FRIDAY BUZZ COLUMN
One question we’ve heard a lot about the Dolphins: How can a team that’s so mediocre and dumped its top playmaker (Brandon Marshall) not have the cap space - or try to create it - to make competitive bids for Eric Winston, Vincent Jackson, Mario Williams or any other free agent who was an impact 2011 starter for another team?
The Dolphins entered the first day of free agency with $9 million in space before the Marshall deal; only 10 teams had less and the Broncos ($43 million), Patriots, 49ers and Ravens all had more. Now they have about $7 million after several signings and dumping Marshall and Yeremiah Bell, but much will be needed to sign draft picks and most of the top free agents are gone anyway.
So why didn’t Miami do more in free agency or create the cap space to do more? One reason is that Jeff Ireland and Joe Philbin want to build primarily through the draft. Philbin explained this to former players, but nobody bothered telling the fans, which led to this huge letdown. But there were other factors that led to Miami not signing any definite starter except Paul Soliai. Among them:
### Even though the Marshall deal left $15 million in space, the Dolphins used most of it on Soliai, a solid No. 3 cornerback (Richard Marshall), Lydon Murtha, Phillip Merling, David Garrard and backups Jamaal Westerman and Artis Hicks, instead of signing fewer players but using a larger chunk on, say, Jackson or Winston or Matt Flynn or Laurent Robinson or John Abraham or Kamerion Wimbley. Miami believes that was the smarter approach and perhaps it will prove to be; only time will tell.
### Among many reasons the Dolphins don’t have more space is their cap is clogged by $13 million in dead money to players who aren’t even on the team and more than $8 million for offensive linemen who are backup types, two of whom might start out of necessity.
That includes linemen Murtha ($1.9 million hit, Nate Garner ($1.6), Hicks ($1.5) and Ryan Cook ($1.13). Heck, Will Barker and Ray Feinga combine for another $1.1 million hit.
Because of proration of bonuses, the Dolphins are taking a $5.5 million cap hit for Marshall, $4.8 million for unsigned Vernon Carey, $1.85 million for Bell and a combined $838,000 for Tim Dobbins and A.J. Edds.
### The top 51 salaries count against the cap, and Miami’s 11 players with the highest cap numbers account for $68 million of the $129 million they have to allocate.
Two of those, Marshall and Bell, aren’t on the team. Another, Tony McDaniel, is a backup with a $4.2 million hit. Karlos Dansby ($11.3 million) and Kevin Burnett ($5.3) are good players, but that’s a big hit for two inside linebackers.
No surprise: Miami is allocating by far its most cap space to the offensive line ($28 million). Remember: Cap hits are usually higher than salaries because of bonus proration.
### Jake Long ($12.8 million cap), Reggie Bush ($6 million) and Randy Starks ($5 million) are all entering the final year of their contracts. If Miami had extended any before free agency, their cap hits could have been lowered to give Miami more money to spend in free agency or less need to cut Bell. Regettably, that did not happen, though Miami wants to keep all long-term.
CBS analyst and 2002 NFL MVP Rich Gannon, who has watched Flynn closely as the Packers’ preseason TV analyst, made a case, off the air, for why Miami messed up by not offering more to get Flynn, who reportedly got three years and $19 million (plus $5 million in incentives) from Seattle:
“Comparing Flynn to David Garrard (who got one-year, $3.35 million), it’s not even close,” Gannon said, believing Garrard isn’t a clear upgrade over Matt Moore. “If I’m Joe Philbin, who is better to help me install my system than a guy who has been in it for four years? If you have a guy that knows the system like Flynn, you are so much further along. Just pay the guy a few extra million. What Seattle paid is fair. Why wouldn’t Miami do that deal? This is insane. The guys in Seattle did a much better job recruiting him.”
Plus, as Gannon noted, Flynn has the skill set for the West Coast offense. Gannon said Seattle called Gannon, Mike McCarthy, Aaron Rodgers (who predicts Flynn will be a top-15 starter) and others in determining Flynn’s value and concluded he was worth that type of money. But Philbin, Flynn’s former offensive coordinator, did not ask Ireland to offer that type of money.
As for Garrard, “He has a ways to go, which is unusual for a guy with as many starts as he has,” Gannon said.
Gannon raises this broader question: “Who is the guy evaluating the quarterback talent in that building? Joe Philbin has an offensive line background; he was the protection and run game guy in Green Bay. You better have someone who knows how to evaluate that position.” He said Miami is now the AFC East’s fourth-best team.
### Alex Smith, who re-signed with the 49ers, implied to Bay Area writers he never seriously considered Miami and visited the Dolphins because “I had never been to Miami Beach and thought it was a good way to see it.” Lovely.... Drew Rosenhaus told WQAM's Joe Rose that "maybe there's a chance [Yeremiah Bell] will come back to the Dolphins," but that there is interest in him elsewhere in the wake of Miami releasing him Tuesday.
### Whereas the Dolphins lack a marquee free-agent recruiter (Dan Marino doesn’t want to be), we got another reminder this week of Pat Riley’s prowess in that area. After his first Heat practice Thursday, Ronnie Turiaf – who picked Miami over several teams – spoke of how meaningful it was to get a call from Riley before he made a decision.
“I told him he didn’t need to call me, but for him to do that was something valuable,” Turiaf said. “He told me he really liked me from the draft, said the Heat is a family environment, that he sees me as a Heat type of player. We had a really good talk that went beyond basketball. I told him I was crushed when they picked” his friend, Wayne Simien, ahead of him 29th in the 2005 draft.... Still no timetable for a return from Mike Miller, who will miss at least the next three games with an ankle injury.
### UM's Ryan Williams is leaner and has demonstrated better mobility this spring. One example: During Thursday's spring practice, he threw a nifty touchdown pass to Kendal Thompkins on the run. Eduardo Clements is going to be a huge weapon in the passing game - he took a short pass for a 25-yard gain in Thursday's session. Linebacker Eddie Johnson is among the young defenders turning heads.
### Wade LeBlanc is the favorite for one of two open Marlins' bullpen jobs, with Jose Ceda and Steve Cishek battling for the other and Chad Gaudin making a case.