This time of year, it seems, everyone is a personnel guru. Everyone has opinions about NFL talent and incoming NFL talent. And mostly those opinions that drive decisions in the spring, determine wins and losses in the fall and winter.
And so today I share with you multiple Miami Dolphins personnel opinions that matter that should give insight about why the Dolphins have taken the path they have taken this offseason.
Running back Lamar Miller: Start with the fact interim coach Dan Campbell was not a fan. During the latter half of the 2015 season, the interim coach seriously wanted more Jay Ajayi and less Miller, per multiple people I've spoken with, because he believed the rookie the better back. Obviously that transition was never made, but it set the stage for what happened this offseason in that the Dolphins were more aggressive than they expected to be in trying to re-sign Miller (they offered $5 million per season) but were not going to step beyond that for a player some in the building were lukewarm about. Understand, new coach Adam Gase liked Miller based on tape study. But not to the extent Houston did. The Texans signed Miller for $6.5 million per year average.
Fallout: Either the Texans or the Dolphins are right. The Texans believe Miller is a bell cow back that can challenge for the rushing title. They believe him a 1,200-1,400 yard per season back, who is also a threat out of the backfield. That's what they're paying for. The Dolphins believe C.J. Anderson was a better back than Miller. So they liked somebody else's player more than their own. And having neither, they've shrugged and believe they'll draft someone and/or sign a back-of-free agency guy like Arian Foster (do not forget this name) and will be fine. Foster, by the way, will visit the team this week. This is a good draft for running backs, by the way. The Dolphins think they can find one as good or better than Miller in that draft.
Defensive end Olivier Vernon: I have written multiple times the Dolphins liked OV. They didn't love OV. There was one tape session among coaches last year, I'm told, in which those present spent five minutes breaking down all the things the player did wrong or poorly. (This obviously could not have been the Dallas tape against Tyron Smith because Vernon had a fine game that day). Simply, the Dolphins saw Vernon as a 7-8 sack a year guy who was not a cornerstone on their defense despite being only 25 years old. The New York Giants see Vernon as a cornerstone. They see him as a double-digit sack guy who can team with Jason Pierre-Paul on the other side to form a formidable sack duo. By the way, the OV camp likes to point out he was really a 10.5 sack guy last season, not 7.5 as the statistics say. The reason is Vernon had three sacks stripped away by penalties in the defensive backfield.
Fallout: Either the Giants or Dolphins are right. The investment the Giants have made on Vernon speaks of both great desperation and great confidence. That team is desperate to win immediately and return what has been a dormant pass rush to its Super Bowl days. The Dolphins saw Vernon as more a complimentary player. They didn't see him worth $17 million per year, which is what the Giants are paying. They didn't see him as a $12 million per year player in August 2015 when they made him their most serious offer.
Rishard Matthews: Look, Matthews was long gone even last year when he was having his best season. A source close to Matthews told me his free agency wouldn't be just about money, but opportunity. The player wanted to play and he knew that wasn't going to happen in Miami. In Miami, the Dolphins had traded for Kenny Stills and spent first- and second-round picks on DeVante Parker and Jarvis Landry, respectively. The team was heavily invested in those players and that left Matthews as something of insurance in case that plan didn't work. But the problem is the Dolphins clearly misjudged Matthews for several years. You'll recall that Matthews got playing time in 2013 because the Dolphins had no one else. And he responded with 41 catches and 2 TDs in five starts that year. He believed he had earned an opportunity to be among Miami's top three receivers. The Dolphins, under Joe Philbin, didn't. Philbin wanted Matthews gone. Then-GM Dennis Hickey resisted but also didn't count on Matthews. He drafted Landry.
Fallout: The Dolphins, believing Matthews an afterthought type player, considered receiver a significant need both in last year's draft and in the 2014 draft. They spent high picks that might have gone to fill other needs, such as cornerback, because they didn't have a good enough internal evaluation on Matthews. Now, did the team get two players better than Matthews? Maybe. Probably. Landry is outstanding. Parker promises to be outstanding. But remember that Matthews was a superior deep threat to Landry, averaging 15.4 yards per catch to Landry's 10.5. And Matthews caught more passes than Parker, 43 compared to 26, despite missing three more games than the rookie. Decisions made years ago by a coach later fired laid the foundation to Matthews leaving the Dolphins.
Mario Williams: The Dolphins think he's better than Olivier Vernon. Period. Yes, he's older. Yes, he comes with baggage because last season the guy was not a positive force in the Buffalo locker room once he recognized he didn't fit in. But the Dolphins believe they can address all that and are willing to pay $8 million per season over the next two years for the opportunity.
Fallout: Miami has chose cheaper and older and believe that is an upgrade. That makes them unique because teams like the Giants and others considered Williams as well when he was cut by the Bills. And the Giants went a different direction. And other teams didn't want to pay what the Dolphins are paying. It'll be interesting to compare Williams's performance in Miami the next two years to Vernon. It should be noted, the Dolphins also expect a draft pick to come from losing Vernon so that will figure into the metric eventually.
Kiko Alonso: The Eagles view of this player should make you afraid. They believe he was a ghost in their defense last year. No big plays. No impact. Missed tackles. The velocity to the football he showed his rookie year in Buffalo was missing. The Eagles were so disappointed, they gave up on a player who is relatively inexpensive at under $1 million because he's in the final year of his rookie contract. The Dolphins see a different guy. They see a great scheme fit. They see a player who will improve because he'll be two years removed from his knee reconstruction surgery. They see a player who'll benefit from their weight program.
Fallout: Yeah, either the Eagles have a solid grasp of their player, or they just bonked and the Dolphins took Alonso out from under their nose.