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65 posts from March 2013

March 05, 2013

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. 

March 04, 2013

Fewer LTs on the market, but solutions still available to Dolphins

The franchise tag deadline has come and gone and two offensive left tackles were designated as practically untouchable by their teams.

Ryan Clady in Denver and Branden Albert in Kansas City are two of the eight players carrying the franchise player tag now.

So both are effectively off the free agent market for teams searching for OT help of any kind and LT help in particular.

That helps Dolphins LT Jake Long.

A market that two weeks ago seemed loaded with potential LTs is thinner now thanks to the franchise designations and the New York Giants wisely locking up LT Will Beatty to a five-year, $38.75 million deal last week.

(Stop for a second and recognize that Beatty, a better player than Long lately, got a deal averaging $7.75 million per year. And Long wants a deal around the $10-11 million per year mark. Hmmm.)

Anyway, that leaves Long, Atlanta's Sam Baker and New Orleans's Jermon Bushrod as the most viable free agent LT prospects -- assuming none re-sign with their current teams before the March 12 start of free agency.

Considering multiple teams, including Arizona, St. Louis and Chicago, might be searching for experienced LTs in free agency, that should help the players that hit the market.

But we are still a long way from believing that free agency will be a boon for Long.

First of all, both Baker and Bushrod had better seasons than Long last year, although it was by a wide margin for Baker and only marginally so for Bushrod. Secondly, the draft is full of solid left tackle prospects.

And then there is this little-recognized fact:

The right tackle market in free agency is loaded with talent. Seriously.

Cincinnati's Andre Smith, New England's Sebastian Vollmer, and Minnesota's Phil Loadholt all enjoyed excellent seasons last year. All will hit free agency barring new deals with their current teams. Smith, I will grant you, comes with a buyer beware tag. Just saying.

The draft also has mutliple viable right tackles that probably aren't suited for LT.

What does that mean?

It means if the Dolphins continue to balk at paying a premium for Long -- a wise move -- they can solve their tackle issues a different way.

They can keep second-year player Jonathan Martin at left tackle and sign one of the above mentioned right tackles as an offensive line upgrade that will come much cheaper than Long. They can draft a left tackle, probably in the first round, and find themselves paying much less for a younger player than what Long is demanding. Or they can move Martin to left tackle and draft a right tackle -- probably in the second or third round -- and let that stand as the cheapest way to address the need.

There is more than one way to skin a gato. (Yeah, I speak Spanish).

And unless I miss my guess, the Dolphins are considering all of those along with the idea of getting Long back.

 

Starks to be Dolphins franchise player ... what that means

The Miami Dolphins intend to place the franchise tag on defensive tackle Randy Starks.

It is not a surprise. Indeed, it is the only logical move the team could make as the team's other looming free agents -- Sean Smith, Brian Hartline, Jake Long -- either would have been too expensive to tag or can be easily replaced this coming season if they play elsewhere.

Starks will be on the books for up to $8.4 million. That comes directly off Miami's salary cap space, which is now around $37 million. That is still enough to tender restricted players, sign draft picks and sign or re-sign a full complement of free agents.

A note: Did I mention Sean Smith is not Miami's franchise player? Seems that so-called report that said Smith would be tagged was as erroneous as I've been telling you.

Anyway, there will be fallout from the Dolphins action today.

First, Starks is not happy. He didn't want a one-year tag. He wants a multi-year contract. He may still get it as the two sides can continue to discuss such a deal, but much of his leverage is effectively removed because free agency is no longer a viable option.

Secondly, expect Jake Long and Sean Smith to hit free agency. The club has talked with both players and that has led to, well, no deal with either. Both players have a very high regard for themselves (which is good) while the team has a more realistic regard for them (which is also good). In plain English that means both Smith and Long expect to make much more in the open market than the Dolphins have been discussing.

The market is the tiebreaker. The players will go into the market to determine their value. The Dolphins want both back but at their price. The players want their price. I would say the chances of Long returning to Miami are much better than Smith.

Smith is eager for the start of free agency so that he can "get paid," according to a source. That is his priority. He doesn't as much care where he plays as he does about being paid playing there. The Dolphins believe they can replace Smith with a comparable if not better player either in free agency (more expensive) or the draft (much, much less expensive).

I would say cornerback is a major need for the Dolphins now as they traded away their best cornerback, Vontae Davis, last year and are about to lose the other starter of the tandem Davis once crowed was the best in the NFL.

Long?

He doesn't want to take a pay cut. And considering he made $11.2 million last year, that's saying something. The Dolphins meanwhile are looking around the NFL and seeing that the price for outstanding left tackles is more in the $8-$9 million annual range. Assuming that goes up a little bit, I'd say it's probable the market will have to determine Long's worth.

The Dolphins still want Long back -- probably moreso than they want Smith back. They see Long as a quality player whose play falters when he gets injured. They see Smith as an inconsistent player even when healthy.

On Hartline, the sides continue to talk. Agent Drew Rosenhaus is nothing if not persistent. Hartline wants to remain in Miami and believes he has a chemistry with quarterback Ryan Tannehill. But he also wants $6 million per season.

Obviously, the Dolphins have so far resisted this price point. Both sides at this point believe something can get done before the start of free agency.

It is possible the Dolphins might decide paying $8 million for another, more accomplished wide receiver such as Greg Jennings is better than paying $6 million to Hartline. The Dolphins are almost certain to chase Mike Wallace as their top free agency target, as well.

 

 

March 03, 2013

Randy Starks open to giving Dolphins a discount, not wild about 'clearance' price or franchise tag

Monday at 4 p.m. (EST) is the deadline for NFL teams to apply the franchise tag to their looming unrestricted free agents. And since Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland has said the team will likely use the designation and defensive tackle Randy Starks seems a logical designee, as I told you on Feb. 19, we await what seems inevitable.

Apparently Starks has gotten wind either directly from the team or other avenues that he might be a franchise tag target -- particularly since negotiations for a long-term deal haven't exactly proved fruitful.

[Update: The Dolphins do indeed plan to place the franchise tag on Starks, sources say.]

So Starks on Sunday did what NFL players in 2013 do when they have something to say.

He took to twitter.

"I want to be a Dolphin!!!" Starks tweeted with multiple exclamation points. "Not just for one more year ..."

Well, clearly it seems Starks wants to be with the team longterm and not just for the one-year franchise designation. That franchise tag would guarantee Starks up to $8.45 million for one year in exchange for the exclusive rights to him. It would also cost the Dolphins that same amount off their salary cap space. But it is effectively only a one-year deal.

And Starks wants a multi-year contract.

And on that topic the Dolphins and Starks agent Tony Paige have been discussing a deal but the sides have opposing views of what that discussion is over. The Dolphins believe they're making a solid effort to keep Starks with a good long-term offer. Starks side believes the Dolphins are trying to pay K-Mart prices for a Pro Bowl player.

Starks also says he's not adverse to giving the Dolphins a hometown discount but that has a limit.

"Discount yeah clearence rack heck no," Starks tweeted. "I want to be here and finish here!"

March 01, 2013

Ireland, Dolphins deserve praise for cap situation

Some of you guys are going to hate this post.

As the new league year and free agency nears -- it begins on March 12 at 4 p.m. -- teams must be prepared to be under the salary cap that is estimated to be around $121-$123 million, depending on what source you believe. The NFL will divulge the actual cap ceiling number in the coming days.

[Chris Mortensen of ESPN reports the number will be $123.9 million.]

[Update: The actual figure is $123 million. Mort's math isn't great, apparently, but what's $900k among friends?]

And with that number and March 12 looming, multiple teams have been scrambling either cutting players or restructuring contracts to get under the cap.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, New England Patriots, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions, and New Orleans Saints all either cut players or restructured contracts to help create cap room for themselves in the coming weeks.

Other teams, such as the New York Giants, might be ble to do little by way of re-signing their own players because they expect to be knocking their helmets on the cap's ceiling.

Meanwhile, all is well with the Miami Dolphins. All is quiet. Nothing to see here.

Why?

Well, because Jeff Ireland has done an excellent job saving his (or owner Stephen Ross's) pennies the past couple of years and the savings have added up to a boon in cap space this year.

Obviously, the idea that Miami will have major cap space this offseason is not new. I've been telling you about it for months.

But the idea that it truly is not happenstance -- that is took work, foresight and planning by Ireland and executive VP for football administration Dawn Aponte and their staff -- seems to have gone unappreciated. That isn't fair.

Look, when the Dolphins spent wildly after the 2008 and 2009 seasons and at one point had the most expensive offensive line in football and got minimal return on that investment, I pointed it out. Often.

Well, fairness dictates that Miami amassing approximately $48 million in cap space for this offseason -- the third highest total behind Cincinnati and Cleveland -- get equal attention.

It creates a grand opportunity to remake a mediocre team into a winner. And that opportunity didn't just mosey into the picture. It was every bit as planned as a group Harlem Shake.

(Peanut gallery: But Mando, the reason the Dolphins have so much cap space is because they're just a mediocre team that didn't make the playoffs for the fourth year in a row. If you're not in the playoffs, you should have cap space the next offseason.)

Wrong.

Let us refer back to the list of teams above that had to do invasive surgery on their contract structure to get out from under their salary cap ailments. The Bills didn't make the playoffs. Neither did the Jets. Neither did Dallas, Oakland, Philadelphia, Detroit or New Orleans.

Indeed, several had records comparable to Miami. So their rosters last year led them to basically the same results as what the Dolphins got on the field, but then took them to a much rockier path this offseason.

That's not getting optimal bang for the buck. Or quid. Or peso. Or yen. Or euro, which I predict will collapse within five years.

(Peanut gallery: But Mando, having no cap space is not a big deal. All those teams did restructures and they are fine now.)

Wrong again, gallery of nuts.

Restructuring a contract typically treats the symptom but doesn't cure the disease. It alleviates the pain short-term but because the cap burden is piled upon future years that are already burdened, it often creates a dire situation in the future. Some teams that continually delay the inevitable reach a point of saturation that leads to a cap dump.

The Dolphins of the mid 1990s had to do this when Don Shula added lots of players in 1994 and 1995 for what was billed as a final run at a Super Bowl. The franchise found itself in cap heck in 1996 and '97.

The San Francisco 49'ers did the same thing later in the decade and when the bill came due it led the franchise down the losing road from which it only recently detoured.

The point is there is no way to cheat the salary cap. It must be managed wisely to keep a team in position to enjoy its benefits.

Jeff Ireland and his team have done that for 2013. I recognize many of you don't like the idea of giving Ireland credit for much of anything. Those folks understand why I started saying you might not like reading this post.