford in 2009 than to keep him on the roster. Here's how it works:
Wilford signed a four-year, $13 million contract last February that included $6 million in guaranteed signing bonus. Wilford, who caught only three passes all season, is due $1.5 million in 2009 base salary. Add the $1.5 million he costs the team in prorated bonus -- $6 million divided by 4 years = $1.5 million per year -- and his 2009 salary cap number if he stays with the team is $3 million.
But because the new rules would force the Dolphins to absorb the entire proration for all three remaining years of Wilford's contract if he is cut, he would cost the team $4.5 million against the cap were the team to simply get rid of him. That figure is the yearly $1.5 million prorated portion of his bonus multiplied by the deal's three remaining years.
Is that crazy? The Dolphins would actually cost themselves $1.5 million in cap space by cutting Wilford versus keeping him, an empty space costing more than one occupied by Wilford.
The numbers are simply against the Dolphins this year. It makes more financial sense for them to take Wilford to training camp and try, hope, pray, to get something out of the guy. Maybe he suddenly gets it and contributes. Maybe some other receiver-hungry team comes calling and the Dolphins can trade Wilford and his contract for a draft pick.
But simply whack the guy? The desire to make a produce-or-else point would have to be great because the cap consequences suggest it shouldn't be done.
One more thing: The numbers are in Wilford's favor this year, but they turn after this season, assuming there is a salary cap in 2010 and beyond. (One would have to be collectively bargained, as none is currently scheduled.)
Keeping Wilford for 2010 would cost the Dolphins $3.5 million against the cap, or $2 million in his scheduled base salary plus the $1.5 million bonus proration. But cutting Wilford would cost the Dolphins $3 million in cap space, a savings of $500,000.
In 2011 the situation grows more dire for Wilford and I would say he'll never see that season in a Miami uniform. He would cost the Dolphins $4 million in cap space that year, but only $1.5 million if the team cuts him. That year, Ernest will not go to camp.
This year, meanwhile, the numbers say he probably will.