WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Some Dolphins fans lit up when they heard Miami will have at least $40 million, with the ability to create more than $50 million in cap space this offseason, when star receivers Greg Jennings, Dwayne Bowe and Mike Wallace are due to become free agents.
But as the offseason nears, a more realistic perspective has settled over Dolphins fans. They know a lot of the cap space will be needed to re-sign several players, such as Sean Smith, Brian Hartline, and possibly Randy Starks, Jake Long (Miami would like to keep him if the price is right) and others. They also know they can no longer expect this regime to make a huge splash in free agency, barring a change of heart.
No, Miami hasn’t ruled out spending on a top free agent. Those discussions won’t take place until January and February. But it would be a departure in offensive philosophy if they do. Here’s how one official in frequent contact with Miami’s front office put it:
“If the value is right on an [impact] free agent, they would [consider] it,” he said, reminding that the Dolphins made Karlos Dansby the league’s highest-paid inside linebacker before the 2010 season. “But they won’t overpay. They absolutely will not. There’s not a philosophy of, “We’ve got to have this one guy.’ Do you want to severely encumber your ability to build a team by paying one guy [a ton]?
“Jeff [Ireland] and Joe [Philbin] really value draft picks, and Jeff believes he’s good at it. If you hit on rookies, you have those guys for four years, at [affordable] cap numbers.”
Philbin has said repeatedly that he believes in building through the draft. “In my time in Green Bay, I don’t really remember acquiring, offensively anyway, a free agent,” he said.
The official said Ireland also prioritizes the draft but is more flexible with regard to free agency. What if Philbin advises Ireland against pursuing Jennings, Wallace or Bowe and suggests finding a receiver in the draft instead? “Jeff would be cool with doing it through the draft,” the official said.
All of the star receivers have blemishes. Jennings, 29, had 1265 receiving yards two years ago but has missed a lot of time this season because of abdominal surgery and has just 17 catches in five games. The concern is that he may be on the decline after several exceptional years playing in Philbin’s and Mike McCarthy’s offense in Green Bay.
Wallace, who had 1193 and 1257 yards the previous two seasons, has 728 this season, with six drops but also eight touchdowns. Bowe’s numbers (59 catches, 801 yards) are similar to Hartline’s (62, 925), with both playing in offenses with struggling quarterbacks.
Among other receivers set to become free agents: Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Donnie Avery.
Miami also might be more inclined to look again for a tight end in the draft, after failing to hit on Michael Egnew. But several free agents would be immediate upgrades - Martellus Bennett, Jared Cook, Fred Davis (has a torn Achilles’) and Dustin Keller.
A strong case could be made to pursue Bennett, who has played very well for the Giants. The Dolphins inexplicably didn't pursue him last March and instead drafted Egnew, who the Dolphins believe is still not ready to contribute.
### Heat guard Dwyane Wade on Tuesday shrugged off Charles Barkley’s claim that he has lost athleticism but admitted that he’s still not 100 percent after offseason knee surgery.
“Athleticism is more than just dunking,” he said in a private moment. “Coming off knee surgery, there are going to be some great days and some days not so great. It’s going to take me time. With knee surgery, sometimes you can take a whole year before you get back to 100 percent. This is my third one.”
Wade, who was third among all players in ESPN’s efficiency ratings last season and 20th this season, is shooting 50.6 percent (above his 48.6 career average) but taking 15.3 shots per game, down from 17 last year and 18.2 in his career.
“A lot of people don’t look at the true facts,” he said. “They don’t look at minutes played, shot attempts. I’m still scoring 20 points a game and not playing as many minutes or shooting as many shots. You’ve got to look at how efficient a player is before you start talking about the demise of a player.
“If I had 20 something shots a game, I would average 30 a night. Book it!”
### On Barkley’s claim that Wade can’t beat players one-on-one anymore, Chris Bosh said: “He does beat his guy one-on-one. Just ask those guys that guard him. You are going to lose a step as you get older, but great players always find a way.”
### Erik Spoelstra said he has been starting Udonis Haslem instead of Shane Battier – which Haslem said he “didn’t see coming” – to add Haslem’s rebounding to the starting unit and Battier’s defense to the second unit. The reasoning makes some sense and the sample size with Haslem starting so far is too small to make a final conclusion. But consider this:
With Battier playing with the other starters, the Heat is plus-48 in 160 minutes. With Haslem starting, the starting unit is minus-17 in 32 minutes.
Haslem likes starting but admits, "I usually like to sit on the sideline and watch how the game is going."
Overall, the Heat has outscored opponents by 98 (best on the team) with Battier on the court, but has been outscored by 34 with Haslem or Rashard Lewis on the court (worst on the team).
### Seantrel Henderson and Curtis Porter told UM coaches they expect to return for their senior seasons, but Henderson also asked for NFL feedback on how high he would be drafted. So nobody at UM can be certain what Henderson will do, despite what he told coaches. Mel Kiper said Henderson would be a second- or third-rounder if he comes out but said he should not turn pro.
### Several schools, including Wisconsin, have reached out to UM coach Al Golden, but Golden has told everyone he's staying at Miami.
### Barring a change of heart by UM, the Hurricanes no longer expect highly-recruited receiver Angelo Jean-Louis to be part of their 2013 recruiting class. He committed to UM last year but didn't qualify and spent the past semester in prep school…. If Thomas Finnie (arrested for his involvement in last week's laptop theft) is off the team for good, UM essentially is losing the player it considers its fourth-best returning cornerback. Tracy Howard, Ladarius Gunter and Antonio Crawford likely will be UM’s top three next season, with Nate Dortch, Larry Hope and oral commitment Artie Burns competing for time.
### Former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt has been telling people how much he would like the FIU head job. He has a career 135-96 record at Murray State, Boise, Arkansas and Mississippi. But he was just 24-26 in his last job (Ole Miss).
### Desperately looking for a third baseman, the Marlins have inquired about Matt Downs, who hit .276 with 10 homers and 41 RBI for the Astros in 2011 but .202 last year. Their free agent third-base options are down to the likes of Downs, Ryan Raburn, Jack Hannahan, Ty Wigginton, Casey McGehee Miguel Cairo and Mark DeRosa. They have explored trades as well.