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4 posts from March 18, 2013

March 18, 2013

Tuesday notes from the NFL annual meeting

PHOENIX -- Some notes from the NFL annual meeting:

Bess still in the plans

The addition of receivers Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson as well as the re-signing of Brian Hartline and availability of Dustin Keller as a slot receiver seems to make receiver Davone Bess an odd man out but general manager Jeff Ireland said that is not the case.

“Davone is an excellent inside slot receiver,” he said. “Gibson can play inside or outside. Brian can play inside or outside. Mike Wallace with his speed can get vertical. Obviously with Dustin Keller at the tight end position. Our depth right now is exceptional. We’re not making any bold predictions but we certainly have a vision for Davone.”

No panic at cornerback

The Dolphins lost cornerback Sean Smith to free agency last week and that means the team has now lost both its starters of 2009-2011. So where do the Dolphins fill the void?

“I like some of the players we currently have,” Ireland said. “Picking up Dimitri Patterson last year was a good complement to us. Richard Marshall was hurt a majority of last season. He looks like he’s in great shape at this point. There’s still an acquisition period we’re going through. We’ve got a couple of players we’re looking at.

“We knew where we were if we lost Sean. We’re not panicking. We’ve got a great plan in place.”

Lamar Miller time

With the loss of leading rusher Reggie Bush, the question has been what will the Dolphins do at running back in 2013. The answer seems clear because Ross in naming the team’s many expected playmakers added a running back’s name.

“Lamar Miller,” he said unsolicited.

Dolphins not finished adding speed

The Dolphins were obviously, depressingly slow last season as a team. Watching them operate from their own 30 was like watching most other teams in the red zone. Watching the defense run was troubling despite the fact coordinator Kevin Coyle made sure guys were in good position.

So the Dolphins added speed at receiver, tight end, both the Mike and Sam linebacker spots and, well, the offseason isn't over.

“You can see where the NFL is going," club owner Stephen Ross said. "It’s about speed and the passing game and excitement. And that’s what I think we’re developing there. And I don’t think we’re done.”

Ross: Tannehill-Moore as good at QB as anyone

PHOENIX -- The Dolphins are making a ton of moves in free agency and have more to make, accoriding to general manager Jeff Ireland who today opened the door on more signings, trades and then the draft as serious possibilities for upgrading the team in the coming months.

But, let's face it, the Dolphins are going to be only as good as their quarterback.

It's on Ryan Tannehill to improve dramatcially on a 12-TD, 12-interceptions season for the Dolphins to be a playoff team in 2013.

But count club owner Stephen Ross as very excited about Tannehill's prospects. Indeed, Ross spent part of his time on his private jet to these annual meetings watch Tannehill play at Texas A&M -- as a wide receiver. 

"This guy's an athlete and he's a very bright guy," Ross said in a meeting with the South Florida media. "You put those skills together, that's what really excited me about it. He as a person and what he's capable of, you put it as a package and people recognize this guy is winner. And complementing him with Matt Moore, I think we have as good a one-two punch at the quarterback position as anybody. He's going to get there. I feel confident."

Ireland wasn't ready to be quite so effusive but he didn't want to contradict his owner.

"I'm not going to put expectations on a young quarterback," Ireland said. "It's a continued development."

So I asked Ross if he really believes Tannehill and Moore as as good a combo as, say Tom Brady and Ryan Mallett. Are they as good as Alex Smith and Matt Cassel? Russell Wilson and Matt Flynn?

"I didn't say that. I said the comination," Ross said. "I don't know what they have behind [Brady] but the combination of working together and knowing we have depth and two fine young men, I'm very excited about that. Is that wrong?

"I said he's developing," Ross continued. "[Tannehill] is not there. It's only his second year. I see him doing it. I'm not saying he's going to be Tom Brady or Peyton Manning next year but he's developing."

Whatever he meant, it is clear the Dolphins are excited about the prospects of having Ryan Tannehill and Matt Moore back for 2013."

The Miami Dolphins tackle direction

PHOENIX -- Remember the names Sebastian Vollmer, Eric Winston, or any of a number of draft picks on the board that might be able to play left tackle, including Oklahoma's Lane Johnson.

All are options the Dolphins have confirmed to me, through sources, they will study in an effort to fill the void left by Jake Long's signing with St. Louis.

But for the moment, and perhaps much longer, Miami's new left tackle is Jonathan Martin. The man who played the spot last season when Long went on his now habitual December injured reserve sabbatical  is today the Dolphins new left tackle.

"Right now he is," Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland said today at the NFL annual meeting.

Are the Dolphins upset Jake Long is gone?

Yes. And no.

The team will miss his grittiness. The players may miss his leadership. 

"I've got nothing but LOVE for Jake! The Rams just got themselves one hell of a leader! Not to mention the toughest dude I know," guard Richie Incognito tweeted today.

But Miami's coaching staff and personnnel departments were ready for this possibility. They set a price for Long -- that was not as high as what the St.  Louis Rams gave him, but in the ballpark. And although the club could have increased its offer to Long, they really didn't to any significant degree.

In the end, as I wrote here, Long picked the team that offered him the most money and with whom he felt most comfortable. A source close to Long told me this morning the Rams simply made Long feel more wanted. (Obviously the money was part of that but there were other issues at play including lifestyle issues.)

So where do the Dolphins go from here?

The club is closing in on finalizing a deal for Nate Garner, according to The Herald's Adam Beasley, but that is not the answer. Garner is viewed by the team as a solid and valuable backup tackle who can start in a pinch. But, again, he is not the long-term answer.

A club source told me this morning the team plans a corresponding move to upgrade the offensive line. That move isn't necessarily the signing of a left tackle. Indeed, the best offensive lineman on the market now is New England's Sebastian Vollmer, who is a right tackle.

It is possible the Dolphins go after Vollmer to upgrade at right tackle and move forward with Martin at left tackle. It must be noted that Vollmer comes with red flags. He missed all of training camp last year with back issues. He played throughout the season, even practicing during the week, but the back was constantly an issue for him.

He also suffered back issues in 2011.

So the Patriots have not bent over backwards (pardon the pun) to re-sign Vollmer.

Eric Winston is a short-term possibility. He's been cut two consecutive offseasons and that speaks to his relative value or over-value in some sense. If the Dolphins show interest in Winston, and they have not yet, it will likely be as a stop-gap situation -- perhaps a one- or two-year deal. Winston is also a right tackle.

If the Dolphins wanted to make a commitment at left tackle, I suppose they could chase Andre Smith. Hard to believe they'd do that. Smith has struggled with weight issues in the past. He solved those last year but, of course, that was his contract year.

He is a mauler. He was good last year, but not great. He wants big money.

I'm thinking Smith is not a Dolphins kind of guy. He's not a great system fit. He's doesn't sound like a Joe Philbin guy. He's expensive. And there are lots better (also cheaper) options in the draft.

Bryant McKinnie?

Don't see it. He's going to be 34. He was a backup for Baltimore all of last year until the playoffs because he was out of shape. He finally got in shape in time for the playoffs and played very, very well. McKinnie also has obvious South Florida ties as a former University of Miami player.

But, again, he's not a system fit. He's not a Philbin kind of guy. He's a guy that you have to worry about being out late at night at the local clubs. He's going to be 34. Did I mention that?

Maybe he's an short-term injury option. Maybe he's a desperation pickup after the draft. I don't see him as the answer now.

Long takes best deal available, becomes a Ram

PHOENIX -- In the end, Jake Long went with the most money.


The St. Louis Rams offered him the biggest contract he had on the table -- a four-year, $34 million deal that included up to $20 million in guaranteed money, if he stays healthy -- and he went with that. Football is a business as well as a sport.

Long made a business decision.

The Dolphins offer that hovered around $8 million per year but offered him a chance to stay with the same team and came with built in tax advantages, was not enough. A late Pittsburgh Steelers offer to play for a perennial winner -- neither the Dolphins nor Rams have been to the playoffs for years -- was not in the financial ballpark.

Long did not get the $10 million offer he wanted from anyone.

And the sweet but fanciful bring-jake-home twitter campaign by some teammates and fans ultimately fell on deaf ears.

"There were other teams other than Miami and St. Louis," agent Tom Condon said. "The deal makes a lot of sense for Jake. It makes a lot of sense for the Rams, especially for the quarterback."

Condon joked that St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford texted him when the news of Long's signing came out. "He's excited," Condon said.

Long spoke with St. Louis Post Dispatch early this morning. He mentioned the "great family atmosphere" surrounding the Rams. He mentioned falling in love with the "entire vision of the Rams organization."

He said he didn't visit with the Dolphins over the weekend, as was reported here on earlier Sunday. He didn't mention that St. Louis had the best offer on the table.

The Dolphins seemingly had a price point on Long and although there was room within that, they generally stuck with their belief of what Long is worth, I'm told.

The reason the team didn't blow Long away with an offer is it apparently is not sold that Long is the same player he was when he was drafted first overall out of Michigan. According to YahooSports.com there have been conflicts within the Dolphins organization about bringning Long back at all.

The club also has a "Plan B" for replacing Long.

I do not know what that is. Perhaps the club offers Cincinnati left tackle Andre Smith. Perhaps the club makes a push for New England Patriots right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. (Vollmer is a right tackle but has played some at left tackle). Eric Winston is also on the market as a right tackle and that might be a direction the Dolphins take, perhaps on a one-year basis.

Perhaps the club goes to the draft and plucks one of the many left tackle prospects with the No. 12 overall selection.

The Dolphins can also draft or sign a right tackle and hope second-year player Jonathan Martin grow into the left tackle spot. Martin finished the season at left tackle after Long blew out a left triceps muscle and finished the year on the injured reserve list.

(Martin was bad in his pass-blocking assignment at left tackle. Long yielded four sacks last year to Martin's two, but those two came in 200 fewer pass protection snaps. And in those fewer snaps, Martin allowed more hurries than Long.)

An aside about Long and his injuries: The Dolphins wanted Long back. No doubt about it. But they also have a full understanding -- they believe the most intimate understanding -- of Long's physical condition. And their offer reflected that understanding.

Let's face it, Long is a gifted and solid player. But his spate of injuries the past three years have taken a visible toll the past two seasons. He's finished both those years on injured reserve. His play has declined. His body hasn't been the same.

Last training camp he talked about "feeling the healthiest I've felt in years." But the player who once ran conditioning drills with linebackers was doing it with his other offensive linemen now, according to one player. And as healthy as he felt at the start of camp, he finished right where he was the season before.

On the injured list.