Fins nuggets: Ireland's cap management; Tannehill studying Wallace, visits Pennington; Heat, Marlins
SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Dolphins chatter, three weeks from the July 20 start of camp:
#### Whether Jeff Ireland has constructed a playoff-caliber team won’t be clear until the games begin. But give him credit for this: He hasn’t left the Dolphins in future salary cap hell, though his spending money will be far more limited next spring.
Despite the fact that cap numbers will jump dramatically for several players in 2014, the Dolphins are on pace to have more than $20 million in cap space next spring. It would be less if – in the coming months - they give multiyear deals to 2014 unrestricted free agents Reshad Jones (talks haven’t started), Brent Grimes, Chris Clemons, Koa Misi, Paul Soliai, Randy Starks, Richie Incognito or Dustin Keller.
But there could be significantly more space if the Dolphins part ways with a few players such as Dimitri Patterson, who has cap hits of $4.6 million in 2013 and $5.4 million in 2014, but no cap hit if he’s cut.
Once Dion Jordan is signed, the Dolphins will have $108.8 million in cap commitments for 2014. Keep in mind that the top 51 count against a team’s cap during the offseason.
Factor in $3.57 million in dead money for Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett, and that would leave Miami nearly $11 million below the cap if it remains $123 million. The cap rose $2.5 million this season but is expected to remain flat in the next couple of years.
But the Dolphins also can carry over unused space from this year, which stands at $13 million (factoring in Jordan's already determined cap hit). That number will shrink by $2 million to add players No. 52 and 53 and a practice squad and will decrease a bit more if fullback Vonta Leach is signed. His agent told us last week that Miami remains the front-runner for Leach and that this is the best place for him.
Next spring, the Dolphins figure to commit to either Soliai or Starks and move Jared Odrick to tackle permanently, creating a starting job for Jordan at defensive end. If Ireland chooses, he should have enough money -- if contracts are structured astutely -- to keep his safeties, Grimes, Keller (or another free agent tight end) and Misi. Interest in retaining Incognito would hinge on his performance and the development of rookie Dallas Thomas.
There won’t be enough to make a big splash in free agency next year, but that’s expected, because cap numbers are rising for Mike Wallace ($3.2 million to $17 million), Dannell Ellerbe ($2.4 million to $7.4 million), Philip Wheeler ($2.4 million to $6.4 million), Matt Moore ($2.5 million to $5.5 million) and Brian Hartline ($2.15 million to $6.2 million), among others.
Credit Ireland and executive vice president/football administration Dawn Aponte for keeping the Dolphins out of the awful cap predicament that has plagued the Jets and some others. Of course, it helps having a young quarterback who doesn't count a lot against the cap; Ryan Tannehill's cap number will be just $3.455 million in 2014.
### The enduring image of Wallace is beating cornerbacks deep. But something else stood out when Moore walked into the room recently while Tannehill was studying Wallace’s Steelers tape.
“What was impressive to see was what he can do with the ball [on short patterns],” Moore said. “Everyone talks about the deep routes, but Ben Roethlisberger would sometimes get him the ball quickly and just let him go.”
In fact, Wallace led the league two years ago in average yards, per attempt, on throws of 10 yards or fewer, ESPN’s KC Joyner tells us. “Pittsburgh used him on a lot of quick screens,” CBS’ Bill Cowher said.
Former Jets coach Herman Edwards insisted on ESPN that Wallace “was a [deep] guy. He needs to learn to run patterns.” ESPN’s Ron Jaworski shot back: “He can run patterns!”
So what do the Dolphins' cornerbacks think? Richard Marshall said: “He runs better routes than some might think.” And Brent Grimes added: “It’s not, ‘If I can’t get the deep ball, I can’t do anything else.’ He has good hands, can run other routes. He’s not a one-trick pony.”
### Nobody on offense helped his stock more this offseason than receiver Armon Binns, who dropped two passes in the season finale. “That left a bad taste in my mouth,” he said. “I want to show Ryan I can be consistent, show them who the real Armon Binns is.”
Joe Philbin likes having bigger receivers in the slot: 6-0 Brandon Gibson or 6-3 Binns. “Sometimes, it’s easier when you have a bigger body at times cruising through the middle,” Philbin said. “I don’t want to jinx him – I’m usually the kiss of death – but [Binns] is playing faster.”
### Chad Pennington, who worked as a quarterback consultant at some offseason Dolphins practices, said Tannehill visited him in Kentucky and “I gave him a few handouts that I found in my notes concerning leadership, favorite quotes, etc. that I thought may be useful.”
They talked for awhile about “teamwork, media interaction” and more, then “went to the horse races at Keeneland.” Pennington said he doesn’t expect to attend training camp.
### Though Heat president Pat Riley has a trademark on the term three-peat, which he and a business partner secured before the Lakers fell short of doing it in 1989, he said “it might be a little bit presumptuous to put it out there” next season.
“I’m not sure the Heat wants to use that as a trademark. We haven’t talked about it. I’m not using this as a platform to become a brand and make money off it.”
Riley has made a “considerable amount of money” off royalties from merchandise – largely from three-peats by the Bulls, Yankees and Lakers – “and a good portion of it goes to charity.” The idea was hatched when Lakers guard Byron Scott talked about trying to “twee-peat.”
### Erik Spoelstra and Riley – who are close - offered insight into their relationship last week, with Riley admitting to 790 The Ticket's Dan Le Batard that they didn’t talk for two months in Spoelstra’s first season as head coach, 2008-09, and “I don’t even know what it was over.” Riley added: “I didn’t break away from [coaching] gracefully.”
Spoelstra spoke of once telling Riley, when he was still coaching: "If you suggest [a particular idea] one more time, we're going to have major problems." Spoelstra said he and Riley have had "epic" confrontations after losses.
These days, Spoelstra still goes to Riley for advice. Every now and then, Spoelstra will ask him simply: “Do you have a pearl?”
Meanwhile, Riley will draw up some late-game plays “and slide them under his door. I don’t know if he’s ever used one of them.”
Riley loved how Spoelstra came up with a new play -– “it wasn’t part of the offense; it’s one he saved” -– to free up Dwyane Wade for a dunk, off a Shane Battier pass, with 2:56 left in Game 7. “I’m so proud of Erik and how he’s grown as a coach and a man.”
Incidentally, the plan to start Mike Miller in Game 4 was hatched in Spoelstra’s suite after the Game 3 loss, as Spoelstra, Riley and David Fizdale drank wine while brainstorming and reviewing tape. Riley said they finally left Spoelstra's suite close to dawn.
### One other interesting story from last week: Heat vice president/player personnel Chet Kammerer recalled going to trainer Tim Grover’s gym in Chicago to interview Chris Kaman before the 2003 draft.
"There was this guy shooting, and he was pretty impressive.... down at the other end of the court," Kammerer said. "I remember Pat saying, ‘Who is that guy down there?’ We were quite a ways away." Kammerer told Riley it was Wade.
"Maybe that was the start of ‘We should be watching this guy a little closer,’" Kammerer said. "I can remember several scouts telling me when we picked him at five: ‘Chet, I like your guy’s athleticism, but you know he can’t shoot. That’s pretty high where you took him.’”
### Thanks to Nielsen and WPLG researcher Marci Crawford for uncovering this: Game 7 of Heat-Spurs was viewed in 44.2 percent of Dade/Broward homes with TV sets –- the highest local rating since a 50.8 for the MASH finale in 1983. Heat-Spurs easily topped the 38.7 for the Marlins’ clinching Game 6 World Series win against the Yankees in 2003.
### Encouraging: Even with Ricky Nolasco assuredly in his final month here, the Marlins have built up pitching depth to the point that they eventually should have at least 10 young arms competing for four spots behind Jose Fernandez: Jacob Turner (who continued his excellent recent work Saturday), Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez, and prospects Andrew Heaney (batters hitting .198 against him in Single A), Justin Nicolino (4-1, 2.38 at Single A), Anthony DeScalfini (6-2, 1.75 at Single and Double A), Adam Conley (7-2 at Double A), Brad Hand (2-3, 3.19 at Triple A) and perhaps current No.5 starter Tom Koehler and Jose Urena (7-3 at Single A).