March 01, 2016

Miami Dolphins like Olivier Vernon, don't love Olivier Vernon

The Miami Dolphins want to keep Olivier Vernon. No doubt about that. That is why this morning they have placed the transition tag on the player, worth $12.7 million that ensures they can match any offer on the open free agency market Vernon gets.

But the Dolphins didn't want to go to what they believe to be extremes to keep Vernon.

And paying $15.7 million in a franchise tag that is guaranteed and fully costing against the cap was obviously something the Dolphins felt was extreme.

So the team cannot prohibit Vernon from going to other teams and getting contract offers. And with the transition tag they can match those offers if they meet the value they have for Vernon.

But if Vernon goes out and gets even one offer that pays in the $15-$16 million per year range with significant guaranteed money, he's gone. The Dolphins will not match it. They proved that today by not tagging Vernon at that rate.

And the transition tag comes with zero draft choice compensation. Those are the rules.

So the Dolphins really, really like Olivier Vernon. A lot. Over $12 million worth.

But they don't love Olivier Vernon. Not to $15.7 million worth.

There is another side of this, too.

The Dolphins like Vernon and want to see him return. But they have identified a handful of pass rush options they believe they can get more cheaply to play at the level Vernon has shown his first four seasons with the team.

William Hayes, a pending free agent from the Los Angeles Rams, is a player the team likes very much. If Vernon walks, Hayes will be an option. Hayes, 30, had 5.5 sacks last season.

The Dolphins have strong conviction about being able to get a comparable -- maybe better player, they believe -- if they lose Vernon based on their experience with Charles Clay in 2015. Last year the Dolphins placed the transition tag on Clay because they didn't think him worth the kind of money he was asking in a long-term contract.

Clay signed a five-year, $38 million deal with Buffalo that included $24.5 million in guaranteed money. The Dolphins opted not to match. They signed Jordan Cameron instead to a two-year $15 million deal with $5 million guaranteed.

Clay in 2015 made $13 million and caught 51 passes for 528 yards with three touchdowns.

Cameron in 2015 made $7.5 million and caught 35 passes for 386 yards with three touchdowns.

Clay had a drop rate of 6.6 percent. Cameron's drop rate was 4.6 percent.

Clay played 71 percent of Buffalo's snaps. Cameron played 72 percent of Miami's snaps.

Get the players on the scale and weigh salary versus production. The Dolphins can argue they paid $5.5 million less for a roughly equivalent player.

The Dolphins have been sort of telegraphing this move for over a year. They made one offer to Vernon's agent, David Canter. The team deemed it fair. The agent didn't and indeed, didn't even counter because he deemed the offer not realistic. That offer came last August-September.

There have been no offers since.

Again, the team has a value on Vernon it intends to abide by. And the player and his agent -- and likely other teams -- have a higher opinion of what Vernon is worth.

Free agency begins March 9. Despite his transition tag, Olivier Vernon will be on the market.

 

February 29, 2016

Miami Dolphins, Olivier Vernon headed toward franchise tag decision

The Miami Dolphins and agents for their pending unrestricted free agents met in Indianapolis over the past few days to discuss what it will take to keep the players, and those talks include the club and the agent for defensive end Olivier Vernon.

The team and agent David Canter met Saturday and have remained in contact beyond that meeting. But no deal for Vernon was imminent as of this writing and it seems the team will indeed have to decide whether or not to use the franchise tag on him by the deadline Tuesday at 4 p.m. Placing the tag on Vernon means the team extends a guaranteed $15.7 million tender on him that hits the salary cap books immediately so that he cannot sign with another team without draft compensation coming back to Miami.

The team is keeping its intents on using tag a secret although it seems Miami must tag Vernon short of getting a deal with him to avoid the ramifications of having him hit free agency. Here are the scenarios the Dolphins are looking at if no multi-year deal is struck by the tag deadline of 4 p.m. Tuesday:

  1. Tag Vernon and keep him. That's expensive in that Vernon immediately goes on the salary cap books for $15.7 million or a 1,000 percent increase on his 2015 pay of $1.5 million. The Dolphins are unlikely to use the exclusive franchise tag which prevents any teams from negotiating with the player but is determined by the top five highest salaries at a position. The non-exclusive franchise tag, a more likely scenario for Vernon, is less expensive and allows other teams to negotiate with the player. The Dolphins could then match any contract offer Vernon receives or let him walk and get two first-round picks in return.
  2. Tag and trade. As no team is likely to agree to give up two first-round picks for Vernon, the Dolphins could tag Vernon with the intent to trade him. They would indeed place the tag on him and signal that he is nonetheless available for compensation less than the two first-round picks. The team's initial asking price would likely include at least one first-round pick but it is possible Miami might take less -- such as multiple second rounders, for example.
  3. Tag with intent to remove. This is the nuclear option that assures mutual destruction. The Dolphins could tag Vernon now to keep him from going to the market. They could hope that bides them time to negotiate a long-term deal. If no long term deal is struck -- and none was struck since last August when the team and Vernon first talked about a new deal -- then the team could simply remove the tag in June or July. That would make Vernon a free agent at a time most NFL teams have already allocated most of their salary cap space and don't have room to add a $14-$16 million per year player. Vernon's choice would be to sign a lesser deal with another team, sign a lesser deal with Miami, or sit out the season. This option is onerous for the player but also the team in that it would be allowing Vernon to take up approximately 10 percent of its 2016 cap space for several months during free agency -- preventing them from making other moves and still ultimately risking losing the player. I doubt this happens as it would anger Vernon and send a bad message to other players in the locker room about how the team treats players. The only reasons this is included here is because, well, it is a tactic, regardless of how terribly unlikely.   
  4. Do not tag. This would happen under two instances, and that would be the Dolphins refuse to take $15.7 million in cap space on Vernon immediately but are certain they could sign him to a long-term contract between now and the opening of the league year on March 9. Or the Dolphins would be confident that Vernon would go to the market and give them a chance to match any offer he receives from another team to decide whether to keep him or not. The Dolphins have been told Vernon would be willing to give the team that courtesy.
  5. Walk away. The Dolphins could simply not tag Vernon, decide he's too expensive compared to the value they've placed on him internally, and then they have another hole to fill this offseason.

It would be dumb to simply walk away. Pass rushers are hard to find and those about to hit their prime -- Vernon is 25 years old -- are the most valuable ones. Vernon is also the best pending free agent the Dolphins have. So they would try to keep lesser players but let the better player walk? That would not be a good signal.

It would be unwise to not use the tag in some form and hope to match a contract another team offers. Although the Dolphins are confident Canter would give them the chance to match an outside offer, it seems strange to let another team negotiate a deal for you. It puts your salary cap situation in another team's hands.

Tag and trade makes sense in that if the Dolphins do not believe Vernon is worth $15.7 million for one year, they can try to add a first-rounder or multiple second rounders in exchange for him. In a year the cap has been raised to $155 million, some teams are flush with salary cap space and might be willing to part with compensation for a pass rusher.

The "tag and keep" option helps the Dolphins kick the can down the road on a Vernon deal. It keeps him on the team in 2016. It also swallows 10 percent of the team's available 2016 cap, which is not great.

I look for the Dolphins to tag Olivier Vernon by 4 p.m. Tuesday. I cannot imagine letting young talent at a premium position walk.

February 26, 2016

The Miami Dolphins want to keep their own players but why?

The Miami Dolphins want running back Lamar Miller, who is unsigned for 2016, back on the team. They have said as much this week at the Indianapolis Combine and head coach Adam Gase said Miller is gifted in all three areas a running back needs for success -- rushing, pass receiving and pass protection.

Cool.

The Miami Dolphins want defensive end Cameron Wake, who is 34 years old and coming off a torn Achilles injury, to sign a contract extension so he can be on the team in 2016 and beyond. General manager Chris Grier this week told the story how he hosted Wake at the Combine years ago and they ate lunch together. Grier saw Wake's potential way back then.

Cool.

The Miami Dolphins want Olivier Vernon, who is unsigned for 2016, back on the team. Yes, he has earned the right to go to free agency, the team has said, but before that the club and Vernon's agent David Canter will be speaking at the Combine to try to head that off. Indeed, even if that meeting doesn't lead to a multi-year deal, the Dolphins do not dismiss the possibility of putting the franchise tag on Vernon.

Cool.

The Miami Dolphins have reached out to the agent for receiver Rishard Matthews, who like the others, is uncertain of his status for 2016. Matthews is unsigned and scheduled to hit free agency in two weeks. And he wants to get paid. And he wants a chance to be a starter. And the Dolphins don't want to see him go.

Cool.

The Miami Dolphins say tight end Jordan Cameron is a fit. He didn't produce to expectations last season. He and quarterback Ryan Tannehill didn't exactly click on the chemistry meter last year. But Gase is confident Cameron can light it up in the new offense in 2016 and thus live up to his considerable cap number.

Cool.

Are the Dolphins aware they were 6-10 last year?

I'm simply asking because that was their record with these guys they are hoping to keep on the roster. And that's what they were with these guys on the roster playing for much, much, much less money. And now they are willing to pay these guys more and commit to them for much longer in order to get better?

There is something counter-intuitive there in my mind.

The Dolphins, a bad team a year ago, are talking about keeping the team together as much as possible and then adding to that. Of course, keeping the team together could limit how much they can add. And keeping the team together, again, keeps together a team that was 6-10.

6 and 10.

Why are we talking about keeping a 6-10 team as intact as possible?

I'm not being snarky, I'm just not getting the extraordinary amount of love the Dolphins this week showed the players that might hit the market. Because in my mind, keeping all those players does nothing to get you better while at the same time limiting your chances to get better because now you're paying much, much more for them.

And paying your old players much, much more, means you're not adding as many new players as you might otherwise like.

Look, the Denver Broncos are working feverishly to keep Von Miller. They want to sign him to a multi-year deal. Well, he's really, really good. And they want to keep him because they WON THE SUPER BOWL and they want to keep that team as intact as possible.

But the Dolphins DID NOT WIN THE SUPER BOWL. And they are seriously considering paying -- just an example -- Olivier Vernon 1000 times more than he made in 2015 in the form of a franchise tag. Does this make sense?

I should tell you GM Mando would keep Olivier Vernon on his team. He's a pass rusher. They're hard to find. Vernon is the embodiment of 8-10 sacks per season. He's 25 years old and his prime is ahead of him. I do not let him walk.

But I'm not keeping him and Miller and Matthews. It's crazy. I'm not keeping Cameron at his current high cap value.  And I'm not extending Wake to artificially lower his cap number this year while tying myself up in '17 and maybe '18 when he's 35- and 36-years-old respectively.

In short, I'm not bending over backward to keep a 6-10 team together.

Now, it must be said in all fairness that the Dolphins might not be able to keep all these players. Chris Grier and Mike Tannenbaum have said as much. And in that warning, I'm hoping they realize some of these guys can be replaced much more cheaply.

Miller, for example, is great on the roster when his cap number is $1.6 million as it was in 2015. I have no issue with 852 rushing yards, a 4.5 ypc average, and eight touchdowns for that price.

But Miller isn't going to play for that in 2016. He'll want to triple his salary and that will likely double his cap hit. Now we don't have the bargain we had the last few years. But we have the same player. And, yes, the player might be better if the new coaching staff employs him better. But there isn't a rookie third- or fourth-round pick out there that will do what Miller does for one-third the cap hit?

Are good-not-great RBs that hard to find?

Matthews? The salary floor for him will be $5 million a year. That's what the Dolphins are paying Greg Jennings now, so I see the trade off as a good one. Sign Matthews and wave goodbye to Jennings. But what if Matthews wants more? Like way more? His agent will have multiple suitors starting March 9. Indeed, he'll have multiple suitors when the legal tampering period begins days earlier.

You know what happens when multiple suitors come to a player? His price never goes down. It goes the other direction. So do the Dolphins fight the good fight to keep Matthews when that price climbs? Matthews made $663,000 in 2015 and caught 43 passes for 662 yards (15.4 average) with four TDs. Great bargain.

But now he's going to want to make 10 times that much. Is he going to produce 10 times as much? 

Look, Rishard Matthews is a good player. But he was drafted in the seventh round of the 2012 draft. The Dolphins cannot find his replacement in the late rounds of the 2016 draft and save $4-$5 million on their cap?

Same with Jennings, by the way. He was basically the WR coach last season. But he wasn't a very productive WR. So I thank him for his service, shake his hand, and off he goes. Why is he still on this team?

My point is some guys have to graduate. They played above the numbers of their rookie contracts but now that they want bigtime raises, a team should be wary of simply sticking with them for the sake of continuity.

Yes, that makes sense when continuity means keeping A or B-plus players. But continuity to keep a C-plus or B-minus players? Continuity when coming off a 6-10 season?

Continuity doesn't make sense to me in those cases.

To me, one guy does not graduate under any circumstances -- Vernon. Everyone else? Expendable. And that allows me to keep Wake at his current deal and next year when he's 35, we'll see.

February 25, 2016

Miami Dolphins front office, coaching staff trying to mesh

One of the great (and dangerous) unknowns of shotgun marriages is that communication sometimes falls through the cracks.

And that was a concern for the Miami Dolphins starting this offseason because the team hired a new and first-time head coach and a new and first-time general manager in January and neither had ever worked with each other or spent serious time with each other before they were hired.

So we didn't know if general manager Chris Grier and head coach Adam Gase and his coaches would be able to communicate easily.

Why is that important?

Because Gase has no contractual say, and perhaps little actual say over the selection of players this offseason. That belongs to Grier, who is Miami's talent hunter-gatherer and, of course, Mike Tannenbaum.

And Grier has no contractual say, and perhaps little actual say over what happens to the talent he selects once they get to Miami. Gase has control over the 53-man roster and so he makes those decisions. Yes, of course, Mike Tannenbaum is going to be in on that as well to some degree.

The point is Gase and Grier, Grier and Gase -- more or less strangers two months ago -- have to be on the same page to make this thing work.

Gase has to have a clear and vivid picture of what type of player he wants for his offense and defense. He has to have critical factors for players he wants. He has to have prototypes. He has to know what kind of guy -- personality, work ethic, leadership qualities -- he wants in his locker room.

And then once he understands that, he has to be able to explain that to Grier. Gase has to be able to paint a clear picture of what he believes a 2016 Miami Dolphins acquisition will look like and then transfer that picture, again, clearly and vividly to Grier.

Then Grier has to take that handoff and not fumble it. He has to fully understand what Gase is communicating or the exercise is a failure before it leaves the training facility. And once that clear understanding has been gained, then Grier has to go out and actually identify and sign or draft those guys.

And the thing is that communication between Gase and Grier isn't just between Gase and Grier. It involves assistant coaches. It involves everyone in the personnel department from scouts to directors or pro and college scouting.

There's a lot of talking and listening that has to be done and the message has to be well delivered and perfectly understood for the team to get to a successful end product -- a 2016 acquisition who will fit on the team and succeed on the field.

I know this sounds complicated. Certainly it is much more complex than, say, "That guard was pretty good in college, let's draft him."

And to the Dolphins' credit, those conversations have been ongoing between the Miami scouting department and coaching staff.

"The great thing is having Mike and Chris, they’ve been working together now for almost a year," Gase said. "I’m just coming in and trying to get a feel of how they work. The great thing we did is we sat down with the coaching staff, we talked about what we were looking for, and Chris has done a great job of getting with our scouts.

"We’ve talked through the types of attributes we’re looking for in each player so as we go through this process I’m really kind of taking a little bit of a back seat to some of this because we’re all trying to learn each other. Chris, he was hired to be the GM. He was hired to do a job of making sure that we put together a great roster of players. So right now that’s his role and moving forward that’s what he’s going to do. We’re going to go through the draft, and Chris is going to pick great players."

Remember, they will only be great players if they fit the Dolphins. If they fit the schemes. If they possess the critical factors the coaching staff has outlined as necessary to be good in Miami.

Successful teams are successful because they have talent. That is a given. But the unseen issue is that talent fits that team.

How many times have you seen talented players from elsewhere switch teams and suddenly that talent doesn't translate? It has happened in Miami too often in recent years. I think that is because the shotgun weddings between coaches and general managers that the franchise authored didn't work.

There was a shotgun wedding between Cam Cameron and Randy Mueller. There was a disconnect (at the end) between Jeff Ireland and Tony Sparano. There was a shotgun wedding between Ireland and Joe Philbin. There was a shotgun wedding between Philbin and Dennis Hickey in 2014. Tannenbaum joined in and Philbin-Hickey-Tannebaum was, well, 6-10.

All the partners tried but didn't always communicate well. Sometimes they didn't communicate at all, as I've reported over the years. Yes, #strongertogether is a joke.

You get the point.

Successful teams, meanwhile, seem to mesh. The Patriots have the Patriots' way and they add Patriots type guys. Is it always successful? No, not even after years and years of working together do all the players mesh and fit the joint vision of personnel and coaching. But generally they get it right.

Denver goes with John Elway's vision and he is well tuned in to former teammate, former roommate and current head coach Gary Kubiak.

Seattle people -- different and West Coast-ish though they might be -- get each other.

Arizona, Carolina. There is a melding of minds between front office and coaching staff.

The Dolphins are working toward that now.

 

February 24, 2016

Miami Dolphins' Adam Gase: Jordan Cameron is a fit

Dolphins head coach Adam Gase just spoke to the media in Indianapolis and the biggest revelation was that Jordan Cameron is in the team's plans for 2016.

You'll recall Cameron is one of the ten offseason cap moves the Dolphins will or should be considering. That's because he caught only 35 passes in 2015 and is scheduled to cost $9.5 million against the salary cap. And cutting him would save the Dolphins $7.5 million, which begs serious consideration.

But the Dolphins are apparently planning for Cameron to be on the team.

Gase said "the wide out and the tight end group we feel great about."

Well, Cameron is the starting tight end. And Dion Sims is the backup tight end. And that is the core of the tight end group. So, Cameron.

Later during his presser, Gase mentioned that the new coaching staff has studied Cameron and he "fits" what the team is going to try to do on offense in 2016.

"Obviously the tight end position is something we've made a living on in this offense over the past three years," Gase said. "So both those guys (including Sims) I really see a great fit as far as what we do."

So, Cameron.

Now, about that cap number. It is possible the Dolphins might try to get a pay cut from Cameron. Or they might try to do an extension for purposes of lowering the cap number this year. Or they might simply go with what they have.

But listening to Gase today, it sounds like Cameron is on the Dolphins in 2016.

Tannenbaum on keeping his free agents: 'We'll see ... No decisions'

The Miami Dolphins are at the Indianapolis Combine and so are 1,400 media covering the event. Today club executive vice president for football operations Mike Tannenbaum spoke with reporters and basically accomplished his mission by revealing ... not much.

What did he reveal?

You judge.

Tannenbaum was asked about re-signing defensive end Olivier Vernon, the team's signature player scheduled to hit free agency. Will the team keep him?

"We'll see what happens," Tannenbaum said. "He's earned the right to be a free agent so he has options. We have options. We're going to keep assessing those."

The franchise tag, which would cost the Dolphins $15 million guaranteed for 2016 and goes on the cap in one lump sum, is an option for MIami. The team has until 4 p.m. on March 1 to designate a player with a franchise or transition tag. Are the Dolphins going to use it?

"We have options. We'll see," Tannenbaum said. "We haven't made any decisions. We have a deadline coming up in another handful of days so we'll see. We haven't made any decision so we're looking at a couple of different options."

The Dolphins will meet with Vernon agent David Canter before they leave Indy. At or soon after that meeting, presumably, there will emerge clarity which direction this is headed. The Dolphins made Vernon an offer last August but not since. Both the team and the agent have been waiting for the other to come up with a contract number they can begin negotiating off of.

Running back Lamar Miller is also a free agent and the Dolphins will talk to agent Drew Rosenhaus at the combine as well.

Is Tannenbaum optimistic he can keep Miller?

"I'm an optimistic person by nature," Tannenbaum said. "We'll see what happens. We've done a lot of deals with his agent over the years and Lamar is a homegrown talent. Great guy off the field and we'll see what happens."

The direction of the Miller negotiation and talks with receiver Rishard Matthews may determine how much offense the Dolphins address in what is expected to be their defensive-minded draft in a couple of months.

"If we re-sign Lamar, if we're fortunate enough to do that, we're probably not going to draft another running back," Tannenbaum said. "If we lose Lamar, drafting a running back becomes more important. We'll get all those decisions over the next several months, knowing that we're not going to be able to keep all these players. We all know that. And then who else can we sign and what are the value signs and what can we do in the draft? We're sitting there with the eighth pick. Do we maybe move up, move back. All these decisions depend on one another.

"If we would lose Rishard Matthews and Lamar Miller that would affect our thinking. There's a lot of talent in this draft, some positions more than in others. We have to see what happens over the next six weeks before we set our strategy going into the draft."

February 23, 2016

Miami Dolphins: A quick fix or building toward future sustainability?

What are we Miami Dolphins?

Obviously, they are a professional football team that is in transition because they have a new head coach, a new coaching staff, and they are about to launch out into the new NFL calendar year starting March 9 with hopes of putting their recent troubled history way behind them. But ... what are they?

Are the Miami Dolphins a team coming off a 6-10 year in which they underperformed despite great talent and thus on the cusp of something really good because a new coaching staff will correct the failures of the last season? Are they a talented bunch that merely needs direction? Are they a last place team in the AFC East that is a viable candidate to become a worst-to-first tale in 2016?

Or...

Are the Miami Dolphins a 6-10 team that had bad coaching, not enough talent, and need a total reboot that will take a few years to get right?

In that regard, are the Dolphins a rebuilding project that you better not expect much out of in the coming seasons because they are riddled with holes and no one can plug a dike that's leaking from that many spots in one offseason?

The Dolphins had better have the right answer for these fundamental questions as they set off on their new league year because the path for addressing these vastly different possibilities is, well, vastly different.

If the Dolphins believe themselves a very good team needing just a little bit of direction to go from 6-10 and only one win the AFC East to, say, 10-6 and challenging the New England Patriots while passing the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, then the moves of the coming talent procurement period would be vastly different than otherwise.

Teams on the verge of a turnaround do not, for example, let talent walk. Teams like that don't want to fall back in any regard, but rather want to add to the talent that got them to that precipice of a turnaround. And so, the Dolphins would obviously be looking at defensive end Olivier Vernon and running back Lamar Miller as players they cannot lose because that's a step in the wrong direction. Losing either player creates holes on the roster at starting defensive end and starting running back, respectively, that would then require filling -- in addition to the other holes that require filling.

A team on the verge should approach the offseason with the idea of adding talent, sure, but adding starting-caliber, top-line talent, because presumably the back of the roster and the depth is pretty solid. And if that is true, we're not bargain shopping in free agency. We're not taking the cautious approach of waiting for prices to come down later in free agency while the most talented players get snatched up early.

Last year, following an 8-8 season in 2014, the Dolphins thought themselves a couple of players from seriously competing in the division. So they locked up center Mike Pouncey, locked up quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and spent (over spent from where I see it) on defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. A team believing itself to be a couple of years away from truly competing might have passed on Suh and added two or maybe even three red chip players instead of swinging for the fence on blue chip Suh.

But Joe Philbin knew 2015 was a playoffs-or-bust year and so it was in his best interest to have the organization take a big cut, hoping to hit a homer. (Ok, enough baseball jargon). Mike Tannenbaum, in his first year as the football czar, wanted to do all he could to support his new head coach and so he gladly bought in to the swing for the ... push for Suh. And owner Stephen Ross, who had already told Philbin he needed to get in the playoffs to keep his job, bought in because he obviously believed his people when they said the Dolphins have excellent talent and we need just a bit more to get over the mediocrity hump.

Yeah, um, miscalculation.

Tannehill did not do what he'd done the previous three years after he signed his new contract. He did not improve. Indeed, even as he got better at his deep ball accuracy, he showed no real improvement in pocket awareness, and instinct. And he took a significant step back in team leadership because some players in the locker room, with whom Tannehill had not built a relationship or high level of respect, started looking at him sideways and whispering questions about him.

Suh? He was good. He was very good. But he wasn't $144 million good. He wasn't $19 million per year impactful. The Dolphins handed him the keys to the defense and when he turned the ignition, Suh found out the engine needed a tuneup and one of the tires was flat. And his good-but-not-great-performance could not lift the defense to better results than it had in years before when he was not on the team.

So, while I understand that calculation the Dolphins made -- that they were nearly good enough and just needed an little added push to get in the playoffs -- it was nonetheless a bad calculation. And while I did not and do not agree the Suh signing was the thing to do, I understand why everyone was on board, particularly Joe Philbin. Everyone was trying to save their jobs.

That should not be the motivation for setting a course this offseason. New coach Adam Gase is brand new. His staff is generally brand new. General manager Chris Grier is brand new to his position despite being part of the past 16 years of not good enough, but that's another story. And Tannenbaum has cover in that, while he has been here a year, this is the first year he was able to shape the franchise as he would like with a new GM and a new coach -- all decisions he helped make and is fully responsible for.

So everyone gets a pass this year, more or less, in the eyes of owner Stephen Ross.

No one gets a pass in the eyes of Armando Salguero but I am still collecting my pennies toward $1.5 billion (approximately what the Dolphins will sell for when Ross is done) so I don't get a vote.

Ross, by the way, is an interesting issue.

He's interesting in that he's exceedingly smart but not exceedingly wise. He is a fabulous success in the business world and a flop in the football world. He has multiple degrees from outstanding institutions of higher learning but he says a lot of dumb things. The man is often a contradiction in terms.

Not coincidently, just like his football team.

If you've been following the Dolphins under Ross and have paid attention to things Ross says, you know all this is true. Remember he has said the Dolphins are a great success. He has said that under his ownership the Dolphins have been turned around...

... Except for the football team. 

"We really have turned this franchise around in every way," Ross said the day he helped introduce Gase as the new head coach. "I think (team president and CEO) Tom Garfinkel and the work he’s done with the organization has really put us in a great position. But we haven’t performed on the field in the way that I or the fans want to see us in the future."

I am not mocking Ross here. I actually think I understand what he's saying. I think he's saying the organization has been set on the right course on the business side but the football side hasn't followed. Yes, he prefaces that by saying the franchise has been turned around "in every way," but you need to understand what he means while ignoring what he says.

Why am I telling you this?

Because Ross, the leader of this franchise, the head of this franchise, is similarly convoluted about how he views the future of this franchise.

I am told by multiple high-ranking people within the Dolphins organization that Ross is not in win-now mode. He wants the Dolphins to be a team that enjoys success in a sustainable way. He doesn't want a repeat of 2008, when the team rose unexpectedly from 1-15 to 11-5 and then sunk right back thereafter. He wants to be good for a long time.

But apparently believing this, Ross goes in front of business leaders in Palm Beach and says something akin to an NFL head coach has to win in three years or he'll get fired. "After three years, if we haven't made the playoffs, we're looking for a new coach. That's just the way it is. The fans want it."

And then the organization has to walk it back to explain that, again, regardless of what Ross said, you should please ignore that and understand what he means.

Why does this matter?

Because the owner sets the tone. He authors the marching orders for the organization. If he tells his people to win now, they attack an offseason as if they are in win-now mode. If he tells them build something sustainable that we can be proud of in three years, the organization's view obviously expands and different decisions get made because the goal is different.

The thing is, I'm not absolutely certain how the Dolphins view themselves. And I'm not sure the Dolphins know how to view themselves because their owner is saying one thing and meaning another. Or not.

Anyway, back to the paths. I explained earlier -- seems like days ago now -- that a team in win-now mode cannot let OV walk. It cannot add a hole at RB because there are holes at MLB, OLB, CB, OG, OG, TE, and S and adding RB and DE to the holes is problematic.

Here are other differences: If the organization is going to take the slow, systematic approach, it won't restructure Ndamukong Suh's contract, saving $18 million on the cap this year, but pushing bigger cap numbers toward the future. The Dolphins will absolutely do the restructure. They want the cap space. But the irony is they're making this move to turn around and possibly place the franchise tag on Olivier Vernon.

So they create $18 million in cap space to immediately lose $15 million of it to keep Vernon and thus set the floor for a Vernon multi-year deal. And in doing this exercise the team improved how?

Suh was on the team last year. Vernon was on the team last year. They went 6-10.

So having these two on the team this year is going to help lift them to 10-6 or 11-5? All you did was move money around, make them both richer and did really nothing for the improvement of the team.

The long range view? The long-range view accepts that every problem cannot be fixed in one offseason. And sometimes one has to take steps back to take multiple steps forward.

The long-range view lets Vernon walk and uses that $15 million cap hit on two starters -- maybe two linebackers. Or maybe a linebacker and a safety. And then you draft a defensive end (who probably won't be as good as Vernon, but may develop into that eventually) this year and draft another one next year and three years from now you have two cheap defensive end starters not named Olivier Vernon or Cameron Wake.

Will that view cost you sacks and maybe even wins in 2016? Of course it will.

But might it add sacks and wins in 2018? If new GM Chris Grier can pick the right talent, yes it will.

The short-term, win-now approach believes that good-but-not-great players who played at bargain prices for you the past few years -- such as Vernon, Miller -- must be retained because you want to be as good as you can as fast as you can and these guys are about to hit their prime.

The long-term view isn't moved by the fear of losing in 2016. If Miller, who averages 4.3 yards a carry, can get $4 million per year from another team, salute agent Drew Rosenhaus's good work and draft his replacement in the third or fourth round. And use that $3 million savings toward, I don't know, on a $7 million guard?

(Granted, there might not be a really good $7 million guard in free agency who is 26 or 27 years old and about to be great, but you get my meaning. Running backs, easy to find. Guards, less so.)

(Short blog posts, easy to find. This monster, less so.)

The point of this tripe I've just written is that the Dolphins have to decide what it is they are as they head into the new league year. They've shown signs they believe themselves a pretty good team on the verge of big things. That hasn't worked out in the past.

They've also spoken of being patient and building toward sustainable success rather than going for the quick fix.

So which one is it, Miami Dolphins?

February 19, 2016

Ten Miami Dolphins cap moves to get under the '16 salary cap

The Miami Dolphins have to be at or below the NFL's 2016 salary cap of approximately $154-$155 million by the opening of the league year at 4 p.m. on March 9. That means the team's top 51 players (contracts) must have a cap number at or below the $154-$155 million.

And that's not a ton of fun because right now -- today -- the Dolphins cap value for their top 51 contracts is $162,237,543. Give or take.

In other words, the amount of money the Dolphins are currently over the projected cap could buy a brand new Abrams M1A2 battle tank from the U.S. military and have a couple of million left over for, you know, ammunition and fuel.

So Mike Tannenbaum, Dawn Aponte, and Ryan Herman have work to do.

They are the people running the Dolphins finances on the football side. They are the folks setting values on their players -- not fast enough for my taste, but they work at a different pace than I would expect. They are the ones negotiating contracts. They are the ones who will meet with agents throughout the Indianapolis Combine next week to try to 1. get a line on what to do with their own pending free agents, 2. start getting price markers for players from other teams about to hit the market, 3. collaborating with other teams (nah, never happens) to see what the market is on certain positions and players expected to be available.

And then off to free agency on March 9. But, again, the Dolphins are currently over the cap.

So the team must and will change things up between now and then.

Below I will run you through some of the exercises the Dolphins will run through, or at the very least consider, to get below the cap.

  1. Ndamukong Suh restructure. How many times have I written about this, already? Here. Here. One more time: The Dolphins will restructure Suh's deal at a point and time of their convenience and choosing and turn the defensive tackle's $28.6 million cap charge for 2016 into a $10.42 million cap charge. Voila, the Dolphins will be under the salary cap! And they can now buy multiple Abrams tanks if they wish. This will happen (the restructure, not the tank purchase). So everyone saying Miami's salary cap is a mess, just don't know.
  2. Tight end Jordan Cameron is scheduled to cost $9.5 million against the 2016 cap. He caught 35 passes last season and didn't have what I would call a great chemistry with quarterback Ryan Tannehill. If the Dolphins are cool with 35 catches and limited chemistry with the QB costing $9.5 million against the cap, then nothing need be done. If that is not the team's idea of value, then Cameron gets cuts and suddenly the Dolphins save $7.5 million in cap space. The team could also extend Cameron and give him a bonus, add a couple of years to his contract and lower his cap number, but that is a risk because, again, he's no longer the former Pro Bowl player troubled by concussion issues coming to the team. Now he's a player with some (not many) nagging injury issues from a year ago who didn't really put up big numbers. I suppose the Dolphins could also ask Cameron to take a pay cut but I doubt he would accept, if the other option for him is getting cut and hitting free agency.
  3. Restructure Mike Pouncey. I'm not saying or reporting this is going to happen, but it makes sense. The Dolphins are saddled with a $10 million cap charge on Pouncey. They could restructure his deal and turn that to $3.4 million, for a savings of $6.6 million. And, yes, that pushes money out into future years, but the way I see the Dolphins thinking of Pouncey -- as a good player, a locker room leader, and the anchor of the offensive line at age 26 -- pushing money into future years isn't that big a risk right now.
  4. Make a decision on that fourth wide receiver -- Greg Jennings or Rishard Matthews. The Miami Herald reported today the Dolphins have reached out to Matthews, who is scheduled to hit free agency, about possibly returning. Interesting timing considering the player currently has little motivation to do something with free agency within sight. Anyway, the Dolphins can offer Matthews a deal that is $5 million per season (APY) with a cap value well below that. That, by the way, is what Matthews will be looking for on the market more or less. And where do they get this? Well, Jennings is scheduled to cost $5.5 million against the cap and cutting him saves $4 million. So cut him. Done. He's 32 years old, he's no longer as good as Matthews and he kind of blew up quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the national media recently, saying the QB is far from elite (which he is, but not good for a far from elite teammate to say it). Jennings' romp over the Dolphins and Tannehill and coaches lately has the feel of him knowing he's not coming back to this team. He hasn't burned bridges, but he's definitely lit some fires in the general vicinity of bridges. He has to go. Matthews may also go because he recognizes Miami has three starting caliber WRs already in Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills that they are committed to. So he's going to accept being No. 4?
  5. Extend Cameron Wake. This is happening. Wake has been at the team facility practically every day. He's expected to be fully recovered from his Achilles tear by training camp. Indeed, he's already working out as if nothing had happened. So the Dolphins are going to extend Wake in the next couple of weeks to lower his cap number from his scheduled $9.8 million. There should be approximately $3-$5 million cap relief from this work.
  6. Figure out Brent Grimes. This one is interesting. Grimes is 32 and last year showed signs of decline. He is scheduled to cost $9.5 million against the cap in 2016. If -- big if -- the Dolphins determine Grimes should be on the team, they can save approximately $3.5 million in salary cap charge by restructuring his contract. They can also save $6.5 million by cutting him outright, if that's what they think is right. So how will they arrive at this decision? The Dolphins will have to get assurances from the player that he (through his wife and her outspoken nature) will not be inciting division within the locker room in the future. Grimes has more or less made those assurances in the past and it hasn't worked out. We'll see what happens. Bottom line is the Dolphins will have options either way.
  7. Branden Albert decision. The team can save $5 million off Albert's $10.1 million scheduled cap charge by restructuring this contract. But, remember, that pushes money into future years in the form of prorated charges increasing. Unlike Pouncey, Albert is 31 and has something of an injury history. So do the Dolphins limit their ability to cut Albert in the future for the cap relief now? I wouldn't do it. They don't need the cap relief that badly.
  8. Dion Jordan. Currently on suspension for violating the NFL drug policy, Jordan is a bust who is costing $6.2 million against the team's cap in 2016. If the suspension is lifted in April by the NFL, the Dolphins can bring Jordan back and hope for the best. Or they can cut him and save $3.2 million. Either way, this decision doesn't get finalized until after Jordan is cleared to return -- assuming he is cleared.
  9. Koa Misi. The Dolphins linebacker corps is a mess. At least two of last year's three starters will be replaced. If they're not, somebody didn't do their job. Anyway, Misi is the highest paid of the group and is scheduled to cost $4.87 million against the cap. The Dolphins can save approximately $1.7 million by restructuring Misi. The Dolphins can save $3.7 million by cutting Misi. Considering his injury history and the declining production because of those constant injuries, I initially do neither of these. I ask Misi to take a pay cut outright. If he declines ... I don't cut him but he better ball in training camp because if he doesn't, he gets cut then.
  10. Earl Mitchell. He's is scheduled to cost $3.5 million against the cap. Cutting him saves $2.5 million. Considering his play dropped off the table in 2015, I believe the Dolphins can do better.

February 18, 2016

Defensive line is the epicenter of Miami Dolphins salary cap moves

The Miami Dolphins expect to do a lot of work with agents between now and the end of the Indianapolis Combine (Feb. 23-29) and hope to get much work finalized by that time. I expect they'll want to have Ndamukong Suh restructured by then (easy), they want to know whether they can have a new deal with Olivier Vernon or have to use the franchise tag on him, and they want a new deal with defensive end Cameron Wake.

Yes, the defensive line is the epicenter of much pre-free agency work for this team.

And that is because much of the 2016 cap space the Dolphins will enjoy (or won't) is tied to the defensive line.

Suh, the highest paid player on the team, is easy. I reported weeks ago, he already agreed to restructure his deal for cap purposes in his initial contract. The Dolphins will see his '16 cap number go from $28.6 million to around $10.8 million. That has to be done.

The Dolphins want a plan with Vernon. He is a pending free agent so negotiations of some sort need to begin to get a new deal between now and the start of free agency at 4 p.m. on March 9. Either that, or the team will put the franchise tag on Vernon.

Yes, I'm presenting only two options here because I do not believe the Dolphins will let Vernon walk. Good teams simply do not let good 25-year-old pass rushers out of their building unless that player is reviled, or injured, or a criminal of the highest order and Vernon is none of those. And because the value of pass rushers is at an all-time premium, it makes no sense to let Vernon go to market and negotiate a deal with another team and come back to Miami with an opportunity to match -- something Vernon has made no secret he would do.

(That option allows other teams to negotiate your contract, which is not good business).

So I believe this will either lead to a multi-year deal or a franchise tag -- neither of them cheap, both of them overpaying, but one or the other necessary.

By the way, notice I said both options will overpay Vernon. I believe the Dolphins should have worked last year to sign Vernon. They could have had him for $10-$12 million per year. Now the price is approximately $15 million guaranteed on a franchise tender (all hitting the club's cap in full) or around $14-$15 million per year APY on a multi-year deal with a much lower cap value coming in around $6-$8 million.

Olivier Vernon is not worth that. He's not Reggie White. But that is the market. He'll likely get that from somebody.

The Dolphins also by the last day of the combine should be done with an extension (mostly for cap purposes) with Cam Wake.

I told you this was a strong probability back on Nov. 2, as long as Wake was willing to return to a team that has never been to the playoffs since he joined it in 2009. Well, he signaled he was willing to return on the final day of the season when he spoke to reporters in the locker room. And today the NFL Network reported talks on that extension have begun.

Here's the reason this is necessary:

Wake is scheduled to be in the final year of his contract in 2016 with a cap hit of $9.8 million. Coming off an injury plagued year that included hamstring problems and a season-ending Achilles tear, the 34-year-old Wake would be a candidate for a farewell from the roster if the Dolphins were an organization that drafts exceedingly well.

But the Dolphins have not drafted exceedingly well and today's chickens coming home to roost were hatched in the 2013 draft when pass rusher Dion Jordan was picked No. 3 overall. Jordan, picked to be a stud, has been a bust. He has been nothing but a disappointment on drug suspension, injured, or out of sorts. So instead of having Jordan taking over relatively cheaply in Wake's spot, the Dolphins have to circle back to Wake.

And what will happen is Wake will get a one or two-year extension carrying him through 2017-18 and he'll get a signing bonus (or some guaranteed money) of about $10-$12 million that can be prorated, and he'll get certainty about where he's going to be this year and probably next.

The Dolphins will get cap relief and the ability to push the need for at least one pass rusher down the road a year or so. The cap relief will look something like this: Wake is scheduled to cost $9.8 million against the '16 cap. His number will go to around $5.6-$6.3 million. That will be a cap savings of between $3.5-$4.2 million.

All this while Wake gets a big check and a raise for 2016.

(This, of course, assumes Wake's agent doesn't get greedy and the Dolphins don't try to hardball him).

The Wake and Suh restructures and extensions should save the Dolphins in the neighborhood of $21-23 million against the 2016 salary cap. The OV contract or franchise tag will cost the Dolphins between $8-$15 million against the salary cap.

February 15, 2016

The Olivier Vernon offseason saga about to begin

Tomorrow, February 16, is the first day NFL teams can designate franchise or transition tags on players. And that is important to the Miami Dolphins because they have a decision to make on defensive end Olivier Vernon -- the only player scheduled to hit free agency that is even remotely worthy of a tag.

This is not an easy question. Indeed, it is a hard question the Dolphins' braintrust -- led by executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum -- has been pondering for a while. The question is apparently vexing enough that one Dolphins source recently asked me in passing, "What would you do?"

My answer?

"I don't know."

(Yes, I'm a genius.)

Actually, the reason I don't know what the Dolphins should do now is because if I were managing things, we never would have reached this moment and this offseason of intrigue with Olivier Vernon in the first place. I would have signed the kid (he's only 25) to a contract extension before last season that would have paid $10-$12 million per season. I wrote last June that $12 million APY was the floor for Vernon.

It would have been proactive to get a deal done then.

The floor is no longer $12 million per year. He's going to land in the $14-$15 million per year range APY one way or another -- either by signing a deal with the Dolphins, signing a deal with another team in free agency, or getting tagged.

If the Dolphins had any desire to keep Vernon, they should have shown it last year and done so at a much cheaper price. If they want to keep him now, it'll cost them approximately $10-$12 million more over the life of a five-year deal than it would have then. That's just the facts of NFL business. The salary cap doesn't go down (it was flat in 2011, but didn't go down) and players, particularly pass rushers, don't get cheaper with time when they're about to hit free agency in their prime.

Indeed, if the Dolphins are considering a franchise tag for Vernon, that will come in around $15 million guaranteed for one year. And unlike the cap hit for a multi-year deal that would have been cheaper a year ago and would have been prorated over four or five years, the franchise tag's $15 million would pile up on the team's salary cap in one lump sum.

And aside from being an ugly wart on the team's cap situation, the franchise tag has other joyless repercussions.

First, if the Dolphins tag Olivier Vernon, he will not report to any of the team's offseason OTAs, conditioning program or camps, other than what is mandated by the NFL. The Dolphins know this. Everyone knows this. And although Vernon plays a position that does not require a grand amount of scheme knowledge and study, the fact is the Dolphins have a new head coach, a new defensive coordinator and a new defensive scheme (sort of).

So Vernon would not be melding into Adam Gase's culture, he will not be learning Vance Joseph's defense, he would not be part of the locker room -- with the exception of a three-day minicamp -- until late July.

Not great.

So, it's settled then, right? The Dolphins should immediately re-sign Olivier Vernon to avoid the franchise tag drama.

But the truth of the matter is I'm not sure the Dolphins want to keep Vernon. According to multiple sources, they have had no significant contract discussions with him or his agent David Canter since the season ended.

And, yes, they were kind of busy hiring Gase and letting the new staff study the roster to see how to proceed next. But it doesn't take that long for coaches to figure out if they want a player or not. It doesn't take that long to put a club value on a player. That's like a three-day assignment. So that work should already be done. And, still, no significant contract offer. Also, no insignificant contract offer.

All those signs point to the Dolphins showing no desire to work with Vernon toward getting a deal done.

By the way, I reached out to Canter, and the usually loquacious agent wanted nothing to do with this topic.

Yeah, something is going on where no one is talking to each other.

So what if the Dolphins are willing to walk away from Vernon?

It would immediately put a demand on them drafting a defensive end in the upcoming draft and doing so early enough that the player immediately is able to become a starter to replace Vernon. (Don't consider how Dion Jordan figures in all this because he's not even eligible for reinstatement from his drug suspension for another couple of months).

Meanwhile, Vernon will get signed in free agency. There's no doubt about that. He's going to get paid one way or another. He is by no means the best pass rusher on the market, if he gets there. Super Bowl MVP Von Miller, you'll recall, is scheduled to be available and he would be the best available going away. But everyone knows Miller will get signed or franchised for sure. And that's more good news for Vernon, along with Jason Pierre-Paul and Mario Williams. So maybe teams such as Atlanta, the New York Giants, San Francisco, Oakland, Indianapolis, Chicago -- all needing to upgrade their pass rush -- will be interested.

Some of those teams are flush with cap space.

And what would they get? What might the Dolphins lose?

Vernon has 29 sacks in four years. He has 25.5 sacks the past three years -- an average of 8.5 per season. He lead the team in sacks two of the past three seasons. He also had a ton of quarterback hits last season.

The Dolphins must have a value for that kind of production. They must have a projection of what Vernon can become when he hits his prime during the next contract.

Has that compelled them to try to get a contract done with Vernon over the past year, even as the market price for pass rushers kept rising? No.

Might they deem Vernon's price tag is too steep and let him walk? The signs suggest that's the case.

So, given all that, is Vernon worth a franchise or transition tag, despite the obvious salary cap hit?

Maybe. But it definitely doesn't feel like it was the best possible solution. That would feel like the team would be trying to overcome past miscalculations.

February 05, 2016

Dolphins offseason goal: Get stronger, tougher, to play in AFC East

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Miami Dolphins braintrust has spent much time grinding on tape and discussing what went wrong in 2015 so that it can be corrected for 2016. And club executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum, at the Super Bowl for a couple of days on business, discussed with me where the organization sees itself and how to fix what is broken.

It starts at quarterback. I reported last week that new coach Adam Gase and his coaching staff were convinced Ryan Tannehill is their quarterback and are comfortable with him going forward. Tannenbaum confirmed that publicly, saying that is indeed the case.

"Yes, it is," Tannenbaum said. "It's good to get a fresh set of eyes on guys and the new staff, Clyde Christenson, Adam Gase are excited to work with Ryan and believe he has the attributes we've talked about: He's tough, he's smart, he can make all the throws. Obviously we hope he plays better as well as the whole team. As a team we were 6-10. But I think we're all excited about the future with Ryan."

Tannenbaum is at the Super Bowl but he recognizes his team is not. I asked him how close the Dolphins are to playing in one of these games and he quickly said the Dolphins' focus is on more immediate issues. Like getting better within the division.

"From where I see the world, I'm much more concerned about us making progress and going from there," Tannenbaum said. "I know this from all my years in the league, the difference between winning and losing is so small. With that said, we have a fresh start, a fresh opportunity, and we have to get better. It starts with our own guys. We have to get our guys better. We have to get stronger. We have to be better in the AFC East. We have to be more physical on both sides of the ball. But to say we're a year away or two years away from the Super Bowl, I can't control that. But what I can control is that we start getting better as soon as our players get players."

If the future is to get better, the Dolphins simply have to change their results in the AFC East. That is a major focus this offseason. Miami was 1-5 in games against division rivals New England, Buffalo and the New York Jets, having been swept by the Bills and Jets.

And so the team is about to undertake the assignment of changing those results by trying to get players who are stronger and tougher -- attributes.

I asked Tannenbaum if the Dolphins are going to be big players, small players or no players in free agency when it starts in March.

"I would say we're trying to be appropriate players," he said. "We're trying to get our own house in order. We have flexibility. Dawn Aponte who is negotiating most of the contracts, has done a good job of giving us flexibility. So we'll be appropriate. If there's the right opportunity to improve, I'm sure we'll be aggressive. But it'll be measured and it's about getting our own house in order first."

So what is Miami's philosophy going to be on the kind of players it will sign and draft this offseason?

"I think what [general manager] Chris [Grier], Adam and I have talked about is we want guys who are smart and tough," Tannenbaum said. "How do they help us in the division? Again, to go back, we were 1-5 in the division. We'll never get to where we want to go being 1-5. So we spend a lot of time talking about that.

And part of that discussion is how to fashion the Dolphins to beat New England, Buffalo and the Jets.

"It has to be a big part of the discussion, without question," Tannenbaum said. "Those teams are all big and physical. They all live, breathe and eat in the Northeast. They're tough. We have to start preparing for that right now. We have to get stronger. We have to be able to move people off the line of scrimmage. We have to pass protect much more consistently. If we don't do those things, we can't expect to have a different result."

If the Dolphins don't fix the defense, they cannot have a different result. The Dolphins D finished the season 19th in the NFL in points allowed. The 389 points Miami allowed in 2015 was the fifth most allowed by any defense in franchise history.

So it is pretty certain defense will addressed this offseason.

"We're going to have an opportunity to address some areas we feel need to be addressed and we're going to get some players back that were hurt last year and hopefully we're going to add to it and I think we can turn things around pretty quick," Tannenbaum said.

February 02, 2016

Rip the Miami Dolphins for getting rid of Ted Ginn Jr.? No

SAN FRANCISCO -- There's a reason Ted Ginn Jr. chose No. 19 when he arrived in South Florida to play for the Miami Dolphins in 2007.

“The meaning behind number 19 is first round, ninth pick," Ginn Jr. said during the Super Bowl media night madness here.

That's right, Ginn Jr. (and his family) were drafted by the Dolphins with the ninth pick of the first round by then general manager Randy Mueller. The thinking then was that Ginn was dynamic because he had explosive speed. The thinking then was the Dolphins had to take him because Brady Quinn, the player fans wanted, wasn't accurate enough to play quarterback in the NFL.

And so Ted Ginn Jr. was the pick.

But the investment went sideways for the Dolphins because the GM and head coach (Cam Cameron) who drafted him were fired after a 1-15 season. It was their only season at their posts in Miami. And then the next regime -- headed by Bill Parcells, Jeff Ireland and Tony Sparano -- didn't have the ties to Ginn Jr. that could protect him if things went sideways.

And things definitely got sideways as Ginn Jr. struggled to catch the football. Struggled to be a No. 1 receiver. Struggled to avoid always running toward a sideline to avoid contact.

The Dolphins traded Ginn Jr. to San Francisco in April of 2010 for a fifth round pick that turned out to be Nolan Carroll.

The Dolphins were happy. And Ginn Jr. was happy to get out of town and out from under the cloud of unmet high expectations.

But this is where the story gets interesting...

Ginn Jr. has not necessarily ever lived up to his draft status anywhere he's been. But he's definitely not a bust as a player. He's a good player. He has flaws, such as inconsistent hands. But he still has that elite speed.

And the Panthers used that speed to their advantage this season as Ginn caught 44 passes for 739 yards -- a career high average of 16.9 yards per catch -- with 10 TD receptions. Ginn's presence helped alleviate the devestating loss of Kelvin Benjamin to season-ending knee injury and revived a career that obviously never got off the ground in Miami and didn't do any better in San Francisco or Arizona.

And what is the difference for Ginn Jr. in Carolina compared to Miami, San Francisco or Arizona?

“Cam Newton," he said. "That’s really it, Cam Newton. It isn’t really about the ‘dab’ it’s just about who he is. I believe that if it wasn’t for him there is no Ted Ginn. You know, ever since I came here from 2013 to now, we had some great success, you know? Putting the ball in the air, you know?  This year, just coming back and losing Benjamin, you know, we knew that we had to step up as one and make it work and that’s what we did."

And here is where you expect me to rip the Dolphins for getting rid of Ted Ginn Jr. prematurely, right? This is where you expect me to say he is among the list of players who enjoyed more success away from the Dolphins than with the Dolphins, right?

I'm not going to say that.

Look, Ginn Jr. is a good third or fourth receiver. He is a great downfield threat against defenses that like to play press. He is a threat as a punt returner. He's fine when he's catching footballs from a premier QB.

But he came to the Dolphins to be part of the solution for turning the offense around. He was not just a first-round pick, but a high first round pick. And even though Cameron said the Dolphins picked him to return kicks at that tragic draft day presser, fans expected their ninth overall pick to play and contribute and make a huge difference and be star almost immediately.

And Ginn never did that in Miami.

And he's never done that anywhere else, by the way.

In Miami Ginn Jr. was under that expectation cloud that seemed to overshadow him. When he stunk, and there were times like that, he was booed by fans and ripped by media (me included). When he was good -- like on that day against the Jets in which he scored both Miami's touchdowns on returns to lead the team to victory -- the narrative was he was fulfilling expectations.

Unfortunately, there were more bad days than good. And there were too many unremarkable days in between. To this day, Ginn Jr. averages 26.2 receiving yards per game for his career.

So rip the Dolphins for divesting of Ted Ginn Jr.?

Nope. I understand why they did it.

January 31, 2016

The Miami Dolphins have an issue at linebacker(s)

Senior Bowl week, the acknowledged kickoff to draft season, is behind us and it should be noted that although the Miami Dolphins coaches were not present for the practices or game, the staff will watch and study all the practices and the game via their tablets or computers in the coming days.

And during that study, the linebacker position will be of particular interest.

Indeed, the linebacker position will be a particular interest throughout this offseason until that moment when the Dolphins feel they've resolved their linebacker problems.

Plural.

About those problems (plural): The entire Earth recognizes the Dolphins have to find a starting caliber linebacker this offseason. But the truth is the team will be looking for two -- TWO! -- starting caliber linebackers this offseason.

One of those will be a middle linebacker. The Dolphins had Kelvin Sheppard as their starter in 2015 and he proved to be solid enough. But an upgrade is necessary here and the team recognizes that.

The Dolphins also have questions on the outside. Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins were also solid in 2015. But neither was necessarily good.

Misi, who is scheduled to cost $4.878 million against the 2016 cap, had 59 solo tackles and one pass defensed in 2015. That's it. He also missed three games due to injury and that has been a recurring theme for Misi. He's missed eight starts the past two seasons and as Bill Parcells once famously said, durability and availability are abilities.

Misi's salary and health question marks hang a target on him as a possible cap casualty. The Dolphins can save $3.72 million by parting ways before June 1. As a post-June 1 cut, the Dolphins could save $4.3 million against the cap by cutting Misi.

Jenkins missed three starts last season and was no more productive than Misi. He finished the season with 50 solo tackles, three passes defensed and a forced fumble. The problem with Jenkins is he didn't improve on a 2014 season in which he had 83 solos, 3.5 sacks, a pass defensed and two forced fumbles. So regression.

But Jenkins is scheduled to cost only $793,000 against the cap in 2016. Unlike Misi, he is not a bigger ticket player. He is still on his rookie contract.

The Dolphins, by the way, are interested in getting bigger, stronger, faster at linebacker in 2016. Their linebackers got pushed around and were slow-ish to the ball in 2015.

Misi, at 6-3 and 254 pounds, is a massive 4-3 outside linebacker. That's great. But he's not necessarily quick or fast. Jenkins at 6-foot and 243 isn't small but he isn't big-boned nor exceedingly quick or fast, either.

I believe the Dolphins will try to replace Sheppard and Misi this offseason and deal with the size issue on Jenkins because he's younger and relatively inexpensive.

But ... if the team replaces only one starting linebacker this offseason instead of two, something went wrong.

January 30, 2016

Miami Dolphins hoping west coast games will include extended stay

The Miami Dolphins have three west coast games next year. But they may have only two west coast trips.

The Dolphins will be playing the Rams, Chargers and Seahawks in 2016 and, until Friday, it seemed they might be playing two games in Los Angeles -- against the Rams and Chargers -- because one of those is already approved to play at the Los Angeles Coliseum and the Chargers were negotiating to do so.

But the Chargers announced they are staying in San Diego at least one more season so the Dolphins will be going back one more time to the scene of the 2015 game at Qualcomm Stadium that was supposed to be the Chargers final game there.

So trips to three west coast cities, right? That's a lot of travel miles from Miami, right?

Not if the Dolphins can help it.

The team is asking the NFL to schedule two of those west coast trips back-to-back. And if the NFL complies, as it sometimes does with special schedule requests from clubs, the Dolphins then intend to stay on the west coast the week between those games, per a club source.

So, for example, if the Dolphins are scheduled to play the Rams and Chargers back-to-back, they would not fly back to Miami after the Los Angeles game and then return to San Diego for that game. The Dolphins would instead stay in Southern California after the Rams game, practice there that week, and play the Chargers the following weekend.

(By the way, Southern Cal Dolphins fans, the team's practices during the regular season are closed to the public so don't even ask).

It is possible the two back-to-back west coast trips are Seattle and one of the Southern California games. Well, the Dolphins would make the NFL's longest trek on the American continent -- from South Florida to Seattle -- and then go onward to or from Seattle rather than return to Miami.

The decision to do it this way is quite logical. The Dolphins believe flying west and staying there is better for their players physically than flying west, flying east, then returning west again. It's a competitive advantage decision.

Obviously staying out west will put strains on the team's logistical crew. Miami will have to carry enough equipment for two games and a week of practice rather than just one game. The team will also have to find a training site for a week.

But this is not unprecedented. In November 2004, the Dolphins requested and got their scheduled games at Seattle and San Francisco in back-to-back weeks. The Dolphins flew from South Florida to Seattle, lost 24-17 to the Seahawks, and then flew directly to San Francisco where they practiced for a week, celebrated Thanksgiving, and played the 49ers the following Sunday. Miami beat San Francisco 24-17 that Sunday, on the back end of an extended stay away from home.

The Dolphins went 1-1 on the extended west coast stay in a season they won only four games.

The Dolphins hope they would get as good if not better results in 2016 if they have a chance for an extended stay out west. 

January 29, 2016

Adam Gase and his coaching staff convinced Miami Dolphins have a QB

When Adam Gase was introduced to South Florida as the Miami Dolphins head coach, the obvious question about what he thinks of quarterback Ryan Tannehill came up very quickly. And Gase basically stiff-armed the question because the new coach said he hadn't seen or studied Tannehill enough to give an expert opinion.

That was 20 days ago and a lot has happened since then -- namely Gase and his coaches have been grinding on Tannehill tape. And now their opinions on the player are mostly formed.

And the opinion, according to a source, is that Adam Gase is more than pleased with what he's seen of Ryan Tannehill on tape.

Indeed, Gase has told multiple people within the Dolphins organization that he doesn't quite understand why some people are up in arms about Tannehill because what he sees on tape is the makings of a good NFL quarterback.

That's high praise from a coach who was hired primarily on his credentials as a quarterback guru whisperer mentor Sherpa.

Gase helped turn around Jay Cutler's career arc in Chicago in 2015, making a player who had been somewhat unhappy and a turnover machine on the field into a 92.3 rated passer who seemed to enjoy playing again. Gase also was the Denver Broncos offensive coordinator in 2013 when Peyton Manning threw an NFL record 55 TD passes.

And now he's convinced, per sources, he has a good working foundation in Tannehill that can be molded into a good quarterback,

That feeling, by the way, is now coursing throughout the Dolphins coaching staff. In short, everyone is on board with Tannehill.

“I really enjoyed watching him," offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said of Tannehill Thursday. "I haven’t seen him a bunch. I visited with him and his wife when I came in for the interview and I had a great breakfast with them and as much as you can do in an hour there, but I’ve been extremely impressed with him. He’s been extremely productive and he’s played some awfully long stretches of good football. He seems like a guy that has all of the things that you’re looking for. A guy who wants to be good, who has it in perspective and (I’m) really looking forward to seeing him on the field a little bit."

This is by no means to be understood as Gase and his coaching staff thinking Tannehill is perfect or not in need of serious honing. There are issues that are not necessarily going to be shared with the public right away that the new staff, led by Gase, will work to improve -- both in Tannehill and around Tannehill.

One obvious issue the coaches are going to make sure to correct is Tannehill getting hit time and again, every game. Recognizing Tannehill has been sacked 184 times in his four seasons, the Dolphins new staff is going to make sure to cut down on the pressure. That will be addressed any number of ways, including improving the offensive line, getting the football out quick and improving Tannehill's recognition and reaction times.

But the foundation -- the arm strength, the competitiveness, the intelligence, the athletic ability, the work ethic, and other traits -- are apparently there, Gase and his coaches believe.

They are convinced right now the Dolphins have a quarterback.

January 28, 2016

Vance Joseph and Ndamukong Suh: The meeting of the Alpha males

New Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph is an alpha personality guy. That's what everybody who has been around him have told me. That's the vibe I got today when I spent a couple of minutes with Joseph after his introductory press conference.

And that's good because the Dolphins defense has a couple of Alpha personality type guys and unless they have a clear leader heading the unit, well, bad things can happen. Lost respect for the coordinator is one such bad thing.

That was perhaps some of the issues the defense had under former defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle. Eventually it was one reason players tuned Coyle out.

One such player was Ndamukong Suh, who didn't take long to disconnect from Coyle's messaging last season, per multiple team sources.

So how is Joseph, an Alpha male, going to handle Suh, an Alpha male?

Well, by having Suh invest in the defense on and off the field, which Suh has an expressed a desire to do.

"We've talked last couple of weeks here," Joseph said. "He's a bright guy. And he wants to be involved with our overall scheme. My opinion of that is this: Every player is going to have a voice, from the top to the bottom. If a player puts the work in, and he's studying daily to help us win, I'll listen.

"If it's Suh or if it's [Reshad] Jones or if it's [Brent] Grimes, whoever puts the work in and brings me ideas, I'll listen. It's the NFL and you want players to have ownership of it. If it's a closed door all the time that can be a problem for a defensive coordinator. So it's an open door policy. We're open to ideas that have been thought through."

Ok, so idea swelcome. But they better be good ideas.

The idea that the Dolphins paid Suh $114 million, including $60 million fully guaranteed, to basically have a player who takes up blockers is mind blowing. Yet, that is what Suh was a majority of the time in 2015.

"He's obviously a dominant player. He's an inside player so that's always tough because offenses can kind of double team him every play," Joseph said. "It's tough for him. Watching the film, he's requiring two or three blockers every play. So sometimes it's hard for him to have an impact on the game. But obviously he's a dominant guy. We can use his reputation to help us on defense. He's big, he's fast, he's explosive. But he requiring double teams every play so for him to get off, it's tough."

Joseph believes he has ways to free Suh on certain plays so the defensive tackle can get to the ballcarrier or pressure the pass pocket.

"We've got some ways. but I can't share those," he said. "We've got some ways to get him more single blocks, one-on-ones, and more opportunities."

Debunking a false narrative about the Miami Dolphins coaching staff

The Miami Dolphins today will introduce their coordinators to the media and, in so doing, to you as well.

Offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph will be introduced locally for the first time and assistant head coach/special teams coach Darren Rizzi will be reintroduced because he's been with the team dating back to the Tony Sparano staff.

And I want to take this opportunity to tackle a topic that has been making the rounds on social media and even some mainstream media sites: Let's tackle the narrative that the Dolphins had a weak coaching staff the last couple of seasons under Joe Philbin and new head coach Adam Gase kept nine coaches from that staff.

And thus this Dolphins staff is still weak.

And Gase obviously had trouble finding better people.

Executive vice president in charge of everything Mike Tannanbaum dismissed those two narratives this week:

"We feel really good about the result," Tannenbaum said. "We spent the better part of January working, Chris {Grier} and I with Adam, talking with [owner] Steve {Ross] daily about where we are. We feel good about blending some continuity with some of the coaches we felt good about as well as having new blood. We're excited about the staff and the guys that were held over were decisions made by Adam and he felt strongly about those guys."

And here is the truth:

Yes, the Dolphins kept nine coaches from the previous staff. but of those only three are leading the room at their positions. Williams is the defensive line coach, so that's his room. Anarumo is taking a step back from his interim defensive coordinator duties to return to being the DB coach, so the secondary is his room. And, obviously, Rizzi continues to be at the head of the special teams meetings.

Let's consider two of those three for a moment. Anarumo had three interview requests put in for him by other NFL teams to be considered as a defensive coordinator after the season ended. He went on one of those interviews -- to Jacksonville. And although Gus Bradley didn't hire him as the coordinator, he wanted to hire Anarumo as some sort of hybrid defensive backfield pass defense coordinator.

That didn't fly with the Dolphins who retained Anarumo. So he was in demand.

Rizzi had four interview requests from around the league put in on him. The Dolphins turned them all down.

The point is these guys were well regarded in league circles.

Dave Puloka was the assistant strength coach last year. He also dates back to the Tony Sparano staff. He also is highly regarded in league circles and would have had no problem finding work if he was let go. The Dolphins promoted him to head strength and conditioning coach instead.

The other five coaches who were retained from Philbin's staff are either assistants to the position coaches or have been reassigned to the research department.

Ben Johnson was an assistant QB coach last year and is an assistant WR coach this year. New hire Shawn Jefferson is the wide receiver coach.

Charlie Bullen was assistant defensive line coach last year and is assistant linebacker coach this year. New hire Matt Burke is the linebacker coach.

Marwan Maalouf was the assistant special teams coach last year and remains in that position. Rizzi is the special teams coordinator so to speak.

Ken O'Keefe was the wide receiver coach for Philbin, was reassigned when Philbin was fired, and now has been reassigned again as a senior football research analyst.

Blue Adams was an assistant DB coach last year and is now a football research analyst.

So, yes, the Dolphins retained nine members of last year's staff. But, without diminishing the role of an assistant to an assistant coach, that's what most of these are doing.

Gase, meanwhile, hired 13 new coaches -- eight of which are the lead coaches at their positions. 

That's the breakdown.

I'm not saying this is 100 percent, absolutely the second coming of the 1994 Green Bay Packers coaching staff (look it up).

But fair is fair.

January 27, 2016

Suh, Miami Dolphins have already agreed to a contract restructure

So I spent some time on ProFootballTalk.com's live radio show Wednesday afternoon because Mike Florio is a friend and he pays me tons and tons of money (zero) to appear.

And it was interesting that the topic of Ndamukong Suh and his contract restructure came up. That is an important topic because Suh is scheduled to count $28.6 million against the cap this league year. That's quite high. And the Dolphins, who need to make some cap room so they can work free agency aggressively (and they will be aggressive, I've been told), can turn that scheduled $28.6 million cap hit into a more palatable $10.5 million cap hit by simply restructuring Suh's.

As I've written before, the way this is done is by converting up to $22.7 million of Suh's $23.4 million base salary in 2016 into a new and guaranteed signing bonus before the start of the league year March 9. Doing that adds to the prorated portion of Suh's cap number in 2016, '17, '18, '19 and '20. It effectively raises his cap numbers in 2017-20 by $4.5 million each year.

But it lowers Suh's cap number this coming season by over $18 million.

As you read Tuesday, club executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum said the Dolphins will definitely look at doing this and no final decisions have been made on the subject.

But let me be clear: The Dolphins were looking at this possibility the day they signed Suh.

Indeed, Florio argued with me that Suh giving his permission for the club to convert his guaranteed salary to a guaranteed bonus may not make sense for the player unless he gets something else in return. So that got me to thinking. And that got other people to thinking.

And we looked at Suh's contract. And it turns out Suh has already agreed to the restructure at any time of the Dolphins choosing.

Paragraph 33 of Suh's contract handles this issue under the term "Automatic Conversions."

It reads: "Player and Club agree that on one or more occasions and at any time during the duration of this contract, club shall have the option to convert a portion of player's 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and/or 2020 Paragraph 5 (base salary) into signing bonus, subject to forfeiture only for the league year of such converted compensation. Player and club agree that an email an/or phone call from the club to the player or player's certified agent shall suffice to notify player that club is exercising its rights under this paragraph and will make such a conversion, the amount thereof and the effective date of the conversion."

So, again, the Dolphins and Suh have already agreed to a restructure. It is just a matter of the team pulling the trigger.

Something they will nearly definitely do by March 9.

January 26, 2016

Miami Dolphins work progressing toward answering offseason questions

If you listened to Miami Dolphins executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum speak with the media after a Senior Bowl practice in Mobile, Ala., Tuesday, you'd be tempted to think the team has tons of issues looming and no plans have been set in place for dealing with them.

Remember, Miami's upcoming unrestricted free agents are about to hit the market in March or not.

Decisions on cap casualties have to be made.

Free agency is coming up.

Some contract restructures have to be addressed.

It's almost offseason go time. And the Dolphins?

"We haven't made any decisions as it relates to strategic planning, salary cap, budgets, things like that," Tannenbaum said. "By the time we get to the first day of the league year we should have plenty of room to address the needs we have. And certainly we'll be looking at (Ndamukong) Suh's contract."

No, it doesn't sound like the plan is written yet. But I am told the work is in progress and the Dolphins do not feel threatened by any time constraints. They'll be ready to handle business at a time of their choosing.

But this is also true: The team has not approached looming unrestricted free agents such as Olivier Vernon, Rishard Matthews and Lamar Miller about possibly re-signing with Miami.

"We will over the next few weeks," Tannenbaum said. "We have some time. We still have, in my opinion, plenty of time to hit those guys as we make a decision on who we keep."

The decision on Olivier Vernon should be interesting. He is going to be expensive if the Dolphins want to sign him to a contract. He is going to be a significant cap hit -- in the $15 million range -- if the Dolphins decide to use the franchise tag on him.

And the sides have not talked seriously about the matter with agents for those players in some time.

Tannenbaum would not commit to restructuring Suh's deal. I don't see how they don't do it because if they do not, Suh will cost $28.6 million against the cap. Restructuring could save the Dolphins $18 million of that in cap space even if it does make Suh cost more against the cap in future years.

There are some players the team will perhaps extend  to lower their cap number -- Cameron Wake is a candidate there.

Other guys are likely about to get cut -- with Greg Jennings, Quinton Coples, Brent Grimes, Jordan Cameron and others being candidates there -- because their 2016 cap charge is high and their production in 2015 didn't rise to that level.

Before those negotiations begin, before some of the pink slips, are authored, the Dolphins want to come to an organizational opinion on the players. That becomes a more involved process this year because head coach Adam Gase and others on the coaching staff are new, so new thoughts and projections about how to use players going forward have to be considered.

"We have to sit down with coaches to see how each guy fits," general manager Chris Grier said.

"We'll look at all factors to make those decisions," Tannenbaum said.

Carson Wentz goal: To be the first QB taken in the next draft

Carson Wentz is not a household name. Yet.

The North Dakota State quarterback is a bigtime FCS level performer but ... he played in the FCS. But the NFL, which goes to any lengths to find talent, considers Wentz a big time prospect. Teams, including the Miami Dolphins, are intrigued. And so this week during the Senior Bowl practices leading up to Saturday's game, teams are studying Wentz.

They're looking at a kid who is admittedly a late bloomer. But they're looking at a kid who also believes he can be the first QB taken in the draft -- Jared Goff and Paxton Lynch notwithstanding.

Here is what he said at the Senior Bowl press conference:

Q: What would you like to show the NFL this week?

A: I think there’s obviously a lot of doubt coming from the FCS level and I just want to address that right away, prove that I can play at a high level, play at a fast level, compete with these guys and really excel. I have the mental and physical abilities to play at this level and I’m really excited to prove it.

Q: How are you guys (North Dakota State) able to do what you’ve done up there?

A: A lot of people kind of compare us to Alabama of the FCS. Our conferences are really tough and say we’re like the SEC of the FCS so a lot of comparison based on the winning culture and the tradition that we have. Football is huge in our state. It’s big down in Alabama, but North Dakota State Bison football to North Dakotans and people in the Midwest has become a really big thing and we have quite the following and we would argue we have some of the best fans in the nation.

Q: How big is this to work with Jason Garrett and the Dallas Cowboys staff?

A: It’s a tremendous opportunity. I think we’ve seen teams fall in love with players at any point during the draft process and this is just the first step in that process. Obviously, a great opportunity for me to show not just my physical abilities, but my mental side of things that the Cowboys staff can see at a whole other level.

Q: Would you rather be a little more under the radar or do you like being up there with the top quarterbacks in this class?

A: I don’t pay much attention to that. It kind of is what it is because everyone’s going to have their own opinion. All of the media is going to have their own opinion. What really matters is what the scouts think, what the owners think, what the administration within the team thinks. At the end of the day, whatever projections might be out there, it’s irrelevant to me personally. I’m just worried about getting better every day and proving myself every day.

Q: How big were you when you got into high school?

A: I was a freshman in high school at 5’8” and 125 pounds. Then 5’10” and a real skinny kid as a sophomore and then I bloomed into a 6’3” and 170 pound kid as a junior. I had some injury issues so I didn’t play quarterback as a junior so I missed a lot of the big recruiting. In North Dakota, it’s hard to get found in general, let alone missing a junior year. I came in my senior year at 6’5” and 200 pounds and kind of came out of nowhere. I always knew I had the physical and mental abilities to play this position, but physically I finally developed late. I’m so thankful and I would trade the road I took for the world.

Q: Is the goal in this process to be the first quarterback taken?

A: Absolutely. I don’t know any quarterback that doesn’t want to be the top guy in their class. If you don’t think you are or don’t think you have the ability to be, then you’re probably in the wrong sport because we’re competitors playing football here. We all want to be the best at our respective positions and that’s obviously the goal.

Q: Who did you try to emulate as a quarterback?

A: Growing up, I was a Vikings fan just because they were the close team. I always loved watching Brett Favre. I loved his grit, his competitiveness, his gunslinger mentality and I loved the way the guy had fun out there. You’d see him just running around throwing touchdowns and he wasn’t all about himself. He’s sprinting down there giving guys hi-fives and the energy he brought, I loved every minute of it.