March 09, 2015

Hartline: Only regret not winning enough, not making playoffs

Brian Hartline got a call from Joe Philbin last week, the night before he came into a scheduled meeting with the team. The coach wanted to let Hartline know he was being cut. He was going to get a chance to test free agency before the market actually opened for everyone else.

"'It's the right thing to do,' coach Philbin told me and I appreciated that," Hartline said Monday evening.

It was right because Hartline played six years with the Dolphins, forged friendships, was a team guy, and that time was coming to an end. So the early release gave him a chance to land a new job before other wide receivers flooded the market.

Hartline landed that job Monday night. Before the start of free agency.

He agreed to a two-year, $6 million deal with the Cleveland Browns, according to his agent Drew Rosenhaus.

"It's weird," Hartline said. "To me, my plan was to play as a Miami Dolphins for 10 years. I didn't think anything else. For me, not to accomplish that, shame on me. But the business of football can be tough. It's a grueling business. But no hard feelings. I left on a good note. I will hold a special place in my heart for my time in Miami.

"It was a great experience. There was nothing negative except not winning enough games and not getting into the playoffs."

Hartline might have had a chance to return at a much reduced salary. But that would have meant coming back to the same situation and in the same role he was in last year when he statistics dropped from 76 catches and 1,016 yards in 2013 to 39 catches and 474 yards last season.

So on to Cleveland Hartline goes.

"I'm 28 years old and I can still run," Hartline said. "I'm an ascending player still."

To show it with the Browns, he'll have to adjust to their uncertain quarterback situation. The team signed Josh McCown as a free agent and Johnny Manziel is on the roster as well but still in rehab to address personal addictions.

"Josh brings veteran leadership," Hartline said. "I heard he's been in the league 12 years and had 12 different offensive coordinators. He's looking to lay some foundation and be here over a period of time. I think he gives you the chance to win.

"I'm not speaking for the coaches. But I know the coaches want to create competition and I know him with the other quarterbacks will compete. I'm looking forward to playing with all of them."

Hartline hopes to deliver some sort of farewell to Miami fans. He's thinking about a billboard or a page in the newspaper to deliver his message. But he leaves open the possibility that some day ...

"Who knows," he said, "Maybe in two years, I might be back. You never know."

Miami Dolphins put Brandon Fields in cut mode

The Dolphins plan to release punter Brandon Fields if he does not restructure his contract in the next few hours, The Miami Herald has learned.

The Herald's Adam Beasley is reporting Fields has been made aware the Dolphins are prepared to part ways in a salary cap move.

Cutting Fields would save the Dolphins. $3.1 million in cap space.

That's too tempting for a team trying to eke out space to fit the $114 million Ndamukong Suh contract under the cap by tomorrow.

Fields is coming off the worst season of his career on a statistical basis.

His punting average was a career low 42.7 yards. His net average was a career low 38.6, lowest since 2010. With the Dolphins offense improving, Fields also punted fewer times than at any time in his career.

That decreased his worth to the team.

The Dolphins are expected to make multiple moves in the coming hours beyond Fields.

Phillip Wheeler will be cut. Dannell Ellerbe will be cut. Unresticted free agent Jared Odrick obviously has played his last game for the Dolphins. They Dolphins may also try to restructure the contract of defensive tackle Randy Starks or cut him as well.

March 08, 2015

Suh is signing so what are the Miami Dolphins getting?

The Miami Dolphins are getting Ndamukong Suh. That is not a surprise.

ESPN's Chris Mortensen is reporting Suh on Tuesday will sign a contract with Miami based off parameters around $114 million and $60 million guaranteed on a six-year deal.

Suh will be averaging a whopping $19 million per season. That is a staggering contract that dwarfs the deal J.J. Watt signed for $100 million with $51.8 million in guarantees with the Houston Texans last year.

The Dolphins have been in contact with the representative for Suh and other free agents they are interested in on an official basis since Saturday. I was told today the team's push for Suh has been fully blessed by Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who is ultimately paying the freight for the NFL's highest-paid NFL defensive player.

It has been a mixed bag for the Dolphins in chasing signature free agents and coaches and Ross has been somewhat stung by that. No real estate man wants a reputation for failing to close. The Dolphins not only failed to get Peyton Manning, they had trouble getting a meeting with him, and it disappointed Ross that the team could not compete for the best and brightest on the market

That changes in this instance.

The Dolphins are making a splash and Ross loves it.

So what are the Dolphins getting?

Everyone knows Suh is a great player. There is no doubt when he is right and engaged, he is virtually unblockable by one offensive lineman. But a league source tells me the Dolphins had better have done their homework.

My source said Suh is a "very quirky individual" thus not the easiest person to understand. One person that apparently did a good job of forging some kinship with Suh is Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell, so it is clear Suh is open to leadership and a strong, quiet authority figure. 

And now, make no mistake, this deal will shape the course of this franchise for years.

Now, the reputation of every person in the organization involved in this process, including Ross himself, is on the line.

Coach Joe Philbin and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle must get as much, if not more, out of Suh as what he delivered in Detroit the last five years. In Detroit, Suh averaged 36 tackles and more than seven sacks per season with the Lions.

If that doesn't happen in Miami, is Ross going to hold it against his people when he himself endorsed and indeed pushed for this deal?

The question is who will Ndamukong Suh be in Miami? Is he going to be Reggie White? Or is he going to be Albert Haynesworth?

Is he going to be a transformational cornerstone player who lifts a moribund franchise with past glory to a future championship?

Or will Suh be an embarrassment and an albatross hovering over Miami's salary cap and reputation for years and years and years?

The Dolphins have had little of the former recently. They've had some of the latter.

The Dolphins best free agent acquisition in recent years was cornerback Brent Grimes in 2013. He came on a one-year prove-it contract and went to the Pro Bowl. He re-signed and was a Pro Bowl player again last year.

But there is another side to that free agency success. In getting Mike Wallace and Branden Albert the past two years and paying a high price on each, the Dolphins for whatever reasons made up no ground in getting to an actual title.

The signings won Miami offseason titles in 2013 and 2014, but the additions didn't move the chains for a team seeking to advance from its 7-9 or 8-8 mediocrity.

So will Suh's addition pave the Dolphins road to the playoffs?

Or will we be talking about him in the same conversation as past Miami free agents that came with so much promise -- Eric Green, Gene Atkins, Joey Porter, Karlos Dansby, Kevin Burnett, Dannell Ellerbe, who will be cut as early as Monday -- and yet failed to raise the Dolphins to any significant heights compared to the money the team paid them?

We shall see.

March 07, 2015

Miami Dolphins cutting Phillip Wheeler

In perhaps the least surprising move of the offseason, the Dolphins have told the representatives for linebacker Phillip Wheeler he is being released in a salary cap move.

The release is being designated with post-June 1 timing (teams get two such designations before the actual date) and that means the Dolphins will eventually save $3 million in salary cap space but also carry $1.4 million in dead money this year for Wheeler.

Wheeler came to the Dolphins during the 2013 free agency binge that also remade the team's linebacker corps by cutting Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett. Wheeler came in after one fine season with the Oakland Raiders and cashed in on that year from the Dolphins.

Wheeler signed a five-year, $26 million contract that included $13 million in guaranteed money. 

But he never played up to that level in Miami.

Wheeler was beaten often as Miami's stronside linebacker in 2013 and in 2014 when he was moved to weakside linebacker, he accepted the move but faired worse than he did the previous year. At the end of the year he said he'd be better off playing strongside linebacker.

Wheeler also disagreed with coach Kevin Coyle at times.

Now Wheeler will have a chance to play his favorite position ...

With a new team.

Ellerbe will likewise be cut as early as Monday in another much-expected salary cap move.

March 06, 2015

Branden Albert had doubts about future after knee injury

While everyone focuses attention on the possibility Ndamukong Suh can become the prize of this year's free agency haul for the Miami Dolphins, last year's free agency price is working on returning to the field but making no promises on a timetable.

Offensive left tackle Branden Albert, who suffered ACL and MCL damage to his right knee last November, posted on instagram a quick video showing the apparent strength in the knee but the quick message that accompanied the video was more sobering.

"Everyone asking me how is my knee? 'When you going to return?' I always give the political answer, 'One day at a time,' Albert wrote.

"Most people want me to say, 'Yeah, I'll be there [the] first game.' I can't give you that answer. Only thing I can give you is I'm working to come back to be the best I can be. [I] didn't even think I would ever be able to do this again. But I have the right mindset and the right supporting cast."

Obviously if Albert isn't certain he'll be ready for the start of the season he cannot be certain he'll be ready for the start of training camp six or seven weeks earlier.

And he didn't think he'd be "able to do this again?"

Did he believe his career was done?

Obviously, he had some doubts but those seem softened now. Albert was, by all accounts, playing well the first three months of last season after signing a $46 million contract with the Dolphins.

It will be interesting to see if he lives up to the deal longterm. 

Dolphins confident they can land Suh

Welcome to the Miami Dolphins offseason. Welcome to the remaking of a defense.

Welcome to a looming $102 million (or so) contract offer to Ndamukong Suh.

We are one day away (Saturday at noon) before the Dolphins, and a every other NFL team, is able to officially contact pending NFL free agent players. No visits are allowed until Tuesday but contact with agents is allowed as this is the official tampering window.

The Dolphins will be calling agent Jimmy Sexton to discuss their interest in signing the Detroit Lions defensive tackle who is hitting free agency. The Dolphins will definitely be in the Suh chase, according to multiple sources.

(Most team sources have dried up on this topic. But the walls have ears at the Davie facility).

I'm told the Dolphins are confident they're going to put a great offer on the table for Suh. They are confident they can get him. They are not certain because, obviously, this is a still a competition.

Teams that are expected to also show interest include Oakland, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, and perhaps Tennessee. Detroit remains a possibility for a return. 

The discussions between Suh's agent and the Dolphins will include a repeat of the message the team has already heard unofficially: Suh wants to be the NFL's highest-paid player (negotiable) but definitely its highest-paid non-quarterback (not negotiable).

And then the sides can begin laying parameters for a what it is going to take. It is going to take a deal in the vicinity of $102 million over six years. The final deal will average out near $17 million per season but that isn't the important number.

The important numbers are that the deal will have to include about $30-32 million that is fully guaranteed with another $20-$25 million in additional guarantees.

Of that $100-plus million, Suh is going to want a huge chunk in the first three years. That will mean approximately $55 million in the first three years which will be the actual and true money on this coming deal.

And someone will give Suh what he wants. Simply, he is the most dominant defensive free agent to come along in a long time.

“He’s obviously a dominant player," former Detroit teammate Jason Fox said Thursday after re-signing with the Dolphins. "He’s one of the best defensive tackles, if not the best defensive tackle in the whole NFL. He’s a game-changing type of player. In the locker room, he’s not the ‘rah-rah’ guy and he speaks up when he feels like it’s necessary. He’s one of the guys that leads by example. He’s a hard-worker and obviously that shows."

I would say Jacksonville is Miami's biggest rival because it is in the same state and that means the Suh camp will be able to compare financial apples to apples in that there is no state tax in Florida. An offer from Oakland, in liberal-leaning California where there is a 13.3 state tax (highest in the nation), means the Raiders would have to make up between $8-$10 million that Suh would lose to taxes to merely match an offer from Miami or Jacksonville.

That's not politics. That's simply the math imposed on California residents by legislators.

The Dolphins are obviously aware of their advantage over Oakland and, indeed, any team in a state with a state tax. But, again, there is no such advantage over Jacksonville.

If the Dolphins get Suh, I'd say there is very little chance they re-sign Jared Odrick or keep Randy Starks. Suh plays nearly 80 percent of the downs on defense. He's a moose that way. So the Dolphins can easily get by with Suh and Earl Mitchell starting and lesser, younger, cheaper backups getting 20-25 percent of the snaps while one or the other rests.

Regardless of whether Miami gets Suh or not, there are other moves coming on defense.

The defense is the area of significant need this offseason because, well, it was 20th in the NFL in points.

It was 24th in the NFL against the run.

It gave up 37 points to the Jets in the season-finale.

It gave up 35 points to Minnesota the week before that.

It gave up 41 points to New England the week before that.

It blew fourth-quarter leads against Denver. And Detroit. And Green Bay.

It has regressed steadily starting in 2012.

It is broken, folks. And the Dolphins, who retained defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, believe the issue is the talent and not the coaching.

(I say it is both, but whatever).

And so the team will try to remake the D.

Miami will try to find a middle linebacker. New York Jets linebacker David Harris is a possibility but watch the Jets try hard to keep him and do not be surprised if new Buffalo coach Rex Ryan tries to sign him as well.

Tampa Bay's Mason Foster is also an option as a three-down defender. General manager Dennis Hickey is obviously familiar with him.

The remainder of the free agent MLB's are two-down players. As the Dolphins need run-stopping help, Brandon Spikes is the best of those, with Denver's Nate Irving also good against the run but a liability  versus the pass.

The Dolphins need a safety to replace Louis Delmas and New England's Devin McCourty is the best of the bunch but will also be the most expensive of the bunch. I don't see the Dolphins being able to sign both Suh and McCourty. If the Suh chase falls short, however, this might not solve Miami's run-stopping problems but would be a significant upgrade to the secondary.

Denver's Rahim Moore is a free agent possibility.

Mostly, in my opinion, the Dolphins need to get bigger and better at cornerback. The Cortland Finnegan swing for the fences was instead a weak grounder to second. He was injured a lot. He lost the Green Bay game by failing to make one key tackle inbounds. And now he's cut.

So Miami needs a starting cornerback.

Byron Maxwell is the best of the bunch here but the Dolphins might opt to go cornerback in the first round of the draft. The Eagles are said to be very interested in Maxwell.

The Dolphins should be interested in a guard. Their interior OL was a disaster last year and Daryn Colledge is gone and not likely to come back. Billy Turner is expected to fill one job but the team cannot possibly believe either Dallas Thomas or Shelley Smith the answer at the other guard, right?

Right?

(The Dolphins let that position stay as is it will glow in neon as troubled in 2015, mark my words).

The Dolphins are going to ink quarterback Ryan Tannehill to a huge contract either this year or next but they're not going to protect him up the middle? Again?

Mike Iupati, folks. Dolphins probably will not do it. But I would. Iupati and Turner at guards protects the team's most important resource. Alas, I'm dreaming. (By the way, Orlando Franklin is more likely to get more money as a right tackle than a guard on the open market so Miami likely isn't in that mix). 

Did I mention the Dolphins are feeling confident about getting Ndamukong Suh?

March 05, 2015

Brian Hartline tour may include New England

Former Dolphins wide receiver Brian Hartline is on his free agent tour and two possible stops may be of particular interest to local fans.

Aside from his visited in Houston today to go along with the one to Cleveland earlier this week, it is possible Hartline could wind up with New England or back with Miami.

A source close to Hartline tells me the Patriots have shown interest in him, although a visit has not yet been set. The Patriots may cut wide receiver Danny Amendola and up to $4.5 million of his $5.7 million salary cap charge (if they designate him a post June 1 cut) and may be in the market for a wide receiver.

The door with Miami, meanwhile, isn't closed. While Hartline is getting a feel for his worth on the open market, I'm told he still could wind up back with the Dolphins at a reduced rate. 

Hartline was open to take a modest pay cut to stay with Miami but it seems the Dolphins wanted the cut to be deeper than he was prepared to accept. So he's shopping.

Part of that shopping might lead him back to his old team.

Or perhaps his old team's most accomplished division rival.

Miami Dolphins re-sign Jason Fox

Jason Fox wondered privately why he wasn't getting a chance to start at right tackle late  last season.

Rookie Ja'Wuan James had been moved from right tackle to left to replace injured Branden Albert. And Dallas Thomas, the new starting right tackle was struggling so much, reporters asked coach Joe Philbin about a change practically twice or more times each week.

(When reporters realize a change is needed, you know something's pretty obvious).

Then Thomas got injured the final two weeks of the season and the Dolphins had no choice but to play Fox.

And he was an upgrade over Thomas in pass protection.

Well, that apparently opened some eyes because today the Dolphins re-signed Fox to a two-year contract worth a total of $2.5 million.

That's actually a bit of a raise over last year when Fox played on a veteran minimum one-year deal.

So what does this mean?

Well, you can bet the Dolphins won't wait until the final two weeks of the season before trying to stop the turnstile to quarterback Ryan Tannehill if another starting tackle is injured. You can bet Fox will at least have a chance to compete to be the backup if this contract doesn't make him that now.

As for Thomas, it is obvious he's more suited to be a swing guard or tackle. He's probably the seventh offensive lineman on a good team -- someone you hope can develop into a guard while still having the ability to play tackle in dire circumstances rather than turning to him the final two months of the season.

[NOTE: To those who have emailed or tweeted me wondering what's up, yes I've been under the weather. I'll be back full tilt tomorrow. Check for a Suh post in the morning].

 

 

February 28, 2015

Miami Dolphins add promised sports science expert

Mike Tannenbaum got his job, at least in part, because he impressed upon owner Stephen Ross the need to upgrade the Miami Dolphins in an outside-the-box fashion. And as sports science and analytics is still outside the box in traditional NFL circles, the team's new executive vice president of football operations is not only on board but is leading the team's charge to use the resource.

That's why Tannenbaum promised to upgrade Miami's sports science program when he got hired. And Saturday the promise was kept, with the Dolphins' hiring of Wayne Diesel as sports performance director, and the promotion of Dennis Lock to director of analytics after he served last year as head analyst.

Tannenbaum is serious about this. This weekend Tannenbaum, Diesel, Lock, and assistant strength and conditioning coach Dave Puloka are attending the 2015 Sloan Analytics Conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

So there's that.

In his role, Diesel will oversee all of the team’s sports science initiatives and will work with the training and strength and conditioning departments. His focus will include player injury prevention and rehabilitation in an effort to. as the team put it in its press release, "reach optimal performance."

Diesel joins the Dolphins after spending the previous eight years (2007-2015) as head of medical services with the Tottenham Hotspur Football Club of the English Premier League.

(Yeah, UK Dolphins fans who root for Arsenal may have a problem loving this move).

With Tottenham, Diesel oversaw the efforts of doctors, physiotherapists, sports scientists, podiatrists, nutritionists and chiropractors, and helped coordinate the medical service department’s work to optimize player recovery and prevent injuries.

So it is clear the Dolphins, who under Ross have added multiple layers of people on the business and personnel side, are now adding a layer to the medical department. 

Before his arrival at Tottenham, Diesel held the same title of head of medical services from 2003-07 at Charlton Athletic Football Club.

NOTE: I wish the English would figure out we Americans play football and they play soccer.

(Yeah, here come the globalists to the defense of soccer).

But I digress.

Diesel has 12 years of experience running private physiotherapy practices, including setting up the first physiotherapy practice at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa based in Cape Town. While in South Africa, he worked as head physiotherapist for a range of different sports, including national women’s gymnastics, men’s hockey, swimming, football and rugby as well as provincial cricket and football. Additionally, Diesel was appointed as the head physiotherapist for South African teams at the All African (1992), Olympics (1996) and Commonwealth Games (1998). He also held the position of president of South African Transplant Games Association and western province chairman of South African Sports Medicine Association.

A native of South Africa, Diesel graduated in 1986 as a physiotherapist from the University of Witwatersrand (the University of Witcementconcrete didn't offer him a scholarship, apparently) and then gained a first class pass in sports science in 1988 allowing him to proceed directly to a PhD in exercise physiology, which was completed in 1994.

I gave you an example of the team's commitment to sports science last year. And I'm not saying the Dolphins are going to be the Philadelphia 76ers, who are living and dying by the analytics sword.

But trying this cannot hurt. I applaud Tannenbaum and Ross for doing whatever they can to help the team. I would love to see a chart at the end of 2015 marking the number of injuries and the speed of recovery in the coming season compared to the last five-ten years.

February 27, 2015

Brandon Gibson released by the Dolphins

That roster purge I told you about four hours ago? It continues at this hour with receiver Brandon Gibson's release.

The release of the saves the Dolphins $3.26 million in cap space. It leaves $1 million in dead money.

 Gibson signed a three-year, $9.87 million deal in 2013. It wasn't a bargain.

Gibson got off to a hot start but suffered a patella tendon tear in his knee in October 2013. He really wasn't the same player early last season but got better as the knee improved.

It wasn't enough.

He had 29 receptions for 295 yards last season with one touchdown. He played 14 games.

His first season in Miami, Gibson had 30 receptions for 326 yards and three TDs. He played seven games that season.

So the Dolphins paid approximately $6 million for 59 catches and four touchdowns in two years. Not exactly a great success.

Fact is, the most memorable moment Gibson had in Miami was the '14 season-finale. In that game Mike Wallace complained about not getting the football and told coaches he might as well stop playing. Coach Joe Philbin took him up on the offer and benched him for the second half of the game.

After the game, in the locker room, reporters asked Wallace questions about the incident and Gibson, standing next to him, gave the answers while Wallace stood by silently.

Gibson said he was doing it to "protect my dog." Wallace approved.

This move surprises no one. Truth is in the spring of 2013 former general manager Jeff Ireland gave Brian Hartline a big new contract. He made Wallace the highest-paid receiver in the NFL. And he signed Gibson as a free agent.

Two of the three are already gone, as is Ireland.

Wallace might be the next out the door.

Miami Dolphins cut WR Brian Hartline

The Dolphins have begun the much-expected purge of their salary cap (and roster) this offseason by cutting wide receiver Brian Hartline.

The move -- confirmed by a league source and the Dolphins -- can go one of two ways: The release is either happening right away and goes on the books that way or is happening right away but is designated as a post June 1 cut.

Without the designation the move saves the Dolphins $3.1 million in cap space but leaves $4.2 million in dead money that Miami will deal with despite not having the two-time 1,000-yard receiver. If the move is designated post June 1 (and teams can use two such designations) then the move will save $5.1 million in space and leave $1.4 million in dead money -- but that space comes after June 1.

The Dolphins are not believed to have offered Hartline a pay cut. The receiver was open to a negotiable pay cut to stay in Miami, according to a source.

Hartline signed a five-year, $30.77 million deal in 2013 amid two consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. He caught 74 passes for 1,083 yards and one touchdown in 2012 and came back with 1,016 yards for on 76 catches with four TDs in 2013.

But Hartline became expendable for the Dolphins when he dipped to 39 catches for 474 yards last season. It seemed his previous role went to Mike Wallace and even rookie Jarvis Landry had more catches than he did.

That did not merit the 19th highest wide receiver contract for the Dolphins.

A source close to Hartline tells me he is disappointed but not shocked by this move. He hopes to catch on with a team closer to his native Ohio -- a team that has an accomplished quarterback.

Among the teams Hartline would like to play for is the Indianapolis Colts.

This is the proverbial first shoe to drop. There will be as many as half a dozen others. Among other Miami players who are at risk of being released this offseason:

LB Dannell Ellerbe.

LB Phillip Wheeler.

WR Mike Wallace -- although team is considering a pay cut or a trade.

WR Brandon Gibson.

G Nate Garner.

CB Cortland Finnegan -- either that or he'll retire.

DT Randy Starks.

OL Shelley Smith.

February 26, 2015

Lots to think about Mike Wallace

This is what I know about the Mike Wallace situation after talking to multiple sources to piggyback on what NFL Network said Wednesday evening that the Dolphins are "talking about possibly trading" the wide receiver:

Yes, the Dolphins are talking about possibly trading Wallace. It is an option.

But it is not the lone option.

The team has also discussed a pay cut restructure for Mike Wallace.

The team has also discussed cutting Mike Wallace.

The team has also discussed keeping Mike Wallace.

All of these are options. And the Dolphins are exploring, discussing, pondering all of them.

And here is the deeper dive on the matter:

I have severe doubts Mike Wallace will abide a pay cut. I'm told his camp is confident that if the Dolphins cut the wide receiver, he'll do just fine on the open market in free agency. He'll be able to pick his team. He'll be able to pick his quarterback. He'll get money up front.

If the Dolphins are going to cut Wallace, they will likely do it before a $3 million guarantee of his scheduled $9.85 million salary goes into effect on the fifth day of the NFL year. The league year begins March 10 so we're talking a decision by March 15.

And in all likelihood what will happen if the Dolphins cut Wallace is they will do so with a post June 1 designation. Teams get two such designations every year. It means the Dolphins will be able to carry the dead money left from the aborted contract over two years instead of just one year -- this year.

So if the Dolphins cut Wallace with a post June 1 designation it will save $6.5 million in salary cap space for the year while carrying $5.2 million in dead money. Without the designation, the move would save the Dolphins only $2.5 million and carry $9.6 million in dead money this year.

June 1 designations do not clear the cap room immediately. It is a vehicle by which teams can get players off the team immediately and still eventually enjoy the benefits of doing so post-June 1.

On the trade front...this is not likely. Yes, the Dolphins would like to get something for Mike Wallace if they can. But the fact is most teams will not trade for that contract. It is toxic. I refer you to Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti's words on the matter.

It is unlikely the Dolphins would trade within the division so the Jets are hard to include in the possibilities even though they have tons of cap space and a need at wide receiver.

There's also the cost of making a trade for that team: Not only must they consider compensation to the Dolphins but either taking the Wallace deal or doing a reworked deal with him. So Wallace would have say in the matter. If he doesn't want to do a new contract, he could possibly sabotage a trade.

The salary cap implications of a trade for Miami are it saves the team $5.5 million against the cap but leaves $6.6 million in dead money this year.

So is there any chance the Dolphins keep Wallace? Based on conversations with multiple people -- some within the team some on the Wallace side -- I find it hard to believe all this wrangling will lead to a happy ending where Wallace is smiling and the Dolphins are smiling and they're together and of one mind the first day of the regular season.

I simply do not see it.

It feels like once the headaches Wallace caused behind the scenes last year became public, the Dolphins moved in the direction of cutting ties. It feels like once this talk of pay cuts or trades became public the past two weeks, the Wallace side moved toward seeing a future away from Miami. 

Me?

For the record: I keep Mike Wallace. Period. It is not his fault Ryan Tannehill has misfired on deep passes. If the QB hits even 50 percent of those, we're adding maybe seven more TDs to the player's statistics and suddenly he's happy, the fans are happy and the team is more willing to put up with whatever private grumbling Wallace still displays.

I advocate making it work. No relationship is perfect.

But I do not get a say. So the Dolphins and Mike Wallace will do what they do.

 

 

February 25, 2015

Dolphins linebacker plans come into focus

Middle linebacker will be an area the Miami Dolphins will address in free agency or the draft and that has significance throughout the roster.

The team experimented with Koa Misi at middle linebacker last season but that is now considered an option of last resort for 2015. Misi is likely headed back to strongside linebacker if the Dolphins can find a new MLB.

As The Herald's Barry Jackson reported on his blog today the Dolphins have already been telling multiple sources they will be interested in New York Jets inside linebacker David Harris or Tampa Bay's Mason Foster.

The connections are obvious. Club executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum drafted Harris in 2007 and general manager Dennis Hickey is quite familiar with Mason from his time with the Bucs.

But there are issues with this initial plan.

The Jets are replete with salary cap space. They may have over $50 million in salary cap space and that's with contracts such as Percy Harvin's on the books. And the Jets may clear that deal off the books by cutting Harvin. So New York will not lose any player they feel they must keep and that likely includes Harris, who is a defensive leader and a highly productive player.

Tampa Bay is not quite so comfortable against the cap but they're currently better off than Miami. The Bucs will have between $32-$36 million in cap space when the league year begins. So if the Bucs want to keep Foster, they likely will be able to do so. Foster has prototype size and is productive. But he is not exactly a star.

Assuming Miami lands a middle linebacker in free agency or the draft, the linebacker corps would fall in line without Dion Jordan as a starting linebacker.

Although Jordan played about a quarter of his 223 snaps in coverage and as an outside linebacker last year, a linebacker corps with Foster/Harris in the middle, Misi at strongside and Jelani Jenkins at weakside leaves Jordan competing for snaps at both strongside linebacker and defensive end ...

... Again.

And unless Jordan, the No. 3 overall selection in 2013, is able to beat out Misi -- which is not likely -- Jordan may find himself coming off the bench again in 2015 because he is unlikely to win a starting job at defensive end over Cameron Wake or Olivier Vernon.

The fallout will continue with Chris McCain and Jordan Tripp competing for playing time but not the favorites to win a starting job, either.

Obviously, this can change if the Dolphins fail to land a MLB in free agency. They tried (sort of) to do that last year with D'QWell Jackson and failed. That would likely then keep Misi in the middle and open up the spot at strongside backer.

Interestingly, Jenkins, who started last year on the bench and was a relative unknown (even to coaches, apparently) until injuries befell the corps, is at the moment considered a heavy favorite to start again.

So where does that leave Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler -- the two most highly paid linebackers on the team?

They are salary cap cuts waiting to happen.

February 24, 2015

Ravens owner rips Dolphins' contract with Mike Wallace

The Baltimore Ravens today had a season-recap press conference featuring head coach John Harbaugh, general manager Ozzie Newsome and owner Steve Bisciotti.

And amid a presser where the team's failure (relative term because they had a good season in my eyes) over not winning the Super Bowl or advancing to the AFC title game led off proceedings, the Dolphins came up.

In discussing the high cost and high stakes of unrestricted free agency and the possibility of re-signing looming free agent receiver Torrey Smith, Bisciotti said, "Mike Wallace got $10 million. I don't think anybody thinks that was a good deal."

Shot fired.

I assume Bisciotti didn't mean to directly disparage Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, and the front office and coaching staff that had anything to do with the Dolphins signing Wallace in 2013.

But the comment stings because, well, it is true and rarely does an NFL owner involved with his own issues feel comfortable enough to rip another team's approach.

The truth of the matter is Wallace's deal that Bisciotti criticized is worse than he thinks. Wallace, who has not had a 1,000-yard season since coming to the Dolphins after having two in Pittsburgh, averages $12 million annually not $10 million.

Wallace signed a five-year, $60 million deal in March 2013. The deal included a whopping $27 million in guaranteed money.

Now, Dolphins fans and indeed the organization would be totally correct to tell Bisciotti to mind his own business. After all, the Ravens had the Ray Rice debacle last year and Bisciotti actually offered early support for Rice despite knowing the running back knocked out his then fiancée in an Atlantic City elevator -- an ugly domestic violence incident that eventually forced the team to cut Rice.

The Ravens also had issues with their security department. Security chief Darren Sanders was accused of a sexual offense when he allegedly groped a female stadium worker and forced himself upon her. Sanders remains on paid leave.

So there's that.

But the truth is Bisciotti is saying something that's accurate and something the new Dolphins braintrust -- primarily general manager Dennis Hickey and possibly executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum -- agree with ...

Which is Mike Wallace is overpaid.

Wallace's cap number for 2015 is scheduled to be $12.1 million. He is due a $3 million guarantee on his $9.85 million base salary if he's still with the Dolphins on the fifth day of the league year or March 15.

And that is why, as this space reported last week, the Dolphins should and are seriously considering and trying to work through a pay cut for Wallace.

The Ravens are scheduled to visit the Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium in the fall. It'll be interesting to see if Wallace is on the Dolphins at that point.

More Sun Life amenities, but what about home field advantage?

The Miami Dolphins have a new preview center up and running at Sun Life Stadium now.

They are quite excited about it. They are more excited about the continuing construction that will remake Sun Life in stages -- with new seating for the 2015 season and a canopy topper for 2016.

(Some fans have been very vocal about the extreme price hikes of some parts of the stadium where seats will cost as much as $1,875. Others are upset they're being displaced from seats they've had for years because they cannot afford the hikes. The Dolphins' counter is here.)

Anyway, what's the place going to look like?

Check out this video from the team:

 

A couple of notes:

Interesting that impending unrestricted free agent tight end Charles Clay is featured in the video even though he might not be on the team. The business side should talk to the football side on that.

On the other hand, Mike Wallace is not in the video. He's the team's leading receiver. He's the team's highest-paid player. But his future in Miami is murky at best. So maybe the business side did talk to the football side on this one.

Notice the video boards remain the same through the '15 upgrade but then get replaced for 2016 when the canopy tops things off.

The 72 club is the uber expensive area.

I counted four so-called clubs -- The Nine, the 72 Club, the North Sideline Club, and the Field Club -- along with upgraded concourses and an updated club level  And this is good, except it provides more opportunities for people not to be in their seats.

And if people are not in their seats, they are not making noise for the defense. They are not making the place uncomfortable for the opponent. They might as well be at home, as far as the football players are concerned. Yes, they're drinking and eating and churning revenue. But they're not providing a home field advantage.

The Nine, by the way, apparently has seats that place people looking away from the field where the action is. Yeah, I'm sure that's an oversight in the video and not going to be the actual arrangement of the couches, right? Notwatchinggame

Right!!!!???

[Update: I'm told the Dolphins will be given furniture options and so the couches facing away from the field are an option but not necessarily the one they'll pick. It is not set in stone.]

I would sell standing-room only tickets to the terraces or concourses. Make them cheap. Get more people in place. You have no seat. But you can cheer. Make it louder.

Anything to improve home field advantage.

That, along with comfort and modernization, should be a priority.

February 23, 2015

Not on my team: Price for Charles Clay is $6 million

You know that moment when teams that haven't won anything start paying young players who haven't won anything big salaries? That is a bad moment.

And that is where the Dolphins are getting to this offseason.

They are getting there with quarterback Ryan Tannehill who is likely going to get a $17-$18 million-a-year contract in the coming months because, as general manager Dennis Hickey said, QB salaries are what they are in the NFL -- even when the QB has never been to the playoffs or a Pro Bowl.

They are there with center Mike Pouncey, who is getting a new deal this offseason. At least Pouncey has been to the Pro Bowl.

And if they want to keep tight end Charles Clay and/or defensive tackle Jared Odrick they are going to be there with the two impending unrestricted free agents.

Clay's camp believes he's going to get a deal worth $6 million per season, according to The Herald's Adam Beasley. And he's going to get it either from the Dolphins or another team.

I've been told Odrick's camp, meanwhile, is certain their client will also get a deal whose floor is $6 million a year before free agency is over because Odrick has proven himself valuable as either a 4-3 defensive tackle or 3-4 defensive end.

You know how much that's going to cost the Dolphins to keep these players in 2015? It will cost approximately $30-36 million on an annual basis for players the Dolphins last year paid $5.21 million in base salary combined.

Indeed, the Dolphins invested $10.63 million in 2014 cap space on the four players combined. To keep them all this year will require about twice that cap space, if not more.

That's just to hold serve.

That's just to continue running in place.

That's just to not lose ground on talent.

For a team that has been 8-8 the last two years.

So what's the answer?

Well, I suppose the Dolphins could pay and keep everyone happy. But I don't abide that approach. I make difficult decisions, friends. I do not pay extra for players who are good but not great.

In other words, I cannot pay Charles Clay $6 million per year. Sorry.

Clay is a solid player. He's a 50-70 catches per year guy. He's a 500-700 yards a year guy. He's a 3-6 TD a year guy, maybe better with a great QB. But $6 million per year?

I let Clay go out and test the market. And if he finds that $6 million a year deal, from the Bills or anyone else, I wish him well.

And then I pick Clive Walford in the second round or Nick O'Leary (who reminds me of a slower Clay with better hands) in the fourth or fifth round. Cheap and possible long-term upgrade there.

Mando quickie plan: I sign Mike Iupati or Orlando Franklin in free agency to fill a guard spot. I ask Billy Turner to start at the other guard. I draft CB Trae Waynes from Michigan State in the first round. I pick Walford or a MLB in the second round. If I don't get Walford, I get O'Leary on Saturday or Sunday of the draft.

Hickey said tough decisions were coming this offseason. You should be starting to get the picture why he said that. 

When (no) personality requirement affect personnel decisions

Like it or not, true or not (Oh, it is true), the Miami Dolphins have gotten a reputation under Joe Philbin for not dealing sympathetically with players who have ... um, opinions, personalities, and off-field issues.

The Dolphins like their players to make statements with their play and not their mouths. Within the rules. Without any controversy. Without any issues, for that matter.

And that is an understandable approach because the nature of today's more politically sensitive NFL frowns on players that have any off-field issues of any stripe. It frowns on players that push the envelope on the field. And it actively punishes players that play or live to the beat of their own drum.

So Marshawn Lynch, you're going to get fined for not talking at the Super Bowl.

Doug Baldwin, you're going to get fined for mimicking a bowel movement as a TD celebration in the Super Bowl.

Ray Rice, you're suspended for punching your fiancée.

Adrian Petersen, you're going to get suspended for hitting your son.

Richie Incognito, you're going to get suspended for bullying your teammate.

And, by the way, I agree with all these actions. The lunatics, my friends, cannot be running the asylum.

But there is a way to play like a dog, be an individual, and still not embarrass yourself, your teammates, your fans and the league.

And that is where I have something of a problem with the Miami Dolphins.

In recent years they have, in my opinion, too closely straddled the line between what is improper and what is just human to the point it seemingly costs them talent.

Look, I agreed Chad Johnson had to go when he hit his wife. I agreed the team could not simply sit idly and leave the Incognito-Jonathan Martin issue unattended, although I think everyone, including owner Stephen Ross went overboard portraying Martin as a sympathetic figure.

(I remind you Ross said he wanted to visit with Martin to get his side, but never wanted to visit with Incognito. I think a more accurate portrayal would have been Martin as a troubled man -- talk of suicide and drug and/or alcohol use are obvious signs -- who was harassed wrongly and unfairly by Incognito but who also allowed lawyers and others to run roughshod over him in handling a situation that could better have been handled internally if he had simply told people in authority the problems early on.)

Where I depart from the Dolphins way of handling players that seem to be, well, a little different is in their breaking ties with players such as Karlos Dansby, Vontae Davis, and others because those players don't seem to toe the expected line exactly as the team wants or have maturity issues.

So Dansby talked a lot. He was open. He had thoughts he shared and didn't always agree with Joe Philbin. That got him in trouble a couple of times with the coach. And coincidently or not, he was cut soon afterward.

So Vontae was immature. So he went to the bathroom a lot one practice, which freaked Philbin out. No, he wasn't perfect, but he was also 23-years-old so there was so much room for growth. Yet coincidently or not, he was traded.

And I would say excluding players that don't strictly fall in line with a rigid definition of what is acceptable is not sound player personnel policy. Players are people. They have minds of their own. A great organization can find the most talented of those and get those individuals to fit in cohesively while still keeping their individuality.

I'm not sure the Dolphins allow for that as well as other teams. The team's reputation among some agents is it does not.

And that reputation wasn't helped when Dennis Hickey was asked at the Indianapolis Combine last week whether Philbin would rather not have outspoken players on his team.

“I think Joe is a principled leader and I know he cares for his players," Hickey said. "Puts them in a great plan and works together with them. Our goal is to get better and that’s what we’re going to do."

Yeah, that's not a denial or even a pushback on the idea that Philbin is unbending about players.

Why is this important? Well, unless Philbin is moving the line on what he deems acceptable behavior by players, the Dolphins in a few weeks will make personnel decisions that include his thinking on what kind of player profile is acceptable.

It will matter in who is coming and who might be going.

And what does that mean in a tangible sense?

Well, aside from the fact he is going to be extremely expensive, I believe it means Ndamukong Suh -- he of the sometimes questionable tactics and on-field approach -- is not a fit for the Dolphins. He simply isn't a fall in line kind of guy.

It means Antonio Cromartie, who has worn out his welcome on a couple of teams despite being a highly productive cornerback, probably isn't a fit for the Dolphins in free agency. He simply isn't a fall in line guy.

(Mike Tannenbaum's influence may shift Miami's course on this one).

It means Mike Wallace, who has complained openly to coaches about how often he gets the ball, is on the cusp of wearing out his welcome in Miami. He has tried publicly to put a good face on things. He works hard. But he isn't always a fall in line guy.

It means Jared Odrick, clearly talented and proficient at his defensive tackle position, may be judged by other means when the team decides whether he's worth a certain amount of money to retain in free agency or not. Why? He did yell at Philbin on the sideline last year -- which got him a talking-to from the coach.

The point is all teams judge off-field and character issues. It must be done in today's NFL moreso than in the past because those issues now determine actual games played on the field more than in the past. So the Dolphins are no different than any other team in that regard.

But it seems the Dolphins take extra steps to make sure the players on their roster fall in line more strictly.

Don't say the wrong thing.

Don't complain publicly.

Don't act out.

Don't have an opinion.

Don't be immature -- even if you're only 23.

Indeed, don't have a personality that doesn't mesh with your coach's personality.

This is dangerous. This sets limits on the Dolphins that other teams may not necessarily have. And with free agency and the draft looming, this doesn't put the Dolphins in the best position to compete for talent against teams not encumbered by such strict limits.

February 19, 2015

Dolphins should be talking pay cut for Wallace

Try as general manager Dennis Hickey might to evade and say nothing and give no clues that there is an issue between the Miami Dolphins and Mike Wallace, it is clear there is indeed an issue.

Up to now I've been thinking the issue is as simple as either cutting or not cutting Wallace following two seasons in which he has definitely not met the expectations of a $12 million-a-year contract and last year caused coaches headaches with his complaining about how often he got the ball.

Well, it may be more complicated than that.

It seems the Dolphins are trying to rehabilitate the situation rather than simply cut ties with Wallace. Otherwise what would be the need for Hickey to sit down for dinner with Wallace? Otherwise what would be the need to have some long, drawn out "process" of figuring out what to do next?

Yet, that is what has been happening.

“Well obviously, through our process we’re looking at each individual situation and with all of our players," Hickey evaded when asked about Wallace. "Obviously in the salary cap era you always have challenging decisions you have to make each year. So we’re going through that process and we’re further along in the process than we were let’s say a month ago when we talked at the Senior Bowl. We’re still working on it and we judge each player, each decision on the individual basis. And the goal is to make the best decision for the Miami Dolphins."

Working on what? Further along in what?

If the Dolphins were simply going to cut Wallace, that move doesn't need to be considered for a month and, indeed, nearly two months since the season ended (for Miami) with Wallace on the bench that final game.

Even the Dolphins, with their multiple layers of leadership and the organizational flow chart from the bowels of the earth, should be able to come to a decision on the team's highest priced player quicker than that.

 Nope, this is more complex than that.

I believe this is about, well, money. Isn't it always? I believe the Dolphins are trying to figure out a way to cut Wallace's salary. I believe the Dolphins are trying to find ways to make it acceptable to the Wallace camp. I believe the Dolphins want to pay Wallace to his performance level rather than his potential performance level, which is what they paid for when they signed him as a free agent in 2013.

The Dolphins made Wallace the highest-paid wide receiver in '13. He is now the NFL's fourth-highest paid wide receiver.

Has he delivered on that status?

Well, has he made the Pro Bowl?

No.

Has he had a 1,000-yard season?

No.

Has he consistently blown the top off the defense as was his imagined assignment when he signed?

No, although I blame quarterback Ryan Tannehill and not Wallace for this issue. Wallace has consistently gotten open deep.

The point is Mike Wallace caught 67 passes for 862 yards and 10 TDs last season. The 67 catches tied him for 39th in the NFL. His 862 yards tied him for 37th. The 10 TDs tied him for 12th with four others.

The point is Wallace wasn't Top 5 in anything except his salary.

And so it makes sense that the Dolphins would want to adjust that salary down as surely as they might want to adjust the salaries of other players -- Randy Starks, Brian Hartline, Dannell Ellerbe, Brandon Gibson, etc. -- that for whatever reasons were unable to deliver to expectations.

A salary cut makes sense for Wallace because cutting him outright, even after June 1, saves $6.9 million against the cap, but leaves a honkin' $5 million in dead money on the books this year and $4.4 million next year. It also deletes 10 TDs and a threat of a deep ball from the team.

Trading Wallace is practically impossible because I don't know of any team that would gladly absorb that toxic contract.

So all this processing that mends fences with Wallace also has to benefit the team and the biggest benefit the Dolphins should be aiming for is cutting his salary and cap numbers. This year Wallace is scheduled to count $12.1 million against the cap.

Tom Brady, a franchise-defining, Super Bowl winning, MVP QB, is costing the rival New England Patriots $14 million against the cap. WR Antonio Brown, who led the NFL with 129 receptions and 1,698 yards -- he also had 13 TDs -- is costing the Pittsburgh Steelers $9.78 million against the cap in 2015.

The Dolphins are overpaying right now for Mike Wallace.

And so if they're not trying to restructure his contract and, yes, cut his salary, something is amiss.

“I had a good conversation," Hickey evaded about his talk with Wallace. "Again, we have open lines of communication. I always feel like we have an open door for all of our players and whether it be from the coaching staff, myself, always keeping that open line of communication.

"You know, for all of us as the season unfolded and late in the year, we’re all frustrated about how the season ended. That’s where we’re focused on now, addressing, confronting the reality of where we’re at and how do we get to where we want to be? That’s what we spent the last five or six weeks looking at hard, in talking through and working together in a collaborative fashion to try to work through that. Because the goal is to be better."

February 18, 2015

Dennis Hickey: QB salaries are what they are

The Miami Dolphins are going to eventually pay quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Big time.

It's going to happen this offseason. Or it will happen next offseason.

But it will happen.

Miami will pay Tannehill just like other teams are paying their franchise-type quarterbacks. It's going to be a mega-contract sapping mega salary cap room.

And the Dolphins are comfortable with that.

"We feel really good about Ryan and obviously the market for quarterbacks in this era, the market is what it is," general manager Dennis Hickey said Wednesday. "But we're excited about the development that he made from Year Two to Year Three and that trajectory that he has. Learning in a new offense and working through that and the growth that he made throughout the season ... we're excited about his future as our quarterback."

That means Tannehill will eventually get somewhere between $15-$18 million per year over five or six years.

Boom! 

Hickey, who holds his cards so close to his vest you might think they're behind his back, would not say Wednesday how close the sides are to completing a deal for Tannehill.

"With all our players we're going to explore all options and obviously we're going through the process right now over the last month, really since the season ended of evaluating our roster both from a standpoint of where the team is at on offense, defense, special teams, position groups for each individual and adjusting and looking at each individual situation and making decisions based on that," Hickey said when asked specifically about Tannehill. "It's been a collaborative opportunity with the coaches sitting in and watching film, talking about players. Then going back and watching more film. We going through that process. We're further along in that process but we're still working through it."

Yeah, no idea.

Hickey also declined to specify whether the team is currently in talks with Tannehill agent Pat Dye.

"We're not going to comment on any contact with representation but we do have an open line of communication with all of our players and their representation," Hickey said.

New deal for Mike Pouncey not 'too hard'

The Indianapolis Combine is a time for teams and agents to gather in the same town and hold face-to-face discussions on multiple topics. Those conversations will be starting as early as today in Indy.

And those talks often range from interest in looming free agents (yes, this is tampering and yet everyone does it), talks about players about to get cut, talks about players the team has identified for salary cuts, talks for contract extensions.

In the next few days I expect Joel Segal, the agent for center Mike Pouncey, to meet with the Dolphins and talk about a new contract for his client.

This is going to happen this offseason, folks.

Why do I know this?

Well, I know Segal, based in New York, and new Dolphins executive vice president for football operation Mike Tannenbaum have worked on multiple deals in the past. I know they have a high degree of respect for one another. I know the two typically get things done when both are of the mind to do so.

And both are of the mind that Pouncey's future is with the Dolphins.

And both believe it is in their best interest to get this done.

Pouncey, due $7.4 million for 2015, wants to be among the highest paid centers in the NFL. And that means he wants to be in the same neighborhood as his brother Maurkice Pouncey, who last June  signed a five-year contract extension worth $44,136,625 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Maurkice got a $13 million signing bonus. And the contract calls for roster bonuses of $3.75 and $3.5 million in 2015 and 2016 if he is on the roster in March of those years -- which he will be, at least in a couple of weeks.

Base salaries of the contract are $1 million in 2014, $1.75 million in 2015, $3.5 million in 2016, $7.5 in 2017, $7 million in 2018, and $7 million in 2019.

And if Mike gets in that orbit, I imagine he will be satisfied.

The Dolphins, on the other hand, would like to not carry a $7.4 million cap number for Pouncey this year. They do that by, for example, giving Pouncey a $12 million signing bonus that prorates over the next five years at $2.4 million per season. If the team adds Pouncey's required minimum salary of $745,000 for 2015, his cap number would be $3.145.

That's a lot more palatable for the salary cap strapped Dolphins than $7.4 million.

Why would Pouncey go for that? Because he's getting a lump sum check for $12 million (minus federal tax) that's why. And $12 million is more than $7.4 million.

Obviously the cap value will go up in the coming years. Well, that's what happens when you are paying a player. The salary cap may be higher those years as well.

This is simply an example of the numbers can work. But the actual numbers should be fairly similar to manage.

That's why a source close to Pouncey told me recently a new deal "shouldn't be too hard."

I've been told the Dolphins agree.

So it is only a matter of time.