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2 posts from March 5, 2013

March 05, 2013

Bowe deal helps set wide receiver market quite high

The wide receiver market is apparently set.

It happened Monday when the Kansas City Chiefs signed Dwayne Bowe to a contract that profootballtalk.com reports is worth $56 million over five years. That's an $11.2 million per season average and that includes $26 million in guaranteed money.

That's now the starting point for a top 5 receiver considered to be a team's No. 1 pass option.

It is also happening at the Dolphins practice facility and South Florida as the agent Drew Rosenhaus and the Dolphins are negotiating a new deal for wide receiver Brian Hartline. Hartline wants to stay in Miami. General manager Jeff Ireland holds him in high regard and wants to keep him.

And as I wrote Monday on this blog, the price point is $6 million per year on average. That's apparently what a good No. 2 wide receiver will cost in this market.

And so the market is set.

Why is this important?

Well, because if you've been paying attention you understand the Dolphins aren't done shopping. They will chase Mike Wallace in free agency. They will chase Mike Wallace in free agency. Here, let me say it one more time as I've been saying it since January, the Dolphins will chase Mike Wallace in free agency.

His agent will argue that Bowe's deal was something of a hometown discount done with one team and no other suitors. Wallace will have multiple suitors.

So Mike Wallace will cost more than what Dwayne Bowe cost the Chiefs. He considers himself a top 5 wide receiver in the NFL and because so many teams need a guy with his skill set, somebody is bound to agree with that assessment.

That means the Dolphins must be prepared to climb the money mountain well past the $11.2 million per year plateau to get Wallace. And they must be prepared to not only make him one of the NFL's highest-paid receivers, but also the club's highest paid player.

Obviously this deal won't reach the top of the mountain set by Calvin Johnson ($18 million per year) or Larry Fitzgerald ($16 million per year) but Wallace's deal will conservatively come in around $12-$13 million per year when this is all done.

(Peanut gallery: But Mando, that's too expensive for the Dolphins. They only have $36-$38 million in salary cap space and about $5 million of that must be held in reserve for the draft.)

Thank you, gallery. But the Dolphins have plenty of cap space to afford Wallace.

To understand that you have to look at the breakdown of Bowe's contract. His salary cap cost for 2013, for example, will be $4 million. His cap cost for 2014 will be $12 million. His cap cost for 2015 will be $14 million and his cap cost the final two years of his deal will come in at $13 million unless the team does something different.

Looking at this example, you see that a contract similar to Bowe's would easily fit within the Miami cap structure in 2013. A $4 million cap hit is nothing. Dimitri Patterson is slated to cost the Dolphins $4.6 million against the cap in 2013 and he is unproven in Miami. Karlos Dansby and Randy Starks will cost the Dolphins twice that amount against the cap and I assure you they will not score 6-10 TDs per season as Wallace might.

So the first-year cost is not only acceptable but inviting.

Obviously, the real hit comes after the first year. Wallace would be Miami's most costly player against the cap. But again, comparing to Miami's cap structure, it fits because the quarterback is still cheap, the $12 million hit you accepted for carrying Jake Long is no longer on the books, and Starks won't be carrying that $8.45 million cap charge from the franchise tag next year.

I will say this: Assuming the talks yield a deal with Hartline as the present arc of negotiations are heading, the Dolphins are likely to add only one more expensive wide receiver. The idea of re-signing Hartline and adding both Wallace and Greg Jennings (who will fall somewhere between Hartline and Wallace on a per season basis) is likely out of the question.

The Dolphins are expected to speak to Jennings, but he would be a fallback position if the Dolphins cannot land Wallace. He wouldn't come in addition to Wallace and Hartline unless the Dolphins are willing to go on the cheap for everything else.

Back to the point: The issue of adding Mike Wallace this year is moot if you're worried whether the Dolphins have enough cap space. They have more than enough with plenty left over to do other business.

But it will get expensive down the road. That apparently is the price of doing business in free agency.

Workouts will show Dolphins if Martin wants to be the LT

Monday was the start of the 2013 season for the Miami Dolphins.

It was the first day since last season's Super Bowl champion was crowned that Miami players returned to the club's Davie, FL. facility and started doing things to make themselves better in 2013.

There was weight lifting. There was running. I suppose there was some bonding in the locker room.

It was a start.

And it was very important for Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin.

Martin will be in his second season with the Dolphins in 2013. And he might also be in the spotlight. You see, if Jake Long does what many expect and goes to a new team the next couple of weeks, Martin immediately becomes Miami's new starting left tackle.

He will be charged with protecting quarterback Ryan Tannehill's blind side.

The job isn't new to Martin who played that very position the final month of 2012 while Long was finishing up on injured reserve for the second consecutive season. And Martin was something of a pleasant surprise in that he played as well or better on the left side than he did on the right side because the left seems to be his more natural position.

Indeed, Martin's play the final few weeks at left tackle might be the reason people in the Dolphins personnel department aren't actually giving birth to a cow over the idea of Long departing -- because, again, Martin held the position down without major incident.

(A major incident is defined as Tannehill's head being decapitated).

But if Long is indeed going to leave, the Dolphins need more out of Martin than him simply not stinking. They need him to win at that spot. He didn't do that nearly enough in his short tenure at LT. (He didn't really do it much at RT but that's not the point here).

In other words, the Dolphins need Jonathan Martin to go from a C-plus NFL left tackle to a solid B or B-plus player at that elite spot.

And to do that Martin needs to be a horse this offseason. His somewhat pear-shaped body needs some shredding and remolding. He's carrying 312 pounds on his 6-5 frame. So he's a big man. But he needs to get stronger in both the upper body and the lower body. His core is also weak or at least he sometimes plays like that.

So Martin needs to eat some nails for breakfast every morning and get in the weight room and morph. He'll have no better opportunity to do it than this offseason while he's still young, while he's still green, while he still has the giant leap of rookie to second-year player ahead of him -- the leap that often sees the greatest amount of improvement in NFL players.

If Martin can do that, some within the Dolphins organization believe Martin has the makings of a fine left tackle.

The question is will he do it?

Does Martin have the desire to do it? Is he willing to sacrifice the hours and effort it will take to remake his body? Will he work at it even though the stadium lights are not turned on? In short, is he willing to do something that he obviously has not yet done in his development as a football player?

That's the key question.

I don't know the answer. I don't know Martin very well, so I cannot tell you if he's willing to put in the work.

But I do know this kid is very smart. I do know he has a little bit of a nasty streak in him on the field. I do know he's been told he needs to get stronger to get better. And I do know he has said he understands.

But again, the distance between understanding what must be done and actually doing it is often the distance between being average and very good.

The Dolphins, by the way, have a grand advantage on this point. They see Martin every day. They will know if he's attending the workouts religiously. They will be able to measure his progress or lack thereof. They will know if Martin is walking the path to improvement or taking detours through the Burger King drivethru.

And that knowledge, I suppose, will be used to help determine their course in replacing Long if he goes. If Martin becomes a workhorse this offseason, then I'd expect the Dolphins will breathe a sigh of relief in knowing they have a viable replacement for Long already on the roster.

If, however, Martin stumbles, if he misses workouts or doesn't really LIFT when he's supposed to be lifting, then the team needs to consider other options. And Miami will need to do that in the coming weeks.

It's on the Dolphins. It's on Jonathan Martin.

The season has begun in earnest.