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Miami Dolphins rebuild pays stars, hinges hopes on young, cheap talent

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- The Dolphins are, as I tell you in my column Tuesday, rebuilding on the fly this offseason.

And part of that quick rebuild process is the fact the team has to make some sacrifices because that's what must happen when a team pays $114 million for defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh ... and is going to pay between $17-$20 million per season to quarterback Ryan Tannehill ... and soon center Mike Pouncey and defensive end Olivier Vernon will want approximately $10 million per season from their extensions.

These things happen so everyone cannot get paid. Everyone cannot be retained in free agency. Some folks are going to get cut. Some guys are going to "graduate" to other teams, as executive vice president for football operations Mike Tannenbaum calls it.

And where does that leave the Dolphins for 2015?

Depending on young talent.

Banking on the draft, both past and present.

The reason for that is the draft and young talent is cheap. It can fill gaps and turn question marks into exclamation points and do it at reasonable cost.

It's a great way to do business when the stars are getting paid.

But it is a troubling way to go when the young talent doesn't respond.

We shall soon see if Miami's young talent is ready to respond.

The Dolphins this season will bank on young players such as cornerback Jamar Taylor, cornerback Will Davis, wide receiver Rishard Matthews, linebackers Jordan Tripp, Chris McCain and Jelani Jenkins, guards Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner and tight end Dion Sims to fill big roles while making relatively little money against the cap.

And maybe the team hits the lotto and those youngsters respond.

Maybe the coaching staff that has done a marginal job of developing players in recent years develops the living heck out of these guys this year.

But there are question marks.

A team source confided to me he wishes there was more certainty about Taylor and Davis and Matthews. Let's face it, Taylor has been injured much of his first two seasons and when he wasn't injured -- particularly last year -- he didn't exactly prove himself definite starter material.

That's not a great career arc for a former second-round draft pick getting ready to start his third season.

Davis, a former third round pick, has similarly shown durability issues atop performance questions.

In a perfect world, those two high draft picks going into their third season would be the answer to the question about who is starting opposite Brent Grimes at cornerback. But while both may get that chance, the Dolphins may have to invest a draft pick to address the issue as well.

In a perfect world, Dallas Thomas and Turner -- former third round picks in 2013 and '14 respectively -- would be the answers at guard. Well, they may be the answers anyway, as I told you in this post. But there is no certainty either will be good enough because neither has proven anything despite the team's confidence in both.

The Dolphins found something of a raw jewel in Matthews in the seventh round of the 2012 draft. But his time in Miami has been a roller coaster. He's performed when he's gotten the chance but he's also had issues with tardiness and one issue with a coach last year.

The Dolphins think he is potentially their third receiver. He's potentially that good. But he might also be Miami's fourth or fifth receiver. The fact Matthews was inactive the final two games of '14 for disciplinary reasons shows how volatile the situation seems. He can be in the plans ... or not.

Nobody seems to know for sure. There is uncertainty.

Matthews nonetheless remains on the team because he is young and cheap and promising.

Are you seeing a theme here?

Young, cheap and promising is good.

"When you look at player who is young and ascending and still in their rookie deal those are gold chips in the system," Tannenbaum said.

But uncertainty is not good.

The Dolphins have to nonetheless go the uncertainty route in some instances because, unlike in the past, they cannot simply push the bounds of the cap and sign a top-of-the-line player to fill in. They might even struggle to sign stopgap type veterans at $3-$5 million per year -- something they've done multiple times in the past with guys such as Tyson Clabo, Dustin Keller, Brent Grimes, Cortland Finnegan, Daryn Colledge, and Samson Satele.

Those days may be gone for cap reasons.

So young fill-ins it is. Young, cheap players have to perform for the Dolphins rebuild to be a success.

This is going to be interesting.  

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