SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
In his first seven months as the Dolphins’ football czar, Mike Tannenbaum (with the help of general manager Dennis Hickey) signed the NFL’s best defensive tackle (and marquee free agent), struck long-term deals with Ryan Tannehill and Mike Pouncey, upgraded the receiver corps, procured a former Pro Bowl tight end, bolstered the team’s infrastructure and sports sciences department and spoke with everyone from Jimmy Johnson to tennis Hall of Famer Ivan Lendl in his thirst to broaden his knowledge and gain a competitive edge.
Over the next five months, the tangible results of Tannenbaum’s work will take shape. He points to myriad reasons why Dolphins fans should feel excited about this team.
“I’m optimistic. We have a defense that can rush the passer, which is critical,” he said. “When you look at the top eight defensive linemen, it’s a good group.” He’s a huge fan of Tannehill and likes the depth and talent of the weapons around him.
But the first reason for optimism that Tannenbaum cited was this: “We have an incredible organization, starting with our owner. There is no limit on the resources we can spend on our players to give them every possible chance to win. He has been absolutely incredible.
“We have added talent, no question. We had a productive offseason. [But] the biggest part of any team improvement is Ja’Waun James being better in 2015 than 2014, Lamar Miller being better, the Mike Pounceys getting better. These guys will play better and that’s where the lion’s share of improvement will come from.”
Tannenbaum said when he arrived, his goal was to construct a team that is “tough, physical, one that can be explosive scoring points. You’ve got to score points in this league to win.”
He believes steps have been taken to achieve that, but he doesn’t want merely a quick fix.
“Dennis, coach and myself --- we always talk about sustainable success.”
There are obvious concerns (guard, cornerback, third linebacker), but Tannenbaum said “there are some young players I’m really excited to see [at those positions]. It’s going to sort itself out. We’re encouraged. Our encouragement is based on how these guys have looked.”
A few thoughts from Tannenbaum from our conversation this past week:
### On whether the team believes Tannehill can become a top 10 quarterback: “I don’t like to sit around a bar and say he’s top 8, top 10. He has shown incredible consistency, durability and trajectory of going up. We can win a lot of games with Ryan as our quarterback. If we get him enough players around him, Ryan’s a guy we can win with for a long time.”
### On what looms as the most difficult roster decisions: “Corner. Maybe keeping three quarterbacks. The last DB spot. The last running back spot, Damien Williams or LaMichael James.” (It's possible that both Williams and James could make the team if Miami keeps four backs.)
### On why the team didn’t add a high-level middle linebacker to enable Koa Misi to move back to strong-side: “We were trying to make the best decisions with the resources we have. Going back to the first few days of free agency, it was Jordan Cameron, [Ndamukong] Suh, a lot of moving pieces. There’s really a strong feeling for Koa in this building.”
### Chris McCain, a strong candidate to start at strong-side linebacker, excites everyone with his pass rush ability, “his length. He has a real chance to contribute this year. It’s going to be up to Chris.”
### He feels comfortable with what the Dolphins have at cornerback beyond Brent Grimes.
“Jamar Taylor has quickness, competitiveness. He has ability. He just has to be more consistent. Brice McCain played well for Pittsburgh. I like our depth there.
“Will Davis has a ton of physical ability and I’m really rooting for him. If he’s healthy, he can help us. Tony Lippett, there is a lot to like to about him --- his length, athleticism.”
### The way the game is played now, Tannenbaum said “it’s important” to have big, skilled pass-catching tight ends who can be red zone threats. He believes he has that in 6-5 Cameron and 6-4 Dion Sims.
“That puts more pressure on the defense when the field gets compressed. They’re big bodied, big target, big-catch-radius guys. I’m really excited about tight end.”
### Tannenbaum believes this receiver group will complement Tannehill’s skills especially well.
“Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills… have a long ascension in front of them. [With] Greg Jennings, it’s properly balanced [between young players and veterans]. Hopefully, that nucleus can stay together for a while.”
### Is suspended Dion Jordan in the plans for 2016? “Right now, he’s unavailable. When he does [become available], we are always looking for good players that can help us win.”
### Tannenbaum said he will always be on the lookout to improve his team during the season --- he made a Week 3 trade for Braylon Edwards with the Jets --- and noted the importance of finding late-round gems.
“If you go back to the Super Bowl teams of last year, New England had 30 players that entered the league as fifth, sixth, seventh-round picks or free agents. The Seahawks had 35.”
### In recent months, Tannenbaum picked the brains of San Antonio Spurs general manager R.C. Buford, J.J. in Johnson’s Islamorada restaurant and others such as Lendl and Yankees GM Brian Cashman at a leadership conference.
“It was tremendous,” Tannenbaum said. “You get years and years of wisdom about leadership, making decisions. Took [copious] notes. With Jimmy, you [learn] how he orchestrated the draft. Talking to R.C. Buford about culture… If I’m challenging our staff to get better, not to be happy with the status quo, then it starts with me. I put myself in a vulnerable position and uncomfortable position.”
### Please see the last post for a dozen Dolphins notes from Day 3 of camp on Saturday.
### So what’s the Marlins’ long-term plan at first base with Michael Morse having been traded? “We’ll give Justin Bour every opportunity,” Marlins executive Michael Hill said.
But is Bour (.253, 10 homers, 30 RBI) a quality starting-caliber first baseman?
“He has been for the better part of the season,” Hill said.
The Marlins better hope that’s the case because of two factors: Their farm system is bereft of first base prospects (beyond June draft pick Josh Naylor, who is a long way away) and the impending free agent first base class is weak.
There’s only one pretty good first baseman who will almost assuredly be a free agent this winter: Baltimore’s Chris Davis, who’s hitting .243 with 24 homers and 65 RBI. He hit .286 with 53 homers in 2013 but since then has had high strikeout numbers and low averages (.196 last season).
The other free agent first basemen are hitting worse than Bour: Mike Napoli (.205, 11, 35), Mark Reynolds (.230, 9, 35) and Steve Pearce (.227, 7, 24).
Polished hitter Justin Morneau has a $9 million mutual option with Colorado but concussion-related problems have limited him to 27 games and put his career in jeopardy. Adam Lind (.285, 16, 60) would be a good option if Milwaukee doesn’t pick up his reasonable $8 million club option. Toronto’s Edwin Encarnacion (.238, 19, 56) has a $10 million club option.
### Of the seven prospects the Marlins acquired in the past 10 days, only one was rated among his former team’s top 20 prospects: catcher Tomas Telis, the Rangers’ No. 19 prospect who was hitting .291 at Triple A and “profiles strictly as a backup,” according to MLB.com. “His best tool is his line drive bat.”
The Marlins sent Telis to Triple A today.
The top pitchers acquired in the four recent trades aren’t high-end prospects: Ivan Pineyro (the Cubs’ 30th-best prospect; 7-5, 3.69 ERA at Double A) and Jeff Brigham (the Dodgers’ 28th-best prospect; 5.96 ERA at Single A).
### Several Marlins players were disgusted or demoralized by the trades. “Can we go home now? Can we go home now? They got rid of everybody,” one prominent player said loudly in the Marlins' clubhouse before Friday’s game. Other players expressed disappointment privately about the roster moves.
### Despite a flurry of Internet rumors, Hill said he never seriously considered trading Carter Capps because “he’s a championship-caliber piece under team control.”
### Hill said he expects Henderson Alvarez back for spring training, but because of the uncertainty of shoulder surgery, Hill said he cannot count on Alvarez as a definite 2016 rotation piece. “Hopefully,” Hill said. “He’s a wild card.”
### Student-athlete comportment is critically important to this UM administration --- nobody wants the type of embarrassment FSU is experiencing with alleged player abuse against women.
And quarterback Brad Kaaya said UM players have decided not to go out in large numbers together at night because “people get scared when they see 40 or 50 players. That’s just begging for something bad… We go out during the day. We go out with a couple people at night.”
### Jacksonville-based three-star inside linebacker Michael Pinckney tonight became the third Class of 2016 player to sign a non-binding grant-in-aid agreement with UM, joining quarterback Jack Allison and linebacker Shaquille Quarterman.
### Though the PGA shifted the Grand Slam of Golf from Donald Trump’s Los Angeles course in the wake of his comments about Mexican immigrants, officials at the World Golf Championships in Doral have been led to believe the March tournament will stay at Trump’s course there barring a change of heart by the PGA.