March 06, 2014

Monroe will be on the market barring late Ravens rally

Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, a Super Bowl winning coach, had a press conference on Wednesday to discuss the team's situation just before the start of free agency. He stressed the Ravens want to keep several of their pending free agents, including offensive tackle Eugene Monroe.

"We want to keep our guys," Harbaugh said. "We want our guys to be here just like Dennis (Pitta). We want to keep those guys."

Harbaugh said the team has offers to its pending free agents and characterized those as "aggressive."

Except ...

The chances of the Ravens keeping Monroe are getting bleak now. According to a league source, Monroe will be testing free agency, barring a significant change in course by the Ravens. The two sides have not been talking every day even as time is growing short for a deal to get done before other teams can enter the picture.

NFL teams can begin negotiating with free agents starting Saturday.

Simply, the Ravens have set a price point for Monroe and that is so far falling short of the expectations Monroe and his representation have for a new contract.

The Ravens and Monroe have not been close to a deal because it's doubtful the team wants to go too far beyond the $8 million per year range. But it would not surprise if Monroe's camp is expecting $10 million per season.

And the Monroe camp may have the upper hand initially because, as I've reported previously, the Dolphins are very, very, very, very, very interested in adding Monroe in free agency. The Dolphins are also very, very, very, very interested in adding Branden Albert. It will be an interesting choice. And the Dolphins have the cap space to meet the $10 million-per-year threshold if they want.

So a five-year deal for $50 million is not out of the question here.

If Monroe hits the market as expected, there will be competition for him. Arizona will be interested, at least initially. The Cardinals expect to land a left tackle in free agency.

Carolina needs a left tackle as well following the retirement of Jordan Gross -- although the Panthers probably don't have the cap space to compete for a $8-10 million-a-year left tackle.

So that all leads to significant questions:

1. Do the Ravens have a trick up their, um, wings? Can they convince Monroe that taking a less money to play with a perennial contender is better than going to a non-playoff team like the Dolphins or Cardinals?

2. Do the Dolphins decide they want Monroe, a solid player and solid citizen (more important to this team than most following the harassment scandal), to the extent they reach the $10 million per year mark for a very good but not great left tackle?

I cannot predict the answer to No. 1. I think everyone knows the answer to No. 2 -- yes.

March 05, 2014

Grimes contract great for player first 2 years, great for team final 2 years

The details of Brent Grimes' contract are in and, predictably, the sides answered the issue of the player's age, which will be 31-years-old when the 2014 season begins, by basically splitting the baby.

King Solomon would be proud.

The Dolphins make a strong commitment to Grimes the first two years of the four-year, $32 million deal that includes $16 million in guaranteed money.

Grimes gets a $6 million signing bonus that is guaranteed and $10 million of his base salaries the first two years are fully guaranteed. Those base salary numbers are $2.475 million and $8.475 million. In the second year, only $7.525 million is guaranteed.

So Grimes is going to make $17 million the next two seasons and $16 million of that is fully guaranteed. That makes sense for him because he's assured himself of being around and earning big paydays when he's at his youngest and his play is likely to mirror what it was last season when he went to the Pro Bowl.

The Dolphins, meanwhile, protect themselves from a sudden drop in performance when Grimes hits his 33rd and 34th birthdays because he could easily be cut those two years.

The cap hit for cutting Grimes in 2016 at age 33 would be $3 million ($1.5 million if they designate it after June 1). The cap hit for cutting Grimes the final year of his deal would be $1.5 million. And by cutting Grimes those years the Dolphins would save $8 million in cap space in 2016 (assuming they designate the cut for post June 1 or $6.5 million if they take the $3 million in dead money all in one lump sum.)

The Dolphins would save $5.5 million in cap space in 2017 if they cut the player at any time before the regular season begins.

So, in that regard, the Dolphins are really committed to Grimes for two years.

One more thing: The cap hit for Grimes this season is $4 million. That's less than the cap hit for Grimes last season. And the while the cap hit will climb to $10 million in 2015, the salary cap itself is expected to climb next year for all teams so that will mitigate that pain.

By the way, there's $100,000 in reporting bonuses throughout the life of the contract -- $25,000 every year.

Pocket change, right?

What a world.

March 04, 2014

Update on Nolan Carroll and Dimitri Patterson

The Dolphins settled family business, to quote the Godfather, when they re-signed Brent Grimes on Monday.

The status of their other two 2013 starting cornerbacks has yet to be settled.

Nolan Carroll, who started 12 games last season, and Dimtri Patterson, who started four games, are uncertain about their status with the Dolphins at this hour.

Carroll, a pending unrestricted free agent, expects to test free agency when the market opens on Monday, according to a league source. That doesn't mean he won't return to the Dolphins.

Carroll's agent met with the Dolphins during the Combine in Indianapolis a couple of weeks ago and the team told him it would like to have Carroll back. But that desire has so far not been accompanied by a contract offer to make that return possible.

So Carroll will shop his services with hopes of landing somewhere he can at least compete for a starting job.

Patterson is an interesting issue because he is signed for 2014. But because that is the final year of the contract, and because his salary cap number is $5.4 million, and because he has been injured a majority of his time with the Dolphins, there is speculation the Dolphins will either ask Patterson to take a pay cut or restructure (set money off into incentives tied to playing time).

Or the Dolphins could simply cut the veteran and save $5.4 million of cap space because there are no negative cap ramifications in the move.

So far, the Dolphins have not notified Patterson of any pending move. So he remains on the team at his current contract.

But only for now.

Looks like the family has more business to settle.

March 03, 2014

Dolphins decline to play tag

Last season the Dolphins made Randy Starks their franchise player. The Dolphins also used their franchise tag on a tackle in 2011 when they used it on Paul Soliai.

So former general manager Jeff Ireland used the franchise tag twice in the last three seasons -- both times on a defensive tackle.

Change is afoot, folks.

This year new GM Dennis Hickey had the chance to use the tag on either of the two DTs because both pending free agents hit the market and he declined to use it on either.

The Dolphins indeed did not use the franchise or transition tag on any player Monday.

So the Dolphins won't be guaranteeing a huge sum of money on either of their tackles and that seems to be a plus. But that plus has the potential to backfire if the Dolphins lose both their interior defensive line veterans when free agency begins.

That possibility now exists because the team must lock up either Starks or Soliai before March 11 when free agency begins.

The Dolphins continue discussions with both players, according to a league source. But those talks have not advanced to the point a signing is imminent.

 

Dolphins visiting with UFA D'Qwell Jackson

D'Qwell Jackson did good work in Cleveland but was cut for salary cap reasons last week. Well, he's gotten a jump on unrestricted free agency and is including the Dolphins among his scheduled visits.

Jackson, 30, is scheduled to visit the Dolphins starting tonight, according to the Tennessean in Nashville. Jackson has already visited the Titans and Broncos already.

Jackson isn't looking to sit on the bench. He's been a starter and expects to continue starting somewhere.

The Dolphins must know that. And if they're still serious enough to bring him in, they obviously believe that can happen despite the fact last year the team signed their entire linebacker corps -- Phillip Wheeler, Koa Misi and Dannell Ellerbe  -- to new contracts.

That means one of those guys might be on the outs.

And if Jackson and the Dolphins go down the long road to getting a contract done -- not a certainty, by the way because Jackson has other suitors --  I would believe the player currently signed who should be worried is Wheeler.

Wheeler was among the Dolphins leading tacklers last year but he also led the team in missed tackles and, by the end of the season, was sharing playing time with rookie Jelani Jenkins.

Wheeler was also inconsistent in coverage and, interestingly, his coverage skills is a primary reason he got his five-year, $26 million deal that included a $13 million signing bonus.

It won't be easy for the Dolphins to simply let loose of Wheeler. His $5 million base salary this season is fully guaranteed.

Grimes and Dolphins sign a contract (updated)

Brent Grimes and the Dolphins are close to getting a contract done that will return him to the team, according to a league source.

[Update: Gimes has re-signed with the team. He will be returning.]

Grimes, who had been a candidate for the franchise tag, will not be tagged as the deal will be for multiple years.

The Dolphins have until March 11 to finish the deal before free agency begins and Grimes can sign with another team. Pending free agents can also begin negotiating with other teams March 8 but not sign a deal with those until the 11th.

Grimes, 31, was Miami's best defensive back in 2013 when he played under a one-year deal.

[Update: Grimes told Josina Anderson of ESPN the contract is a four-year deal. So the structure will be interesting as most CBs don't make it to the final year of their deal when they're 34.]

[Update: ESPN is also reporting the deal is for $32 million with $16 million guaranteed. So Grimes is getting an average of $8 million per year and the equivalent of two years guaranteed.]

He led the team with four interceptions and was easily the most effective defensive back in coverage. Grimes was selected to the Pro Bowl.

On another matter, agent Drew Rosenhaus is hoping he can get a contract offer for safety Louis Delmas, who visited Friday, but negotiations have not yet begun.

[Update: The Dolphins can still use the franchise tag by the end of today. That won't happen with either Paul Soliai or Randy Starks, if what the team has told both agents is true. Soliai agent David Canter tells me the club has told him multiple times he will not be franchised and a Starks associate has told The Herald's Barry Jackson that he does not expect Starks will be tagged.

Is that true?

Anything can happen by the end of business today but I would guess the Dolphins don't lie to the folks they're negotiating with.]

 

February 28, 2014

Dolphins respond to Jordan, Wake, Wallace trade rumor

Let's clear things up:

The Dolphins have begun shopping defensive end Dion Jordan to gauge his trade value, CBSSports.com reported today.

That's false, a Dolphins source just told me.

The Dolphins are open to trading receiver Mike Wallace and are gauging interest in him around the league, CBSSports.com reported today.

That's false, the same Dolphins source just told me.

The Dolphins are open to trading Cameron Wake, CBSSports.com reported today.

That's false, the same Dolphins source just told me.

So what we have here is an issue of credibility and integrity. Do you believe CBSSports.com? Or do you believe the Miami Dolphins?

I know my source.

I'm going with the Dolphins.

As to news that is actually true, the Dolphins hosted free agent safety Louis Delmas on Friday. Delmas, who attended high school in Miami, is available because he was cut by the Detroit Lions on Feb. 13.

He is a smart player. He is a two-time Pro Bowl alternate. He has battled injury issues.

The Dolphins are looking at cheap safety help because Chris Clemons is an unrestricted free agent and will test the market.

February 27, 2014

Mike Pouncey is in the Dolphins future

In the days following the release of the Ted Wells report there were questions what the Dolphins would do with center Mike Pouncey.

Would they trade Pouncey because he was implicated, along with Richie Incognito and John Jerry, as the alleged tormentors of Jonathan Martin?

Would they cut Pouncey?

Would they bring Pouncey back regardless of possible NFL sanctions (read suspension) for his part in the scandal?

Well, we have the answer, beyond the idea that Pouncey is not on the trade block, which I reported Feb. 17 wasn't an immediate issue:

The Dolphins are committed to Mike Pouncey. Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey told WMEN's Orlando Alzugaray Thursday that he has spoken with Pouncey in the past month and "is excited about the future."

And according to a club source, both Hickey and Dolphins executive vice president of football administration Dawn Aponte met with Pouncey's agent Joel Segal while at the Indianapolis Combine last week and shared a similar sentiment from the club.

That doesn't mean all is settled.

Right now, Pouncey is scheduled to hit the final year (2014) of his fully guaranteed $9.259 million rookie deal. That deal will pay Pouncey $1.63 million in 2014. But the Dolphins are able to pick up an option year on Pouncey in May that would tie him to the team for a fifth year through 2015.

The Dolphins fully intend to pick up that option, according to a club source.

But here's the thing: Pouncey, perhaps the second-best player on the Dolphins offense and the only player left from the offensive line of the past two seasons, doesn't necessarily want to play under his rookie deal for a fifth year.

Pouncey will want an extension.

So what will happen at that point?

Two options: The Dolphins, not needing more holes on the offensive line, will have to entertain the extension idea (very likely). Or the Dolphins might consider trading Pouncey then (not very likely, but it's an option that cannot be dismissed).

All that isn't an issue now but the matter will have to be addressed before the 2014 regular-season begins.

The key short-term issue is waiting on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to see if he hands down any disciplinary action against Pouncey -- not to mention Jerry and Incognito -- to determine if the only remaining starting offensive lineman on the Dolphins roster will have to serve a suspension.

On that issue, Pouncey has heard unofficially from the NFL Players Association that he is not likely to get suspended, according to a source. But, of course, the NFLPA doesn't determine whether there is or isn't a suspension from the league.

So that remains the most important question on the table. Until it isn't.

Teams asking about Dolphins locker room at Combine

You know that the Indianapolis Combine gives teams a chance to meet with college prospects and in those meetings the strangest questions get asked. My particular favorite this year is one player was asked which team he picks to play as in Madden and why.

Well, as the Dolphins harassment scandal was a top issue around the league last year, teams apparently are wanting to gauge how potential draft picks would handle being in a similar situation. That is why multiple NFL teams asked prospects how they would handle being put in a locker room situation like the one in Miami.

One player who was asked about the Dolphins locker room situation was Florida Gators defensive back Jaylen Watkins, according to OnlyGators.com.

"They also ask personal questions about your family, how you would conduct yourself in the locker room," Watkins told the website. "A lot of teams asked about how I would handle a situation like what happened with the Miami Dolphins. They're trying to get a feel of how you could react to certain situations being in a locker room with other players who might have different perspectives, be more aggressive or more passive."

Players this year were prepared for questions about Michael Sam, the first NFL prospect to announce he is homosexual. Watkins was ready for the questions about possibly having a gay teammate. But no one went there, according to him.

"I was prepared for them to ask questions about Michael Sam or handling a situation like that in a locker room, but no one brought it up or asked about it," he said.

I can understand the questions about the Dolphins situation. But here's my opinion:

The Dolphins locker room dynamics between Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin was an outlier. In that one situation you had an extremely volatile player who has a history of drug and alcohol use and an inability to control himself -- against anger and other undisciplined behavor -- on the one hand. And on the other hand you had an extremely sensitive, weak and (now we come to find out) depressed individual with little self-esteem.

And those two were brought together, indeed, pushed together because they played on the same side of the offensive line and needed to work together and be together. And as time passed, each player's greater instincts got stronger.

Incognito became more aggressive and over-bearing. Martin became more isolated and unable to impose his will on the situation.

And what looked outwardly like a friendship of some sort was actually a freakship that no one really understood -- perhaps not even the two guys involved in the relationship.

Tyson Clabo: Wells report not 'accurate'

Before the Wells report was released players in the Dolphins locker room almost universally defended what was going on within the confines of meeting rooms and closed practices and off-limit lunch rooms and other areas.

Since the Wells report peeled back the curtain on what happened in those areas -- specifically that people were being bullied and verbally abused, according to the report -- players such as John Denney and Ryan Tannehill have continued to defend the Dolphins locker room.

Add offensive tackle Tyson Clabo to that group. Clabo, a thoughtful veteran who joined the Dolphins in 2013, read the report and said today on SiriusXM NFL radio he doesn't believe the Wells report is accurate.

"I don't think the people that were around those situations, that were in that report, feel that was an accurate portrayal of the spirit of those events," Clabo said. "Those things in that report probably happened, I mean there were some that I wasn't there for, so I can't say for sure. But I don't see that there was, you know, harassment for the sake of harassment.

"No one is trying to hurt anyone's feelings. It's just, I don't know, it's a locker room. It's a situation that people in the every day won't understand. So when they read that report it's difficult for them to comprehend what goes on every day."

Clabo defended people the report made to look poorly. He defended offensive line coach Jim Turner, who the report said sometimes saw his players chide Jonathan Martin. The report also states Turner sometimes laughed and joined in.

Clabo defended trainer Kevin O'Neill, who the report states was aware of abuse of an assistant trainer and did not report it.

Both Turner and O'Neill were fired by Dolphins owner Stephen Ross.

"I feel bad for coach Turner, for Kevin O'Neill, those are the guys I really feel bad for because Jim Turner is one of the best football coaches I've had the pleasure of being around and for him to lose his job over that whole thing is unfortunate for him and his family," Clabo said.

Interestingly, Clabo doesn't feel quite so bad about Martin (neither do most Dolphins players, which is the reason he's never playing for the Dolphins again) but wishes his fellow tackle would have handled his troubles differently.

"I've been in a lot of situations, I've been in the league a long time, and when I was here and what I saw ... I saw two guys who were buddies," Clabo said of the Martin-Richie Incognito relationship. "And really the thing that I wished had happened is I wished [Martin] had come to us and said, 'Hey I'm having a problem.' Then we could have worked it out. But that wasn't the path he took and this is what happened and there's nothing you can do about it. You just have to move forward. And that's what I'm going to do. And I hope that's what people who were affected by this are going to do. And at the end of the day, you have to be wiser and learn from this."

Clabo is scheduled to be a free agent on March 11. I'm told he would like to return to Miami but obviously will go elsewhere if the Dolphins move in a different direction -- which it looks like they want to do. Clabo, who will be 33 years in October old but expects to play in 2014, says it's too bad if the Dolphins decide to make decisions on getting rid of some people based on the harassment scandal. 

"If it's time for me to go somewhere else, then that's what I'll do," he said. "Whenever you have a situation like this it's kind of unprecendented and everybody feels they have to throw the baby out with the bath water. And that's fine. Coach Philbin is a good man, a good football coach. He'll get it figured out."

February 26, 2014

Peters signs extension, affects LT market

Left tackles are going to be a big deal in the next couple of weeks as teams either lock up the good ones they have before the start of free agency March 11 or chase the best ones on the market for what is sure to be a lucrative amount of money.

Today the left tackle picture came into clearer focus when the Eagles signed Jason Peters to a four-year extension worth $41.3 million with $19.5 million of that guaranteed, according to ESPN.

Getting  the ol' trusty calculator and ... that averages out to $10.35 million per year.

And there you have the starting point the coming free agent tackles will shoot for and try to surpass. The reason that is the aiming point is they will argue Peters signed an extension with a year left on his contract. They will say he took less money for the security of staying with his current team.

They will say that players are worth more once they hit the open market.

Obviously, teams may counter that some of the tackles in free agency aren't nearly as good as Peters. And the agents will counter that most of the free agent tackles are younger than the 32-year-old Peters.

The point is the back and forth will still center around the $10 million a year and $20 million guaranteed mark.

That's what Branden Albert, Eugene Monroe, Jared Veldheer, Anthony Collins and others will be aiming for at the beginning.

That, by the way, assumes any of them reach free agency. Why is that a question?

In recent days there have been numerous reports about the salary cap rising. First the report it was going to $130 million. Then a report it was going to $132 million. Lately some media outlets are suggesting the cap number will be higher than $132 million.

And with each reported rise, if true, the chances teams keep their outstanding left tackles increase. Suddenly the cap-strapped Baltimore Ravens may have more of a chance of keeping both Monroe and tight end Dennis Pitta.

Suddenly, the Chiefs may be able to rethink the idea of keeping Albert.

The next two weeks should be interesting.

[Note: My column in today's Miami Herald explains how Dolphins owner Stephen Ross feels about the possibility of chasing unhappy San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh now. It also lays out what might happen after this season. Check it out.]

February 25, 2014

Stephen Ross to meet with Martin 'soon'

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has made no secret of the fact he'd like to meet with Jonathan Martin.

That meeting will happen "soon," Ross said today on a conference call with reporters. Interestingly, lawyers are the ones setting up the meeting, Ross divulged.

And if you're asking why?

Why would Ross, who has already said Martin isn't returning to the Dolphins, want to meet with Martin after the offensive lineman responded to harassment by teammates by withholding information from coaches and quitting during the 2013 season?

"I haven't heard what his feelings are," Ross said. "I think I've read the report. I think he wants to talk to me as much as I'm prepared to listen. When you've dealt with something, it's nice to understand it a little bit more by hearing from the person directly."

And having said that, Ross says the meeting with Martin will not drive the Dolphins decision making on the player at all.

"That'll have no impact really on what we're doing going forward," he said.

Folks, Jon Martin has played his final game for the Dolphins. It was true before the season ended. It is true now. You'll read and hear numerous things on the subject. And, yes, perhaps the Dolphins will leak that they want to keep Martin. That is simply a smokescreen to create trade value that does not otherwise exist.

Martin is not coming back to the Dolphins. Period.

Ross commissions white paper, Dolphins just need good men

The New York University Sports and Society program, headed by University professor Arthur R. Miller, issued a white paper today examining the bullying and other behavior in sports, and proposing a comprehensive range of initiatives focused on youth athletics to combat those behaviors, the Dolphins announced today.

While these issues have been central to the Sports and Society program, work on this latest project began after Dolphins owner and NYU Law alumnus Stephen M. Ross approached NYU Law Dean Trevor Morrison in December 2013 to discuss ways to increase civility and respect in sports, and thus, in society at large.

Ross was obviously motivated by the so-called harassment scandal that happened in his team's locker room the last couple of years. 

Working with Morrison, Miller, one of the nation’s most distinguished law professors and founder of the Sports and Society program at the NYU School of Continuing and Professional Studies (NYU-SCPS), assembled a team of NYU Law faculty, alumni, and students, as well as faculty affiliated with NYU-SCPS, to work on a range of linked projects examining the issue.

“We must work together towards a culture of civility and mutual respect for one another,” Ross said. “Something needs to be done so that every man and woman, young and old, can participate in sports on all levels and find a positive and meaningful experience. We will use this opportunity to make a positive change.”

The white paper, authored by Miller and other faculty who are members of the Sports and Society program at NYU-SCPS, states: “Bullying in sports is only one aspect of a larger phenomenon of harmful behavior in many spheres of society: schools, workplaces, social, and community settings. Although many government, educational, and other social institutions have done some work to curb bullying behavior in their ranks, these efforts often are not coordinated or comprehensive enough to change the existing culture."

The paper then proposes a youth education initiative to combat racism and other forms of alleged intolerance in sports, and to promote a culture of respect. Among the measures proposed are:

* The development of a curriculum to educate young athletes, coaches, and parents on respectful conduct.

* A uniform code of respectful conduct for adoption at all levels of youth athletics.

* A pledge in which sports participants on all levels commit, on a recurring basis, to treat others with respect, identify bullying, and speak out against it.

And now a break from the so-called news ... Let me just say that Americans have been playing organized sports for more than a century. And like society, the sports landscape is not perfect. It houses great men and women. It is also home to bullies, punks, thugs and druggies.

But you know what?

Sports has done a better job than society of weeding those losers out of its ranks. Sports, more specifically team sports, is a great uniter. It breaks down social barriers and has for decades.

A white paper is nice. But a white paper is a classroom project.

The lockerroom is the thing. That's real life. And I reject that what happened within the Dolphins locker room the last couple of years was the norm across sports.

Yes, there are pranks. Yes, people step over lines all across sports.

But I believe in most instances men of good faith and morals and minds eventually find a way to get the room back on course. They can do it because they are part of the room and have the respect of those in the room.

It has never happened because someone who never stepped in the room wrote a paper about it.

One more thing: Many of the things this white paper proposes? Those need to be taught at home by a mother and father. And yes, I recognize that not everyone is in a situation where mom and dad teach right and wrong, good and bad, respect and morals.

I don't have an answer for how to overcome that handicap. But I know a white paper isn't going to do it. It will never substitute for family.

Nice try, though.

February 24, 2014

Dolphins apparently eyeing Albert over Monroe in UFA

Here we go again.

The Branden Albert to Miami rumors have begun anew and, no, they are not a suprise but boy are they interesting. NFL Media insider Ian Rapoport reported Monday evening the Dolphins are expected to make a strong run at landing Albert if he hits the unrestricted free agency market.

Even then, the Dolphins may have competition, according to RapSheet, who also reports the Cardinals will be involved in the bidding for the 29-year-old left tackle.

And why is this interesting to me?

Two reasons:

1. Brandon Albert is not the best left tackle who might get to free agency. Eugene Monroe, 26, is better and younger. More expensive? Yes. But did I mention better and younger?

This means the Dolphins might be paying a mint for a player who is not the elite or top of his class at his position. Whatever Monroe gets, the Dolphins had better pay less for Albert if that's the direction they're going to go.

Of course, the Albert camp wants to make him the highest paid left tackle in football. So does every free agent come to the Dolphins wanting to be the highest paid at his position?

2. I'd say 80 percent of the reports coming from the national media now are agent fed and inspired. They might hold water. But some really do not. All are agenda driven. What's the agenda here? Create a sense of competition for a player. Create buzz for a player. What better way to do that than offer up two tackle-needy teams that might want to bid on a player? And, oh by the way, what better way to get lukewarm Kansas City to move a bit toward re-signing its own player?

It's agent 101.

It's obvious the Dolphins are ready to avoid the mistake of 2013 by not overlooking Ryan Tannehill's blind side. They are obviously prepared to make a significant investment in the left tackle position.

The question is, why Albert and not Monroe?

Why the older inferior player ahead of the younger superior player?

The Dolphins flirted with Branden Albert last year. They talked to the Chiefs at length about such a trade. They also discussed contract parameters at length with Albert's agents.

In the end, however, the Chiefs would not allow the Dolphins to give Albert a medical exam. The Dolphins, unwilling to negotiated a trade and a contract without certainty about Albert's back, backed away from the talks around draft time.

The Dolphins decided to go with Jonathan Martin as their left tackle. 

Five teams show interest in Paul Soliai

No, the Dolphins have not yet made a contract offer to retain pending free agent defensive tackle Paul Soliai, as The Herald first reported this morning. Neither have any other teams, according to league sources.

But here's the deal:

Five teams have shown interest in Soliai in recent days. And at least two of those teams are quite serious about adding Soliai once free agency begins March 11, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. Those teams made their interest known during the Indianapolis Combine.

(Peanut gallery: But Mando, that's tampering.)

Oh, gallery how naive you are. While it is technically tampering, it would never be investigated because every team is spending time at the Combine talking to agents and asking those agents about their clients' mindset and general parameters to gauge the cost of signing those clients. And everyone is doing that.

And Soliai, a run-stuffing defensive tackle who has played both in the 3-4 and 4-3, is drawing as much interest as anyone.

The Dolphins, meanwhile, are taking a lukewarm approach to retaining Soliai -- and, frankly, many of their pending free agents. The Dolphins do not appear moved by the idea of their free agents hitting the market.

That includes Soliai, Randy Starks, Brent Grimes, Nolan Carroll, John Jerry and others. Indeed, some of those players will almost definitely not be returning to the Dolphins.

Although no contracts can be negotiated now, teams will be able to begin talking to free agents before free agency begins. The negotiation window opens March 8. Although no contract can be signed before March 11, several players will have deals in place before then because of the open negotiation window.

Dolphins free agency priority: Cornerback

When free agency begins for the Dolphins and all other NFL clubs March 11 (negotiations can begin March 8) one of the priorities, indeed the top priority, the Dolphins may have is the cornerback position.

We know this because although the Indianapolis Combine is supposed to be about preparing for the draft in that draft-eligible players are inspected in almost every way imaginable, the last five days was also about meeting with the representatives for free agents. It was about meeting with agents for some of Miami's pending free agents as well as those representing potential free agents about to hit the market.

And the position the Dolphins asked these agents most about during Indianapolis was, you guessed it, the cornerback spot, according to multiple league sources.

This makes sense.

The Dolphins have needs at offensive line, safety, defensive tackle and probably running back. But cornerback is perhaps the second-most obvious need after OL because Brent Grimes and Nolan Carroll -- the starters most of 2013 -- are both pending unrestricted free agents.

Moreoever, the Dolphins might be deciding that keeping Dimitri Patterson and his $5.4 million cap hit that comes with his inconsistent durability is a luxury they cannot afford.

Obviously, the team is interested in bringing back Grimes at what new general manager Dennis Hickey has been calling a Dolphins value. That means the Dolphins decide what a player is worth to them and they would be willing to pay. (Unfortunately, in some cases, that Dolphins value and the player's value of himself are not equal.)

Signing Grimes, who will be 31 in before the season, to a four or five-year contract is a tricky proposition. It simply isn't done in the NFL with a cornerback that age.

The Dolphins might also consider a franchise tag on Grimes, although that doesn't make a ton of sense. The franchise tag on a CB is expected to be approximately $11 million, all of it in a lump sum salary-cap space swallowing chunk. The Dolphins should be able to add two cornerbacks for that kind of cap hit.

The Dolphins have until March 3 to designate a franchise player.

So cornerback will be a position of heavey activity for Miami the next two weeks.

Why not offensive line or one of the other positions, you ask?

Well, the Dolphins will probably do work there, too. But the coming draft is replete with good offensive linemen. So the Dolphins can add good, young, cheap talent at offensive line during the draft. Miami may come away with two or three offensive linemen in the draft and add an offensive lineman in free agency as well.

The Dolphins can adress safety in the secondary free agency market or the draft but after signing Reshad Jones to a big contract extension last year, they are not likely to allocate more money big money on the back end. The team also knows it can bring back either Paul Soliai or Randy Starks and there are some options at the defensive tackle position that might come available as well.

Running back, meanwhile, it is not a priority free agency spot. Paying big money for a free agent running back is not often wise.

So the Dolphins are looking around with cornerback being a focus.

And there might be some significant cornerback talent in free agency. If one considers only last season's performance, the best cornerback on the market might be Aqib Talib of the New England Patriots. And it would make sense for the Dolphins to be interested in him as Hickey was in Tampa Bay when the Buccaneers drafted him in 2008.

But, of course, all is not simply about last year's performance. The Dolphins have to consider other factors before ever thinking of Talib. Firstly, Talib's depature from Tampa Bay was forced in part because the red flags many teams had on him before the draft (he was actually off the Miami draft board in 2008) manifested themselves soon after he was drafted.

He got into a fistfight with a teammate at the 2008 rookie symposium. In 2009, he allegedly battered a taxi driver. In 2011, he was arrested in Texas for battery with a deadly weapon when he allegedly went after his sister's boyfriend. Those charges were dropped in 2012 but only in time for Talib to be suspended by the NFL for violating the NFL drug policy for testing positive for performance enhancing drugs.

The Patriots got Talib in trade in November of 2012 for a fourth-round pick.

And he's been great for them. He locked down the other team's best pass-catcher, regardless of size or speed. He went one-on-one with Jimmy Graham when the Patriots beat the Saints in 2013.

But Talib has also shown the penchant for getting hurt. He missed time last year with a hip injury. He had a hip injury in 2010. He finished the 2011 season on injured reserve with a hamstring injury.

The point is Talib is great ... when he's not suspended, or in trouble or injured.

Oh, and he wants to return to New England. So there's that.

But the Patriots, with only approximately $7 million in projected 2014 cap space, might not have the way to get Talib signed. They want to but ... well, you get the idea.

So that name is out there.

Other names that resonate as possibilities for the Dolphins?

Green Bay's Sam Shields is a player coach Joe Philbin should be familiar with. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a fine cornerback and may be difficult for the cap challenged Broncos to re-sign. Walter Thurmond is a solid No. 3 if the Dolphins aren't able to re-sign Nolan Carroll.

And perhaps the best player of the class -- all things considered -- might be Alterraun Verner. He's very young at 25. He's a fine player. He makes plays. And because the Titans already paid a mint for their other cornerback, Jason McCourty, they might not be able to pay Verner, too.

Verner doesn't have the off-the-field issues of Talib, the age issue of Grimes, and he's more consistent than DR-C.

February 21, 2014

Dolphins rolling in salary cap space for '14

The Dolphins were expecting to have a large bank roll to sign any of their 21 unsigned players (15 unrestricted free agents) players before Thursday dawned. And then several media outlets, led by ESPN, reported the projected salary cap for 2014 is going to be larger than expected.

The figure now commonly believed to be available to clubs when the league year opens March 11?

A tidy $129-$130 million.

And that means barring re-signing some of their own free agents before then, the Dolphins will have approximately $36 million in cap space. That includes over $18 million in carryover from 2013. And that figure ranks the Dolphins in the top 5 among teams with the most cap space.

The Dolphins will lead the AFC East in cap space but Buffalo (approximately $22 million) and the New York Jets (approximately $23.7 million) will also have plenty of cap space. The Jets could actually add another $16 million in space if they cut quarterback Mark Sanchez and receiver Santonio Holmes.

But the Dolphins can create space of their own with roster moves and might do just that.

The Dolphins can gain an extra $5.4 million of cap space by cutting cornerback Dimitri Patterson.

Why, you may ask, would the Dolphins dump a solid cornerback when healthy? Well, because durability is a big deal in the NFL. It is a critical factor in judging players. You can't contribute if you can't play.

And of the 18 possible games Patterson could have played with the Dolphins since being acquired in late December 2012, he has started and finished only four of those games.

So new GM Dennis Hickey and Co. will have a decision to make on Patterson.

All this seems like good news for the Dolphins. Because they don't have a big mortgage on the quarterback spot (like New England, New Orleans, Baltimore and other teams with QBs with big contracts) the Dolphins have tons of maneuverability.

Obviously, they probably should not employ all that maneuverability because if things go as hoped by the organization, Ryan Tannehill will eventually want to join that club of high-priced QBs and, poof, there goes the cap space. So saving up for that possibility might be wise given that teams can carry over space.

But with the new TV contract on the horizon and the bump expected this year from a Thursday night TV deal, Miami suddenly has more room than expected.

And that leads us to this ...

Suddenly the franchise tag for cornerback Brent Grimes is more palatable if the team cannot get him signed to a smart two- or three-year deal that pays him but also insulates the team from him dropping off the performance table based on the fact he's going to be 31 years old at the start of the 2014 season. Most clubs don't want to commit to cornerbacks through their 34th or 35th birthdays.

(It should be noted there may be younger cornerbacks on the market, too.)

Suddenly, re-signing Nolan Carroll, who is a solid third cornerback and good spot starter, to a deal is not out of the question.

Suddenly the radical idea of keeping both Paul Soliai and Randy Starks isn't complete folly. No, it probably won't happen. Both players are shopping their services at the Combine through their representation. Both will have offers whenever free agency begins.

And suddenly the idea of adding an offensive tackle through free agency isn't out of the question. If I were the general manager, I'd weigh chasing an elite and young left tackle -- perhaps Eugene Monroe -- and then handle the rest of my offensive line business in the draft. I would not chase free agent guards until the secondary market because the guard free agent class is ... is ... not stocked. Richie Incognito is among the better ones available so there's that.

Also, please remember, this is a great year for tackles in the draft. There will be starters taken in the third round, that's how good it could be. So no more than one tackle in free agency, please. No high-priced guard in free agency, please.

And if you're going to chase a tackle, chase the combination of the best and youngest -- Monroe, who will be 27 in April.

(Peanut Gallery: But Mando, what about Branden Albert? He was good last year. He's really good. Plus, we've heard of him because of last year's flirtation with trading for him.)

He's 29 years old now and will be 30 in November. He had a fine year but how much of that was contract year excellence? And you remember the issues with the back and so forth, right? So he would not be my top choice. He wouldn't even be my second choice. I think I'd like Anthony Collins of Cincinnati more than Albert.

By the way, it's not possible to know if these players will even be available. Their own clubs can still re-sign them.

I should note here that the Chiefs have the least amount of cap space to re-sign their left tackle of the others we've discussed -- Baltimore and Cincinnati. So maybe Albert will be the only tackle on the market because KC drafted a tackle No. 1 last year.

I suppose there's a chance the Dolphins might throw everyone a curveball and opt to draft their left tackle and sign a free agent right tackle instead. The name you'll hear continually is Michael Oher.

Buyer beware. He hasn't lived up to his "Blindside" reputation the past two years. So one must not overpay based simply on name recognition.

Did I tell you I really like the tackles in the draft?

February 20, 2014

ESPN NFL Live analysts roast Joe Philbin

So what is the national reaction from the Joe Philbin press conference?

Adam Beasley of The Herald is at the Indianapolis Combine and he tells me that national media were underwhelmed by Philbin but not overtly critical.

Well, ESPN's analysts on NFL Live were quite critical.

Former Super Bowl winners Mark Schlereth, Tedy Bruschi and Damien Woody just roasted the Dolphins coach on national cable television. It was, shall we say, four minutes of turning Philbin over an open fire.

Among other things, Schlereth said Philbin is, "incompetent."

Bruschi referred to "the amazing lack of awareness," with Philbin and the organization.

Bruschi also pointed at that Philbin failed as "rookie head coach. I think the job was too big for him at first. And now he has to refix some of the mess he created."

Woody said players on the leadershp council should be appointed by the head coach. Philbin had the leadership council appointed by a vote of the players.

(Salguero interjects here: I believe Philbin meant well to let the players vote on members of the leadership council. But as Nick Saban would do, the coach has ultimate veto power. Always.)

Here is the audio (click to listen):

Download Memo (1)

 

Dennis Hickey talks at Indy Combine

Dennis Hickey is at his 19th NFL Indianapolis Combine but obviously attending as a general manager for the first time.

"It's an exciting time," he said today. "You get 350 of the best prospects in the same setting. It lets you evaluate them from an athletic standpoint. You get verified measurables on them. You get to know the player themselves and get medical information.

"It's an exciting time for the Miami Dolphins."

So the second question was asked was about the status of Mike Pouncey and the rest of a very uncertain offensive line.

"Every day that I wake up, I think about how can I get the Miami Dolphins to the best 53-man roster," Hickey said. "Obviously, that encompasses all positions. I believe that it all starts up front on both sides of the ball ... What's the best plan? We're putting together the best strategic plan and we're going forward with that."

Hickey declined to answer a question about a possible suspension for Pouncey or John Jerry, both mentioned prominently in the Wells report.

"We're working in concert with the commissioner's office and so that's where that stands," Hickey said.

Here's something that suggests: The Dolphins will wait on NFL sanctions for the players before taking any action of their own.

Hickey made the point he is not going to discuss "current plans, future plans" about players. He repeated that point about four times. That's understandable and typical of NFL teams. It doesn't need constant repeating, however.

Hickey would not be specific about the offense the Dolphins will run.

"We're going to do a lot of different things under (new OC) Bill Lazor," he said. "We're excited to have him on board. They're still working through all that and we'll go from there."

The subject of starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been prominent this offseason since CBSSports.com reported Joe Philbin might at some point bench the QB in favor of backup Matt Moore.

Hickey said he's watched Tannehill since college and has seen improvement since that time.

"We expect that to continue that development into his third year," Hickey said.

As for the report?

"I can't respond to speculation," Hickey said, "but I believe in Ryan Tannehill."

The Dolphins have a lot of needs. The offensive line side to side. Defensive tackle. Safety. Cornerback. And running back.

But Hickey said, "We like the running backs on our team."

He added, however, that he wants to find the best 53 playes and wants to push competition, including at running back.

Hickey said he wants Dion Jordan to "continue to progress." He declined to be more specific (one of his four times).

Free agency will start in March. Hickey thinks the Dolphins are a great destination for those players.

"I think free agents will be attracted to who we are," he said. "We have an excellent coaching staff. We live in Miami, that's pretty strong. We have a great owner who will allocate the resources necessary. And we have an environment, a collective strong environment. In my three weeks, it's been nothing but positive with all the people. As you get in the building and get to know the people, you get a sense of what the organization is about. I felt strongly about that and at every step that has been confirmed to us."

The video of Joe Philbin's presser

You've read my coverage. You've seen the transcript. Here is the video of Joe Philbin's presser today at the Indianapolis Combine.

Again, I give Philbin credit for addressing the media. If he had not -- as was originally the organization's plan -- he would have been the only AFC East coach not to speak to the media at the Combine. (Yeah, Bill Belichick had a change of heart today and also is having a press conference.)

I credit Philbin for stepping up so that GM Dennis Hickey would not have to bear the burden of answering Wells report questions as the first Dolphins official to speak to the media. I credit him also for taking some accountability.

His one issue during this presser?

Philbin talked a lot about accountability. He said he's accountable. But he took no accountability for letting Richie Incognito be voted team captain and team leader in 2013 after he knew Incognito had assualted a female golf course worker at a team sponsored event in 2012.

Philbin said it was the players who elected Incognito a leader. He said he allowed it to happen out of respect for the democratic process.

Doesn't fly, especially since this is what Philbin said about Incognito's leadership in August 2013:

"He’s been leading by example, again I think the best form of leadership for us in this program is example," Philbin said then. "Part of that is in the classroom, part of it’s in the weight room, part of it’s on the  practice field, and then transferring it to the game field.  He’s done a very good job."

Hmmm. Sorry, coach. Can't have it both ways.

Anyway, as I've mentioned, one of the great things today's Philbin presser did was open the horizon for Hickey to address things not Wells report. In other words, Hickey will get football questions in about an hour. Check back for that post!

The video