Welcome to the Miami Dolphins offseason. Welcome to the remaking of a defense.
Welcome to a looming $102 million (or so) contract offer to Ndamukong Suh.
We are one day away (Saturday at noon) before the Dolphins, and a every other NFL team, is able to officially contact pending NFL free agent players. No visits are allowed until Tuesday but contact with agents is allowed as this is the official tampering window.
The Dolphins will be calling agent Jimmy Sexton to discuss their interest in signing the Detroit Lions defensive tackle who is hitting free agency. The Dolphins will definitely be in the Suh chase, according to multiple sources.
(Most team sources have dried up on this topic. But the walls have ears at the Davie facility).
I'm told the Dolphins are confident they're going to put a great offer on the table for Suh. They are confident they can get him. They are not certain because, obviously, this is a still a competition.
Teams that are expected to also show interest include Oakland, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, and perhaps Tennessee. Detroit remains a possibility for a return.
The discussions between Suh's agent and the Dolphins will include a repeat of the message the team has already heard unofficially: Suh wants to be the NFL's highest-paid player (negotiable) but definitely its highest-paid non-quarterback (not negotiable).
And then the sides can begin laying parameters for a what it is going to take. It is going to take a deal in the vicinity of $102 million over six years. The final deal will average out near $17 million per season but that isn't the important number.
The important numbers are that the deal will have to include about $30-32 million that is fully guaranteed with another $20-$25 million in additional guarantees.
Of that $100-plus million, Suh is going to want a huge chunk in the first three years. That will mean approximately $55 million in the first three years which will be the actual and true money on this coming deal.
And someone will give Suh what he wants. Simply, he is the most dominant defensive free agent to come along in a long time.
“He’s obviously a dominant player," former Detroit teammate Jason Fox said Thursday after re-signing with the Dolphins. "He’s one of the best defensive tackles, if not the best defensive tackle in the whole NFL. He’s a game-changing type of player. In the locker room, he’s not the ‘rah-rah’ guy and he speaks up when he feels like it’s necessary. He’s one of the guys that leads by example. He’s a hard-worker and obviously that shows."
I would say Jacksonville is Miami's biggest rival because it is in the same state and that means the Suh camp will be able to compare financial apples to apples in that there is no state tax in Florida. An offer from Oakland, in liberal-leaning California where there is a 13.3 state tax (highest in the nation), means the Raiders would have to make up between $8-$10 million that Suh would lose to taxes to merely match an offer from Miami or Jacksonville.
That's not politics. That's simply the math imposed on California residents by legislators.
The Dolphins are obviously aware of their advantage over Oakland and, indeed, any team in a state with a state tax. But, again, there is no such advantage over Jacksonville.
If the Dolphins get Suh, I'd say there is very little chance they re-sign Jared Odrick or keep Randy Starks. Suh plays nearly 80 percent of the downs on defense. He's a moose that way. So the Dolphins can easily get by with Suh and Earl Mitchell starting and lesser, younger, cheaper backups getting 20-25 percent of the snaps while one or the other rests.
Regardless of whether Miami gets Suh or not, there are other moves coming on defense.
The defense is the area of significant need this offseason because, well, it was 20th in the NFL in points.
It was 24th in the NFL against the run.
It gave up 37 points to the Jets in the season-finale.
It gave up 35 points to Minnesota the week before that.
It gave up 41 points to New England the week before that.
It blew fourth-quarter leads against Denver. And Detroit. And Green Bay.
It has regressed steadily starting in 2012.
It is broken, folks. And the Dolphins, who retained defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, believe the issue is the talent and not the coaching.
(I say it is both, but whatever).
And so the team will try to remake the D.
Miami will try to find a middle linebacker. New York Jets linebacker David Harris is a possibility but watch the Jets try hard to keep him and do not be surprised if new Buffalo coach Rex Ryan tries to sign him as well.
Tampa Bay's Mason Foster is also an option as a three-down defender. General manager Dennis Hickey is obviously familiar with him.
The remainder of the free agent MLB's are two-down players. As the Dolphins need run-stopping help, Brandon Spikes is the best of those, with Denver's Nate Irving also good against the run but a liability versus the pass.
The Dolphins need a safety to replace Louis Delmas and New England's Devin McCourty is the best of the bunch but will also be the most expensive of the bunch. I don't see the Dolphins being able to sign both Suh and McCourty. If the Suh chase falls short, however, this might not solve Miami's run-stopping problems but would be a significant upgrade to the secondary.
Denver's Rahim Moore is a free agent possibility.
Mostly, in my opinion, the Dolphins need to get bigger and better at cornerback. The Cortland Finnegan swing for the fences was instead a weak grounder to second. He was injured a lot. He lost the Green Bay game by failing to make one key tackle inbounds. And now he's cut.
So Miami needs a starting cornerback.
Byron Maxwell is the best of the bunch here but the Dolphins might opt to go cornerback in the first round of the draft. The Eagles are said to be very interested in Maxwell.
The Dolphins should be interested in a guard. Their interior OL was a disaster last year and Daryn Colledge is gone and not likely to come back. Billy Turner is expected to fill one job but the team cannot possibly believe either Dallas Thomas or Shelley Smith the answer at the other guard, right?
(The Dolphins let that position stay as is it will glow in neon as troubled in 2015, mark my words).
The Dolphins are going to ink quarterback Ryan Tannehill to a huge contract either this year or next but they're not going to protect him up the middle? Again?
Mike Iupati, folks. Dolphins probably will not do it. But I would. Iupati and Turner at guards protects the team's most important resource. Alas, I'm dreaming. (By the way, Orlando Franklin is more likely to get more money as a right tackle than a guard on the open market so Miami likely isn't in that mix).
Did I mention the Dolphins are feeling confident about getting Ndamukong Suh?