Tidbits, chatter on new Fins WR group, with thoughts from Sean Payton, evaluators; Heat (Wade, Bosh); Marlins, Canes
WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Have the Dolphins come out ahead this offseason by replacing receivers Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson with DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills and Greg Jennings?
From a cap standpoint, yes. From a talent standpoint, probably, if Parker is as good as the Dolphins believe he will be.
From a chemistry standpoint, the Dolphins believe they will be better, though Rishard Matthews figures to be unhappy if his trade request isn’t granted.
Chatter on the Dolphins’ revamped receiver unit:
### There were troubling issues with last year’s group, beyond blated salaries and cap numbers. Everyone knows about Wallace’s complaints about lack of targets and the group’s poor yards-after-catch metrics.
But former Dolphins receiver Chris Chambers --- who spent two weeks as a Dolphins assistant coach during training camp--- noticed something else that bothered him.
“The older guys, Mike and Brian, even though they played well at times, could have set a better example in that room, as far as learning and not joking around,” Chambers said. “Because if they start joking around, the rookies and second-year guys will start joking around.
“Some days it could have been more serious to set a better example. The receiver coaches taught well, but the room needed to be tightened up a bit. Greg Jennings will help that. He will be way more professional and he played at a high level. He is going to show the [young receivers] so much. He’s almost like a third coach, a player/coach.”
Bottom line: Chambers said the "culture" in the receivers room needed changing.
He believes the dynamic between Ryan Tannehill and the receivers will improve because “when you have guys under him in age, it will work better.”
Three of Miami’s top four receivers are now younger than Tannehill. And the room will have fewer veterans with complaints about Tannehill, their playing time or the offense.
Chambers said this group of receivers will “exceed [last year’s] once they get experience. They’ll be really good. For us to have a basket-catching guy with a stronger catch radius [in Parker], that will help. You don’t have to hit him in stride as much as you did with Mike Wallace.”
(Quick aside: Chambers is doing some interesting stuff that we'll address in a blog later this week.)
### This could get tricky for offensive coordinator Bill Lazor: The Dolphins now have four top-three caliber receivers (Parker, Jarvis Landry, Jennings, Stills), meaning at least one – barring injury --- won’t play as much as accustomed.
Parker played most of Louisville’s offensive snaps when healthy last season. Jennings played 85.6 percent of Minnesota’s, Landry 62.3 percent of Miami’s, and Stills 54 percent of the Saints’.
But whoever ends up the No. 4 receiver here could end up playing less than than half the time, about as much as Gibson last season (45.3 percent of Miami's offensive snaps). And Matthews played only 19.3 percent of the time as the No. 5 receiver.
So the veterans will need to subjugate their egos.
### The expectation is for Parker to start immediately and presumably turn into a Pro Bowl receiver eventually, as Odell Beckham Jr. did for the Giants.
The Dolphins say Parker began working on-field with Tannehill this week.
"I watch this kid [Parker] and he looks like Mark Clayton," Dolphins executive Nat Moore told the team's Finsiders web site. "He caught everything in his range, has an unbelievable skill set and catches the ball out front, has got good, soft hands, and runs good routes. His future is unlimited."
### One thing the Dolphins love about their new group is reliability.
Consider this: Last season, 78 NFL receivers played at least half of their teams’ offensive snaps.
Of those 78, Landry caught the second-highest percentage of balls thrown to him (80 percent).
Stills caught the third-highest (78.8 percent; it helped having the Saints’ Drew Brees throwing to him) and Jennings the 25th-highest (67 percent).
Parker also did well in this area and caught an impressive 12 of 24 deep balls (20 yards-plus) for 424 yards and four touchdowns.
These stats, naturally, have a lot to do with the quarterback and the distance of balls thrown. But these numbers matters to the Dolphins, as Joe Philbin said with regard to Stills.
### Saints coach Sean Payton predicts Stills “will contribute in a big way right away” here.
“He's extremely explosive,” Payton told me. “The other thing about Kenny is in his first year, he knew all the positions. He's a smart guy. He's versatile.
“The learning part comes very easy. Can play X. Can play Z. Can come inside. He's got real good transition skills in his routes.
“A lot of the time, one of the challenges for young receivers is getting acclimated to the system, the terminology, the route tree. That came very quickly for him. For Kenny, learning a new system will come very quickly. He's someone in two years you saw quick growth. He's sudden. Has got good hand/eye coordination. Can catch the ball in funny positions."
### There were reports that the Saints weren’t happy with Stills’ maturity level. But Payton said that wasn’t a concern of his.
So why trade him after only two years (for linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and a third-round pick)?
“A couple changes we made really dealt with trying to improve our defense,” Payton said.
### Parker ultimately should end up replacing Wallace as Miami’s No. 1 receiver. But in comparing Stills and Wallace, keep this in mind:
Stills is considerably cheaper, with a $585,000 salary and cap number in 2015 compared with Wallace’s $9.9 million for both… Stills was thrown 28 fewer passes than Wallace last season (80 to 108) but still had 69 more receiving yards (931 to 862).
Stills led the league in yards per catch in 2013 (20.0) and was 26th this past season (14.8). Conversely, Wallace was 65th and 57th.
But here’s the caveat, and it’s a big one: Stills was catching passes from Brees, who’s excellent at the deep ball, whereas Wallace was catching balls from Tannehill, who’s statistically among the worst in that category. And that skews the numbers.
Consider: Last season, of the 14 passes thrown to Stills that traveled at least 20 yards in the air, 71.4 percent were deemed catchable by Pro Football Focus.
Conversely, of the 24 deep passes thrown by Tannehill to Wallace, only 29.2 percent were catchable.
### The good news, according to ESPN.com analyst and former Browns scout Matt Williamson, is that Stills is very effective on intermediate routes.
“Stills is not as fast as Wallace, but he’s better underneath than Wallace. It fits the quarterback’s skills better,” Williamson said.
### Williamson said “Jennings and Hartline are about the same; maybe it’s a slight upgrade for Miami. Jennings is pretty good after the catch. And he will be good in the locker-room.”
### One question is how much Jennings’ skills will erode at 31. NFL Network analyst Charley Casserly, the former Redskins and Texans general manager, has concerns.
“I wouldn’t count on him to make a difference,” Casserly said. “There are receivers you have to defend against. He’s not one of them. He’s good route runner, will be reliable. But he’s not a guy that’s going to change the defense.”
### Here’s what’s encouraging about Marlins reliever A.J. Ramos, who is expected to have opportunities to close, with Steve Cishek removed from that role:
Batters have hit .183 off him in his career (170 innings), with 193 strikeouts and .140 off him this season.
“He has the makeup to close,.. nerves of steel,” said Marlins vice president/player development Marty Scott, who expects Cishek to straighten himself out. “You projected him to be in that role at some point.”
### Though the Marlins continue to talk with Scott Boras about unsigned former Nationals closer Rafael Soriano, keep in mind he blew seven of 39 save chances for Washington in 2014. And he has had a less-than-stellar clubhouse reputation, a concern a Marlins person expressed in the spring. [Update: The Marlins decided Wednesday not to pursue Soriano at this time.]
### When Henderson Alvarez returns, a case could be made to try starter Tom Koehler in a set-up role (or even as a closer) and here’s why:
He has allowed batters to hit .133 in the first time through the lineup this season and .228 in his career, with a sizable dropoff after that. This season, batters are hitting .385 against Koehler in his second time through the order.
### Because Dwyane Wade said last year that he’s eager to see how much he can command next summer, when the salary cap rises considerably, everyone has expected he would not opt out of a contract that would pay him $16.1 million next season. Opting in seems to make the most sense.
But it's curious that Wade was non-committal after the season ended, and his agent this week declined to say if he will opt in.
If he surprisingly opted out, he would figure to re-sign here on a multiyear deal, and the Heat thus wouldn’t have cap space (even if Luol Deng also opted out), assuming Goran Dragic stays. (Unless Miami dumps additional salary such as Josh McRoberts or Mario Chalmers.)
### Chris Bosh, on NBA TV tonight: "Yes, I will be ready on Opening Night. I’m looking forward to being the best version of myself in 2015-2016 at the start. I’m very excited, this has given me time to think and reflect on my life and everything that’s going on. I miss basketball right now and I think that’s good for me.”
### Has UM's 6-7 season hurt the school financially this offseason?
Though some donors threatened to withhold money if Al Golden was retained, athletic director Blake James said “we are on pace to be at or near where we were last year."
And UM associate athletic director Jesse Marks says season ticket renewals are pacing ahead of last year at this time, noting fans are excited about the stadium modernization.