AFC East: Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill has the big numbers. He threw for 4,045 yards, 27 touchdowns and a 92.8 passer rating in 2014 -- all career highs.

Tannehill has the confidence of power players in the Dolphins' organization. Vice president Mike Tannenbaum, general manager Dennis Hickey and head coach Joe Philbin all endorsed Tannehill this offseason as Miami's long-term solution.

Tannehill also is expected to get a sizable raise. It can come in the form of a fifth-year extension worth approximately $15 million in 2016 or a multi-year extension that could approach $100 million or more.

But the true next step for Tannehill doesn’t involve money, recognition in Miami, or filling up the stat sheet. For Tannehill to truly evolve into a franchise quarterback, he must win more games for the Dolphins.

Here is an important stat to remember for Tannehill: He is just 23-25 as a starter.

Tannehill has never had a winning season in Miami and has yet to lead the Dolphins to the playoffs. His .479 career winning percentage is worse than quarterback counterparts Jay Cutler (.512), Andy Dalton (.625) and Colin Kaepernick (.641). These are all players that Tannehill will be compared to when working out a long-term contract.

A quarterback’s career ultimately will be determined by wins and losses. Tannehill made strides and proved last season that he can put up good numbers. But he won the same amount of games than he won in 2013.

Of course, not every win or loss can be pinned on the quarterback. There are a variety of reasons teams lose games. However, a quarterback has more impact on the field than any other player because he touches the ball on almost every offensive snap. Tannehill is going to get a bulk of the blame or the credit.

Tannehill must win enough games in his fourth season to get the Dolphins over the hump and into the playoffs. Quarterbacks build their reputation in the postseason, which is currently a major void on Tannehill’s resume.

The Miami Dolphins are scheduled to host former Michigan Wolverines linebacker Jake Ryan for a pre-draft visit on April 2, a source told ESPN.com.

Ryan led the Wolverines with 112 tackles and also recorded two sacks and an interception last season. According to ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr., Ryan is this year's fifth-rated inside linebacker.

The Dolphins lost three linebackers this offseason and need to add depth at the position. They traded Dannell Ellerbe to the New Orleans Saints, cut Philip Wheeler and allowed Jason Trusnik to test free agency. Miami also was 24th against the run last season.

Each NFL team gets a maximum of 30 pre-draft visits.

Houston Texans Pro Bowl defensive end J.J. Watt became the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL last year when he signed a six-year, $100 million contract. Earlier this month, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh surpassed Watt with a six-year, $114 million contract with the Miami Dolphins.

Why is this relevant?

Well, this week Watt restructured just one year into his record-setting agreement. According to ESPN's Field Yates, Watt converted a $10 million roster bonus into a signing bonus to free up $8 million of cap room for Houston.

The move might be a prelude of what's coming down the pike with Suh's monster contract with Miami in the coming years. Suh is projected to have very high cap numbers of $28,600,000 in 2016, $15,100,000 in 2017 and $22,100,000 in both 2018 and 2019.

Similar to Houston's situation with Watt, Miami may need to restructure Suh's cap figures in order to create the necessary space it takes sign other good players and be competitive. The Texans had to do it with Watt after one year. Therefore, it won't be shocking if the Dolphins have to do the same with Suh in 2016 or beyond.

The difference between the two situations is Watt's money went from one type of bonus to another. Much of Suh's money after this year is in base salaries, which also can be moved into bonuses that Suh would get upfront.

All of this doesn't mean much for the Dolphins today. But Watt’s restructuring certainly provides a potential blueprint that Miami may need to follow with Suh in the future.

Miami Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin addressed the media Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings. Philbin touched on several topics, including one of high interest involving the Dolphins' No. 3 overall pick Dion Jordan in 2013.

[+] EnlargeDion Jordan
Marc Serota/Getty ImagesDolphins coach Joe Philbin continues to stick with Dion Jordan at defensive end despite mediocre results the past two seasons.

According to Philbin, Jordan's focus will remain at defensive end this offseason. There has been speculation the Dolphins may try to play Jordan at outside linebacker after experimenting with the idea at the end of last season. It appears those ideas have been put on the shelf for now.

"Right now we feel like he's [better] utilized as a defensive end," Philbin said. "We want to get his training there to improve so he can continually develop his pass-rush ability. If we play him at linebacker and move him full-time, the dilemma is when is he going to practice rushing the passer?"

I don't agree with this thinking by Miami. The offseason is the perfect time to experiment and get Jordan reps at outside linebacker, which is a position that's currently wide open on the depth chart. There also are schemes where Jordan still would get to rush the passer as a linebacker.

The Dolphins have tried Jordan at defensive end for two seasons without success. It's difficult to get Jordan any meaningful playing time before making way for Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake and solid starter Olivier Vernon. Also, Jordan has done little with his opportunities at the position, recording just three sacks in two seasons.

Miami traded up nine spots in the first round to snag Jordan two years ago. He was expected to be a dynamic pass-rush threat and a starting defensive end by now. Instead, Jordan is a player who looks lost and confused so far. Jordan also didn't help himself by being suspended six games last year for violating the NFL's substance abuse and performance-enhancing drug policies.

Keeping Jordan at defensive end ensures he will be a limited role player for the third straight season, and that is not acceptable for a player the Dolphins traded up nine spots in the first round to get in 2013.

Miami's coaching staff is big on "position flexibility" with many of their players during Philbin's tenure, which makes this close-minded call with Jordan all that more baffling.

What should Miami Dolphins fans make of Monday's news that coach Joe Philbin received a one-year contract extension?

Not much.

[+] EnlargeRyan Tannehill and Joe Philbin
Dustin Bradford/Getty ImagesThe Dolphins have extended coach Joe Philbin through the 2016 season.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross announced at the NFL owners meeting in Phoenix that Philbin will be extended through the 2016 season. In a league where perception means plenty, Ross essentially admitted he gave Philbin an extension to avoid the label of a "lame duck" coach. Philbin was entering the final year of the initial contract he signed with the Dolphins in 2012.

However, the extension is merely window dressing and doesn't change Philbin's situation. This remains a playoff-or-bust year for him and for many on his staff.

Philbin must win this season after posting an overall 23-25 record. He promised Ross upon his hiring to "compete for championships" in Miami. Instead, Philbin posted three consecutive non-winning seasons, including back-to-back 8-8 seasons. The Dolphins have been the definition of mediocre the past three years. They haven't been awful, but they haven't been consistently good, either.

Everything will fall into place if the Dolphins end their six-year postseason drought. There is certainly enough talent to make a playoff push, headlined by the recent acquisition of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

This is Philbin's fourth chance in a league where many coaches get three or fewer. The only difference after today's extension is Ross most likely would pay Philbin not to work in 2016 if things go poorly.

Veteran offensive lineman J.D. Walton is in an interesting position after signing with the Miami Dolphins.

Walton started all 16 games last year for the New York Giants but knows his natural position is taken in Miami by Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey. The Dolphins currently have two openings at guard, but that’s a position Walton never played at the NFL level.

What is a veteran offensive lineman to do?

“I’m coming to compete,” Walton said. “Wherever they want to try me at, put me in, it doesn’t really matter. I’m coming to push and trying to make this offense better. I come with the mindset of be ready to play guard, be ready to play center, be ready to help out this team any way I can.”

Walton has an interesting back story. His career took a bad turn in 2012 when he broke his ankle playing for the Denver Broncos. He sat out 12 games in 2012 and the entire 2013 season.

But Walton made a solid comeback and started all 16 games last year with the Giants. He told the Miami media that his ankle problems are behind him.

“Last year, coming back, I knocked off the rust at the beginning and then really felt like I caught stride and was playing a lot better towards the end of the season,” Walton said.

Walton admits he is definitely most comfortable at center. But he’s keeping an open mind in order to compete for playing time.

The Dolphins are extremely thin at guard. Currently, Walton is projected to compete with young, inexperienced players such as Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner for the two openings in training camp.

“The only thing I’ve ever played is center,” Walton said. “But I’m not a one-position guy in my mind. I’m ready to play whatever they want to try me at.”

It's been an interesting offseason for the Miami Dolphins, to say the least. The team is in the process of a major makeover for 2015, highlighted by the $114 million signing of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and the trade of former No. 1 receiver Mike Wallace to the Minnesota Vikings.

However, Miami took some major hits on its salary cap in the process of this offseason facelift. As a result, the Dolphins currently own the dubious distinction of leading the NFL in “dead money” following trades and roster cuts.

“Dead money” is essentially used salary-cap space for players who are no longer on the roster. The Dolphins have an NFL-high $23.699 million of this year’s cap allocated to players who will not help the team this season, according to ESPN.com’s Roster Management System.

Recent trades, such as the one sending Wallace to the Vikings and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe to the New Orleans Saints, for example, have drastically inflated Miami’s “dead money.” Both were given large contracts in 2013. But Miami wanted to go in a different direction two years later and was willing to take the cap hit.

Additional veteran cuts such as linebacker Philip Wheeler, cornerback Cortland Finnegan, guard Shelley Smith and receivers Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson also accelerated Miami’s “dead money” this offseason.

Despite the high number, new vice president Mike Tannenbuam remains aggressive this offseason and says the Dolphins’ cap situation will be fine moving forward.

“We’re very comfortable with our macroeconomic modeling for the next couple of years, where we think the cap’s going to be, allocation of resources,” Tannenbaum said. “To have sustainable success in a cap system, you’re going to have to hit on your draft choices. We want to retain as many of those as reasonably possible.”

The Miami Dolphins will host free-agent receiver Michael Crabtree for a visit, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports.

Miami is in need of help at wide receiver. The team cut or traded three contributing receivers this offseason in Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson.

Crabtree is a former first-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers who could be a starter – or even No. 1 receiver – in Miami’s offense. He had 68 receptions for 698 yards and four touchdowns last season.

New Dolphins vice president Mike Tannenbaum was high on Crabtree coming out of college. Schefter reports the receiver was No. 1 on Tannanbaum’s board in 2009, which explains the interest.

The Buffalo Bills put in a five-year offer sheet for Miami Dolphins tight end Charles Clay, a source confirmed to ESPN.com Tuesday night. According to the Buffalo News, the contract is worth $38 million.

The Dolphins now have five days to match the contract or let Clay walk. So what should Miami do?

I asked Dolphins fans for their opinion via Twitter on Clay’s situation. Here is a sample of responses:

The general consensus from Dolphins fans is Buffalo overpaid for Clay. It makes sense, because the Bills, who lost their top two tight ends in free agency, need Clay more than the Dolphins, who signed 2013 Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Cameron as insurance.

Either way, the Dolphins have the rest of the week to make a decision. My take is Miami should let Clay walk for various reasons that you can see here.

The Buffalo Bills finally put in their offer to Miami Dolphins tight end Charles Clay -- and it’s a strong one.

Buffalo is offering Clay a five-year contract, a source told ESPN. The total value of the contract is $38 million, according to the Buffalo News.

The Dolphins currently have the transition tag on Clay and have five days to match the offer. But here is the important question: Should they match?

Miami doesn’t want to lose Clay, but letting him go would be in the best interest of the team’s long-term plans.

Clay is a good tight end. But he’s not elite, and Clay certainly isn't irreplaceable in the Dolphins’ offense. The Dolphins signed quality insurance in former Cleveland Browns tight end Jordan Cameron, who signed a two-year, $15 million contract last week. Backup Dion Sims also is a budding tight end with potential, and he filled in well when Clay was injured last season.

The Dolphins do not need Clay nearly as much as the Bills do. Buffalo let both of its top tight ends -- Scott Chandler and Lee Smith -- go in free agency. That is why the Bills anted up for Clay in a big way, despite the possibility of Miami matching the contract.

But here is the key figure that should help make this decision for the Dolphins: Clay's cap hit will be about $12 million in 2016, according to a source.

That 2016 season is important because Ndamukong Suh's cap charge will be huge with a value set at $28.6 million. The Dolphins also are expected to dole out new money to quarterback Ryan Tannehill, Pro Bowl offensive lineman Mike Pouncey and starting defensive end Olivier Vernon by that time.

Miami can’t pay everyone. The team would not be wise to pay Clay at the expense of any of these aforementioned players.

I have plenty of respect for Clay, who worked hard and earned his way in Miami as a former sixth-round pick. He has good character on and off the field and did a lot for the Dolphins during his tenure.

But the NFL is a business, and Clay did what he had to do to get a quality offer on the open market. A parting of ways is best for both parties.

Free-agency review: Dolphins

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Most significant signing: Is there any question of the Miami Dolphins’ biggest acquisition this offseason? The Dolphins spent $114 million to land Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Miami needed to spend a record amount for a defensive player but landed the game-changer they've lacked for many years. Suh provides an anchor in the middle of a Miami run defense that was ranked 24th in the NFL last season. He is an elite talent at an important position and should make all the defensive players around him better. Miami now has one of the NFL’s top defensive lines with Suh, Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake, defensive tackle Earl Mitchell and defensive end Olivier Vernon.

[+] EnlargeNdamukong Suh
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsNdamukong Suh brings a mean streak to the Miami defense.

Most significant loss: The Dolphins traded No. 1 receiver Mike Wallace and a seventh-round draft pick to the Minnesota Vikings for a fifth-round pick. It was a move essentially to dump salary and get Wallace’s strong personality out of the locker room. The beginning of the end happened in Week 17 when a sideline altercation led to Wallace being benched in the second half against the New York Jets. Wallace has been a lightning rod for opinions in South Florida. Some Dolphins fans didn't like the way Wallace expressed his unhappiness about not getting the football and his eventual benching. Others believe the coaching staff must be able to deal with some strong personalities for the sake of talent. I agree with the latter. Wallace led the Dolphins in receiving yards (862) and touchdowns (10) last season. That production needs to be replaced next season.

Biggest surprise: The Dolphins were able to find a trade partner for former starting linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and his $8.45 million salary. Not only that, Miami got tremendous value in return by acquiring wide receiver Kenny Stills from the New Orleans Saints. The Dolphins most likely planned to release Ellerbe before the trade. He played in just one game last year before suffering a season-ending hip injury. Backup linebacker Jelani Jenkins, who led Miami with 110 tackles, also shined as Ellerbe’s replacement. The Dolphins also threw in a third-round pick, which I didn’t like, but they gained extra cap room and got rid of a dispensable player. They had to take the hit somewhere.

What’s next: The current priority is figuring out what to do with tight end Charles Clay. The Dolphins placed the transition tag on Clay, which allows them to match any offers in free agency. The rival Buffalo Bills have shown plenty of interest. But there is a cat-and-mouse game going on between the two teams. The Dolphins want to see what kind of offer the Bills may put on the table, while Buffalo wants to see if Miami takes away the transition tag. It doesn't appear Miami will remove the tag anytime soon, which means Buffalo most likely must make the first move. The Dolphins also made a wise decision by signing former Cleveland Browns tight end Jordan Cameron to a two-year, $15 million contract. This is solid insurance in case Buffalo or another team overspends for Clay and provides an offer Miami isn't willing to match.

DAVIE, Fla. -- New Miami Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills was acquired on the same day the team traded former No. 1 receiver Mike Wallace.

However, Stills made it clear during his introductory news conference Saturday that he's not in Miami to become "Mike Wallace 2.0." Stills wants to establish his own identity with the Dolphins.

“I don’t think I was brought in to replace anybody,” Stills said. “I’m just here to do whatever I can to help the team win. Mike is a great player, and I’ve looked up to everything he’s done.”

The Dolphins traded linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and a third-round pick to the New Orleans Saints for Stills, who recorded 63 receptions, 931 yards and three touchdowns last season. Hours later Miami also traded Wallace, who had 67 receptions for 862 yards and 10 touchdowns, to the Minnesota Vikings.

Like Wallace, Stills is a deep threat who averaged 16.5 yards per reception in his two NFL seasons. But Stills said he’s not fine with the label of being a “speed receiver.” Stills said he believes he is an all-around receiver who can do multiple things.

Stills, 22, also is young. Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey described him as “an ascending player” they’ve had their eye on.

“I’m not focusing on my ceiling right now,” Stills said. “I’m just excited to be here, happy to be here and working my tail off to make sure I can maximize my potential.”

Stills said he’s already familiar with several players on the Dolphins. He played with backup running back Damien Williams in college at Oklahoma. Stills also played in college against Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who went to Texas A&M, and Stills is friends with fellow receiver Jarvis Landry.

Getting comfortable with a new team, new surroundings and a new offense quickly this year will go a long way to helping Stills make an immediate impact.
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There is no doubting the talent level of tight end Jordan Cameron. He was one of the fastest-rising tight ends in the NFL in 2013 when he recorded 80 receptions for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. That season he made the Pro Bowl.

However, the biggest concern with the Miami Dolphins after signing Cameron to a two-year, $15 million contract this week is his recent battles last season with concussions. Cameron missed six games in 2014 because of concussions.

According to Cameron, his prior concussions will not be a recurring issue in Miami.

"If it was a concern for me, I wouldn't be here right now," Cameron said Friday during his introductory news conference. "I've seen a lot of specialists and talked to a lot of people and it's cleared. My baseline is the same as it was six years ago. There is no cause for concern on my end for this, and the Dolphins felt the same."

The Dolphins have quite a talent if Cameron stays healthy. He's athletic, a strong target in the red zone and averaged 17.7 yards per receptions last season. Cameron's role is still to be determined depending on how the situation with Charles Clay, who has the transition tag, plays out. The Dolphins have the right to match any offers for Clay in free agency but is not expected to overpay, especially with Cameron now in the fold as insurance.

With or without Clay, Cameron said Friday he can get back to his Pro Bowl form. He said one of the selling points was the chance to play with Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who threw for 4,045 yards and 27 touchdowns last season.

"A lot of the success you have in the NFL is the system you're in and the quarterback," Cameron said. "Those two things are here and it's a great team, headed in the right direction. The energy has been awesome here and, like I said, I'm very excited to be here."

Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey also was happy with the signing.

"Jordan has been a quality performer that's been to the Pro Bowl that brings playmaking ability, mismatch ability at the tight end position," Hickey said. "We're just excited to have him here. He's a quality person, got to spend a lot of time with him yesterday on our visit. We always like our visits to bring players in because, not only do we get a sense of them, but they get a sense for us and not only who we're about."
New Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh played with good teammates on the defensive line with the Detroit Lions. But none of his former Detroit linemen have the extensive pedigree of Miami's four-time Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake.

Wake
 
Suh
 Suh's face lit up during Wednesday's press conference when asked about playing next to Wake, who recorded 11.5 sacks in 2014. The two have met at Pro Bowls in the past but will be spending a lot more time together as teammates after Suh signed a $114 million contract to join the Dolphins.

“Man, I’ve been watching that guy for many, many years, he’s a special defensive end,” Suh said. “I look forward to, one, playing next to him, but opposite of. Because if you understand this game and understand how it works, when you have a dominant defensive end on the other side of you and you guys are meeting at the quarterback, it’s really tough for that guy on the side of the ball who’s trying to throw it and hand it off to the running back. I’m excited to be lined up next to and opposite of Cameron Wake.”

With Suh and Wake as anchors, Miami's defensive line should be one of the best in the NFL. Fourth-year defensive end Olivier Vernon and starting defensive tackle Earl Mitchell will join the Pro Bowl pair to make up a formidable group next season.

Wake has been the subject of many double teams and still averaged 10.5 sacks per season in his six-year career. Suh now will help occupy most of those double teams while allowing Wake and Vernon, who has 18 sacks the past two seasons, more opportunities to get to the quarterback.

Suh believes the Dolphins have good talent and are a team on the rise in 2015.

“I think there are a handful of guys that I know that are down here that are quality guys on the team,” Suh said. “Jason Fox, Brent Grimes, that young man is very special, [Mike] Pouncey, playing against him and interacting with him at Nike with our other endeavors. For me, I feel like this team has a great nucleus, and it’s about finding some other pieces to help us get over the hump and then continue to make a run.”

It's been seven years since the Miami Dolphins last made the playoffs. Chad Pennington was the quarterback in 2008, head coach Tony Sparano was in his first season and the Dolphins started a new NFL trend called the Wildcat formation.

The Dolphins haven't posted a winning season in a long time. But Wednesday's landmark signing of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is potentially the turning point Miami needs to end its streak.

There are certain responsibilities that come with signing a $114 million contract, which is a new NFL record for a defensive player. Suh is just one player on a 53-man roster, but, rest assured, he will get a lot of credit or blame for Miami's successes or failures during his tenure.

During Wednesday's news conference, Suh said the Dolphins are heading in the right direction. He is the type of game-changer that can take an 8-8 team potentially to 10-6.

[+] EnlargeNdamukong Suh
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsNdamukong Suh notched 8.5 sacks in 2014 and has averaged more than seven sacks per season.
"I'm excited about the pressure," Suh said. "I don't necessarily look at it as pressure. I look at it as doing something I'm built for."

The elite play on the field is already there. That is what earned Suh reportedly $60 million in guaranteed money. Since 2010, Suh leads all defensive tackles in sacks (36), disruptive plays (50 percent) and total snaps (4,107). He is one of the top free agents, in terms of pure talent, to hit the open market in a decade.

However, Suh must come of age in other ways in Miami. It starts with leadership.

Suh was not a vocal leader with the Detroit Lions, which he admitted Wednesday is an area in which he must evolve. Suh also has developed a label around the league as a "dirty" player. He has been fined or suspended in each of five seasons of his NFL career. Most recently, he was fined $70,000 for stepping on Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Being a leader in Miami includes cleaning up his play -- especially when the Dolphins are making Suh their highest-paid player. Suh believes he was "misunderstood," which is a word he used twice during his news conference.

"I think for me being misunderstood is kind of related to people having their own opinion and kind of sticking to that rather than getting to know me like these gentlemen [Dolphins leadership] have," Suh said. "They've done their research and really seen the kind of person I am. Like [Dolphins owner] Mr. [Stephen] Ross spoke, people make mistakes and they grow and get better and become better human beings at the end of the day."

I had a good chat Wednesday with Suh's father, Michael, who said candidly his son "is not a monster" and people in South Florida will get to know the real Ndamukong Suh. He's done a lot of charity work in Detroit and for the University of Nebraska, his alma mater. But Suh's on-field incidents earned the most publicity over the years.

"It's just a label that some people just don't know how to let go," Michael Suh said. "Go meet him on the street, talk to him and see what kind of person he is."

The Dolphins already have several good pieces in place. They have three Pro Bowl players in Cameron Wake, Brent Grimes and Mike Pouncey and a young quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, who threw for 4,045 yards.

As long as Suh lives up to his end of the bargain -- and past performance strongly suggests he will -- the Dolphins could be on the verge of building a strong franchise.

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