April 01, 2016

The return of Daniel Thomas isn't good news for the Dolphins

It was the dinner hour when word began to leak that the Miami Dolphins were having quite a busy day on Thursday.

There was word from league sources that Miami had agreed to terms with running back Daniel Thomas. That followed the news Miami had agreed to terms with running back Isaiah Pead.

And then twitter blew up in an uproar of Dolphins fans.

Understandably so.

Thomas, the Dolphins second round draft pick in 2011, was a bust in Miami before. He averaged all of 3.6 yards per rush in his Dolphins career, had more injuries and fumbles than big plays, and never met the expectations of a team that traded up to get him in that fateful '11 draft.

And Thomas, unimpressive for several years as he never gained the starting job he was drafted to win, was finally cut in 2014. Then re-signed. Then he was cut again. Then he bounced around, including with the Chicago Bears. And cut. And more bouncing. And then signed Thursday.

And the legitimate question is why?

Because it seems the current Dolphins braintrust that wasn't here when Thomas was first here missed the memo. That memo was left by the old Dolphins braintrust. That memo reads, "We got fired by putting guys such as Daniel Thomas on the roster."

(Nothing personal against Thomas. He's a hard worker and a good guy. He's just not good enough in the NFL).

By the way, new general manager Chris Grier has been with the Dolphins 16 years. He was here when Jeff Ireland picked Thomas. He was here when Thomas showed anyone with eyes he is not good enough. So what's Grier's excuse for this?

Pead? Another guy who was a second-round bust.

He was originally drafted by the St. Louis Rams. He played 27 games for the Rams. And carried the football 19 times.

He played 27 games. And carried the football 19 times.

He played 27 games. And in those games got 19 total carries.

He also was suspended one game for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. And he also suffered an ACL injury that ended his second season.

Last year he was out of the league except for a three-week stretch with Pittsburgh after they lost star running back Le'Veon Bell. The Steelers released Pead on November 27.

And Dolphins fans are going, "Huh?"

This team has a running back problem. I kid you not. You can read about it here. And here. And here.

And part of the short-term answer to that long-term problem is Daniel Thomas and Isaiah Pead?

Look, I don't know enough about Pead because I haven't seen him up close. I haven't seen him practice and play in person. So maybe there is something there there.

But I can tell you there will be a handful of undrafted running backs that are better than Daniel Thomas.

This signing -- nay, this third re-signing -- is not a confidence builder. At. All.

Now, this requires perspective: The Dolphins are whispering to me that these additions are just meant to fill the roster for the upcoming camps and OTAs and possibly training camp. The Dolphins are not actually counting on Daniel Thomas or Isaiah Pead to be the backups to Jay Ajayi.

If either of the duo plays out of his mind, great. But if they are what they have so far been in the NFL careers, nothing lost.

And that is meant to offer solace because the team will continue to beat the bushes of free agency and a possible trade as the search for a running back continues. But I tell you now, if Daniel Thomas is on the 2016 Miami Dolphins, something went awfully wrong in the search for another running back.

Someone failed miserably.

Meanwhile, I wonder what Knowshon Moreno is doing? Reggie Bush, who is still recovering from injury? Hey, as long as we're checking out former Dolphins running backs, I wonder what Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are doing?

All of them have a chance today to be better than Daniel Thomas.

Yes, I'm exaggerating. But only a little.

March 31, 2016

Miami Dolphins have talked to KC Chiefs about trading for a RB

The Miami Dolphins have been shopping for a running back for several weeks, and that includes conversations with multiple teams about doing a trade. And a league source tells me one of those teams the Dolphins have been talking to is the Kansas City Chiefs, who happen to have four experienced running backs on the roster.

The Dolphins had shown interest in all the Chiefs running backs -- Jamaal Charles, Charcandrick West, Spencer Ware and Knile Davis -- but it seems the one the Chiefs are most willing to part with is Davis. And Davis happens to be the least accomplished of the bunch.

Davis also happens to have requested a trade from the Chiefs because he finished the season third on the team's depth chart behind West and Ware and could be cut if Charles returns from 2015's season-ending knee injury to reclaim his starting job. Charles, who had knee reconstruction surgery, is expected to be ready sometime in training camp.

(One supposes KC has grown tired of Charles being injured so much and could want to move him, but someone would have to blow them away to make such a deal. I don't know that the Dolphins are in the blow somebody away mode right now).

The Chiefs today announced contract extensions for both West and Ware, suggesting the team intends to keep both.

“Charcandrick and Spencer both stepped in and were very effective for us offensively last year,” Chiefs General Manager John Dorsey said. “These guys have different styles and abilities, and together they provide us quality depth at the running back position.”

That leaves Davis as the player the Chiefs would be most willing to part with in trade.

Davis is a former 2013 third-round pick of the Chiefs whose size and bulk (5-10 and 227 pounds) and speed (4.4 in the 40-yard dash) have not yet translated to great NFL success. He rushed for 463 yards on 134 carries in 2014 for a 3.5 yard per carry average. Last season, Davis was little used, gaining only 72 yards on 28 carries. One of Davis's issues has been his penchant for fumbling. He had seven his first two NFL seasons in 2013-14.

He obviously was behind Ware and West on the depth chart after Charles was injured.

Davis served mostly on kick returns. He had a 108-yard kickoff return for a TD his rookie season and a 99-yard kickoff return TD in 2014. Last season he returned 24 kicks for 603 yards -- a 25.1 yard per return average.

If the Dolphins and Chiefs consummate a trade for Davis (big if) it would not be a blockbuster. The Chiefs are getting nowhere near their third-round draft investment in return for Davis.

Anyway, enjoy the highlight reel. Remember, this is about highlights. No lowlights included:

 

Miami Dolphins need at RB is acute but might not be filled until later in draft

So I think the Dolphins will draft a cornerback in the first round because that is their greatest need and players such as William Jackson III of Houston and Eli Apple of Ohio State have either met or will meet with the team and are more or less values in the vicinity where the Dolphins will draft in the first round.

(Hey, um, I'd like for the Dolphins to trade down maybe 8-10 spots from No. 13, maybe pick up another second-rounder, and still think they could be in position to pick either Jackson or Apple. Apple needs good coaching to keep his hands off receivers downfield, and picking him at No. 13 is too early, but he's my guy).

And having said that, the Dolphins have other needs...

Running back. Linebacker. Defensive end.

And I think running back is Miami's next greatest need because they let Lamar Miller walk, they couldn't get C.J. Anderson as a restricted free agent, they couldn't close with Chris Johnson, Arian Foster is still nowhere close to 100 percent, the trades the Dolphins have explored have so far not yielded fruit, and Jay Ajayi cannot carry the football every single time in 2016.

So the Dolphins need a RB1 or RB1a to share the load with Ajayi.

But here's the thing ...

Todd Gurley is not walking through that door. And Ezekiel Elliott will probably be gone when Miami picks at No. 13.

Wait. If Elliott is there at No. 13, and the Dolphins have not traded down, they might consider taking him, then trading up in the second round to land some other CB because, well, cornerback is a thing for the Dolphins in case you haven't been paying attention.

Anyway, the more likely scenario is Elliott is not there and the Dolphins pluck a corner and the running back spot still needs filling.

But just because the running back position needs a major contributor and perhaps even a starter doesn't mean the running back comes next on the to-do list. Simply, running backs in this draft can be had in the third, fourth, fifth rounds. Check that, running backs can be had in those rounds and even as undrafted free agents in practically every draft.

Anderson, who the Dolphins were willing to pay $18 million over four years, was not originally drafted. Miller, who got $6.5 million per season from the Houston Texans, was drafted in the fourth round.

What I'm saying is running backs don't have to be selected early for them to succeed. No, you're not getting Adrian Peterson or Gurley or LaDanian Tomlinson. But talent is out there. Arian Foster, by the way, was not drafted in 2009 and was even cut by the Texans before being signed to their practice squad in September of 2009.

So that tells you that if you see the Dolphins pick a corner in the first round, and maybe a linebacker such as Georgia's Jordan Jenkins (love him) or USC's Su'a Cravens in the second, that's fine. Indeed maybe back-to-back corners is the way to go. Or CB in the first and DE in the second.

There are myriad possibilities that do not include a running back until later. And I would be fine with that and so should you. You don't want to overdraft anyone but doing it with a running back stings more because there are so many of them.

So some running back possibilities after the first round?

I like Derrick Henry if he's there in the second round.

Go ahead, kill me.

With their 42nd overall pick, the Miami Dolphins select the Heisman Trophy winner!

Yes, I know I just got done telling you running backs can be found later. And running back is a need but defensive ends and even a linebacker or another cornerback might be greater importance to the Dolphins.

But I just like this player. I like the value for him at No. 42. I think he's going to be good. I don't care what past University of Alabama running backs have done or not done. I think he was great in pee wee, great in high school, great in college, and he's going to be great in the NFL if he gets with the right team.

I think he is a downhill guy who can put his foot in the dirt with decisiveness. I think at 242 pounds he can create some of his own yardage. I think he's fast enough, running the 40 in 4.58ish.

He reminds me of Steven Jackson, formerly of the St. Louis Rams.  

So, now the alarm clock sounds and my dream is over. And when the Dolphins don't pick Henry or any running back in the second round because they think a defensive end or cornerback or linebacker is more valuable, that means they still have to get one later on.

So Alex Collins of Arkansas (fumble problems), Devontae Booker of Utah (best of this group in my opinion), Kenneth Dixon of Louisiana Tech (durability questions), C.J. Prosise of Notre Dame (raw and inexperienced) and Jordan Howard of Indiana University (not flashy, gets caught from behind some, meh) are considered by the "experts" to be the next wave of runners available in the third or fourth rounds.

Did I mention I like Derrick Henry in the second round?

GM Mando's first two rounds would look like ... Eli Apple in the first and Derrick Henry in the second. And both are starting immediately.

Stop laughing!  

March 30, 2016

Miami Dolphins biggest need in NFL draft is a cornerback

It's that time of year for mock drafts (clickbait), draft visits, mock drafts 2.0 (clickbait), private workouts, and the regurgitation of someone else's mock draft with the appropriate indignation about how awful that mock draft is (more clickbait).

I'm not doing that here.

With rare exceptions, mock drafts do not include legitimate inside information from team sources. Some mocks include information from teams intending to put smokescreens out there. But that is not good information. Draft visits do not necessarily signify draft interest. Private workouts are more telling, in my opinion.

What matters about the coming month of draftmania is that you know your team. And as this is a Miami Dolphinscentric blog, you should know the Dolphins. And if you know the Dolphins, you must think the following about the next draft:

  1. The Dolphins expect their first-round draft pick (No. 13 overall) to be a starting player. That comes directly from coach Adam Gase. So that player has already been penciled in this early on in the process.
  2. The Dolphins have worked hard to fill multiple needs in free agency. They signed two starting defensive ends in Mario Williams and Andre Branch. That's right, Branch is a starter at least early on while Wake gets his bearings as he returns from his 2014 Achilles rupture. Wake will be a pass-rush specialist when he's healthier. And maybe eventually he can add more snaps each game. The Dolphins added a starting safety in Isa Abdul-Quddus. The Dolphins added a starting linebacker in Kiko Alonso. The Dolphins filled depth at offensive line, and quarterback. So the team is by its moves telegraphing that those spots may still be "wants" and even "needs." But they are not "must haves."
  3. There are two positions that are "must haves" -- cornerback and running back.

If we can agree on the fact the Dolphins must add one and perhaps two corners in this draft we are getting somewhere. If you don't think that is the case, you don't know your team and so let's walk through the exercise ...

Byron Maxwell is the one starting cornerback on the roster. That's it. He's the only cornerback on the roster who has been an NFL starter and had any consistent amount of success in that role. (He's also had seasons when he wasn't consistent, by the way, with last season being the prime example). But he's the best Miami has right now.

Who else?

Bobby McCain is on the roster. He started three games last year as a rookie. Jamar Taylor is on the roster. He started six games last year.

And to that I say: McCain is intriguing in that he was a puppy in 2015 and showed a bit of a bite. But let's face it, he seems better suited to playing in the slot than outside because of his size. The NFL is going with longer cornerbacks now. Teams want to follow the Seattle look. They want to be able to match up with 6-3 receivers such as Brandon Marshall or 6-2 receivers such as Eric Decker, especially when both are on the same team and on the Dolphins schedule twice a year.

Bobby McCain is 5-10. He's a fighter. He's got a chip on his shoulder. He's got potential. But none of that erases that he's 5-10.

Taylor is slightly bigger at 5-11. But unlike McCain, he's had his chances with the Dolphins. This is his fourth season in Miami. And he hasn't shown a lot. He was hurt his rookie year. He took advantage of some of his chances his second year and showed he might be able to compete. And then last year was a disaster.

Taylor was basically handed a starting job in 2015 offseason camps. And then lost it in training camp. And he lost it to Brice McCain, who was signed to be the slot corner.And when McCain struggled outside because, well, he was a slot corner playing outside, Taylor got another chance. And he was bad. It wasn't so much the completions he allowed. That happens. It was the first downs and touchdowns he gave up. And the blown coverages.

That 84-yard TD pass from Eli Manning to Odell Beckham Jr. last December?

Jamar Taylor.

Suffice to say that Giants game was the only one Taylor played the final five weeks of 2015. He was a healthy scratch in the other four games because coaches didn't want him on the field.

Obviously, that doesn't mean Taylor is done with the Dolphins. With a new coaching staff and new year, he gets a chance to make the team in 2016. He gets new life. But film does not lie and the new staff watched what he did last year so they are not counting on him to be something in his fourth NFL season he has failed to be his first three years.

The Dolphins are not expecting a cornerback, drafted in 2013 to play man-off and zone, to become a press cornerback now. It could happen. God is still on His throne. But it would be an improbable miracle.

And so cornerback. It is a must have. If the Dolphins do not come out of the 2016 draft with a player who can viably be considered the starter, they have failed.

(And then the team will be shopping the back end of free agency for Leon Hall or someone of that ilk).

If the Dolphins fail to draft this cornerback in the first or second round -- someone such as Jalen Ramsey, William Jackson, Eli Apple, Jalen Mills, Vernon Hargreaves, Kendall Fuller, or DeAndre Houston-Carson -- there will be problems. There will be issues. It will be bad. The season will be over. Life on Earth will end.

Seriously, it will be a bad look for rookie general manager Chris Grier managing his first draft.

One thing I must share with you that readers intimately familiar with the Miami roster are probably already wondering about: Tony Lippett.

He was a fifth-round pick last year and basically got redshirted for three-quarters of the season because he was making the transition from college receiver to NFL cornerback. But the final three weeks of the season, Lippett was a guy. He was playing ahead of McCain and Taylor. He had five tackles against Indianapolis and two tackles and a pass defensed in the finale against New England.

And he was doing it at an eye-popping 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds.

(Yes, GM Mando likes long cornerbacks and I am told the Dolphins are finally understanding long cornerbacks is the way to go).

Now, this year the Dolphins are going to press outside. That is what Gase has said. And in theory that seems to fit Lippett's skillset very well. He's obviously physical enough to do that. He's got great ball skills (from his receiver days) so that will be a big deal. And he's not so set in his ways as a cornerback that he cannot be taught a different technique.

Watch out for this kid.

But is he ready to start? No. He's ready to compete.

The Dolphins need a starting cornerback candidate out of this draft. It is a must have.

(BLOG NOTE: I was going to discuss the running back issue in this post as well, but we're at 1,180 words so that will be the next post, barring breaking news.) 

 

Offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James, battered in 2015, is healthy again

Injuries cost teams games in the NFL and one of the Miami Dolphins' most underrated and, yes, under-reported injuries of 2015 definitely had that effect.

Offensive right tackle Ja'Wuan James went down on October 29 with a toe injury that was not the big news of the day because in that very game, defensive end Cameron Wake ruptured his Achilles tendon and receiver DeVante Parker aggravated a foot injury on the same foot that had undergone surgery twice, including last summer.

So James kind of fell through the cracks.

Well, let me fill in some of the gaps ...

Firstly, the James injury was a dislocated big toe. There had been speculation, including some by me, that it was a turf toe. It was much more serious, obviously. It was so serious that James did not play the rest of the season, missing the final nine games, just as Wake did not.

The injury was a concern for the Dolphins because team doctors couldn't get a real handle on how long it would take to heal. They said it could be as little as four weeks. They said it could be as much as eight weeks. That is a huge gap between best and worst-case scenario. And even then, it took longer than the doctors expected because even as James started walking again and got some practice near the end of the season, he was never quite right.

He was never good enough to get in a game.

I'm told he is well now. The injury is fine now. 

But the damage was done. Because James could not play, the Dolphins were forced to go with Jason Fox as their right tackle the final nine games. Fox, a good man, was not up to the task. He struggled in pass protection, giving up a handful of sacks. He was cut this offseason. And the Dolphins have worked hard to improve the offensive line depth behind starters like James because the line has been hit hard by injuries in recent years. All you need to know is Mike Pouncey has missed games each of the past two years and left tackle Branden Albert missed much of the 2014 season after suffering a career threatening knee injury.

The Dolphins this offseason signed tackles Sam Young to compete for the No. 3 tackle job Fox held last year. The team added Kraig Urbik for depth at guard and center. And Jermon Bushrod was added to compete at guard and possibly backup at tackle in a pinch.

The Dolphins offensive line depth has gotten better this offseason.

But the team hopes it won't need that depth.

And an important part of that hope is having James pick up where he left off his rookie season in 2014 and early in 2015. The team needs James to be the stabilizing force he has been while also improving his base and core strength. That's the goal.

A now-healthy James is a good start toward that goal. 

March 29, 2016

The strengthening of the Miami Dolphins offensive line

When new Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase studied the Dolphins offensive line and how to get that embattled unit better, the answer he came up with was simply to strengthen the unit.

It wasn't about dumping right guard Billy Turner and left guard Dallas Thomas. That wasn't it. No, it didn't necessarily mean signing the highest rated or most expensive guard in free agency. That's not the approach to strengthening the unit Gase elected.

Gase literally wanted to get the players in the building stronger to strengthen the unit. So the manner in which those players train and come to training camp was studied. Gase looked at the time the team spent in the weight room last year and was not impressed. He saw that under former coach Joe Philbin, more time was spent in the classroom learning the playbook and game plans and such.

And less time was spent in the weight room getting strong, and fast and thick enough to, you know, actually execute on the field.

So last year, while it could be said the Dolphins were studious enough to win up front, they weren't strong enough to win up front. At least that's how Gase sees things.

So that changes this offseason. Dolphins offensive linemen have gotten the message through the grapevine that they better be working on becoming weight room beasts this offseason. And when the offseason strength and conditioning program begins next month, much of the time the team is allotted every day will be used to lifting weights and getting stronger.

“I feel like I keep going back to our strength and conditioning program," Gase said. "That’s one thing that when we came in, me and Mike (Tannenbaum) and Chris (Grier) had long conversations about this as far as how can we get better in that area. And we feel like the first step we made was by promoting (Head Strength and Conditioning) Dave (Puloka).

"(We) put him in charge and we talked about it. We said let’s get back to some good, old, ‘Let’s lift.’ Let’s spend our two hours in the weight room. Let’s get these guys bigger and stronger and faster. That’s been a big focus. I want to try to give him as much time allotted that he is allowed to get these guys in the position to when we do start, we can see a difference. We can see a difference physically in our guys as far as their strength and being able to come off the ball and move people."

That the Miami offensive line needs weight room work should come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog. Last November, after a victory over Philadelphia, I reported that players talked about the need to get stronger among themselves after a game. No less than Mike Pouncey acknowledged he needed weight room work.

The Dolphins believe both Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas need lower body work to improve their base so that, you know, they're not turnstiles to the QB and can move bodies off the ball.

Albert can probably use some building up of his legs. Ja'Wuan James, impressive as a rookie but not quite so last year due to a toe injury, needs to build change that body around.

There is much, much work to do with that offensive line.

Now, this is not saying that will cure the ills of the Miami Dolphins offensive line. Look, talent is important. Development is important. Technique is important. Luck in keeping healthy is important. The Miami offensive line has had a failure in one or more of these areas season after season.

This coming season, however, Gase is insisting that lack of bulk and strength will not be excuse for the unit.

 

March 28, 2016

Arian Foster an interesting possibility for Miami Dolphins but be wary

Arian Foster is an interesting guy.

He is visiting the Dolphins this week and although he might not be offered a contract right away, as I reported earlier today, the Dolphins are obviously interested in getting to know him, about him, and gauging him as a possibility to fill their running back needs.

Foster, 6-1 and 227 pounds, is a vegan. Except occasionally, he gets tired of that and says he'll have meat. He's talked about being reared a muslim and now being an atheist. He's a philanthropist. Poet. Actor. Oh, yeah, and he's an NFL running back -- an unemployed NFL running back.

On that note, forget about him being a prophet because before he got back on the field last year he said, "I feel like this is going to be my best year."

It wasn't. Foster was able to play only four games before rupturing his Achilles against the Miami Dolphins last October. In that regard, Foster has been through the injury wringer. He's suffered groin injuries. Hamstring injuries. A broken collarbone. Torn meniscus. He required serious back surgery in 2013. He has started all 16 games only once during his seven seasons -- that in 2012.

The 2013 season was a dark time for Foster because he had the disc injury in his lower back that required surgery and ended his campaign after only eight games. So in 2014, the question was whether he'd be the same guy?

Foster responded with 1,246 yards on 260 carries with eight rushing TDs and five receiving TDs. This is what it looked like:

 

Foster struggled with injuries again prior to the 2015 season. He suffered another groin injury that required surgery in the preseason. He missed the first three games of the season and that's the point where cracks in his relationship with the Houston Texans began to show.

"I’ve recognized how vulnerable he is," Houston owner Bob McNair said prior to the 2015 season. "It seems like every year he’s had some type of soft-tissue injury. We just keep our fingers crossed and hope it won’t happen, but he seems to be vulnerable to that type of thing."

Ouch.

The Dolphins have to be very, very careful with Foster for multiple reasons:

They don't want to overpay for anyone much less a veteran coming back from a major injury and carrying baggage as being injury riddled much of his career. There is no use trying to fill a need, paying to fill that need, and then still having that need when the player you signed is injured. Remember, durability is an ability. Availability is an ability.

Foster, meanwhile, said early on he wanted to play for a winner and wasn't intending to sell his services cheaply. That's interesting because the Dolphins are not what I would call a playoff contender and Foster must realize this.

That means playoff contenders such as Denver, Seattle, and Dallas, who are system fits for Foster, haven't exactly been knocking his door down.

Buyer beware.

Running back Arian Foster a big name UFA because of his past

There are big names in free agency that excite -- Alex Mack, Janoris Jenkins, the franchise players like Von Miller and Eric Berry. And then there are names in free agency that excite because they are known to you and me and have performed great feats in the past, but they're probably not the players of those past feats anymore.

Arian Foster is the latter.

Unfortunately.

The running back will be visiting the Miami Dolphins this week. And on the surface that suggests the team is about to resolve its running back issue because Foster had 1,616 yards and averaged 4.9 yards per carry in 2010. And he had 1,424 yards in 2012. And he had 1,246 yards in 2014.

But he's possibly (probably) not that guy anymore.

And that is why I am told by sources that over-excitement over this looming visit is not wise because it will be about a medical check to see where Foster's recovery from an torn Achilles tendon is at less than a year since the October 2015 injury. This visit will be about getting to know Foster who is known for being a little eccentric. This is an exploratory mission and that is why, I am told, it probably won't lead to a rush to offer Foster a contract.

And even if a contract between the Dolphins and Foster is eventually hammered out, the Dolphins are still looking to draft a running back in 2015 for myriad reasons. The reasons?

This is a good running back draft. One Dolphins official kidded with me recently that finding a running back in this draft should be easy.

Another reason drafting a running back is a good idea is that Foster, for all his gifts, has been injury prone during his career.

He is 29 years old and played only four games last year before tearing the Achilles against the Dolphins. He missed three games in 2014. He missed eight games in 2013. In his seven NFL seasons, Foster has started all 16 games once -- in 2012.

Look, there's a reason that free agency started going on three weeks ago and Miami will be Foster's first visit.

So, yes, Arian Foster is a big name player.

But as there are questions about him, he might not be the kind of big name a team hangs its offseason on.

The fallout of Miami Dolphins personnel opinons

This time of year, it seems, everyone is a personnel guru. Everyone has opinions about NFL talent and incoming NFL talent. And mostly those opinions that drive decisions in the spring, determine wins and losses in the fall and winter.

And so today I share with you multiple Miami Dolphins personnel opinions that matter that should give insight about why the Dolphins have taken the path they have taken this offseason.

Consider:

Running back Lamar Miller: Start with the fact interim coach Dan Campbell was not a fan. During the latter half of the 2015 season, the interim coach seriously wanted more Jay Ajayi and less Miller, per multiple people I've spoken with, because he believed the rookie the better back. Obviously that transition was never made, but it set the stage for what happened this offseason in that the Dolphins were more aggressive than they expected to be in trying to re-sign Miller (they offered $5 million per season) but were not going to step beyond that for a player some in the building were lukewarm about. Understand, new coach Adam Gase liked Miller based on tape study. But not to the extent Houston did. The Texans signed Miller for $6.5 million per year average.

Fallout: Either the Texans or the Dolphins are right. The Texans believe Miller is a bell cow back that can challenge for the rushing title. They believe him a 1,200-1,400 yard per season back, who is also a threat out of the backfield. That's what they're paying for. The Dolphins believe C.J. Anderson was a better back than Miller. So they liked somebody else's player more than their own. And having neither, they've shrugged and believe they'll draft someone and/or sign a back-of-free agency guy like Arian Foster (do not forget this name) and will be fine. Foster, by the way, will visit the team this week. This is a good draft for running backs, by the way. The Dolphins think they can find one as good or better than Miller in that draft.

Defensive end Olivier Vernon: I have written multiple times the Dolphins liked OV. They didn't love OV. There was one tape session among coaches last year, I'm told, in which those present spent five minutes breaking down all the things the player did wrong or poorly. (This obviously could not have been the Dallas tape against Tyron Smith because Vernon had a fine game that day). Simply, the Dolphins saw Vernon as a 7-8 sack a year guy who was not a cornerstone on their defense despite being only 25 years old. The New York Giants see Vernon as a cornerstone. They see him as a double-digit sack guy who can team with Jason Pierre-Paul on the other side to form a formidable sack duo. By the way, the OV camp likes to point out he was really a 10.5 sack guy last season, not 7.5 as the statistics say. The reason is Vernon had three sacks stripped away by penalties in the defensive backfield.

Fallout: Either the Giants or Dolphins are right. The investment the Giants have made on Vernon speaks of both great desperation and great confidence. That team is desperate to win immediately and return what has been a dormant pass rush to its Super Bowl days. The Dolphins saw Vernon as more a complimentary player. They didn't see him worth $17 million per year, which is what the Giants are paying. They didn't see him as a $12 million per year player in August 2015 when they made him their most serious offer.

Rishard Matthews: Look, Matthews was long gone even last year when he was having his best season. A source close to Matthews told me his free agency wouldn't be just about money, but opportunity. The player wanted to play and he knew that wasn't going to happen in Miami. In Miami, the Dolphins had traded for Kenny Stills and spent first- and second-round picks on DeVante Parker and Jarvis Landry, respectively. The team was heavily invested in those players and that left Matthews as something of insurance in case that plan didn't work. But the problem is the Dolphins clearly misjudged Matthews for several years. You'll recall that Matthews got playing time in 2013 because the Dolphins had no one else. And he responded with 41 catches and 2 TDs in five starts that year. He believed he had earned an opportunity to be among Miami's top three receivers. The Dolphins, under Joe Philbin, didn't. Philbin wanted Matthews gone. Then-GM Dennis Hickey resisted but also didn't count on Matthews. He drafted Landry.

Fallout: The Dolphins, believing Matthews an afterthought type player, considered receiver a significant need both in last year's draft and in the 2014 draft. They spent high picks that might have gone to fill other needs, such as cornerback, because they didn't have a good enough internal evaluation on Matthews. Now, did the team get two players better than Matthews? Maybe. Probably. Landry is outstanding. Parker promises to be outstanding. But remember that Matthews was a superior deep threat to Landry, averaging 15.4 yards per catch to Landry's 10.5. And Matthews caught more passes than Parker, 43 compared to 26, despite missing three more games than the rookie. Decisions made years ago by a coach later fired laid the foundation to Matthews leaving the Dolphins.

Mario Williams: The Dolphins think he's better than Olivier Vernon. Period. Yes, he's older. Yes, he comes with baggage because last season the guy was not a positive force in the Buffalo locker room once he recognized he didn't fit in. But the Dolphins believe they can address all that and are willing to pay $8 million per season over the next two years for the opportunity.

Fallout: Miami has chose cheaper and older and believe that is an upgrade. That makes them unique because teams like the Giants and others considered Williams as well when he was cut by the Bills. And the Giants went a different direction. And other teams didn't want to pay what the Dolphins are paying. It'll be interesting to compare Williams's performance in Miami the next two years to Vernon. It should be noted, the Dolphins also expect a draft pick to come from losing Vernon so that will figure into the metric eventually.

Kiko Alonso: The Eagles view of this player should make you afraid. They believe he was a ghost in their defense last year. No big plays. No impact. Missed tackles. The velocity to the football he showed his rookie year in Buffalo was missing. The Eagles were so disappointed, they gave up on a player who is relatively inexpensive at under $1 million because he's in the final year of his rookie contract. The Dolphins see a different guy. They see a great scheme fit. They see a player who will improve because he'll be two years removed from his knee reconstruction surgery. They see a player who'll benefit from their weight program.

Fallout: Yeah, either the Eagles have a solid grasp of their player, or they just bonked and the Dolphins took Alonso out from under their nose.

March 24, 2016

Miami Dolphins making sure offseason additions are a fit

The only way teams can maximize what players can do athletically is to fit their talents into the right system.

Ndamukong Suh was excellent in Detroit under Jim Schwartz. But the same guy with the same talent came to Miami in 2015 and didn't quite perform up to past standards because, in part at least, he wasn't doing exactly what he did in Detroit. He didn't seem as comfortable. He wasn't a perfect fit, at least early on.

So system fit is important.

And while the Dolphins have struggled at times with system fits in the past -- particularly when coaching staffs came and went, changing systems -- the current staff is doing all it can to make sure its acquisitions this year are a snug, tight fit to their system.

Take Byron Maxwell, Kiko Alonso and Mario Williams for example.

Alonso had a great rookie season in Buffalo in the 4-3 defense. Obviously he blew out a knee in 2014 and wasn't the same with the Eagles in 2015 after he was traded for LeSean McCoy.

The Dolphins think the knee healing will help Alonso but they also like that their system will fit him better than Philly's 3-4.

“Coming off his injury, we feel good about it being another year removed from that," Dolphins coach Adam Gase said. "We see a guy that runs well, that he hits, he strikes. He’s going to fit into what we do really well. Him being back in a 4-3 defense, that probably suits him a little bit better. We’re really excited to get this guy going and getting him in our program. Having that kind of speed at linebacker is really going to be helpful for us.”

By the way, about that speed: The Dolphins last year were lost when they asked their linebackers not named Jelani Jenkins to cover. Alonso's speed gives the team options.

Consider that last year Brandon Marshall destroyed the Dolphins in two games. He caught seven passes for 128 yards in the first meeting and nine catches for 132 yards and two TDs in the second game. The Jets did a lot of this by putting Marshall in the slot. And while often the Dolphins put their best corner, tiny Brent Grimes, in the slot to check Marshall, it was a physical mismatch.

Well, Alonso gives the Dolphins some flexibility. They can now bracket Marshall with Alonso and a corner if they want. And because Alonso is 6-3, 238 pounds, and fast enough to run with Marshall (that is not a misprint) the physical mismatch greatly diminishes.

Maxwell was obviously suited to what the Seattle Seahawks asked him to do. They asked him to press. They relied on extreme pressure up front to protect their long (and slower) corners from getting beat on time consuming deep routes. It worked in Seattle but in Philadelphia, Maxwell slumped as the Eagles pass rush was 25th in the NFL in sacks per pass and Maxwell played off more, not getting his hands on receivers as much, which he likes to do.

But the Dolphins will be pressing. Maxwell and the other corners will be in receivers' faces.

"I feel like Byron is going to fit well into what we’re going to do on defense," coach Adam Gase said.  He’ll be able to do more of what he has done in the past where he had success. I’ve competed against him a couple times when he was in Seattle, and he challenged us, and we had some pretty good receivers. I feel really good about him coming in. I’m excited that … I could feel his excitement (about) getting down here.

"I think Byron fits in our scheme really well. What he did in Seattle was, he’s aggressive on the line of scrimmage, getting up there and pressing and being able to play aggressive and that’s what we want to allow him to do."

Notice how many times Gase is mentioning the fit, the fit, the fit?

Williams was clearly not a fit under Rex Ryan's 3-4 defense last season. He didn't like dropping into coverage. He wasn't good at it. He complained about it. His sacks totals sunk. It was not a fit.

But Vance Joseph worked with Williams when the two were with the Houston Texans. And the Dolphins will be employing a Wide 9 technique for their rush ends which Williams has excelled at in the past.

So if Williams doesn't regain his past level of production it won't be because he didn't fit.

Interestingly, the fit thing is greatly important on defense. It obviously matters on the offensive line because zone blocking linemen are not always able to adapt to man blocking and vice versa. But for the other positions on offense, Gase promises to adapt what he does to what the players can do best and feel most comfortable with.

"Defensively, it’s a little easier for them because they look at that tape and you can see a lot of the attributes that fit into the system that we are going to run," Gase said. "On offense, I feel like that side of the ball we’re actually going to have to go out there (to the practice field) and experiment and kind of figure out where we’re at with Ryan [Tannehill]. There’s some of the routes that this group does really well that I haven’t been a part of in a while. Every quarterback likes different things and watching a lot of our film from the past, Ryan does excel at some concepts that I haven’t run in a while that the last two quarterbacks I had didn’t really like.

"We’ll be a little bit in the experimental phase as far as the offensive side. We have a ways to go on that side of the ball. I feel like on defense, those guys have a good feel for what we have on the roster and where we need to go from there."

March 23, 2016

RB needy Miami Dolphins leaving no stone unturned

The Miami Dolphins are exploring every option as they try to fill out their depleted running backs corps and that includes the possibility of getting a player via trade. The Dolphins have had conversations with multiple teams about trading for a back, a league source said from the NFL annual meeting Wednesday.

There are no specifics available as to which players the Dolphins have inquired about. But it is not believed a trade is imminent.

The Dolphins need a running back because efforts have so far failed in the attempt to re-sign Lamar Miller, sign resticted free agent C.J. Anderson, or unrestricted free agent Chris Johnson.

Miller signed a contract with the Houston Texans that paid him an average of $6.5 million per season. The Dolphins held the line as their highest offer to Miller was $5 million per season on average, per another league source.

The Dolphins graded Anderson as a better player than Miller, per a club source, but nonetheless were able to sign Anderson to an offer sheet that averaged $4.5 million per season. The Denver Broncos, however, matched the offer to retain Anderson.

Johnson visited the Dolphins prior to returning to the Arizona Cardinals on a one-year deal worth up to $3 million.

So the Dolphins continue to shop, adding the trade avenue to possibilities in the draft, or the latter part of free agency. A veteran player, including Arian Foster, has not been eliminated as a possibility.

And why are the Dolphins shopping despite having second-year running back Jay Ajayi on the roster?

"The reason we were trying to do that is we’re looking to having more than one guy," Dolphins coach Adam Gase said. "Jay is going to be a big part of what we’re doing. I’d like to have multiple backs. Right now, we don’t have a lot of guys on the roster. I think we only have three guys on the roster right now. We’re going to need to really develop that stable of backs.

"Options will present themselves. We just need to stay patient, whether it’s through the draft or somebody gets cut free or there’s somebody else out there that we need to take a look out. We’ll just keep investigating that. I guess for me, I feel really comfortable with Jay. I saw a lot of good things on film last year. I’m fired up to get going with him. The problem is, we can’t do anything until April 11th. But really, those two weeks are meetings and weightlifting. Really, that minicamp will be our first good look to see where we’re at with our running backs.”

March 22, 2016

Stephen Ross not a fan of past coaching, takes swipe at Miko

Stephen Ross is a big fan of new head coach Adam Gase. And he's a big fan of starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

But in speaking to the media at the NFL annual meeting Tuesday, Ross made it clear he's not a big fan of the coaching Tannehill got the past couple of years and he's definitely not a big fan of Miko Grimes, the wife of former cornerback Brent Grimes.

Ross said he's looking forward to seeing what his quarterback can do as he enters his fifth NFL season and that is increased by the coaching Gase, who is something of a quarterback expert, is likely to impart on his new project quarterback.

"I'm really optimistic about Ryan," Ross said. "I have a great deal of confidence in him. Reading what he has said ... the relationship between the coach and the quarterback is essential. If you look at the track record of Adam and quarterbacks, I don't think you'll find anyone with any better track record and I have every reason to be optimistic.

"I think Ryan is a rare individual who is exceptionally athletic, exceptionally bright and hard working and dedicated. And I think when he gets the right kind of coaching we can expect great things."

Wait, so Ross doesn't think Tannehill has been getting the "right kind of coaching?" Has coaching been a factor in his play?

 "I think so," Ross said. "He's had one [head] coach in four years in the league. He played under Mike Sherman in the same system when he came into the league. So I think really, that Adam's experience and track record with quarterbacks and getting confidence back to Ryan that he needs and hasn't had, and with the support of the coaches, we're very optimistic and looking forward."

Hearing Ross talk suggests he was down on former coach Joe Philbin and his staff after sticking with the coach well beyond any time period that was truly defensible. So was last year's 6-10 record a misjudgment of talent or a coaching problem?

"Probably a little bit of both," Ross said. "It's not one thing. Obviously, we made a decision on the coaching, didn't we? That speaks for itself."

The Dolphins cut Grimes the first week of March and I reported the conduct of Miko, Grimes's wife, was a factor in that decision. Ross confirmed that when he was asked if indeed the conduct of Mrs. Grimes was factored in the decision.

"I'm not going to get down to that level," Ross said. "I think everybody knows what she represented and  I thought it was best the Dolphins move on from Brent and Miko."  

Adam Gase: Miami Dolphins not a rebuilding team

Adam Gase is a competitor. So he saw the Dolphins lose a handful of solid-to-good players this offseason and that didn't make him happy. But the team has filled the needs created by losses, added starters in multiple areas, and obviously there's more to do.

And so Gase doesn't believe the 2016 Dolphins are in rebuilding mode.

"I don't see us as a rebuilding team," Gase said. "I think we're a team that has talent, we just have to put it together. We need to figure out a way to play as a team. Talent alone, that does nothing. We have to make sure we do a good job of putting three phases together and figuring out how to win games as a group instead of just one or two guys who are really exceptional.

"It doesn't work that way. This is a team game. We have a to do a great job of making sure we're all on the same page."

The first part of getting on the same page this offseason involved free agency -- the Dolphins keeping or losing their own players and then replacing players and filling in at other areas of need. 

"It's been a whirlwind for sure. I like the additions we've made," Gase said. "We've lost some good players. That's part of the challenge of free agency -- when guys make it through and get to that opportunity and the way the money is structured, the money gets up there pretty quick. So it's tough to keep good players if you don't get the deal done early."

Make no mistake, Gase is no fan of having lost Lamar Miller, Olivier Vernon, Rishard Matthews and Derrick Shelby. But he believes it was out of his hands because all those issues and contracts had to be addressed last year, rather than after the season.

"That's the struggle," Gase said. "That's the tough part, at least for myself being in Year One, there's nothing that I was able to do as far as moving forward. We're in that situation and three good players that were wanted by other teams ... Obviously, we would have loved to keep them, but it was too late. Once they hit the market it was going to be a challenge to keep them on our roster."

Gase has been intimately involved in the personnel aspect of the team. His office is not on the same side of the Dolphins facility as that of general manager Chris Grier's or executive vice president's Mike Tannenbaum. "They might as well move my office by their office," Gase said.

"I spend a lot of time around Mike and Chris. They're ready for the players to get back. They're tired of being around me. It's amazing the amount of time spent on watching players, talking about scenarios, saying, 'What are we going to do if this happens, what are we going to do if that happens?' It's almost a different game and it takes a lot of time and there's a lot of discussion that goes into it. We watch a lot of film together."

Gase says there are "healthy discussions" that may include a difference of opinion, but ultimately, "for us, I've feel we've all been on the same page for everything we've done."

Gase approves of the trade the Dolphins made with the Philadelphia Eagles. He believes it adds three starters in that cornerback Byron Maxwell, middle linebacker Kiko Alonso and the No. 13 overall selection will be starters.

If the Dolphins do not make the deal, they add one starter -- from the No. 8 overall pick.

"I was fine with it because we added to starters and we're going to add a third," Gase said. "We moved back five spots and we got two starters. So I was all for it. I know this: One guy is not going to change our team. Adding three starters for us is a big deal. We have a lot of needs we needed to fill, we started talking with those guys, Mike [Tannenbaum] felt really good about the players we were going to get. I felt really good about it."

About some of the players currently on the roster:

Gase is excited to get around Jarvis Landry. "There's an intensity there that you want to get around. You can tell he feels like there's a respect factor he feels he doesn't get and he plays like that," Gase said.

Gase thinks Jermon Bushrod brings "intriguing" position flexibility in that last year in Chicago he played multiple positions. He was the starting tackle, lost that due to injury, then worked at center, guard and even back at tackle.

Gase said backup tight end Dion Sims is a player with much potential. But potential has to turn to production.

"I'm interested to see how far we can bring him along," Gase sadi. "I've told him this is probably the year we need to get this rolling. Let's get the consistency going ... I expect him to be an important piece to what we're doing this year."

Gase said he looks at his offensive talent and .. "I feel really good about it."

So, not rebuilding.

Adam Gase: Miami Dolphins D will attack, press, come in waves

Adam Gase was hired as the Miami Dolphins head coach because he is a quarterback guru. The guy is an offensive expert -- although he started his career as a defensive coach -- and he will be calling the offensive plays for the Dolphins.

So the defense falls to defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. Gase said he's going to let Joseph run that defense without a lot of interference although he is still obviously the boss.

So what will the 2016 Dolphins defense be?

"We're going to be a 4-3, penetrating, attacking-style defense," Gase said Tuesday during the AFC coaches' breakfast at the NFL annual meetings. "We're looking to be aggressive on the outside. That's what we're looking to be. And we want a front that's going to get after it. That's why we keep bringing in all these guys on the defensive line. Because that's what we're going to be. We're going to bring it in waves. We're going to keep guys fresh and moving them in there. We want fresh pass rushers in the fourth quarter. And as far as our linebackers go, we want guys that can run and hit."

Gase said the corners will press. He mentioned that Byron Maxwell did very well in press at Seattle, prior to going to Philadelphia, and so that's what he's going to be doing in Miami.

Gase said Kiko Alonso, acquired in the same deal that brought Maxwell from Philly, is currently the team's starting MIKE (middle) linebacker. That may change if the Dolphins find another middle linebacker in free agency or the draft and if that happens, Alonso would move to WILL (weak outside linebacker). But think MIKE right now.

The addition of Isa Abdul-Quddus gives the team "flexibility" on the back end, Gase said, because now both safeties -- Reshad Jones and Abdul-Quddus are equally comfortable playing deep or in the tackle box.

On the defensive line, the Dolphins lost Olivier Vernon and Derrick Shelby but added Mario Williams and Andre Branch. There might be another addition in the offing and, obviously, the slim possibility of defensive end Dion Jordan rejoining the team after his multiple drug suspensions looms at the end of April.

Gase said the Dolphins will not move Cameron Wake from his usual left defensive end spot. That means when he's in the game with Mario Williams, Williams, who also has traditionally lined up against the right tackle, will move to right defensive end.

Williams, 31, is coming off a bad season in Buffalo. But his history prior to that is what the Dolphins hope they will recapture.

"I'm excited he's with us," Gase said of Williams. "We went against him two years ago when he was rolling pretty good. We're looking forward to getting him playing like he was playing in 2013, 2014. I feel like he's in a good place. We had a great visit. When we talked to him, you could tell he was excited to get last year, that taste out of his mouth. He's a good addition for us."

As to the need to fill other cornerback spots -- the off corner from Maxwell and the nickel -- Gase pointed to the "young guys" currently on the roster.

Jamar Taylor, Bobby McCain, Tony Lippett and others are a focus. "Somebody's got to step up," Gase said.

My expectation is the Dolphins will also address cornerback in the draft.

By the way, Gase said the trade that sent the No. 8 overall selection to Philaldelphia for the No. 13 overall pick, Maxwell and Alonso, netted the Dolphins three starters.

Yes, Gase expects No. 13 overall to be a starter.

Don't be surprised if it is on defense.

For the sake of perspective, you should know the Dolphins played an attacking, pressing defense before. They did it under Jimmy Johnson. They did it under Dave Wannstedt.  

Read my twitter timeline @ArmandoSalguero for the highlights of today's breakfast with Gase.

Tannehill on his offensive line: 'We have to play better'

My column in today's Miami Herald outlines the physical as well as mental state of Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill. It is, shall we say, different now that Adam Gase is the new head coach.

So please check out the column.

But as Tannehill's physical state will have a lot to do with the offensive line, I have to share with you what Tannehill thinks of the state of his offensive front and where that is likely to go, because, you know, guards are a thing for Dolphins fans but not necessarily for the Dolphins.

I've been told by the team that Tannehill, the NFL's most sacked QB the past four seasons, will be protected in 2016. No, the team hasn't add a ton of guard talent in free agency, unless one thinks Jermon Bushrod is that.

But Tannehill acts as if he's not concerned.

"I know we have to play better. I know that being healthy at the tackle position will definitely help our offensive line play," Tannehill said at the NFL annual meeting in Boca Raton. "Just being consistent and having those guys. I don't know exactly the number of games but it was like 12 games or something like that with a backup offensive lineman in the lineup. And it's tough to be consistent and tough to play at a high level when you play that many games with backup lineman.

"And we've added some key pieces to help our offensive line depth right now. We'll see what happens at the guard position -- whether we'll get somebody else up or continue to develop the guys that we have. But I did see improvement as the season went on and they're going to have to continue to improve. I think it's got to be a balance of guys being healthy, of guys getting the ball out and guys playing better.

"Whether we add a piece or not I think we're going to find a way to succeed."

Well, I have heard that before and Tannehill is the most sacked QB in the NFL the past four seasons. So be warned.

But I've been told Gase iintends to put both Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas on weight programs focusing on their lower bodies to address some of their problems.

As to free agency, the Dolphins lost leading rusher Lamar Miller, No. 4 wide receiver (this year's projection) Rishard Matthews, and No. 6 wide receiver Greg Jennings, who was cut.

Happy Tannehill, on display Monday, shrugged off the losses.

"It's exciting. We brought in some talented guys and we're getting better," Tannehill said. "Each and every week we've gotten better so far since free agency hit. We still have a few more pieces to add through the draft and free agency as well and we'll be ready to go.

"You lose guys, not just teammates but friends and good players. It's tough but that's the business that we're in. You're constantly going to have good players come and good players go. And unfortunately we saw a few of our good players go. But that's the nature of the business but we've add a few pieces that will compliment the pieces that we lost. I wish those guys best, communicated with them, and I want to see them succeed except when they're playing us."

So what is Tannehill doing to get himself better this offseason?

"You're constantly trying to improve," he said. "You watch tape and let your body heal. You start getting back into the trianing and improve anything in your body you had problems with, and rehabbing and building up your strength. You're doing all those things. I've been throwing for several weeks now. I've been throwing with the guys off campus. We get together twice a week. We have guys that are showing up consistently. And we're getting better. that's the funnest part for me, seeing guys getting better. We're running routes differently than we have in the past. So it's about consistency for everyone, different timing in how the ball is coming out, moving different at the top of routes."

March 21, 2016

Mike Pouncey confirms another hip surgery

Mike Pouncey wants you to know he didn't have foot surgery this offseason. I mean, he really, really wants you to know because he repeated that to me three times during his visit to the NFL annual meeting at the Boca Raton Resort today.

"Tell the people it wasn't a foot," he said. "There's nothing wrong with my feet."

Pouncey had hip surgery. He said he had bone shaved down and that he is in the middle of a three-month rehabilitation.

Pouncey said he could be ready by the start of OTAs in April but he acknowledges there's probably no reason to rush him back from the three-month recovery. He expects to be fully ready for the start of training camp with no issues.

The interesting thing is that this is Pouncey's second hip surgery in two years. He missed the first four games of the season in 2014 while rehabilitating from the surgery. Pouncey, however, didn't seem too worried his hip issues are chronic.

He said this surgery was on the other hip from the one in 2014.

March 18, 2016

Miami Dolphins plan with Cameron Wake is be cautious and use sparingly if necessary

The Miami Dolphins are going to be very careful, indeed, they are going to take precautions with the return of defensive end Cameron Wake from a ruptured Achilles.

And if that means Wake isn't the starter and taking all the repetitions in practice the first day of training camp, so be it. And if that means Wake isn't the starter and taking 40-50 snaps at the start of the regular season, so be it.

Indeed, the Dolphins are planning for those exact scenario, per people familiar with the team's thinking.

Wake, 34, may not be ready for a full load early in the 2016 season, the team believes. And even once he is fully 100 percent, he will not be asked to be a full time player anymore.

That is why defensive end Andre Branch, an under-the-radar acquisition on a one-year deal, is considered the starter initially until Wake is fully healthy. At least that is what the team told Branch when he asked about his role.

“A very prominent role," Branch told reporters on a telephone conference call Friday. "Basically, (I’ll) be opposite of Mario Williams and then on rush downs, when Cam Wake gets back, it will be me, Cam (Wake), (Ndamukong) Suh and Mario (Williams). Those guys have been playing at a high level their whole career and I’m ready to learn from those guys.”

Those guys haven't been together very long at all.

Wake and Suh played only seven games together before Wake ruptured his Achilles in October 2015. Williams and Branch -- who may get more reps at defensive end than anyone else until Wake is ready -- just joined the team days ago.

So the Dolphins defensive line will look different in 2016 after losing Olivier Vernon and Derrick Shelby.

Indeed, Branch is supposed to play the Shelby role. But, again, Wake's health might thrust him toward more snaps than Wake.

And now you can understand why the Dolphins wanted to restructure Wake's contract last month. He is scheduled to cost the team $9.8 million against the cap. That is a fair figure for a full-time 45-50 snap defensive end who is an accomplished pass rusher.

But Wake might get perhaps half that many snaps -- at least early in the season. And most of those might come in passing situations.

That makes him a very expensive part-time player.

The Dolphins solution was either push Wake to continue playing his traditional role as a full-time player or trim his cap number, and likely his salary. The negotiations to cut the cap number didn't succeed. The team doesn't intend to force Wake to play more snaps because it doesn't want to risk another injury or a re-injury. The Dolphins also don't want Wake wearing down before the end of the season.

And so right now Wake is a part-time player getting paid like what he used to be -- a fulltime defensive end who is among the NFL's better pass rushers.

Mike Tannenbaum's comparison of 2016 Dolphins to 2015 is worrisome

Last weekened, in what was supposed to be a completely off-the-record conversation, Miami Dolphins executive vice president for football operations Mike Tannenbaum told local sportscaster Steve Shapiro that given the improvement of the coaching staff, and the tweaks he's made to the roster, he (Tannenbaum) believes the 2016 Dolphins could whip the 2015 Dolphins.

The message got out when Shapiro repeated it on air on WSVN-7s Sunday night sports show.

And folks at the Dolphins cringed because the conversation was supposed to be confidential.

And I cringed for different reasons.

One: Why is anyone at the Dolphins wasting time thinking like that?

Two: It is probably not true.

Three: Even if it were true, it suggests the Dolphins are aiming at the wrong goal this offseason.

Four: If it were true and being better than last year's team is the goal, the Dolphins are about to embark on a wholly wasted season -- one they must already know is going to lead them, well, nowhere.

So let's consider these things.

Firstly, I understand the desire of the Dolphins football czar to want to measure his current (if incomplete) work against that which he knows best, which is last year's disaster of a team. I get that. It's an easy exercise, especially when you are as intimately familiar with the subject matter as Tannenbaum obviously is, having constructed significant parts of both the 2015 and burgeoning 2016 rosters.

But how does one look at this team and think it is better?

This team has no starting running back. Well, if it has a starting running back, his name is Jay Ajayi. And Ajayi was last year's backup to Lamar Miller, who has left via free agency. So has the running back position improved or regressed so far? It has regressed.

This team addressed the guard position by adding veteran Jermon Bushrod, who has never been a guard by trade in the NFL, and he is so far the upgrade at the position. Otherwise the position sits exactly where it was last year, with Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas as the presumptive starters. So how is this helping the 2016 beat the 2015 team? Oh, it's not.

The center and tackles are the same from one year to the next so that's a wash.

This year's team will feature 34-year-old Cameron Wake at one defensive end spot. He is expected to be on something of a snap count in the coming season because he's coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon and, again, he's 34. Well, last year's team featured 33-year-old Cameron Wake. And he was on a something of a snap count while he was healthy last year. So one year and a season-ending Achilles injury later, Cameron Wake has improved? No. Sorry. Not buying it.

This year's team will feature a rental of Mario Williams, who had a bad year in Buffalo in 2015, over Olivier Vernon, who had a solid year in Miami. The Dolphins think this is an upgrade. I'm not giving them that. I'm open to the possibility that in the short-term, Williams might add something because he is motivated to prove last year was an outlier rather than a predictor of what is coming.

But I'm also aware that both Mario Williams and Olivier Vernon were out there for 31 teams, other than Buffalo, to sign. And multiple teams decided chasing Vernon, even at a higher price, was the better option.

Williams? He had a couple of suitors. But even then, no one, not even the Dolphins, valued him as high as multiple teams valued Vernon. Think about that. Multiple NFL teams saw Vernon and Williams on the market days apart and thought Vernon a better value. And the Dolphins, knowing better than anybody else, are countering that Williams is still an upgrade?

I fall on the side of waiting to see evidence.

(By the way, get used to me saying this. I'm am going to be waiting to see evidence before I applaud or condone (or rip) anything the Dolphins do from now on. I have said it before and repeat here, I'm done buying the hype. I only am trusting my eyes from now on. So don't tell me in March X is better than Y and expect me to simply accept it. Show me. I want on-field proof. Anything else is opinion, and the Dolphins' opinion reservoir is empty now based on 6-10 last year, no playoffs since 2008, and no playoff wins since 2000.)

Tannenbaum believes this 2016 coaching staff is much better than the 2015 staff. He said that to Shapiro but the sportscaster didn't get into deep specifics on the topic on air. At any rate, I want to believe that is true. Look, Joe Philbin was a nice enough human being, but as an NFL head coach he was simply lacking in too many areas -- leadership for one -- to be good.

So Adam Gase is the new thing, the hot commodity. If you go by the Olivier Vernon example I just used, multiple NFL franchises valued him so highly they interviewed him to be their coach. So there is reason to hope he's going to be an upgrade. But can anyone be 100 percent sure? Absolutely not. He's 37 years old and has not coached his first game yet.

So how can anyone know for sure?

The point is Tannenbaum calls this a major upgrade. But at this point, I'm not giving him that because, again, a 0-0 all-time record as head coach is not enough evidence for me.

Moving on...

Are the Dolphins better in the secondary? Maybe. Maybe not. I thought they blew it cutting Brice McCain. The guy is a slot cornerback. The Dolphins played him out of position on the outside because they didn't have anyone else. That's wasn't McCain's failing. That was on the Dolphins poor planning. And so McCain was predictably terrible outside. So it is his fault he was signed to play the nickel but was better than anyone else so he got bumped outside and failed?

Meanwhile, the Dolphins have question marks at nickel now. And they still haven't filled a cornerback spot outside. They basically traded Brent Grimes for Byron Maxwell but the starting corner on the other side is still a mystery.

And with no nickel (only unproven candidates like Bobby McCain) and no starter opposite Maxwell, the Dolphins have improved at cornerback? Not. Buying. It.

The Dolphins have improved at safety. Isa Abdul-Quddus is not a star. At least he has not been that. But he's an upgrade over Walt Aikens and probably Michael Thomas. So a plus for the 2016 squad!

Middle linebacker with Kiko Alonso over Kelvin Sheppard? Depends on which Alonso the Dolphins see -- the 2014 Buffalo version that was outstanding or the 2015 Philadelphia version that was of little consequence on defense and the Eagles were willing to dispatch in trade. We do not know what Alonso is going to be. And neither do the Dolphins. They have a hope. But NFL games are not won on hope. So I'm not giving them an upgrade here until I see it. Sorry.

The rest of the team is basically the same. 

So there's a lot of wishful thinking and best-case-scenario projecting for Tannenbaum to be saying these Dolphins are better than last year's team.

And, with respect, are the Dolphins trying to beat what they did last year? Or are they trying to beat the rest of the AFC East? If the goal is to be better than 6-10, that's setting the bar pretty low, no?

I mean, can you imagine Adam Gase's first meeting? "Guys, let's do better than 6-10 this year!"

That must never be the marching orders. That must never be the goal.

Either you're trying to win the division or you're wasting everyone's time. If you're not aiming for that, you're missing a chance to aim high. Last year the Dolphins were dead last in the division and trying to get out of the cellar doesn't put you on top or in the playoffs, which should be the stated goals every year.

Finally, and most concerning, maybe Tannenbaum said this because he can say nothing else.

If what is left unsaid is that the Dolphins can only hope for slightly better than 6-10 we're still in for a long season in 2016. Maybe Tannenbaum believes that's coming. Maybe he realizes this team still has a ton of holes, is riddled with question marks (as I've outlined previously) and so the best way to frame things is, "Hey, we're better than last year's terrible team!"

If that's the case ... Prepare of a long season, folks.

March 17, 2016

Salary cap comparison: The Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots

The National Football League Players Association salary cap report this morning is an eye-opener.

The Miami Dolphins currently are $18,399,241 under the NFL salary cap of $155,270,000. This includes $9,137,544 carried over from last year that went unused and now is being employed by the team to add to its cap space.

So the Dolphins, the team that finished in last place in the AFC East in 2015, have $18.4 million in cap space.

The New England Patriots, the team that finished first in the AFC East in 2015, have $18,056,126 in cap space.

And I ask myself, how is it possible that the Dolphins are coming from a place that is so bad -- last place -- while the Patriots are coming from a place every other team wishes it was in -- first place -- and they're both at the same basic salary cap space?

By the way, the Dolphins and Patriots have the most cap space in the division. The Bills ($7.5 million) and Jets ($4.1 million) are bordering on dire straits considering they have to set aside space to draft, space for a practice squad, and space to maneuver during the season.

So there is no complaint about the Dolphins cap management relative to those two teams -- the other non-playoff teams in the division.

But compared to the Patriots, well, the Dolphins are not in any better spot than the division champions. And considering the Patriots are in a far superior spot when measuring talent, that means the Dolphins are going to be hard pressed the rest of this offseason to make up ground on the team everyone in the AFC East is chasing.

Remember, cap space gives a team the ability to improve because it can be used to buy resources (talent). If you have less talent, it stands to reason, you should have more space to acquire more because that is what proper cap management is about.

Terrible cap management is having a bad team and little cap space.

Amazing cap management is having an excellent team and having plenty of space.

The Dolphins have had a poor team (6-10, coaching staff fired, general manager fired) but have good space. That's solid enough cap management.

The Patriots have an outstanding team (12-4, won the division, advanced to another AFC title game) and also have good cap space. That is outstanding cap management.

The thing is if the last-place team, which by logic has less talent, doesn't have an advantage with its cap, it is unlikely to make up ground on the team that started the offseason with more talent. So maybe the Dolphins are making up ground on the Bills and New York Jets, who don't even have a quarterback right now.

But judging by their cap space and looking at the actual moves the teams have made, they don't seem to be making up any ground on the Patriots. And because both have roughly the same cap space, Miami's prospects for closing the talent gap the remainder of the offseason are not good.

Now, I was going to get into comparing the Dolphins' recent personnel moves and their cap costs compared to the Patriots recent personnel moves and their cap costs. But it got, well, depressing.

Suffice to say the Dolphins are trying to hold their ground. They are replacing Brent Grimes with Byron Maxwell, replacing Olivier Vernon with Mario Williams, replacing Derrick Shelby with Andre Branch, replacing Lamar Miller with nobody so far.

The Dolphins are stirring their roster.

The Patriots are shaking their roster. Aggressively, I might add, considering they were 12-4 last year.

They are taking a risk by trading 12.5-sack defensive end Chandler Jones to Arizona. But they did that because they didn't believe themselves capable of paying him in 2017 when he becomes a free agent. So they got something for him now. They received potential starting guard Jonathan Cooper and a second-round pick for Jones.

And to replace Jones they signed free agent Chris Long from the Rams.

(It will be interesting to see whether Mario Williams or Chris Long -- both of whom were disappointments last season -- has a better year in 2016.)

The Patriots also have been trying to acquire more weapons for quarterback Tom Brady. They signed Chris Hogan, formerly known as 7-11 when he was with the Dolphins in their 2012 training camp, as a restricted free agent. They also just traded for tight end Martellus Bennett to team in double-tight end sets with Rob Gronkowski -- two 6-6, 260-plus-pound guys who can run and pose matchup issues.

Obviously, the Cooper addition also begs scrutiny. He's been a draft bust since going No. 7 overall in the 2013 draft. But the Patriots wanted to improve their offensive line this year and believe this can help.

The Dolphins also needed to improve their offensive line this year, specifically the guard position. Their answer in free agency was to sign veteran Jermon Bushrod, who has never been a consistent guard in the NFL.

(It will be interesting to see whether Cooper or Bushrod -- both dogged by question marks now -- has a better year in 2016.)

Both teams have made moves that seem comparable to one degree or another. The Patriots cut vet WR Brandon LaFell; the Dolphins cut vet WR Greg Jennings. There are others ...

The important point is as of this morning, the Patriots have $18 million in salary cap space.

The Dolphins, perpetually chasing the Patriots it seems, have $18.4 million in salary cap space.

March 16, 2016

Andre Branch agrees to terms with the Miami Dolphins.

The Miami Dolphins have agreed to a one-year contract with defensive end Andre Branch, The Herald's Barry Jackson is reporting.

And you're saying, "Who?"

Well, Jackson covers sports for The Herald ... Oh, you mean, who is Andre Branch?

Branch is a 26-year-old veteran of four seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He has 14 career sacks in 51 games. He has always been a part-time player although last year injuries and other issues thrust Branch into starting nine games for Jacksonville.

If you want to see more on Branch go to this video from 2013.

"I always want to be better than yesterday," Branch said.

One thing that must be said: The Jags had Branch and brought in three other pass rushers to play ahead of him.

Miami's plan initially? The Dolphins are looking to Cameron Wake to be on a snap count of sorts coming of a season-ending Achilles injury at age 34. Indeed, Wake was on something of a limited snap count last year.

Branch can eat up some of those snaps while Wake is on the sideline.