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65 posts from March 2013

March 18, 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.

Period.

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.

March 17, 2013

Setting the record straight from NFL annual meeting

PHOENIX -- The NFL's annual meetings kicks off early Monday morning with meetings and discussions and votes on an array of topics. The meetings will also serve as a way from Dolphins people to talk directly with the media that covers them.

The talk is necesary because somebody has to set the record straight.

That talk in which owner Stephen Ross, general manager Jeff Ireland and Executive Vice President of Football Operations will  be available to the media is scheduled for Monday afternoon.

Before that talk, allow me share with you record-correcting information I gathered today while reporting from the Biltmore Hotel where the meetings are being held:

One: Left tackle Jake Long did not visit the Dolphins facility Saturday in some cosmic attempt by the Dolphins to get him to re-sign with the team. That rumor was out there when several national and a one local reporter put that information on twitter.

Not only was Long not at the facility, I'm told, but the Dolphins staff themsevles weren't either. Ireland and Aponte and coach Joe Philbin were in Arizona already on Saturday in advance of these meetings.

Long remains a player the Dolphins want back on their team. But it cannot happen at his initial asking price. Long has a decision to make. His choice is return to the Dolphins or go play for the St. Louis Rams.

This is coming down to the wire. Everyone at the meetings expects Long to be signed within the next 24 hours. Who's he picking?

Miami or St. Louis.

Two: There has been speculation (including by me) that the addition of Mike Wallace, Brandon Gibson and re-signing of Brian Hartline made the situation look grim for Davone Bess. Understand that Miami signed two inside linebackers (Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler) the first two days of free agency and got rid of two (Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett) as a result.

So it seems logical when guys come, somebody's got to go.

That's not necessarily how the Dolphins see it. They have no plans to cut him, I'm told. Yes, if some team blows Miami away on a trade, then Bess, like most of the players on the roster is available, but the likelihood of that is not very high.

At this point the plan is to let Miami's receivers compete for playing time. Bess, who finished the 2012 season on injured reserve, is expected to be part of that competition.

By the way, Dolphins fans have to get away from the idea that a team needs only three good wide receivers. The Dolphins currently have four receivers who have started games in the NFL and produced. That is a good thing.

Finally, Burnett who as noted above was cut last week, signed with the Raiders on Sunday. Interesting that he got a deal before Dansby, who has been a higher-paid player the past couple of seasons. Also interesting, the player Burnett will replace in Oakland is Phillip Wheeler -- who signed with the Dolphins.

March 16, 2013

Elvis Dumervil if Jake Long walks

Jake Long is back in South Florida after his marathon visit to the St. Louis Rams. Interestingly, Elvis Dumervil, a Miamian, is also in South Florida because the place is his home.

Both are unrestricted free agents.

Both are very accomplished players at their positions.

Both have flags.

Both have been to the Pro Bowl.

Both are likely to get around $8 million per season from the next team they play for. Both want more but, hey, that's about the market right now, guys. Maybe even less.

So if you're Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland do you continue to try to re-sign Long as he's been doing for a couple of weeks now? Or do you shift focus to Dumervil?

After all, the Dolphins would like Long back as a blindside protector to Ryan Tannehill. But they would love a pass-rush phenom to place at the other defensive end position opposite pass-rush phenom Cameron Wake.

Two possibilities. Can't do both. What to do?

I conducted an unscientific twitter poll about this Friday. I got over 200 responses in five minutes. Fans voted 95 for Long, 84 for Dumervil, 15 for both and 10 for neither. There were other smartaleck answers as well but they didn't get counted.

Of course, what fans want doesn't much matter to the Dolphins. Sounds harsh but it simply is true. They conduct business based on what they believe is the proper course.

But this is where I fall on this one:

I cannot fathom the Dolphins selecting Dumervil over Long because it would upset their salary cap structure specifically as it relates to Wake. Remember Miami's Pro Bowl defensive end signed a five-year, $33.2 million contract with the Dolphins last year.

It was a brilliant deal by the Dolphins because a 15-sack pass-rusher is worth much more than $6.6 million per season. Michael Bennett, a one-year wonder nine-sack guy just got $5 million for one year from Seattle after visiting the Dolphins.

Well, if the Dolphins add Dumervil at $8 million per how is that going to sit with Wake?

Maybe Wake is a saint and sees it as help for the team which is awesome. Maybe Wake even looks at it as a being a help to him because suddenly offensive lines cannot always slide their protection to him. But maybe Wake sees it as screwy that he's making less than a teammate who last year accomplished less elsewhere.

No, that's not simple Xs and Os thinking. But any team that only considers Xs and Os and doesn't think about chemistry in the locker room is shortsighted.

So I suppose I agree with getting Long over Dumervil.

But ...

What if Long goes to another team? What if all the effort the Dolphins have made getting him is for naught. What if the cap space they budgetted for him suddenly comes free?

Well, then I would say go chase Elvis Dumervil.

Turn a loss into a win if you can. Draft a tackle in the first round and replace Long cheaply while making the defensive line a monster.

(Peanut gallery: But Mando, what about that chemistry issue with Cameron Wake?)

I call Wake and tell him the plan. I share with him that the move is afoot and it is meant to improve the team and take the team to the playoffs and perhaps even shorten Tom Brady's days in the AFC East. I make sure he understands he will benefit from this move.

I make sure he's on board. I don't give him the opportunity to complain.

And then I add a proven 9- to 17-sack guy.

Yes, he's short. Yes, he's 29.

But yes, he'd be a great addition.

March 15, 2013

Brent Grimes visits the Dolphins

That stuff about the Dolphins slowing in free agency because they were waiting on Jake Long? No.

After signing both TE Dustin Keller and receiver Brandon Gibson today, the club also announced it hosted a free agency visit by cornerback Brent Grimes.

Grimes is a six-year vet who has spent his entire career with the Atlanta Falcons. He made his way onto the team as an undrafted free agent and made the Pro Bowl in 2010. He has played 59 career games and has 13 career interceptions but last year played only one game due to injury.

Grimes tore his Achilles' tendon in the season opener and missed the rest of the season. It is unclear whether the 5-10, 183-pounder is fully recovered from that injury but it must be said the full recovery time for such an injury is usually more than six months.

Grimes, 28 in July, is the first cornerback visiting the Dolphins following the departure of cornerback Sean Smith.

Smith signed with the Chiefs after the Dolphins showed little interest in retaining him. Little interest is defined as the Dolphins didn't offer him a contract.

Cornerback is considered a deep position in this year's draft.

The Dolphins need help at cornerback and will get it either in free agency or the draft or, more likely,  a combination of the two. The only cornerbacks the Dolphins have on the roster with starting experience are Nolan Carroll, Richard Marshall, Dimitri Patterson and Jimmy Wilson.

Carroll started last year but lost his job late in the season. Marshall spent most of the season injured nursing a bad back that required surgery. Patterson was a late-season addition who started one game and promptly got injured. Wilson made one emergency start in 2011 but is considered mostly a nickel or dime player.

This has been a terrible year in the free agent market for corners. Grimes would be a good pickup as a stopgap or on a prove-it contract.

Gibson is a Dolphin, raises Bess questions

Brandon Gibson will be a Miami Dolphins by the end of the day, a source is telling me. He has agreed to a three-year deal, according to the Herald's Adam Beasley.

Why?

Gibson had 51 catches for 691 yards and five touchdowns for the receiver-starved Rams last year. Obviously that team is going in a different direction as Danny Amendola went to New England and Gibson will end up in Miami.

But is Gibson, 26 in August, a fit?

Obviously the Dolphins believe so. He is not a speed receiver as Miami has been chasing. He is 6-foot and 205 pounds so he's not small.

This immediately raises the question how adding Gibson affects Davone Bess. Well, I am trying to get the answer to that.

At best, Bess is going to have some competition. So is Brian Hartline, by the way. But as the Dolphins have already shown this offseason, they are adding but also subtracting talent when the upgrade is made. Hartline is not going to be cut as he just signed a new deal with guaranteed money.

Consider Bess at risk until we hear otherwise.

Bess caught 61 passes for 778 yads in 13 games but finished the season on the injured reserve list.

What would fake GM Salguero do in this situation:

I keep Davone Bess for now. He only costs $2.6 million against the cap. He's well-liked in the locker room. I let him go to camp and compete and if he's one of the best three receivers he plays a lot. And if he's one of the best four, he's a great insurance policy.

And if he isn't any of the above I trade him for a sixth or seventh round pick.

By the way, Gibson no doubt impressed the Dolphis when they played the Rams last year. He caught seven passes for 91 yards and that was his second best game of the season. But perhaps he left a lasting impression based on the 22-yard catch on the video below:

 

Dustin Keller: Dolphins over the Jets

Dustin Keller just spoke with the South Florida media and the most interesting things about his 10 minute chat follow:

That Jets versus Dolphins rivalry everyone of you pour over?

"Once we got to free agency all that was out the window," Keller said. "I just wanted to check the market and see whre everything was. Coming into the Dolphins and speaking with all the coaches, it was a good fit."

Keller says he had interest from multiple teams but ultimately his choice narrowed to the New York Jets or the Miami Dolphins.

"It was really between those two," he said. "Other teams were talking but there really those two teams that came down to and once I made the visit it made my decision pretty easy."

Why?

"We had talked to New York as well but what it came down to was it was a better fit for me. I had a great time in New York but it was time to move on for me. I see my future here in Miami. I see a bright one. I feel like I'm going to be surrounded by a great lockerroom and just great guys and coaches that are going to help me thrive."

I understand that you'll read that quote and perhaps wonder why Keller is talking about a future in Miami when he only signed a one-year deal. Look, that deal gives Keller an opportunity to prove what he believes is his true value.

If he somehow finds great chemistry with quarterback Ryan Tannehill and catches, say, 60 passes for 800 yards, the Dolphins will obviously want to keep him in the fold and could easily do that before he hits free agency.

Keller, being a competitor, is thinking that will be the case. He's not meditating on the possibility he'll get injured again or will simply be overshadowed in the Miami offense. He's expecting big things.

Keller met with multiple coaches including position coach Dan Campbell, who he apparently has great respect for. He also met head coach Joe Philbin.

"They're all about winning and winning now," Keller said. "I know they've had some rebuilding years. But this is the time for them to win and that excited me more than anything."

 

Long leaves St. Louis, Dolphins 'encouraged'

Jake Long may still join the St. Louis Rams someday. But probably not today.

After three days of dining and meeting and poking and prodding and, yes, negotiating, Long left the Rams facility earlier without a contract from that team. That is a blow of sorts for Long who expected he'd have a deal with the team once his medical exam checked out.

It's also a blow for the Rams who wanted Long as their blindside protector of quarterback Sam Bradford.

The Rams did offer Long a contract, according to a league source. But it wasn't for the terms the Long camp want.

Meanwhile, as I've been reporting for days including today the Dolphins continue to want Jake Long back in the fold. They have continued to try to get him back throughout this process.

Now, keep yourself from making the leap that Long leaving St. Louis without a deal and Miami pushing for a deal means it is a certainty Long will return to the Dolphins. A league source told me today Long has multiple teams interested in him and that he is willing to explore those interests.

But, on the other hand, I'm told the Dolphins are very encouraged by today's happenings. The last time the Dolphins told me they felt things were looking good was earlier today and then the club agreed to a deal with TE Dustin Keller.

A reminder: The Dolphins have a Plan B if Long bolts, I am told.

But it is not correct to believe the Dolphins cannot continue to do other work while Long hangs in the balance. The team obviously already disproved this by getting Keller. The Dolphins are also hosting wide receiver Brandon Gibson and want to get him signed as well at the right price.

Free agency has not stopped because of Jake Long. 

Dolphins agree to deal with TE Dustin Keller

The Miami Dolphins and tight end Dustin Keller are closing in on a deal that would bring the prospective New York Jets free agent to Miami.

According to league sources the sides are in the final stages of getting a deal done. Although there is no definitive agreement yet, both sides believe one will be done barring last minute snags.

Terms of this deal are not available.

[Update: The deal is done. It is for one year.]

Keller, 29 in September, has 241 catches in the 72 NFL games he's played the past five seasons. He was the New York Jets first round draft pick in 2008.

The Dolphins needed to add tight end help for multiple reasons including the fact they lost Anthony Fasano, the starter since 2008, to the Kansas City Chiefs via free agency.

The club also wanted to upgrade the position with superior pass catching.

Keller brings some of that. He has never caught fewer than 45 passes in a season he played all 16 games and that despite the Jets obvious troubles at quarterback.

Keller is not considered a great blocking TE. He is considered a better pass-catching threat than the Dolphins have had since Randy McMichael, who last played in Miami in 2006.

Keller visited the Dolphins on Wednesday and Thursday. He was looking for a long-term deal but his price was clearly beyond what the Dolphins were willig to pay long-term. By signing a one-year deal, the sides agreed Keller would have a chance to prove his true value in 2013 and return to free agency in 2014 for a chance to get a better deal.

The Dolphins were previously linked to Oakland's Brandon Myers but showed no significant interest in him.

Twitter gives an insight to Long, Keller situations

I love twitter.

I wrote something on twitter on Wednesday and within 30 minutes it was on profootballtalk.com and a few minutes later the Dolphins texted me to clarify their position.

Twitter on Thursday also let us know the sense of apparent frustration Jake Long is having as his marathon visit to the St. Louis Rams dragged into a third day.

Despite a Wednesday report that Long's deal was done, despite being reportedly cleared by the Rams medical staff, despite a whirlwind tour of the city and multiple meals courtesy the team, Long still was unsigned as of this writing.

"I know you guys want answers right now, we do too! It's all going to work out for the best and we'll let you know when we know!" Mrs.Jackie Long, the offensive tackle's wife, tweeted just before midnight.

Look, contracts take a while. But slam-dunk deals don't take this long. This is obviously not a slam-dunk.

The Rams, desperate to get a blindside protector for quarterback Sam Bradford, are apparently not that desperate. If they'd given Long his asking price, it would have been done already.

The Dolphins, meanwhile, continue to tell me re-signing Jake Long is currently their free agency priority. I do not know whether they have made Long another offer -- they've made at least two that I know of -- but I imagine they have parameters and I supposed they have wiggle room within those parameters.

Me, I think it's better to set an offer nearly as high as you're willing to go and if the player doesn't bite, move on and continue conducting business.

As to the conduct of that other free agency business, I see the Dolphins as wanting to address some needs on offense. They brought in tight end Dustin Keller for a visit Wednesday and Thursday and hosted Rams receiver Brandon Gibson Thursday and part of Friday.

That's a good idea because, as I say in my column today in the Miami Herald, addressing the offense should remain the priority this offseason.

Offense.

Offense, offense, offense, offense, offense.

That last sentence, by the way, was more offense than the Dolphins showed in most games last season.

But I understand sometimes that adding players on offense is a matter of timing. The Dolphins can't go full in for some players when they've got the Long decision (and his contract) hanging in the balance.

And sometimes a deal is hard to strike early in free agency when a player has delusions of financial grander. And this is where I introduce you to Damien Keller. He is Dustin Keller's brother. And, God loves me, he has a twitter account.

And on that account on Wednesday just before Dustin arrived for his Miami visit, Damien tweeted: "If Jared Cook is worth 5 yrs, 40 million... How much more does that mean Dustin Keller should be getting?"

Two things:

Cook actually got a five-year, $35.11 million deal from the Rams. It has $19 million guaranteed. He's getting $21 million the first three years. The contract is a legit $7 million per season deal.

So it is a huge deal for a tight end of Cook's past modest production. No wonder the Dolphins didn't get this done.

Yet the thinking from the Keller family is that the prospective New York Jets free agent is worth "more," as Damien tweeted?

Really?

Dustin Keller is a $4 million a year tight end all day. He's a very nice complement on a team with other weapons. But he is not elite. He is not $7-million-a-year good.

Do you understand why he left the Dolphins without a deal Thursday? He will continue to look for more money. He will not get it from the Jets. My understanding is he might try the Giants, or the Buffalo Bills. His agent reached out to the Denver Broncos.

I don't think any of those teams will pay his price either. Actually, the Bills, the hot mess that they are, might do something for him because they're desperate and stinky and dumb.

But if not, Keller's price will drop. And if it drops to more palpable levels, the Dolphins should still be interested. 

 

March 14, 2013

Dolphins interest in DE Michael Bennett makes sense

Agent Drew Rosenhaus has a gift for getting the Miami Dolphins interested in his clients.

Sometimes that's been a problem such as the year he got tight end Eric Green to Miami as the signature free agent signing when the team really needed a defensive end. Sometimes, it's blessing.

Consider this a better moment because the Dolphins are interested in prospective Tampa Bay free agent defensive end Michael Bennett, a Rosenhaus client.

Bennett, one of the top pass rushers on the free agent market, is visiting the Dolphins today, The Herald's Adam Beasley has confirmed. 

It makes sense.

Bennett, a five-year veteran, had nine sacks last season and the Dolphins desperately would like to add a classic 4-3 defensive end to put on the other side of the line opposite Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake.

Bennet also makes sense for Miami because of the familiarity. He played at Texas A&M under Mike Sherman, now the Dolphins offensive coordinator. It's not a stretch to believe Sherman knows his former player.

Bennett has 13 sacks in the last two seasons (in 30 games) and 15 sacks in his career. Tampa Bay has said it wants Bennett back but obviously has not done enough to get him.

Sean Smith to Kansas City

Turns out Vontae Davis had it right all along.

Sean Smith has agreed to a three-year contract with the Kansas City Chiefs, according to his agent.

That leaves a void for the Dolphins. But is anyone all that upset?

It should depend.

And it will, as many things do, depend on the money.

The Dolphins liked but didn't love Sean Smith. They never were intending to franchise him, as the Palm Beach Post reported. They never were intending to pay him the $8 million per season that Smith originally thought he'd be worth.

So the question becomes, how much did Smith actually get?

If Smith got his asking price (doubtful) then the Chiefs overpaid and you tip your hat to Smith and wish him well. Ciao!

Have fun covering Demaryius Thomas and playing against Phillip Rivers and Peyton Manning twice a year.

If, however, the Chiefs were more careful with their dollars and got Smith for a bargain -- say, $2-$3 million per season -- then the Dolphins made a mistake not keeping Smith.

[Update: YahooSports.com reports the Smith contract is three-years for $18 million with $11 million guaranteed.]

Smith, supremely talented but also supremely inconsistent, was worth some money, some respect, if for no other reason than not allowing cornerback to become a glowing hole on the roster.

My feeling is this likely will land somewhere in between the two obvious choices of overpayment and underpayment.

In either case, the Dolphins now need cornerback help.

Yes, there are guys available in free agency. Brent Grimes is out there. Aqib Talib is out there, although when he came out in the draft, the Dolphins had major flags on him and he's done nothing to change that as a pro.

But I see the team seriously considering cornerbacks in the draft. I've been told the Dolphins really like Florida State's Xavier Rhodes. He's probably the second-best corner on the market. He's 6-1. He ran a 4.4 at the combine. He's played top competition. He has the measurables.

Is he a can't miss? No.

But he is probably a first round caliber pick.

And don't be surprised if the Dolphins double down at cornerback during the draft. They did that in 2009 with Vontae Davis in the first round and Sean Smith in the second round. Of course, that didn't exactly work out exceedingly well, as we close the book on both.

Mike Wallace contract numbers interesting

So Mike Wallace signed a five-year, $60 million deal, right? It had $30 million in guaranteed money, right?

Well, yes.

And no.

According to spotrac.com (very good website), records at the NFL Players Association and a source who has shared details with me, Wallace actually got $27 million in guaranteed money.

He got an $11 million signing bonus plus a guaranteed $1 million base salary in 2013. And his 2014 base salary of $15 million is guaranteed. That's $27 million guaranteed.

But the Dolphins also gave Wallace a $3 million guarantee if he's injured. That one only applies if the player's career ends and he cannot play out the final years of his deal.

So the agent can truthfully say it is a $30 million guarantee.

The beauty of the contract is Wallace's cap number is only $3.2 million in 2013. That's very, very low for a $60 million player.

The beast of the contract, however, is Wallace's cap number in 2014 shoots up to a whopping $17.2 million. That is the highest number of any NFL wide receiver save Larry Fitzgerald.

The numbers drop somewhat the following years. The 2015 base of $9,850,000 plus the $2,200,000 prorated signing bonus make the 2015 cap number a more managable $12.05 million. Interestingly, the base salary becomes completely guaranteed on the fifth day of the league year, according to spotrac.com

That means that if the Dolphins plan to keep Wallace that year, they simply do nothing. But if he has not lived up to his deal the previous two years and the team wants to cut ties, it will do so before that deadline.

Wallace's final two years -- 2016 and 2017 -- are mirror images financially. He's scheduled to earn $11,450,000 both years and cost $13,650,000 against the cap both years. 

-------

As an aside, I offer you the Chris Clemons contract:

One year. $2.75 million. It contains $250,000 in signing bonus and a base salary of $2.5 million.

What does this mean?

The Dolphins like Chris Clemons.

They do not love Chris Clemons.

He's on the team to compete for a starting job. But if the Dolphins find someone better in the draft, he's still cheap enough to play on special teams and the contract makes it possible that he can even be cut for a relatively inexpensive $250,000 hit.

If I'm Chris Clemons, I work hard because I know I have a chance to start. But I don't feel all that safe.

Dolphins still vying for Jake Long even as he visits St. Louis

Jake Long, who has a gift for his economy of words when speaking with the media,also has a very vivacious and outgoing wife named Jackie.

That's right. Jake and Jackie Long.

Anyway, while Jake guards his privacy about as jealously as he does his quarterback's blind side, Jackie is more open. Jake has declined to speak with local media throughout his free agency period, selecting only national outlets to get out his message. Jackie, meanwhile, has a twitter account.

And that twitter account has been informative as to what's going on and how torn the couple is as they decide their future -- either with the Miami Dolphins or St. Louis Rams.

"Great dinner last night. Hoping to get everything figured out soon. No matter what happens we feel so fortunate." Jackie Long tweeted this morning from St. Louis where she and her husband awoke to a second day of a free agency visit.

Long spent nearly seven hours getting his physical from the Rams on Wednesday. Yes, perhaps the longest physical in the history of NFL free agency was probably a thorough investigation of the big man's multiple  former injuries -- biceps, triceps, knees, back, shoulders -- as the Rams decide how much they're willing to invest in Long.

As that physical was happening yesterday, Jackie Long had to correct an erroneous report in the South Florida Sun Sentinel that Long has agreed to terms with the Rams.

"Alright hold up everyone," Jackie Long tweeted minutes after the report went on the newspaper's website. "Nothing is official yet."

The report was vehemently denied through sources by the Rams who said not only was there no agreement, there were no terms that had even been discussed. The report was eventually taken down.

The Dolphins, meanwhile, remain hopeful they can get Long back. They have discussed contract details with Long's representation multiple times. They see Long taking trips as a way to set the market for his worth.

Long returning remains so important, the club was worried a tweet from Bryant McKinnie announcing he was on a plane to South Florida would be interpreted as him visiting the Dolphins and that would upset Long.

So the club made clear that no visit from McKinnie was scheduled so Long might not get upset and move on.

I don't read tea leaves. So I have no idea which way Long is going to go on this one. I know if the Rams had blown the Longs away on a contract, they were prepared to go that direction.

That obviously has not happened, at least not yet. And so the Dolphins are still vying to keep their left tackle. Their offer, which obviously wasn't what Long believed he was worth, is holding up so far.

[Update: NFL Network is reporting the Rams are negotiating a contract with Long.]

I'm told the Dolphins have a "Plan B" if Long bolts. They obviously will not implement that until Long makes a decision.

March 13, 2013

Update on TE Dustin Keller

The Dolphins "missed" on tight end Jared Cook on Tuesday, if you call not wanting to pay $7 million per year to a player who had exactly three receptions more than Anthony Fasano a miss. Alright, I understand the infatuation with Cook but that sure is a lot of money for speed and seam-threat potential.

The Dolphins thought they had Cook at one point the past three days, I'm told. Then the Rams put on the full-court press, which is defined as money, money, money.

Fine, the Dolphins are moving on.

Today, Dustin Keller is visiting with the team, as I reported this morning. Well, more specifically the club plans to give Keller its own kind of full-court press. There will be meetings with coaches, dining with club personnel, and the physical.

The physical, which I'm told was taking place this afternoon, is key. Keller missed a lot of games last year with hamstring and ankle injuries. He had, however, played 64 consecutive games prior to that.

So the thinking here is if Keller is healthy and his physical checks out, then the Dolphins and his agent will be able to begin discussing contract terms.

The Dolphins are also expecting a visit today from wide receiver Brandon Gibson, late of the Rams. Gibson visited the Jets Wednesday morning but left town without a contract. He was flying to South Florida to visit Miami next, according to various New York media reports.

[Update: The New York Daily News is reporting Gibson is staying overnight. I'm reporting that barring a deal, he will fly to South Florida Thursday. He is also scheduled to visit Tennesee.]

Keller, by the way, has shown an ability to be quarterback friendly -- that is, he finds a way to be in place to get his quarterback out of a tough situation. No, he's not running a 4.49 in the 40 like Cook or maybe Vernon Davis. No, he's not going to block out the sun.

But he's efficient. He's been solid. He's played in big games, including two AFC Championship games. He would help Miami's cause if the Dolphins pull the trigger.

What will it cost?

A lot less than $7 million per season. Maybe half that.

 

Dolphins introduce Wheeler, Ellerbe to media

Skullking around Dolphins camp I've picked up a nugget here and there. Here's the top nugget I have relative to the Dolphins apparently curious exchange of linebackers from Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett to Phillip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe.

Thinks playmaking. Think pass coverage. Think more speed. Think youth.

And, as was discussed Tuesday, all for about the same cap charge or less than what the Dolphins had.

The Dolphins in 2012 were not happy with the fact the defense did not have players that got the unit off the field. Yes,Cameron Wake was one. But who else?

Neither Dansby nor Burnett came up with game-changing plays. But the team believes that is more likely to get that from Wheeler and Ellerbe.

Both Dansby and Burnett, hitting the other side of 30, started to struggle in pass coverage in 2012. The Dolphins didn't feel it was going to get better as the pair got older. Enter Wheeler and Ellerbe -- both of which are gifted in pass coverage and have perhaps more speed than Burnett and Dansby.

Both players showed their enthusiasm for being with the Dolphins today when they were introduced to the media.

Ellerbe described himself as someone "who plays like their hair is on fire."

Wheeler described himself at the start of his press conference by using the word, "aggressive" in a 30 second span.

Like it.

Ellerbe comes from the Baltimore Ravens. He knows something about beating the New England Patriots. That's important for the Dolphins because that is the team they have to unseat if they're going to win the AFC East.

""Sooner or later you have to make something happen<" Ellerbe said of how to play the New England offense. "You have to make a play or force a turnover."

Mike Wallace meets the media in South Florida

Mike Wallace said today he spent the past two or three weeks contemplating where he would sign as a free agent wide receiver and actually had "a couple of options," about teams to play for.

But when he studied the Dolphins he saw a 7-9 team "that was better than a normal 7-9" team. He saw a quarterback -- Ryan Tannehill -- that is young but "has a lot of upside," he thought. And then the the so-called legal tampering period opened and the Dolphins got out of the blocks like Usain Bolt.

"I really felt they were really aggressive since Saturday when we were able to talk," Wallace said.

The Dolphins and Wallace's agent Bus Cook agreed by Saturday that the contract for Wallace would be for five years and $60 million. But the deal was not yet done. The guaranteed money was still an issue. That took a while but eventually the Dolphins and Cook got to the $30 million plateau that matched the team record $30 million in guaranteed money Jake Long got when he was drafted No. 1 overall in 2008.

So what are the Dolphins paying for?

Safety Chris Clemons, who signed a one-year deal with Miami, was asked today if he ever remembers covering Mike Wallace. He did and this is how he described it:

"I had the middle of the field, corner played off, he took it to the house," Clemons said.

Dolphins fans will feel encouraged about that. On the other hand, they might also recognize Clemons is likely to be a Miami starting safety.

I asked Wallace if he would be able to provide the kind of production in Miami that he did in Pittsburgh despite the fact the personnel, including the quarterback, and the offensive system will be different.

Wallace said he's not worried about that and that, in fact, the Dolphins have a good quarterback situation. "Two of them actually," he said, referring to Ryan Tannehill and Matt Moore.

Wallace and Tannehill had dinner together Tuesday evening. They went to a local restraurant by the Intracoastal Waterway. Wallace thinks Tannehill and he will be fine. "He smiled a lot," Wallace said.

"It's going to be different playing with a QB that's younger than me," Wallace added.

Roethlisberger treated the younger Wallace like something of a little brother, the receiver said.

"Now I have to be the big brother," he said.

 

Unrestricted free agency: Day two activities to watch

The second day of free agency is likely to bring another flurry of activity with Dolphins connections.

To start, the club is trying to upgrade at tight end after failing to land their prime target Jared Cook on Tuesday. Today, Jets tight end Dustin Keller is scheduled to visit with the team. If Keller doesn't work out, the club may look into Oakland's Brandon Myers.

Keller, 29 in September, has been a steady performer for the Jets but last season was hurt much of the time and only played eight games. He was known as one of quarterback Mark Sanchez's favorite targets when healthy.

Keller is not necessarily an all-purpose tight end as his blocking has been oft questioned in the past.

The Dolphins need a tight end after letting Anthony Fasano move on to Kansas City.

Offensive tackle Jake Long is in St. Louis to undergo a thorough physical. The Rams want to get their bearings on Long's injury status -- particularly with his left triceps, right biceps and both knees -- before they commit to paying him any sort of significant money as a free agent.

This should play out pretty simply:

If Long checks out medically to the team, the Rams will try to close Long. With Jermon Bushrod (Chicago) and Sam Baker (Atlanta) off the market, Long is considered the next best availableleft  tackle -- assuming he's in one piece.

The Dolphins would like to have Long back. But they don't want to overpay for a player they know has been medically, what's the word, predisposed to injuries the last couple of years.

They have what they believe is a good value placed on Long but if the Rams, who need desperately to protect quarterback Sam Bradford, place a higher value on Long, he's gone. If it's a tie, my guess is Long leaves.

This has been an emotional time for Long (who knew he had emotions) and he's been somewhat frustrated by the Dolphins not entirely trusting his health. By the way, I applaud the Dolphins for not trusting.

So really the only way the Dolphins keep him is by outbidding St. Louis. I suppose there is a chance Long takes other visits, but my guess is today will be a big day for him.

Today will probably also be a big day for Reggie Bush.

He is in Detroit to visit with the Lions. They are already on record as offering Bush a deal worth "well north of $3 million per season" and they want him as their lead running back.

So really, all that needs to work here is a fit and comfort level for Bush and the team. Yes, Bush has other suitors, most notably the Arizona Cardinals. But the Cards don't have much of an offensive line or proven answers at quarterback.

Bush is getting to that time in his career where he wants to be on a winner. The Lions offer that potential much more than the Cardinals do. Look for Bush to sign today as well if his questions are answered.

Bush isn't coming back to the Dolphins.

On yet another front, Sean Smith is a curious case. His agent was expecting a big market for his client but that big market didn't show up on the first day of free agency.

Indeed, the first day was something of a disappointment for the flooded cornerback market.

Darrelle Revis wasn't traded -- yet. Namdi Asomugha was cut by the Eagles, and the most notable signees were DeAngelo Hall in Detroit, Darius Butler in Indianapolis and Bradley Fletcher in Philadelphia.

Not exactly earth-shattering stuff.

Smith was originally supposed to visit Kansas City. But the Chiefs made other moves and are not bouyant in salary cap space. Agent David Canter also said Smith would be taking other trips but declined to name the teams.

Whenver an agent says that, he's trying to gain leverage for his client. Smith may indeed have multiple clubs wanting him to visit. But it's clear none at this point are willing to meet his demands of a contract that pays $8 million or so per year.

That kind of deal gets done quickly by a team with cap space and a strong conviction on a player. If Smith isn't done by the end of the day, it will strongly suggest no team is willing to do that kind of deal for him.

And with each passing hour, the chances of Smith returning to the Dolphins increase because, well, his market shrinks and looks closer to what Miami valued the player at. So today is huge for Sean Smith.

As to the players the Dolphins are still hoping to land, I keep hearing the name Brandon Gibson.

The Rams free agent wide receiver is visiting the Jets today. But he has other suitors. A league source said Gibson might take as many as four other trips -- with the Dolphins being one of them.

But ...

It's clear that in the preliminary talks Gibson's agent had with teams, the Jets stepped up the most and thus get the first visit. If the Jets don't close, the market for this receiver drops somewhat.

The Miami vision for Gibson is interesting. Yes, he's a wide receiver but he's very, very much a possession guy. He'd be a third wide receiver on the Dolphins behind Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline. He might be a bigger Davone Bess.

And so if the Dolphins add Gibson, what are they going to do with Bess?

If the Dolphins do not re-sign Sean Smith, the club has free agent options but those will be of the cheap variety. Miami showed interest over the weekend in Detroit's Chris Houston and San Diego's Antoine Cason.

Houston, however,  was reportedly negotiating a three-year deal with the Lions on Tuesday. We'll follow how that plays out.

Cason is a player the Chargers would like back but at a reasonable price. He made $1.2 million in 2012. He's a big corner at 6-1 and he has 12 interceptions in his five-year career. I like him more than Smith, to be honest.

The Lions and Browns also have shown interest in Cason.

Brent Grimes is a player the Dolphins had some interest in but that seemed to cool somewhat even as other teams seemed more enthusiastic.

Derek Cox, formerly of Jacksonville, is also on the Miami radar. He fits Miami's desire for a big cornerback more than Grimes. He's 6-1. He's aggressive. He makes plays as his four interceptions in 12 games during 2012 attests. He has an injury history the past two years, but he finished strong last year. He's another one I like more than Smith.

[BLOG NOTE: Tuesday was the greatest single day for unique visitors and total page views in the seven-year history of my blog. I had as many visitors yesterday as I normally get in a week. But don't stop now. There will be lots of stuff going on today, so check back regularly for updates.]

 

March 12, 2013

Ireland happy, cap in good shape, more moves coming

Jeff Ireland landed the one that could not get away. He landed Mike Wallace.

So how does the Dolphins general manager feel about that?

He's pleased.

"We are pleased to reach an agreement with Mike Wallace," Ireland said in a statement. "He has a unique skill set which we believe will be a welcomed addition to our offense. We are looking forward to his contributions to the team."

The Dolphins just announced the Wallace signing because it took a while to hammer out some final language on the deal and get it approved by the league. The team also had to wait for Wallace to take a physical.

The Dolphins also made official the one-year contract for safety Chris Clemons. The club did not make official the signing of Phillip Wheeler as he was flying across country to South Florida this evening or Dannell Ellerbe, who also was flying into town.

"We are also happy to announce an extension with Chris," Ireland added. "He has been a valuable contributor to the team the last four years, and we are glad he will remain a member of the Miami Dolphins."

Valuable but not invaluable. The Dolphins have shown that they're willing to stick with Clemons as the short-term answer at safety. But they are not ready to make a multi-year commitment. He needs to play better for that.

Meanwhile, all the day's activity will leave the Dolphins with approximately $20 million in salary cap space. That is not all available.

The team will budget approximately $6 million for the draft, another $3.2 million for the practice squad and another $2 million for emergency moves during the season. Obviously this is an in-season budget and not the Top 51 cap figure.

The Dolphins can create cap space by cutting players -- as they did today with Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett.

(Example: In replacing Burnett with Phillip Wheeler, the club saved $800,000 in cap space. That is, Burnett's cap savings of $3.2 million (including $2.5 million of dead money) minus the $2.4 million cap charge Wheeler will carry this year.)

Possible future cap casualties include Dimitri Patterson ($4.6 million savings), Richard Marshall ($4.6 million savings), Davone Bess ($2.6 million savings) and Dan Carpenter ($2.6 million savings).

I'm not saying the Dolphins will release those players for cap reasons tomorrow. I am saying they are all candidates to be cut if they do not perform or the team needs cap room. They should all tread lightly.

Dolphins reworking practically entire LB corps

The Dolphins have just come to contract agreement with free agent linebacker Phillip Wheeler, according to profootballtalk.com, on a five-year deal worth $26 million.

That is starter money.

And now Kevin Burnett's days with the Dolphins are numbered.

[Update: Burnett has been told he will be released according to Jim Trotter of Sports Illustrated.]

First things first:

Wheeler is 28 years old and coming off his finest NFL season. He started 16 games with the Raiders and had 109 combined tackles with three sacks, and two forced fumbles. He had six passes defensed.

That playmaking, plus his reported $13 million in guaranteed money means the Dolphins' vision for the player is as a starter.

So, Burnett is at risk. Yes, he was the second-leading tackler on the team. But the Dolphins are cutting leading tackler Karlos Dansby so that doesn't mean anything.

This does:

The Dolphins want more game-defining play and quicker linebacker play on defense. Dannell Ellerbe, who agreed to a deal earlier today, brings that. The Dolphins seem to think Wheeler does also.

Burnett, signed in 2011 as an unrestricted free agent, contributed similar numbers for the Dolphins to what Wheeler gave the Raiders. But he's going to be 31 years old during next season. And he is scheduled to cost the Dolphins $5.7 million against the cap.

If the Dolphins decide that's too steep for a player on the wrong side of 30, they can cut him and save $3.2 million in cap space. Considering that Burnett will also cost $7 million against the cap next year, the signing of a younger player seems visionary.

There remains a chance the Dolphins simply want to add Wheeler, along with Ellerbe and keep Burnett. That thus replaces Koa Misi in the starting lineup. Misi could be headed to defensive end.

But the more likely scenario is that Burnett should be sweating.