10 a.m. Monday: Grimes re-signs; More from Riley, UM; Criticism from ex-Canes follows D'Onofrio; Fins, Heat, Marlins
Cornerback Brent Grimes, perhaps the Dolphins’ best player last season, has signed a four-year, $32 million contract to remain with the team -- the first significant move made by new Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey.
The deal includes $16 million in guaranteed money.
The agreement was reached hours before Monday’s 4 p.m. deadline to apply the franchise tag on unrestricted free agents.
"I wanted to be back but you never know in this business," Grimes told ESPN. "When it all worked out, I was happy."
Neither the Dolphins nor Grimes wanted to use the franchise tag on the veteran cornerback. The tag would have come with a huge cap hit ($11.8 million), and Grimes wanted a multiyear contract.
Grimes, 30, signed with the Dolphins last offseason after missing 15 games for Atlanta in 2012 because of an Achilles’ injury. Grimes immediately returned to his previous Pro Bowl form, finishing the season with 60 tackles and four interceptions. He did not allow a touchdown to be caught against him.
Pro Football Focus rated him the NFL’s second-best cornerback last season, and opposing quarterbacks had a 66.3 rating in his coverage area.
Grimes said Hickey made a point to tell him recently how much he values him.
Grimes joins Dimitri Patterson, Jamar Taylor and Will Davis as the team’s top cornerbacks under contract. But Patterson, who’s due to earn $5.4 million, might be asked to take a pay cut – a subject that already has been seriously discussed internally.
The Dolphins have interest in signing free agent Nolan Carroll, but he reportedly is expected to test the free agent market.
The Dolphins also are mulling what to do at the safety position that was filled last season by free agent Chris Clemons.
Agent Drew Rosenhaus, on his weekly WSVN-Fox 7 segment, said Sunday night that negotiations with the Dolphins regarding safety Louis Delmas have not started but believes Miami's interest in his client is "significant."
Rosenhaus said: "There's enough interest that hopefully we can get some negotiations going."
If Miami signs Delmas, it likely would part ways with Clemons.
Delmas, who attended North Miami Beach High, has six interceptions in five NFL seasons, all with Detroit. He visited the Dolphins on Friday after visiting the Saints on Thursday.
The Dolphins have not ruled out re-signing Clemons but have told him they are comfortable with him testing the free agent market.
Some quick Sunday 3 p.m. notes:
### At the Heat's annual Family Festival today (a terrific event that raises money for charity), president Pat Riley spoke briefly to reporters for the first time in several months and said the Heat "reached out" to Caron Butler before he signed with Oklahoma City but that Butler "wanted a meaningful role" and "it wasn't something we could have promised."
But he said he does NOT "blame" Butler or his agent for wanting that type of role. There are good feelings between the Heat and Butler.
Riley said: "We're pretty deep. When you've got James Jones and Udonis Haslem and Rashard Lewis in those positions, they're waiting, and Mike [Beasley] and Greg Oden are getting minutes from nine and 10 [on the roster]."
### Riley, on Greg Oden: "I'm happy for him. I root for him more than I ever rooted for anybody. Last night he played big. We need that from him. I knock on wood and cross my fingers every day he stays healthy."
### Riley, on LeBron James: "He wants to win. And that's all it's about. All the other stuff that's flying around like butterflies, they're just things. And he deals with it as well as anybody. I'm so proud of him and Chris and Dwyane, that they're able to subjugate, really subjugate their games, and look what it's brought them. And I think it can only get better."
### Riley, on his team: "They are so fun to watch. They're on a mission. I'm so proud of what Erik [Spoelstra] has done.... Right now, you've just got to keep in mind: We've got a long way to go. Everybody thinks it's right around the corner. No, a lot of stuff can happen. We're in homecourt-advantage races not only in the West but in the East. That not an objective. I think for Coach Spo it is to stay on track with the defense and the rebounding and I think we'll be OK."
### Riley said Dwyane Wade is now even "smarter and more efficient and uses his energy." Riley noted: "He puts a lot of time into it. So, he's like a son to me."
### For those who wondered, guard Ben Gordon - cut by Charlotte today - is not playoff-eligible because he was released after March 1.
### UM coach Al Golden said today that Walter Tucker will play both tailback and fullback... Receiver Garrett Kidd is now on scholarship. "Garrett has done everything we've asked," Golden said... Early enrollee Trent Harris, a defensive end with pass rush skills, hasn't been cleared by the NCAA Clearinghouse to begin practicing with the team.
SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
UM defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio sits inside his cocoon, focused solely on improving his unit while ignoring searing criticism from fans and former Hurricanes players.
Over the past three months, D'Onofrio has been subjected to scathing attacks from Warren Sapp, Eric Winston and Duane Starks, and subtle shots from others, including former cornerback Phillip Buchanon.
Buchanon thanked Sapp for ripping D'Onofrio on Twitter and then tweeted: "The truth about Al Folden."
D'Onofrio said Saturday he hadn't known about any of this. He said he wasn't aware any of these players had said anything about him.
"I'm not going to worry about that," he said. "The guys in the building understand what we're doing. I can only worry about coaching the guys here and trying to get them to execute at a higher level."
To refresh, here's what the former UM standouts have said:
### Sapp: "The D coordinator is killing my school. That looks like no Miami defense in the history of our school... Don't talk to me about Al Golden and whatever the d-coordinator's name is. You don't ever hire someone you can't fire. That's the golden rule."
### Starks: “Miami is being outcoached [defensively] every week. They’re predictable. There’s no disguising. It’s embarrassing. I would get rid of some people. If you can’t coach good talent, there’s a problem.”
### Winston said D’Onofrio’s “scheme is brutal. Too bland, too vanilla. No imagination on his part.”
He said UM’s defense looks unprepared and “I don’t think it’s completely a personnel problem. There are some X’s and O’s things that aren’t smart. Al better be willing to ride or die with the guy. You will get to a point where your assistants will take you down. It upsets a lot of people knowing how close [friends] they are. If [D’Onofrio] was a hell of a coach, nobody would care. That’s not the case.”
Do Golden and UM athletic director Blake James dismiss this D’Onofrio criticism from former players as irrelevant or does it genuinely both them? They answered this way:
### Golden: "They played here. They have a right to say what they want to say. But at the same time, we've had a lot of coaches and players here that have been through a very difficult period. I know they are passionate about the program and the defense, but we are equally as passionate."
### James: “We all want our team to continue to improve in all phases… I love the passion that our former student athletes have for their program and at the same time recognize no one wants to play championship football more than our coaches and current student athletes.”
Keep in mind D’Onofrio is running the system Golden wants. And Golden remains committed to that system and to D’Onofrio, who said Saturday that UM will run both a 4-3 and 3-4 this season. Linebacker Denzel Perryman said UM "may change a little something" in its defensive approach but "I don't think it's going to be anything major."
Some former and current Hurricanes praise D'Onofrio publicly and privately, saying they’re well prepared and that he’s not responsible for the avalanche of defensive breakdowns over the past two seasons.
But some players wish D'Onofrio would play more man-to-man defense, blitz more and be more receptive to player suggestions.
Some Board of Trustees members are unhappy with D’Onofrio, according to a high-ranking trustee, but the UM administration never asked Golden to consider replacing him. A person who has coached on UM’s staff during D’Onofrio’s tenure said he believes D’Onofrio’s system should be simplified.
Give D’Onofrio credit for being more creative and bold in the Russell Athletic Bowl, including a blitz from Deon Bush that resulted in a safety. But UM still allowed 554 yards in a 36-9 loss to Louisville.
And despite a strong start, UM finished in the bottom half of the country in every key statistical category in 2013: 65th of 123 teams in scoring defense (26.8), 77th in run defense (176 yards per game), 88th in third-down conversion defense (31.9 percent success rate for opposing offenses, 45 percent in the final month), 89th in total defense (426.4 yards per game), 90th in pass defense (249.8), and 108th in fourth-down conversion defense (14 of 21 successful).
Former UM assistant coach Don Soldinger said he sees nothing wrong with D’Onofrio’s system. What bothers him is this: “You don’t see guys swarming to the football. Guys are hesitant. Sometimes, they’re not taking the right angles. I question if the effort was there for all 11 guys. Al will fix it; I think the guy is special.”
But Soldinger said “criticism that will come after this year or next will be justified” because these are Golden’s players.
Said former UM center Brett Romberg: “Seeing the same mistakes and not being able to correct it is 100 percent coaching. Either [D’Onofrio] needs to adjust or he needs to go.”
Cornerback Dimitri Patterson ($5.3 million) and linebacker Philip Wheeler ($5 million) are due to earn the fourth-highest and fifth-highest salaries on the Dolphins next season, leaving both in question as free agency nears. The Dolphins have discussed a pay cut with at least one of them. One Dolphins source said Wheeler seemed to become complacent last season after getting a big contract, and general manager Dennis Hickey has tap-danced when asked about his linebackers.
There’s a big difference in their situations: Patterson has a $5.4 million cap hit if he stays, no cap hit if he’s cut. Wheeler has a $6.4 million hit whether he stays or goes, meaning it would be pointless to cut him unless Hickey finds an affordable and clearly better player.
Also, the Dolphins already have substantial cap space --- $39 million, fifth-most behind only Oakland, Jacksonville, Cleveland and Indianapolis.
By the way, backup quarterback Matt Moore, due $4 million in 2014, hasn’t been asked to take a cut. Tampa Bay pursued Moore last spring when Hickey was in the Buccaneers’ front office.
### Former Lions safety Louis Delmas visited the Dolphins on Friday and is an option to replace Chris Clemons. The Dolphins have some interest in Clemons but have given him their blessing to check out the free agent market and get back to them.
### Shane Battier dropped his longtime basketball agent and hired a broadcasting representative but said that doesn’t mean he’s definitely retiring. (He is definitely considering it, though.) Ray Allen said he’s also on the fence about whether this will be his final season.
A few weeks ago, a Heat official privately conceded Battier and Allen needed to play better for the Heat to start playing up to its potential. That has happened. Spoelstra said “the majority” of what Battier does, fans “can’t see. The stats look pedestrian. But the impact on winning is anything but.”
Said Battier: “I don’t expect the average fan to understand what I do. Teammates can’t explain what the hell I do, either. But when I’m on the court, good things happen.” Consider: Per 48 minutes, Miami has outscored teams by more points with Battier in the lineup than any other player except Chris Bosh.
Allen, better now after shooting 32.6 percent in January, insists: “Defensively is more important. My shooting isn't necessary at this point for us to win.” (Check back in Game 6 of the Finals.)
### TNT's Steve Kerr, on the Heat: I feel like if they are healthy in May, I don't see anyone in the West beating them. The West is incredible deep and they are going to beat each other up in the playoffs. I don't see any team in the West beating them four times. If you look at the East, the only team standing in their way is Indiana, which we know can give Miami a lot of trouble. I really believe that if healthy, Indiana is the only team standing in their way of a third straight ring."
### Marlins president David Samson, the first of 18 contestants voted off CBS’ Survivor, said in retrospect: "It was much harder than I thought it would be. Much more lonely. I felt much older than I feel on a daily basis, surrounded by 22-year-olds. I grew up in New York City. I've never slept outside. I've never gone camping. I never had to start a fire. I've never had to do anything other than order food in a restaurant.