March 22, 2016

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.

 

Matt Moore gets some guarantees for himself and family

Matt Moore's deal with the Miami Dolphins has so many guarantees, it speaks to the player's desire to know where he's going to be the next two years and the team willing to give him that assurance.

Moore, who has been with Miami since 2011, signed a two-year deal worth $3.5 million with $2.25 million of that total guaranteed.

Moore got a $750,000 signing bonus and $500,000 of his $1 million 2016 base salary is guaranteed. In 2017 Moore is scheduled to make $1.75 million in base salary with $1 million of that also guaranteed. 

The contract includes language in case Moore, the backup quarterback, has to take the reins of the Dolphins offense for any reason.

The contract could be worth as much at $6 million because there is $1.25 million available in incentives (should Moore attain them) for 2016 and 2017.

The Dolphins will officially announce the Moore signing Wednesday or Thursday.

 

What now: Miami Dolphins find a backup QB, needs a starting RB

First the news: A league source confirmed this evening the Dolphins had reached a contract agreement with Matt Moore to be the backup quarterback. No contract details were available overnight.

That comes on the heels of the Dolphins losing running back C.J. Anderson to the Denver Broncos, who matched Miami's offer sheet to the restricted free agent.

So what does all this mean?

First the running back issue...The Dolphins need one. They need a back capable of sharing the 400 or so carries the Dolphins will have in 2016, either as the starter (1A) or the other back (1B) who can share carries with second-year back Jay Ajayi.

I know many Dolphins fans were disappointed their team isn't getting Anderson. I'm told the reaction within the Dolphins building was a collective shrug of the shoulders. It was not good news. But it wasn't devastating.

So are the Dolphins headed full bore into the third or fourth tier of free agency to find a ball carrier? I'm told no. I'm told the team will likely study the field, keep in touch with a couple of veteran possibilities and probably even bring one or two in before the draft. But the team will look at adding a running back in the draft, too.

[Update: The Dolphins will host a visit by veteran Chris Johnson today, per multiple reports. This would be exciting...if the year was 2008-2008 when Johnson was electric. Not the case any more.]

No panic, which is counter-intuitive considering Miami lost its starting running back in free agency and needs to find a new one.

Now to the QB situation...It is good news on multiple levels that Moore returns.

The Dolphins have a good teammate in the quarterback room, now. Again. Moore is a good man and having him on the team is a net plus on an intangible level.

He also is a veteran who has experience if he's called upon to play. So he checks that box.

But (you knew that was coming, right?) he's not going to be any sort of legitimate competition to starter Ryan Tannehill. No matter what the Dolphins say, no matter how many reps Moore gets in training camp, he is not going to be the starter.

So he's not really competing for the starting job.

And why does this matter? Well, the coaching staff at the end of last year came to the conclusion that Tannehill might benefit by being pushed on the field more. They felt Tannehill might benefit from competition.

I don't know how this new coaching staff felt but most coaches want competition all around their roster and new coach Adam Gase is simply not getting that at quarterback in 2016.

The only way competition is possible is if the Dolphins draft a quarterback high in the coming draft -- which seems unlikely now.

So that idea passes away. 

March 15, 2016

Report: Denver Broncos match, keep C.J. Anderson from Miami Dolphins

C.J. Anderson remains with the Denver Broncos and the Miami Dolphins continue to need a starting running back.

The Denver Broncos informed the running back they are matching a restricted free agent offer sheet the Dolphins and Anderson signed five days ago, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.

[Update: It is pretty official based on the C.J. Anderson and John Elway tweets.]

 

That leaves the Dolphins with only Jay Ajayi as a viable starter in their backfield. The team must replace Lamar Miller, their starter the past three seasons, because he signed with the Houston Texans as a free agent.

The Dolphins had structured their offer sheet to Anderson in such a way as to make it unpalatable for the Broncos to match. Miami did so by giving Anderson a guaranteed $5.25 million roster bonus on March 31 in addition to his $675,000 base salary. Because roster bonuses are not prorated like signing bonuses, the entire sum of the bonus goes toward the 2016 Anderson cap number.

Thus Anderson's cap number is $6.1 million when a $100,000 workout bonus is also factored in. That was apparently not too much cap value on Anderson for the Broncos to match. 

Anderson's cap value drops in 2017 when $1.7 million of his $2.9 million base salary is guaranteed. He has a $100,000 workout bonus due that year as well for a total cap number of $3 million.

Anderson's cap numbers in 2018 and '19 are $4.5 million all drawn from his base salary. Those will be important years for Anderson. If he does not perform to expectations the next two years, the Broncos can cut him in before the 2018 or '19 season with no cap ramifications.

If re-signing Lamar Miller to start at RB was Plan A, and signing C.J. Anderson to start at RB was Plan B, the Dolphins are now at Plan C for finding a starting RB.

Cameron Wake and DeMarcus Ware negotiations: Same goals, different results

Consider Cameron Wake and DeMarcus Ware.

Both are highly decorated pass rushers. Wake is 34 years old and Ware turns 34 in July.

Both men fought injuries last season. Wake struggled early in 2015 with a hamstring injury and then suffered an Achilles' tendon rupture in October, ending his season after seven games. He finished with seven sacks. Ware missed five games in 2015 due to back problems, ended the season with only 10 starts and collected 7.5 sacks in the regular season.

(It must be said Ware got hot in the postseason, collecting three sacks in three games.)

Anyway, both the Dolphins and the Broncos zeroed in on their veteran pass rushers as needing pay cuts/restructures this offseason. Both had high salary cap values. Both are getting on in age. Both are likely going to be on snap counts in 2016 -- starters still, but veterans who will be managed throughout games so that they don't wear down or get injured.

Two NFL teams coming up with similar plans for two venerable, highly paid, highly effective pass rushers.

The Broncos succeeded in their plan.

Per ProFootballTalk.com, Ware agreed to reduce his compensation from $10 million to $6.5 million. Of the amount, $4 million is fully guaranteed, which means he most likely won’t have to worry about being cut on the eve of the start of the regular season.

Ware can earn the $3.5 million back by doing what he is supposed to do -- sack the quarterback. He gets $1.25 million for eight sacks, $2.5 million for nine, $3 million for 11, and $3.5 million for 13.

PFT's reporting found that Ware and his representatives believed that he’d earn $10 million or more this year on the open market, but Ware didn’t want to change teams. 

Fine.

So why couldn't the Dolphins succeed in their plan?

The Dolphins wanted to reduce Wake's $9.8 million cap figure for 2016 but that plan went south after multiple attempts, including a face-to-face meeting at the Indianapolis Combine in February.

And here we have a clear line of distinction drawn in what should be twin attempts by two NFL teams to accomplish the same offseason contract maneuver with two equivalent players.

So why would the Broncos succeed and the Dolphins fail?

Obviously, I do not have all the specifics because I am not on the phone calls between Wake's agents and the Dolphins representatives (likely Dawn Aponte). But it is bothersome that this didn't work for Miami and I blame both sides.

Obviously Wake and his side didn't see possibly leaving the Dolphins as a problematic end to failed negotiations. And, yes, getting cut is always a possibility when a team wants to do a contract adjustment and the player declines -- ask Brent Grimes.

Obviously Wake didn't want to make concessions on the same level as Ware did.

Obviously Wake's side was not motivated to stay in Miami come what may, including a pay cut.

But also, obviously, the Dolphins were not as adept at working this negotiation as the Broncos were on their side. Perhaps that is because the Dolphins side doesn't have the same fallback of past success to pitch to a player as what the Broncos have -- which is a Dolphins failure of another level. The Dolphins cannot tell a player, "Stay with us and win another Super Bowl."

But I'm told it was more than that.

Whereas the Broncos negotiation with Ware was almost entirely amicable, I'm told the Dolphins negotiation with Wake had "tension."

Why?

Why is it the Broncos can get a 33-year-old pass rusher with a limited history with the team, coming off an injury season, to work out a deal, but the Dolphins cannot get a 34-year-old pass rusher with a long history (since 2009) with the team, coming off an injury season, to work out a similar deal?

Why?

There are reasons some teams compete for division titles and get in the playoffs and compete for Super Bowls consistently. And there are reasons other teams do not.

March 14, 2016

Miami Dolphins show interest in Chris Clemons, but why?

So the Miami Dolphins are reportedly interested in defensive end Chris Clemons in free agency, according to multiple reports.

And my immediate reaction is, why?

It's not that Clemons isn't a player. I mean, he was in the NFL last year. It's just that he hasn't been a good, reliable player for a couple of years and hasn't been a really good since maybe 2012. So this would be significant news if it were four years ago.

But, sadly, this is 2016. And Chris Clemons is 34 years old.

And he'll be 35 during the season.

And while some bigger, stronger defensive ends can play into their mid thirties, the smaller ones often start to break down and lose their explosion and that's the thing that typically made them effective because, obviously, it wasn't overpowering size or strength.

Clemons is a 6-3 and 255 pound defensive end.

He had three sacks last season for the Jacksonville Jaguars but only one in the final eight games of the season. Indeed, he had only five tackles the final eight games of the season. He was also the worst edge rush defender in the NFL, per ProFootballFocus metrics.

Clemons was a big free agent addition in 2014 for Jacksonville but has been such a flop, a team with $63 million in cap space cut him to save $3 million. By the way, if you look at Clemons' stats, you see he had eight sacks in '14. You should recognize three of those came in one game against an Indianapolis offensive line that was missing three starters, including both starting offensive tackles.

Obviously, Miami's interest would be to kick the tires on Clemons as a situationational pass rusher. Isn't that what Cameron Wake was supposed to be at age 34 and coming off a season-ending Achilles' injury?

Seems Miami's plan to play Wake sparingly is changing on the fly because the team's hopes of landing a younger DE such as William Hayes fell through when Hayes re-signed with the Los Angeles Rams.

So Miami's staring DEs will be 34-year-old Wake and 31-year-old Mario Williams. And the guy off the bench could be 34-year-old Chris Clemons if Miami offers him and he signs.

Look, free agency is not yet a week old and teams are already shopping at the clearance rack. I get that. But there's a difference in shopping for a bargain, and shopping for a 34-year-old defensive end who has not been productive in quite some time. What is the point in that aside from wishing for an improbable career comeback year?

March 13, 2016

Miami Dolphins players ensured guaranteed money; No offseason title for team this year

Today is the fifth day of the NFL 2016 league year. That doesn't mean games but it does mean gains for several Miami Dolphins players.

As part of their contracts, several Miami Dolphins players see guarantees kick in today -- as a way of forcing the team to show its hand that it plans to keep the players or let them go by today.

The Dolphins are keeping Mike Pouncey, Branden Alber and Ryan Tannehill.

Pouncey on Sunday had his entire $9 million 2016 base salary and $2 million of his $7.95 million base salary for 2017 become fully guaranteed today.

Albert on Sunday had $6 million of his $8.42 million base salary in 2016 become fully guaranteed.

And Tannehill had $3.5 million of this $17.975 million base salary for 2017 become fully guaranteed.

Cha-ching. 

It has been a busy weekend for the Dolphins. They hosted quarterback Brandon Weeden, defensive end Jason Jones, linebacker Sean Spence all visit. And all left after their visits without contracts. The team is giving all of them the once-over as backup possibilities.

Not exactly free agency shopping at Sak's, right?

Well, as I explain in my column in today's Miami Herald, the Dolphins have apparently learned that making the big free agency splash is not any sort of guarantee for winning.

I give you some interesting factoids about what free agency did for other teams last year relative to great players coming on their roster. I outline for you the new direction the Dolphins are headed.

It means the Dolphins are not going to win the NFL offseason championship this year. That seems headed to the New York Giants.

I"m fine with that.

 

March 11, 2016

Miami Dolphins get no compensatory picks this year, but next year ...

The NFL announced its compensatory draft pick awards today and, well, nothing to see here for the Miami Dolphins.

The Dolphins were shut out while the New England Patriots got four picks (a 3rd, and three 6th-rounders) and Buffalo got two picks (a 4th and a 6th). The New York Jets got no picks. New England's four picks ties Dallas and San Francisco for the most in the NFL this year.

So where's the good news?

Well, as I reported last night, the Dolphins are expecting a treasure trove of compensatory picks this time next year -- for the 2017 draft.

The Dolphins are banking on a third-, fourth- and seventh-round pick being awarded to them next year. Why?

Under the rules for compensatory draft selections, a team losing more or better compensatory free agents than it acquires in the previous year is eligible to receive

The compensatory picks will be positioned within the third through sixth rounds based on the value of the compensatory free agents lost.

Compensatory picks may not be traded this year.  A rule change approved by clubs in 2015 will permit compensatory draft picks to be traded beginning in 2017.

Compensatory free agents are determined by a formula based on salary, playing time and postseason honors.

The Dolphins this year have lost Olivier Vernon, who has signed one of the biggest contract in free agency, running back Lamar Miller, receiver Rishard Matthews and defensive end Derrick Shelby.

Brent Grimes headed to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Brent Grimes is headed to Tampa Bay.

The former Dolphins cornerback, cut this week for various reasons, has agreed to terms with the Buccaneers, per Rick Stroud of the St. Petersburg Times.

Grimes, 32, declined in 2015 while playing the same system and under the same coaches he played under the previous couple of season in Miami. Grimes was excellent in 2013 and '14.

Last year he struggled with bigger AFC East wide receivers as well as others.

No terms have been released on the Grimes contract but it will be interesting to see to what degree the Buc commit to Grimes. My guess is it will not be a long-term deal.

[Update: The NFL Network is reporting the deal is for two years and $16.5 million. We shall see if that is accurate tomorrow when the NFLPA releases the contract report. Now, another report from the NFL Network is saying it is really a $13.5 million deal with many incentives that, if all earned, could reach $16.5 million. It will be interesting to see when the real numbers are reported what guarantees if any Grimes got and whether the deal is really a one-year in disguise.]

Grimes is reunited with Mike Smith. Smith was the Atlanta Falcons head coach when Grimes played in Atlanta. He is now the defensive coordinator for Tampa Bay.

Miami Dolphins measured and calculating in free agency

The Miami Dolphins braintrust headed for their cars and home at around 8 p.m. Thursday, after a 13-hour day they believed to be quite productive.

It was the second day of NFL free agency and, indeed, the first full day of the process. But rather than sweat the third tier of free agents, the Dolphins are definitely not doing that now. They're doing methodical, and I'm told, "efficient," work this free agency period.

Their big splash work -- if you want to call it that -- is done.

Cornerback Prince Amukamara is not quite the option that had been speculated. Defensive end Robert Ayers is not quite the option that had been speculated. The best guard is off the market. The most expensive guards are off the market. And so Jermon Bushrod becomes Miami's guard option in free agency, with other options I reported on Thursday also figuring into the mix.

The team is kicking tires on Detroit defensive end Jason Jones and Minnesota cornerback Josh Robinson on Friday. Neither is going to break any bank if they sign. If the Dolphins are going to add major talent at defensive end and cornerback, my guess is it will be in the draft.

Barring totally unforeseen circumstances, the Dolphins expect to fill in around the edges with what they hope will be smart and team-friendly deals from here on out in free agency.

So having said that, having established that the big splashes are in the rear view ... Let us consider what has happened and how the Dolphins see it.

The Dolphins recognize they lost home grown players during this free agency period. Olivier Vernon graduated. Lamar Miller graduated. Rishard Matthews graduated. Derrick Shelby graduated. All got good deals in free agency.

And how do the Dolphins feel about that? They would have preferred to keep most of those players. But they they couldn't or wouldn't pay the contracts those players got. And the organization is already celebrating the fact that sometime in March or April of 2017, a boon of compensatory draft picks will be returning to the team for the losses.

The Dolphins expect the NFL will award them a third-round pick, a fourth-round pick and a seventh-round pick -- at the very least, people within the team are thinking -- as compensatory picks from the NFL in 2017. That is obviously in addition to Miami's regular stash of draft picks.

So there's that.

But what about the losses?

I've told you my concerns about the addition of Mario Williams into that locker room. It's a thing to monitor, trust me. And the Dolphins know this. No one I've spoken with or texted with has denied it. But the team simply believes its choice was Olivier Vernon at $17 million per year or Mario Williams at about $9 million in 2016 plus an extra third-round pick in '17.

 Brent Grimes or Byron Maxwell? The team sees it, as I previously explained, a net gain to have Maxwell over Grimes. Maxwell is four years younger, about $1 million cheaper against the 2016 salary cap, a good system fit, the Dolphins believe, and ... he's not married to the one out of our lives.

By the way, the one out of our lives, tried to deny any responsibility for Grimes being cut by floating the narrative that the Dolphins came crawling back to Grimes about coming back for 2017 when the Maxwell-Kiko Alonso trade was in limbo for several hours on Wednesday. I asked three distinctly different people within the organization about that Thursday.

Not true. Grimes was going no matter what. Trade, no trade.

Out.

So there's that. The idea a player's wife would comport herself in the manner the one out of our lives comported herself and then claim to be a mere bystander in her husband's dismissal is utter lunacy. Moving on ...

The Dolphins lost Lamar Miller to the Houston Texans. He's averaging $6.5 million per year from his new team. The Dolphins liked Miller. They wanted him back. But they didn't want him back at that price. Too expensive, they believe.

So they are very optimistic they are about to land Denver restricted free agent C.J. Anderson, who signed an offer sheet Thursday, within the next five days. The Anderson offer sheet is four years for $18 million.

But here's the thing: I'm told most of the first-year guaranteed money is in the form of roster a roster bonus. A roster bonus is not prorated over the life of the deal like a signing bonus. So $5.25 million in guaranteed roster bonus is on the first year in addition to Anderson's base salary of $760,000.

And thus, the Anderson contract's first year cap number is $6.01 million, which is the range I reported Thursday.

The Denver Broncos are in cap management mode. They need to find a quarterback which costs cap space. They need to re-sign Von Miller which obviously will be expensive. The idea that matching Anderson will be easy is simply a dream.

The Dolphins must add a couple of wide receivers. They will do it within free agency or the draft or both but the additions are not expected to be frontline or expensive players.

The Dolphins will seek a backup quarterback. This is possibly a draft issue.

The Dolphins are not closed for business in free agency, folks. But anyone thinking they're having a grand opening and giving away free money is going to be surprised.

March 10, 2016

Dolphins add offensivie lineman Jermon Bushrod

The question Miami Dolphins fans have been asking over and over is, "What about the guards?"

Well, the Dolphins just signed veteran offensive lineman Jermon Bushrod to a one-year deal this evening. And the team sees him as a strong possibility as a starting guard as well as a backup tackle.

Bushrod, 31, played only 12 games last season because he suffered a shoulder injury. The Dolphins believe he will be 100 percent and ready to compete by the start of training camp in July and perhaps sooner.

That is not all. The Dolphins expect to address the guard position again in the draft if the chips fall in the proper order.

And if they don't ...

The club is putting both Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner, starters a year ago, on a significant weight training program this offseason in hopes both can improve as players.

That's it. That's the answer.

Bushrod is a fig leaf to angry fans wanting upgrade and new people. Perhaps he can regain the form he showed during his days in New Orleans and then again in Chicago. If not, the team will move forward toward other possibilities. 

Miami Dolphins sign RB C.J. Anderson to offer sheet

The Miami Dolphins have signed running back C.J. Anderson to a four-year offer sheet.

Anderson is a restricted free agent so the Denver Broncos have five days to match the offer in order to keep the player. If they do not match the offer, the player joins the Dolphins with no draft compensation.

I'm told the Dolphins have structured the deal to make it difficult for the Broncos to match. (No idea of specifics). The price point for Anderson was to be between the $4-$5 million per year average. That means his deal will be between $16-$20 million total.

[Update: Multiple reports at CBSSports and ESPN are saying the offer sheet is for $18 million so the Dolphins landed exactly where their budget led them. The average is $4.5 million per year. Again, the structure (early money rather than backloaded) is important for the Dolphins because it makes it harder for Denver to match.]

The Broncos brought this on themselves. They could have tendered Anderson with second-round draft pick compensation for $2.533 million for one year. Instead they tendered him at the original round compensation of $1.671 million. Do not be surprised if Anderson's first-year cap number is in the $5-$6 million range.

The Dolphins had $39.5 million in salary cap room this morning, per the NFL Players Association. The Denver Broncos started the day with $17.1 million in salary cap space and are hunting for a starting quarterback.

The Dolphins wanted incumbent back Lamar Miller back for 2016 but once they recognized the player's price was potentially $2-$3 million more on a per year average than they were willing to offer, they recognize Miller would not return. Miller signed a contract with the Houston Texans that pays an average of $6.5 million per year.

Miami Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso: Everything he said today

Miami Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso is a man of few words.

He rather discuss his ethnicity -- Cuban dad, family in Colombia and Puerto Rico -- than the recent trade that brought him from the Eagles to Miami. But he nonetheless spoke with the South Florida media via conference call on Thursday.

He said he believes he's going to be used as Miami's inside (middle) linebacker although he has played outside in the past. He said he's healthy. He said he was surprised to be traded. He also talked about former college (Oregon) teammate and good friend Dion Jordan, who is still serving an NFL suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

This is everything he said:

(On whether the trade took him by surprise) – “Yeah, it definitely took me by surprise. I wasn’t expecting it, but at the end of the day, it’s business. Football is football, and I look forward to playing there.”

(On how he feels physically) – “I feel great.”

(On whether he anticipates participating in the offseason program) – “Yeah, 100 percent.”

(On his level of confidence in having a productive season) – “I have all the confidence in the world in me. I know what I’m capable of, and I’m just looking forward to getting down to Miami and having a great year.”

(On whether he will play inside or outside linebacker) – “(I am) not exactly sure. I anticipate (playing) inside, but I feel comfortable anywhere in that (position).”

(On playing with DE Mario Williams and CB Byron Maxwell) – “I can tell you they’re both great players – Mario and Maxwell. Mario is a beast on that edge getting after the quarterback. And Maxwell is my kind of a corner and those are two things that you need in this league to have a good and successful defense.”

(On playing with DE Dion Jordan at Oregon) – “Dion, he’s one of my best friends. He’s a great player, a great guy.  I talked to him recently. I hope everything works out with him and I look forward to possibly being his teammate.  He’s a great player, so I’m definitely looking forward to playing with him.”

(On how hungry DE Dion Jordan is to play football again and what Jordan’s mental approach to the game is right now) “I can only imagine. I fought through it and it sucks missing time like that.  I bet he’s going to come back and have a chip on his shoulder.” 

(On how he would describe his playing style) – “I feel like I’m a versatile linebacker. I can drop into coverage; I play the run. I feel like I can do a lot of different things, which is why I think I can carry any of the linebacker duties.”

(On how much his injury situation hurt him last year and if he feels that it is behind him) – “It’s definitely all behind me. I feel great. I don’t make excuses on my knee. I didn’t play very well, but that’s how it goes, and I just try to get better. But I feel great.”

(On why he was surprised by the trade) – “I think because I wasn’t thinking to myself ‘Oh, I’m probably going to get traded.’ I definitely wasn’t as surprised as the first time it happened (in Buffalo), because when it happened I was like ‘Oh, I guess anything can happen,’ because I had no idea I was going to be … I thought I was staying in Buffalo. But obviously, that’s that … (inaudible) … It just shows you that anything can happen.”

(On if he has talked to any Dolphins players since the trade happened) – “When I was down there yesterday I met a bunch of the players. A couple of players have reached out to me.”

(On if there were any Dolphins players he met in particular) – “Yes. I got to meet (C Mike) Pouncey. I had known him before. Obviously, I had played against him a few times in Buffalo and with the Eagles.”

(On if being traded to Miami appeals to him because of his Hispanic background) – “Yeah, for sure. As you said, I speak Spanish. My parents are Spanish. I’m definitely going to feel right at home.”

(On if he has any family in South Florida) – “Yeah, I have some cousins, some aunts, a great aunt. But most of my family lives in Puerto Rico and Colombia.”