The Miami Dolphins have to be at or below the NFL's 2016 salary cap of approximately $154-$155 million by the opening of the league year at 4 p.m. on March 9. That means the team's top 51 players (contracts) must have a cap number at or below the $154-$155 million.
And that's not a ton of fun because right now -- today -- the Dolphins cap value for their top 51 contracts is $162,237,543. Give or take.
In other words, the amount of money the Dolphins are currently over the projected cap could buy a brand new Abrams M1A2 battle tank from the U.S. military and have a couple of million left over for, you know, ammunition and fuel.
So Mike Tannenbaum, Dawn Aponte, and Ryan Herman have work to do.
They are the people running the Dolphins finances on the football side. They are the folks setting values on their players -- not fast enough for my taste, but they work at a different pace than I would expect. They are the ones negotiating contracts. They are the ones who will meet with agents throughout the Indianapolis Combine next week to try to 1. get a line on what to do with their own pending free agents, 2. start getting price markers for players from other teams about to hit the market, 3. collaborating with other teams (nah, never happens) to see what the market is on certain positions and players expected to be available.
And then off to free agency on March 9. But, again, the Dolphins are currently over the cap.
So the team must and will change things up between now and then.
Below I will run you through some of the exercises the Dolphins will run through, or at the very least consider, to get below the cap.
- Ndamukong Suh restructure. How many times have I written about this, already? Here. Here. One more time: The Dolphins will restructure Suh's deal at a point and time of their convenience and choosing and turn the defensive tackle's $28.6 million cap charge for 2016 into a $10.42 million cap charge. Voila, the Dolphins will be under the salary cap! And they can now buy multiple Abrams tanks if they wish. This will happen (the restructure, not the tank purchase). So everyone saying Miami's salary cap is a mess, just don't know.
- Tight end Jordan Cameron is scheduled to cost $9.5 million against the 2016 cap. He caught 35 passes last season and didn't have what I would call a great chemistry with quarterback Ryan Tannehill. If the Dolphins are cool with 35 catches and limited chemistry with the QB costing $9.5 million against the cap, then nothing need be done. If that is not the team's idea of value, then Cameron gets cuts and suddenly the Dolphins save $7.5 million in cap space. The team could also extend Cameron and give him a bonus, add a couple of years to his contract and lower his cap number, but that is a risk because, again, he's no longer the former Pro Bowl player troubled by concussion issues coming to the team. Now he's a player with some (not many) nagging injury issues from a year ago who didn't really put up big numbers. I suppose the Dolphins could also ask Cameron to take a pay cut but I doubt he would accept, if the other option for him is getting cut and hitting free agency.
- Restructure Mike Pouncey. I'm not saying or reporting this is going to happen, but it makes sense. The Dolphins are saddled with a $10 million cap charge on Pouncey. They could restructure his deal and turn that to $3.4 million, for a savings of $6.6 million. And, yes, that pushes money out into future years, but the way I see the Dolphins thinking of Pouncey -- as a good player, a locker room leader, and the anchor of the offensive line at age 26 -- pushing money into future years isn't that big a risk right now.
- Make a decision on that fourth wide receiver -- Greg Jennings or Rishard Matthews. The Miami Herald reported today the Dolphins have reached out to Matthews, who is scheduled to hit free agency, about possibly returning. Interesting timing considering the player currently has little motivation to do something with free agency within sight. Anyway, the Dolphins can offer Matthews a deal that is $5 million per season (APY) with a cap value well below that. That, by the way, is what Matthews will be looking for on the market more or less. And where do they get this? Well, Jennings is scheduled to cost $5.5 million against the cap and cutting him saves $4 million. So cut him. Done. He's 32 years old, he's no longer as good as Matthews and he kind of blew up quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the national media recently, saying the QB is far from elite (which he is, but not good for a far from elite teammate to say it). Jennings' romp over the Dolphins and Tannehill and coaches lately has the feel of him knowing he's not coming back to this team. He hasn't burned bridges, but he's definitely lit some fires in the general vicinity of bridges. He has to go. Matthews may also go because he recognizes Miami has three starting caliber WRs already in Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills that they are committed to. So he's going to accept being No. 4?
- Extend Cameron Wake. This is happening. Wake has been at the team facility practically every day. He's expected to be fully recovered from his Achilles tear by training camp. Indeed, he's already working out as if nothing had happened. So the Dolphins are going to extend Wake in the next couple of weeks to lower his cap number from his scheduled $9.8 million. There should be approximately $3-$5 million cap relief from this work.
- Figure out Brent Grimes. This one is interesting. Grimes is 32 and last year showed signs of decline. He is scheduled to cost $9.5 million against the cap in 2016. If -- big if -- the Dolphins determine Grimes should be on the team, they can save approximately $3.5 million in salary cap charge by restructuring his contract. They can also save $6.5 million by cutting him outright, if that's what they think is right. So how will they arrive at this decision? The Dolphins will have to get assurances from the player that he (through his wife and her outspoken nature) will not be inciting division within the locker room in the future. Grimes has more or less made those assurances in the past and it hasn't worked out. We'll see what happens. Bottom line is the Dolphins will have options either way.
- Branden Albert decision. The team can save $5 million off Albert's $10.1 million scheduled cap charge by restructuring this contract. But, remember, that pushes money into future years in the form of prorated charges increasing. Unlike Pouncey, Albert is 31 and has something of an injury history. So do the Dolphins limit their ability to cut Albert in the future for the cap relief now? I wouldn't do it. They don't need the cap relief that badly.
- Dion Jordan. Currently on suspension for violating the NFL drug policy, Jordan is a bust who is costing $6.2 million against the team's cap in 2016. If the suspension is lifted in April by the NFL, the Dolphins can bring Jordan back and hope for the best. Or they can cut him and save $3.2 million. Either way, this decision doesn't get finalized until after Jordan is cleared to return -- assuming he is cleared.
- Koa Misi. The Dolphins linebacker corps is a mess. At least two of last year's three starters will be replaced. If they're not, somebody didn't do their job. Anyway, Misi is the highest paid of the group and is scheduled to cost $4.87 million against the cap. The Dolphins can save approximately $1.7 million by restructuring Misi. The Dolphins can save $3.7 million by cutting Misi. Considering his injury history and the declining production because of those constant injuries, I initially do neither of these. I ask Misi to take a pay cut outright. If he declines ... I don't cut him but he better ball in training camp because if he doesn't, he gets cut then.
- Earl Mitchell. He's is scheduled to cost $3.5 million against the cap. Cutting him saves $2.5 million. Considering his play dropped off the table in 2015, I believe the Dolphins can do better.