The Miami Dolphins want to keep Olivier Vernon. No doubt about that. That is why this morning they have placed the transition tag on the player, worth $12.7 million that ensures they can match any offer on the open free agency market Vernon gets.
But the Dolphins didn't want to go to what they believe to be extremes to keep Vernon.
And paying $15.7 million in a franchise tag that is guaranteed and fully costing against the cap was obviously something the Dolphins felt was extreme.
So the team cannot prohibit Vernon from going to other teams and getting contract offers. And with the transition tag they can match those offers if they meet the value they have for Vernon.
But if Vernon goes out and gets even one offer that pays in the $15-$16 million per year range with significant guaranteed money, he's gone. The Dolphins will not match it. They proved that today by not tagging Vernon at that rate.
And the transition tag comes with zero draft choice compensation. Those are the rules.
So the Dolphins really, really like Olivier Vernon. A lot. Over $12 million worth.
But they don't love Olivier Vernon. Not to $15.7 million worth.
There is another side of this, too.
The Dolphins like Vernon and want to see him return. But they have identified a handful of pass rush options they believe they can get more cheaply to play at the level Vernon has shown his first four seasons with the team.
William Hayes, a pending free agent from the Los Angeles Rams, is a player the team likes very much. If Vernon walks, Hayes will be an option. Hayes, 30, had 5.5 sacks last season.
The Dolphins have strong conviction about being able to get a comparable -- maybe better player, they believe -- if they lose Vernon based on their experience with Charles Clay in 2015. Last year the Dolphins placed the transition tag on Clay because they didn't think him worth the kind of money he was asking in a long-term contract.
Clay signed a five-year, $38 million deal with Buffalo that included $24.5 million in guaranteed money. The Dolphins opted not to match. They signed Jordan Cameron instead to a two-year $15 million deal with $5 million guaranteed.
Clay in 2015 made $13 million and caught 51 passes for 528 yards with three touchdowns.
Cameron in 2015 made $7.5 million and caught 35 passes for 386 yards with three touchdowns.
Clay had a drop rate of 6.6 percent. Cameron's drop rate was 4.6 percent.
Clay played 71 percent of Buffalo's snaps. Cameron played 72 percent of Miami's snaps.
Get the players on the scale and weigh salary versus production. The Dolphins can argue they paid $5.5 million less for a roughly equivalent player.
The Dolphins have been sort of telegraphing this move for over a year. They made one offer to Vernon's agent, David Canter. The team deemed it fair. The agent didn't and indeed, didn't even counter because he deemed the offer not realistic. That offer came last August-September.
There have been no offers since.
Again, the team has a value on Vernon it intends to abide by. And the player and his agent -- and likely other teams -- have a higher opinion of what Vernon is worth.
Free agency begins March 9. Despite his transition tag, Olivier Vernon will be on the market.