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65 posts from March 2012

March 06, 2012

Will Dolphins 'sell the farm' in free agency this year?

Several times last season I had Dolphins sources complain that the team was not spending enough money and certainly not as much as it could to be more competitive. Following one such column, I had a Dolphins official call me a "(bleep)-stirrer" for giving the sources a forum to complain the Dolphins were being cheap frugal.

I was between and betwixt because the Dolphins didn't offer to open their books to me.

Well, according to figures acquired from NFLPA sources, the folks complaining the club wasn't spending had a good point. According to the NFL Players Association, the Dolphins were one of the bottom five cash spending teams in the NFL. Miami joined the company of Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, Cleveland and Chicago as the lowest spending teams.

And what does that mean? It means that while the club was spending effusively to buy up tickets so that fans could see home games on local television, it didn't exactly put too much cash on the table for actual talent that, you know, might want to make the fans go to the stadium to see.

Said another way, the Dolphins were very conservative with their cash in free agency.

Now, this is not meant to point the finger at ownership. I really cannot point the finger for this approach at anyone because I don't know exactly where the decision to be cheap frugal originated. I don't know if it came from owner Stephen Ross as a means of saving money or if general manager Jeff Ireland decided the talent available on the open market wasn't worth the price of Dolphins involvement.

But I do know this: The Dolphins kept their pennies.

And that leads me to this question: What will the team do this offseason?

Obviously, the idea that abounds is that Miami will be a major player in free agency because Peyton Manning is a major move that will not come cheaply, regardless of how many folks keep suggesting he's going to sign a small, cap-friendly, incentive laden deal with little or no guaranteed money. The truth is Manning is going to be the focus of a bidding war between several teams and the healthier he seems, the higher his price will be if he's a free agent. You must remember that Manning's agent is Tom Condon and he doesn't sell off his players cheaply.

So if the Dolphins are going to chase Manning as we expect, they will be spending money. But beyond that, I would urge caution in expecting the Dolphins to be major free agency spenders.

I've been told the Dolphins will approach free agency with a budget and a plan that does not include a "sell the farm" approach. If you expect Miami to get Manning, and add a receiver, and a pass-rusher and a tackle in free agency, you are kidding yourself.

Miami has neither the cap space nor the desire to spend that much cash to solve so many issues in free agency. I would expect a measured approach. Maybe they add Manning. They will try to re-sign a defensive lineman, either Paul Soliai or more likely Kendall Langford, maybe they sign another starter after Manning if the price is a bargain.

But Vincent Jackson? Or Mario Williams? Or anyone that would be considered a free agency treasure?

Not expecting that.

I believe most of Miami's wants and needs beyond Manning will come from the draft.

I think that is probably a fair-minded approach. But if the Dolphins don't do much in free agency beyond a Manning attempt, then that should raise eyebrows. That would suggest the team is being cheap rather than frugal.

Adding Manning is supposed to change things. It's supposed to put the Dolphins in win-now mode because Manning is getting no younger. They need players to put them over the top beyond Manning.

That will present Miami with a bit of a dilemma if they wish to be frugal. Again.

We'll see.

 

March 05, 2012

Road to Dolphins cleared for Reggie Nelson

The road to Reggie Nelson? Wide open, people. Wide open.

The former first-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars was something of a disappointment early on but he found his way to the Cincinnati Bengals in 2010 prospered under secondary coach Kevin Coyle. Nelson, 28, had four interceptions, eight passes defensed, two forced fumbles and two sacks last season

Well, Coyle is Miami's defensive coordinator now. See a connection building?

And Nelson, from Palm Bay High school, is a Florida native. More connecting.

And the Dolphins have been searching for an upgrade at free safety. More connecting.

And the Bengals had the chance to franchise Nelson but decided instead to put the tag on kicker MIke Nugent.

hOpportunity!!!

So if the Dolphins want to bring in a player who knows the new system and will be ready to call coverages in the secondary for that system the first day, Nelson is your guy.

It should be noted the Dolphins got one interception out of the free safety position last season -- that one coming from Reshad Jones.

By the way, the Tennessee Titans were said to be interested in Nelson, but they franchised their own safety Michael Griffin thus they are probably off the free safety market.

Loyalty no longer an NFL tenet

Loyalty schmoloyalty!

Long ago, when I moved over to NFL coverage after covering the University of Miami for much of its football and baseball heyday, I was still bought in to the idea of team loyalty -- athlete to team, team to athlete.  I truly believed that athletes cared about playing for their team as part of a heartfelt tie to the colors, the city, the organization, the relationships, all that. And that teams felt a tie and kinship to their core players.

The idea was alive and well before free agency (I covered the Dolphins before the advent of free agency) but, I must admit, my beliefs began to change in Dan Marino's final days. The Dolphins, unwilling to carry the legend that had carried the franchise for so many years, cut Marino.

Marino did the noble thing and refused to cut ties with the Dolphins. He declined a couple of offers to go elsewhere and retired instead.

But the die was cast. I recognized that football is a business. Period. Loyalty is a viable bond only as long as the two parties are serving one another. And when that service no longer benefits one of the two parties, no history, nor heartstring, nor contract can keep the athlete and the team loyal one to another.

We have seen more than our share of examples of that through the years and, particularly, in recent weeks. Recently the Dolphins fired coach Tony Sparano despite the fact he had two more years left on his contract. Sparano was working for the Jets, a team he despised during his Miami tenure, within a couple of weeks of the regular season's end.

Last week we learned that Chad Pennington, who played for the Jets before he finished his career (apparently) with the Dolphins, has been tutoring Jets QB Mark Sanchez. Rich Cimini of ESPN.com reported Pennington, armed with a Dolphins playbook from the Sparano days, tutored Sanchez on what is expected to be his new system.

So the QB that left the Jets to come to Miami is now helping the Jets QB learn the Dolphins playbook likely to be used by the old Dolphins head coach who is now the Jets offensive coordinator. And if that doesn't cross loyalty lines, here's the kicker: That QB learning the old Dolphins system to use in New York might not be the Jets starter in 2012 if the Jets replace him with Peyton Manning, who is presumed to be departing Indianapolis after 14 great seasons because, well, because his time is apparently up.

Speaking of Manning, the day of decision for him comes this week, no later than Thursday. Despite my very well read Sunday column on why I don't like the idea of Manning to the Dolphins, it seems clear the Dolphins are going to be in line for him once he's released -- assuming the Colts do not pay the $28 million bonus due him that date.

The club's priority is not to trade a bounty of draft picks or combination of picks and players to the St. Louis Rams for the right to draft Robert Griffin III, according to several NFL sources, one of which works for the Dolphins.

Miami's talk with the Rams the past few weeks was preliminary and not by any means a signal that a trade is imminent. Simply, the Dolphins have apparently decided their priority is to get a free agent franchise QB -- albeit an aged, injured one -- than to gut their draft for a potential draft-day franchise quarterback who has yet to prove himself.

The only way the Dolphins are even players on the RG3 front going forward is if Manning goes elsewhere, such as Washington, Kansas City or, yes, the Jets.

Oh, and about that loyalty thing?

Manning is said to be ready for the eventual moment when he's no longer a Colt. He wants to stay in Indianapolis, I'm told by NFL people. He wants to finish his career with one team. But that team isn't going to be paying him $28 million on Thursday.

So the sides are more likely than not splitting -- loyalty to one another be darned.

March 03, 2012

Alleged video of Peyton Manning Friday workout

The video below of Peyton Manning throwing the football in a workout has hit the web and ESPN. It is sold as a video of Manning on Friday throwing at Duke University.

1. Manning has indeed been confirmed to be at Duke these past few days.

2. There is zero confirmation this is the Duke field or that the video is from yesterday, although ESPN ran with it as if it is legitimate.

3. The video was obviously taken without Manning's permission thus the poor and apparent undercover nature of it. It is only 27 seconds long. Can you say surreptitious?

4. If the video is legit, it shows Manning does have the ability to move fairly well.

5. If the video is legit, it shows Manning does have the ability to throw deeper patterns as one of his passes goes a good 50 yards.

6. Manning looks good but not great in the video. His drop is not quick. His spirals are all not tight.

7. The velocity on Manning's out throw is very good.

So that's a glimpse of what Manning is doing, assuming the video taken in secret is legitimate. That is a big assumption. I believe the grain of salt approach is best here.

Props to reader Michael Heck for passing the video along.

March 01, 2012

Riley Reiff to Dolphins at No. 8? Are you kidding?

Riley Reiff is a good football player, OK? I have nothing against the offensive tackle from the University of Iowa. I have watched a couple of games in which he has played and he's always performed well enough.

And that, coupled with his size and ability and smarts, is a reason he's considered a top of the first round type of talent. But to the Dolphins? Are you kidding me?

God, I hope not.

Seems Reiff to the Dolphins is a popular stream of thought among NFL draft analysts. ESPN's Mel Kiper penciled Reiff to Miami in his first and only (so far) mock draft. NFL Network talent analyst Bucky Brooks similarly has Reiff going to the Dolphins with the eighth overall selection. And NFL Network reporter Steve Wyche has the Dolphins picking Reiff as well.

I get it.

Reiff is an offensive tackle. He's perfect for the Dolphins to fill the void at right tackle -- even though he played left tackle at Iowa. And, of course, his connections to Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz makes him a natural for the Dolphins because Miami coaches Joe Philbin and Mike Sherman know and respect Ferentz and value his players.

But ...

Riley Reiff, for all his attributes and gifts and the logic of filling an obvious void, would be a terrible pick for the Dolphins at No. 8. Why?

Value.

There is simply not a great deal of value of picking a right tackle in the top 10 selections of the draft. No, there's no rule that says this is a fact. No, there's no philosophy or statistic that has proven this to be the case. But work with me for a second and let me state my case ...

{UPDATE: Since posting this, I got a call from an NFL scout who reads the blog and he told me he has Reiff as a guard. And he said he's not alone in the thinking. So there's that.]

The draft is not only picking the right players, but also getting them in the right round to maximize their value. And in the top 10 a team with so many needs as Miami has should not be investing on a player that neither will score points, nor prevent points from being scored. The offensive right tackle will never, not even on his best day, throw a TD pass, or intercept a pass, or sack the quarterback, strip him of the ball and run it in for a TD. He will never make a game-changing play.

And that game-changer is the only kind of player that brings value to a team in the top 10 picks.

Said another way, I want my team to pick a quarterback, a cornerback, a wide receiver, a 3-4 OLB or 4-3 DE. I want playmakers drafted in the top 10.

I do not want grunts.

Grunts are wonderful additions later.

Why?

Because grunts don't lead a team to the playoffs or the Super Bowl. Playmakers lead teams to the playoffs or the Super Bowl.

That doesn't mean I am against drafting offensive linemen later in the first round or anytime after that. And some special offensive linemen deserve top 10 consideration depending on a team's relative needs and whether the player is a left tackle or center.

But a right tackle? Or a guard?

In the top 10?

Quick, who was Green Bay's right tackle this year while they went 15-1? Quick, who was the last right tackle to be named NFL MVP or even his own team's MVP?

Yeah, thought so.

A top 10 pick is a premium, premium draft choice. It should be used to select premium, premium NFL playmakers.

And right tackles, no matter how gifted, do not qualify. Reiff, by the way, is No. 77 in the video below.