March 11, 2015

Ndamukong Suh signs with the Dolphins (finally)

What has been known and obvious since Sunday morning when the Miami Dolphins and the representatives for Ndamukong Suh successfully laid the groundwork to a contract is now a reality: The best and most expensive free agent on the market has joined the Dolphins.

Suh has signed his six-year contract with the Dolphins, according to a league source.

He arrived in South Florida this morning. He arrived at the training facility early in the afternoon. And after getting a tour of the facility and doing the requisite meet-and-greet with the braintrust and coaches, Suh put signature to contract.

The deal details have not been made known to The Miami Herald. But ESPN reported four days ago it was worth $114 million with $60 million in guaranteed money. ProFootballTalk.com reported the $60 million figure is fully guaranteed with $20 million of that being paid out this year.

The fact the $60 million is fully guaranteed means owner Stephen Ross has to set aside the entire sum. Ross, a billionaire and one of the NFL's richest owners, can obviously deal with that money flow issue.

After all, he approved this entire deal from start to finish.

Ndamukong Suh is a Miami Dolphin.

Randy Starks cut by Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins are making room for the signing of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh today. He has arrived in South Florida, per a team source.

So one defensive tackle is coming and another is going because Randy Starks was released by the team this morning.

The move saves the Dolphins $5 million in salary cap space. It also creates a big hole on the roster.

The Dolphins are now without two of the top three defensive tackles from last year's team -- a fallout from being the No. 24 run defense in the NFL -- as Jared O'drick is gone to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

But Suh and fallout from his whopping $114 million contract will continue to be felt, as I write in my column today.

Later today the Dolphins are likely also going to release linebacker Dannell Ellerbe if they cannot trade him and his terrible contract. Starksflips

Starks, 30, turned in a typical year (for him) last year. He had 26 tackles in 14 starts. He had 4.5 sacks and recovered a fumble. He played for the Dolphins since 2008 when he came from Tennessee as an unrestricted free agent.

He's on the market once again.

By the way, I appreciate that Starks was his own man and something of a bully. When the coaching staff benched him before the first game in 2013 because he had stayed away from all the team's offseason activities and workouts while tagged as the franchise player, Starks revolted.

In the first game against Cleveland, coming in as a substitute, he picked up a sack immediately. And then turned to the sideline and shot coaches a middle-finger salute.

Never forget that moment. 

March 10, 2015

Miami Dolphins top two UFA targets after Suh ...

Free agency is a two-way street and so while tight end Charles Clay is shopping his services by visiting the Buffalo Bills, the Miami Dolphins have set their sights on a possible replacement by focusing on Cleveland Browns free agent Jordan Cameron.

The team is also moving forward with plans to chase cornerback Brice McCain of the Pittsburgh Steelers in free agency.

McCain is in town visiting and the sides have already talked contract. Expect Cameron to visit with the Dolphins barring him getting a quick deal elsewhere.

Cameron, 26, is interesting because it shows the Dolphins are prepared to move in another direction should Clay get the offer sheet everyone expects in Buffalo. The Dolphins are not going to overpay for Clay, I'm told.

Cameron is on the comeback trail after missing six games of the 2014 season with recurring concussion issues. Cameron has suffered three concussions the past two seasons. Obviously the Dolphins would have to, well, have Cameron's head examined before offering him a contract.

But when he's healthy Cameron is very productive -- perhaps moreso than Clay. Cameron was a Pro Bowl player in 2013 when he caught 80 passes for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. He is a legitimate 6-5, 255-pound seam threat.

The Seahawks were expected to be major players to sign Cameron because of the player's ties to coach Pete Carroll -- Cameron played for Carroll at USC. But Seattle on Tuesday pieced together a blockbuster trade for former University of Miami tight end Jimmy Graham, so that door closed.

The Browns reportedly want Cameron back at the right price. The Raiders are said to be interested as well. Cameron had 24 catches for 424 yards and two touchdowns for the Browns in 10 games last year.

McCain, 28, is a former sixth-round draft pick of the Houston Texans. He played for the Pittsburgh Steelers last season, and started nine games when injuries befell the Pittsburgh secondary. McCain six passes defensed, three interceptions and scored a touchdown off one of those picks.

McCain, 5-9 and 190 pounds, would neither be cheap nor expensive. His price tag will be in the $3 million per year range.

The Steelers and Minnesota are also interested. The Steelers have an offer on the table for McCain for three years.

 

Miami Dolphins free agency update here (free)

The Dolphins have cut guard Shelley Smith in a salary cap move.

The team saves $2.75 million of cap space with the move. Smith, an unrestricted free agent addition in 2014, was unspectacular in 2014, starting three games. He was handed the starting right guard job in training camp and lost it in the first preseason game.

While Smith did show some promise as a backup, the team's hopes he could compete to start was mostly a dream unrealized.

The feeling among a couple of league observers is the Dolphins are doing this move as a compliment to finding a starting-caliber guard in free agency rather than a move to make cap room for Ndamukong Suh's deal.

The move could also be used to brace for an impending battle for tight end Charles Clay.

Clay, a transition player, is on his way to a visit with the Buffalo Bills.

Clay is a major target for the Bills. They expect to sign him to an offer sheet that will make it difficult for the Dolphins to match.

So the nearly $3 million the team just saves plus the lowering of the $7 million cap number currently on Clay based on the transition tag could be enough to strike a long-term deal or match one.

We'll see. 

The team has also restructured he contract of punter Brandon Fields, as reported by The Herald's Adam Beasley.

Meanwhile, the New England Patriots signed former Dolphins receiver Brandon Gibson, per ESPN. The deal is for one year and $825,000.

 

TE Charles Clay may be on the move despite transition tag

Tight end Charles Clay is a good player and the opening of the unrestricted free agency period may prove multiple teams share that opinion.

According to multiple reports in the Buffalo News and Cleveland Plain Dealer, both the Bills and the Browns are prepared to make a run at the Dolphins tight end.

Clay was tagged as Miami's transition player for a $7 million price tag. But that does not prevent other teams from signing Clay to an offer sheet.

The Dolphins would have the option of matching any offer and keeping Clay but would get no compensation for not matching.

Obviously, the Browns and Bills would both structure an offer such that it would be prohibitive for the Dolphins to match. That comes from the Dolphins spending $114 million on Ndamukong Suh.

Yes, that move has cap repercussions and this might be one of them.

Interestingly, the Dolphins elected not to put an $8.37 million franchise tag on Clay that would have basically killed all outside interest in Clay because it would have required the Dolphins get a first round pick in return for losing him.

(The more intelligent move would have been signing Clay to a long-term deal that would have been more cap friendly than either the transition or franchise tag and would have guaranteed Clay stay in Miami. Obviously didn't happen with minutes to go before start of free agency).

By the way, Jimmy Graham, perhaps the best tight end in football, is being traded to the Seattle Seahawks for center Max Unger and a first round pick this year, per multiple reports. The rich getting richer.

Heath Evans: Suh contract a 'bank robbery'

The Miami Dolphins and Ndamukong Suh are mere hours from finalizing a $114 million deal that includes $60 million fully guaranteed, according to ProFootballTalk.com (amazing details of a deal leaking although officially the Dolphins have no offer on table).

Anyway, the Miami braintrust, led by owner Stephen Ross, ostensibly loves this Suh deal.

NFL Network analyst Heath Evans, a former Dolphins fullback, hates this Suh deal by the Dolphins.

On NFL Network's free agency lead-in show Evans unloaded on the Dolphins:

"We're going to look back here in history and say this is dumb," Evans said, making the point the Dolphins would have been better off signing multiple good players instead of one great player.

Then Evans went to town on the idea Suh is a great player.

"Ndamukong Suh, look at his production last year when the Lions played the Patriots," Evans said. "He was basically a non-factor."

Suh had four tackles against the Patriots last season in a game New England beat Detroit, 34-9.

"The dominant players that are dominant every week they're double teamed just like him. They never have bad days. This guy had plenty of bad days."

Evans went so far as to call Suh's contract with the Dolphins "a bank robbery."

"Suh robbed the bank," he said, "and Joe Philbin is going to get framed for this bank robbery. The trickle down effect of this will be devastating to this franchise, mark my words."

Heath Evans hates the Dolphins.

Miami Dolphins tender (and keep) Derrick Shelby

Olivier Vernon is a starting defensive end for the Miami Dolphins about to start his fourth season with the team. Derrick Shelby is a reserve defensive end for the Miami Dolphins about to start his fourth season with the team.

And, in a strange quirk of the rules and the salary cap, Shelby is going to make more money than Vernon in 2015.

The Dolphins Monday night tendered Shelby, a restricted free agent, the $2.35 million necessary to put a second-round compensation tag on him. That tag ensures that no other team will sign Shelby because no one will want to give up a second-round pick in exchange.

The reason Shelby was restricted is because he came into the league as an undrafted free agent and had not signed a long-term deal.

Vernon came into the league as a third-round pick and signed a four-year rookie contract. He is scheduled to make $1.532 million this year in the final year of his original deal.

He'll make nearly $1 million less than Shelby.

Crazy, right?

Obviously all this will change next year when both Vernon and Shelby are scheduled to hit free agency. The Dolphins are likely to try to extend or re-sign Vernon.

But for one year, the money is greater for Shelby -- the reserve player.

The Dolphins, by the way, could have tendered Shelby lower. They could have given him the $1.52 tender but that would not ensure they would keep him. Shelby could have gone into free agency and sought a better deal without any compensation due any interested team because, again, he was an undrafted free agent originally.

And the lower tender compensates the team losing the player with original draft round compensation -- which in Shelby's case would have meant nothing coming back to Miami.

Shelby had 27 tackles and three sacks for the Dolphins in 2014.

Dolphins likely to be investigated for Suh deal

The NFL office sent a letter to all 32 NFL teams Monday warning them not to, well, tamper with players during the so-called legal tampering period which began Saturday and runs until the start of free agency Tuesday at 4 p.m.

The NFL said it would investigate clubs who forged contract agreements with prospective unrestricted free agents before 4 p.m. Tuesday against the league's rules. And while the NFL on Monday declined to tell The Miami Herald whether the Dolphins would be among those investigated this is clear:

1. The Dolphins, who have an agreement in principle with probably the biggest free agent on the market in Ndamukong Suh, are in the NFL's crosshairs.

2. The team is taking the threat of sanctions extremely seriously.

The Dolphins have been in utter lockdown for a week since word leaked they would be chasing Suh. But something changed Sunday and Monday. I'm told employees were told they better have zero contact addressing the possibility of a Suh deal with anyone -- much less the media.

And that makes sense because the media blew Miami's cover on the Suh deal.

Yes, although everyone does it, it is going to be hard for the Dolphins to explain to the NFL how ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported an agreement between Suh and the Dolphins on Saturday when no offer was allowed. This will be particularly difficult to explain if Mortensen's report -- of a six-year, $114 million deal with $58 million in guaranteed money and $60 million the first three years -- is accurate.

How could the numbers be out there and be right if the Dolphins weren't exchanging offers with Suh's agent Jimmy Sexton?

(Sexton is an agent for CAAsports. Mortensen is reprensented by the agency).

Anyway, the Dolphins are said to be "nervous" about this and some other negotiations, one agent dealing with the team told me Monday.

No doubt this email obtained by NFL.com had something to do with raising the alarm for a team that's normally secretive anyway:  

"Clubs were advised of the rules for the three-day negotiating period in PP-23-15 (attached). These rules include limitations such as that a club cannot make an ‘offer;’ or enter into a written or oral agreement of any kind, express or implied, or make promises or representations of any type concerning the terms or conditions of employment to be offered to any Unrestricted Free Agent for inclusion in a Player Contract after the start of the new League Year; or provide assurances of intent as to the future execution of an NFL Player Contract.

"Clubs were further advised that ‘Any attempt to undermine the purpose of this negotiating period may be considered conduct detrimental to the League.’ At this time, the League office is beginning investigations into a number of reported agreements with clubs. Violations will be dealt with accordingly."

Violations may be sanctions with fines on the club or individuals and may also rise to the level of costing a team a draft pick or picks.

Again, everyone does this. The Jacksonville Jaguars have an agreement with soon-to-be former Dolphins Jared Odrick. The Buffalo Bills have agreed to give LeSean McCoy a contract extension even though they cannot officially trade for him until 4 p.m.

But when the deal agreed to is the biggest one of free agency and Suh's will probably be that ... And when that deal is reportedly done three days before an offer could officially even be made ... And when the entity breaking the story is the biggest media empire in the nation ... That gets the NFL's attention more than Odrick to the Jags.

By the way, the Dolphins have perfectly good reasons to be nervous about this issue for other reasons. If they've even come close to adhering to the rules, Suh has not signed the deal -- even though he was in South Florida. And until there is a signature, there is nothing certain.

Remember that years ago Minnesota defensive tackle John Randle, visiting the Dolphins facility, said he was eager to sign with the team. And during his visit his phone rang. And suddenly he excused himself because, he told his Miami hosts, he was re-signing with the Vikings.

Also remember that running back Frank Gore reportedly agreed on Sunday to play for the Eagles in 2015. And on Monday he changed his mind and is continuing to look for a team.

Finally there is this: It is possible that to veil the fact they had an agreement with Suh that was reported by ESPN, the numbers change somewhat so that all parties can plausibly deny the report of an agreement was correct.

Wouldn't it be interesting if leaking the numbers costs somebody actual dollars to, well, make those leaked numbers wrong?

Welcome to free agency.

 

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.