AFC East: Miami Dolphins
“We are excited that we have reached an agreement with Jason to keep him with the Miami Dolphins,” Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey said in a statement. “He was a very positive addition for us last season, both on the field and in the community.”
Fox currently is projected to be Miami's third offensive tackle behind starters Branden Albert and Ja'Wuan James.
But Thursday's news of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots not picking up defensive tackle Vince Wilfork's option for 2015 is an interesting curveball. Wilfork will become a free agent on Monday and is a significant addition to the market at defensive tackle, which is one of Miami's biggest needs.
Could Wilfork fit with the Dolphins? He is certainly a more cost-effective option than Suh.
Wilfork, 33, is no longer in the prime of his career and can be signed on a short-term contract. The market for Wilfork will not be nearly as busy at Suh's market. An educated guess is Wilfork could garner a two- or three-year contract ranging about $5-$7 million per season. Suh will require double or even triple the annual salary and a longer-term deal.
Wilfork also is a Boynton Beach, Florida native and played his college football for the Miami Hurricanes. He knows South Florida well, and the Dolphins could provide an opportunity for Wilfork to finish his career at home. Another good selling point is Wilfork spent his entire career in the AFC East with the Patriots and knows the division well. He recorded 47 tackles for the reigning Super Bowl champions last season and still has something left in the tank.
However, there are questions about this scenario. After winning two Super Bowls in New England, does he want to play for a mediocre team like the Dolphins at the tail end of his career? Miami went 8-8 the past two seasons, and there is a huge gap between the Dolphins and Patriots. Wilfork said in the past that he does not like the rival Dolphins. There’s also the possibility that Wilfork can return to New England at a discounted rate.
The Dolphins were 24th against the run last season and need help at defensive tackle. Suh clearly is the top of the market and where Miami could start in free agency. But Wilfork would not be a bad fallback option in free agency.
According to ESPN's Josina Anderson, the Miami Dolphins are among several teams interested in Spiller. Miami is searching for another tailback to pair with starter Lamar Miller, who rushed for 1,099 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
Is Spiller a good fit for Miami? My reaction is mixed.
Spiller's skills and running style works well with the quick-hitting offense Miami wants under second-year offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. Spiller is a home run hitter who has averaged 5.0 yards per carry over his five-year career in Buffalo. The Dolphins like to spread the field with three- and four-receiver sets to create running lanes for quicker running backs. Spiller makes sense for those reasons.
But on the other hand, Spiller and Miller are similar players and Spiller is less durable. He's missed eight games the past two seasons due to injuries, and although the market for running backs isn't great, Spiller wants to be well compensated in free agency. The Dolphins have too many larger needs (linebacker, defensive tackle, safety, guard, cornerback) to overspend for a backup running back.
The Dolphins are better off finding a running back with power that is much cheaper in the NFL draft. This is a deep position this year with good talent in the second, third and maybe fourth rounds.
Spiller is a dynamic talent when healthy and should help a team next season. But the Dolphins shouldn't press and overspend to sign another Lamar Miller clone.
Pending free agent and Pro Bowler Ndamukong Suh is set to hit the market next week as the most dominant defensive lineman available.
Are the two sides a match?
“When you’re talking about state taxes and you’re in Tennessee, Texas or Florida and you’ve got that up your sleeve, any one of those teams has a real shot,” Dominik said, according to the Palm Beach Post.
Although I agree the absence of state taxes is an advantage, the bigger question is whether the Dolphins can afford to pay for a big-ticket item like Suh. He is expected to garner a contract in the range of $100 million or more.
It is doubtful that the Dolphins dish out a $100 million contract to land Suh. Miami spent the past three days clearing about $13.5 million in cap room by releasing veterans Cortland Finnegan, Brian Hartline, Brandon Gibson and Nate Garner. There will be more cuts, but it’s highly unlikely this is to set up a megadeal to get Suh to Miami. The Dolphins were big spenders in free agency the past two years, and this is the offseason the team is expected to take it easy and focus primarily on the draft.
If the Dolphins spend $100 million on one player this offseason, it would be starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill, not Suh.
These are all players who started at cornerback opposite Pro Bowler Brent Grimes in the past two seasons.
The Dolphins continued their roster purge Monday by releasing Finnegan, who signed a two-year, $11 million contract last season. The move makes sense from the standpoint it saves the team $5.475 million in cap space to pursue free agents. Finnegan also started 12 games and was up and down last season.
Miami needs to find a stable, No. 2 cornerback this offseason via free agency or the draft. Grimes is one of the top cornerbacks in football, but teams will continue to test the other side until the Dolphins find a long-term solution. Miami was sixth in pass defense last season but struggled at times in key moments, especially against top quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning.
The solution could come from using a first-round draft pick. The Dolphins own the No. 14 overall pick and have a shot at top-rated cornerback prospects Trae Waynes of Michigan State and Kevin Johnson of Wake Forest. In fact, ESPN draft expert Todd McShay projected Johnson to Miami in his latest mock draft.
The Dolphins also could look to free agency, where expensive players such as Byron Maxwell, Kareem Jackson and Antonio Cromartie are available. Another option is to stay in house with Taylor or Will Davis, who were second- and third-round picks in 2013, respectively. This will be a challenging decision for Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey and new vice president Mike Tannenbaum.
But what the Dolphins cannot do is sign another one-year band-aid at cornerback. The goal for Miami this offseason should be to avoid searching for a fourth starting cornerback in four years in 2016.
Although not surprising, the most interesting Dolphins developments during my vacation last week were cutting veteran receivers Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson. The two moves will save Miami more than $6.5 million in cap space to pursue other free agents. It is just the beginning of several roster cuts the Dolphins expect to make in the next few weeks.
Hartline and Gibson combined for 68 receptions, 796 yards and three touchdowns last season. But their projected salaries didn’t match their production.
So who is next to go in Miami? Here are five candidates to keep an eye on:
2014 stats: Two tackles
2015 cap number: $9.85 million
2015 salary: $8.45 million
Analysis: I do not see any way Ellerbe survives this offseason's roster purge. The Dolphins need cap room, and releasing Ellerbe would provide plenty of it. The team can save more than $8 million by making this cut. Ellerbe played in just one game last season before suffering a season-ending hip injury. In addition, former backup Jelani Jenkins stepped in and led the Dolphins in tackles. Miami can sign two solid players for Ellerbe’s $8.45 million salary next season.
2014 stats: 44 tackles
2015 cap number: $6.475 million
2015 salary: $5.475 million
Analysis: Although I liked a lot of what Finnegan brought to Miami last season, it just doesn’t make financial sense for the team to keep him at this high a salary. It’s doubtful the Dolphins, who need to slash salary, would continue to pay Finnegan starter money next season. A possible compromise would be for Miami to ask Finnegan to take a pay cut to stay on board. If not, it’s time to turn the page and allow younger corners such as Jamar Taylor and Will Davis more opportunities to step into a bigger role opposite Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes.
2014 stats: 45 tackles
2015 cap number: $4.4 million
2015 salary: $3 million
Analysis: Wheeler had another poor season with the Dolphins last year. Wheeler struggled defending the pass and stopping the run and has not lived up to the $26 million contract he signed in 2013. This may be the year Miami cuts the cord with Wheeler and admits its mistake. He is not a good fit for Miami’s defense.
2014 stats: 10 games
2015 cap number: $1.816 million
2015 salary: $1.65 million
Analysis: Garner is a survivor and has been a valuable backup in Miami for years. He is versatile and can play all five positions on the offensive line, which is rare. However, Garner suffered injuries last season and his $1.65 million salary may be a little too rich for the Dolphins at this stage. The Dolphins can find cheaper ways to build depth on the offensive line via the draft.
2014 stats: 28 tackles, 4.5 sacks
2015 cap number: $6 million
2015 salary: $5 million
Analysis: Releasing Starks is not an easy decision for Miami. He’s been stout and reliable for a long time. However, Starks finally showed signs of wearing down in the second half of last season. He was one of several problems with Miami’s run defense down the stretch. Can the Dolphins pay Starks $5 million this upcoming season? The bigger question is, can Miami find a better starting defensive tackle for $5 million or less? Tough call.
"I'm not going to comment on any contact or communication with representation," Hickey said. "But we do have an open line of communication with all of our players and their representation."
Would the Dolphins really be comfortable giving Tannehill that rich of a deal?
"We feel really good about Ryan," Hickey said Wednesday. "Obviously the market for quarterbacks in this era, the market is what it is. But we're really excited about the development that he made from Year 2 to Year 3 and that trajectory that he has.
"With learning the new offense and working through that, and the growth that he made throughout the season, we're excited about his future as our quarterback."
This offseason, Hickey is just one voice in a room that also includes executive vice presidents Mike Tannenbaum and Dawn Aponte, as well as coach Joe Philbin and owner Stephen Ross.
"The good thing is, we all have the same philosophy of we're about winning, and what does it take to get there?" Hickey said. "With our group, it's been a relationship of, hey, we all come from different experiences and we all bring something different to the table.
"So let's get in, let's collaborate, let's talk with the coaches, let's go back and watch the film. If we disagree on a certain aspect of a player, let's go back to the film, let's talk through this. It's worked well together."
Speaking Wednesday at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey offered little update to Wallace's situation.
"Again, we're further along in the process than we were a month ago as we talked at the Senior Bowl. But we're still working on it. We judge each decision, each player on an individual basis. The goal is to make the best decision for the Miami Dolphins."
The Miami Herald reported earlier this month that Hickey recently met with Wallace about the receiver's future.
"We had a good conversation," Hickey said Wednesday. "Again, we have an open line of communication. We always feel like we have an open door for all of our players -- whether it be from the coaching staff, myself, always keeping that open line of communication."
Hickey was also asked about Wallace's reported frustrations with his role last season.
"For all of us, as the season unfolded and late in the year, we were all frustrated about how the season ended," Hickey said. "That's what we're focused on now: addressing, confronting the reality of where we're at, and how do we get to where we want to be.
"That's what we spent the last five or six weeks looking at hard and talking through and working together in a collaborative fashion to try to work through that, because the goal is to be better."
Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey reportedly met with Wallace recently to discuss their options. Nothing is off limits for either party, including the possibility for a trade, which would help the Dolphins with cap space and to get something in return.
If Miami ultimately decides to go that route, here are three potential trade partners:
Analysis: We saw during the playoffs that Seattle's biggest weakness is wide receiver. It's the reason the two-time NFC champions acquired Percy Harvin in 2013, although that move didn't work. Wallace is a deep threat with elite speed. He would take the pressure off quarterback Russell Wilson, who throws a much better deep ball than Ryan Tannehill. Wallace also would prevent opponents from putting eight in the box against Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch. It's a great fit for both sides. Wallace fills one of Seattle's few holes and gets to compete for championships, which is what he did early in his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Fit rating (10 being the best): 9
Analysis: The Colts are on the cusp of being a championship contender. They need a little more talent, and Wallace could be one of those additions to help Indianapolis get over the hump. Wallace has had big games at Lucas Oil Stadium. He loves the fast track and can do a lot of damage playing in a dome with Colts quarterback Andrew Luck eight times a season. Indianapolis is not afraid to make bold trades. The Colts recently acquired former first-round picks Vontae Davis and Trent Richardson the past few seasons. Some will work out and some won't. But the Colts are usually aggressive in their pursuit of players.
Fit rating: 9
New Orleans Saints
Analysis: Wallace is a Louisiana native. He would have no issues playing for his home team, which also plays in a dome and has an elite quarterback in Drew Brees. New Orleans' offense would be a dynamic fit for a talent like Wallace. But the biggest issue is the Saints' salary-cap situation is not very good. It's tough to see New Orleans creating the type of room necessary to take on Wallace's $9.9 million salary in a trade. Wallace returning home is more feasible if he's released and free to negotiate a more cost-effective contract.
Fit rating: 7
The Dolphins have several options. But according to Andrew Healy of Football Outsiders , the team should trade Wallace to a receiver-needy team. Healy writes the Dolphins could get a mid-round draft pick and cites a title contender such as the Seattle Seahawks as a possible landing spot.
Is this the best course of action? The Dolphins could save a lot of cap room by trading Wallace, as opposed to releasing him. But a mid-round pick isn't close to the value of the player.
Wallace is arguably the most dangerous deep threat in the NFL. The problem is the Dolphins are not using him properly, partially due to scheme and partially due to quarterback Ryan Tannehill's inability to throw a consistent deep ball. Plus, it will be difficult for Miami to find another No. 1 receiver to replace Wallace's production. He led the team with 862 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.
Trading Wallace would simply be a move to get rid of salary. The Dolphins do need the cap room. But in a must-win year for both head coach Joe Philbin and Hickey, it is in the team's best interest not to dump talent while getting little in return.
With that said, let's do a periodic mock draft updating fans on the Miami Dolphins' top targets with the No. 14 overall pick.
Things will change periodically throughout the scouting process. But here is my latest Dolphins' mock:
No. 1: LB Shaq Thompson
Stats: 78 tackles, 4.5 sacks, four interceptions
Analysis: Thompson remains my leading candidate for Miami with the No. 14 pick. Significant changes are coming at linebacker, as the team is not expected to keep high-priced veterans Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler. Thompson would add youth and much-needed playmaking ability to Miami's linebacker corps. Thompson was so athletic that he also took carries at running back. Jelani Jenkins, who led Miami with 110 tackles, and Thompson would be a nice pair to build around.
No. 2: WR Kevin White
School: West Virginia
Stats: 109 receptions, 1,447 yards, 10 touchdowns
Analysis: The Dolphins were fine at wide receiver last season. However, changes could be coming over the next several weeks where this becomes a position of need. The immediate futures of starters Brian Hartline and Mike Wallace both remain up in the air. Hartline, who under-produced in Miami's new offense, is due $5.95 million. Wallace, who was benched in the second half of Week 17 following a verbal altercation, is due $9.9 million in 2015. Expensive backup Brandon Gibson ($3.26 million) also could be on the chopping block this offseason. These potential moves could push a young receiver like White at the top of the list in the first round. The Dolphins need playmakers around budding quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who is still developing. White has good size and his production was off the charts. He could be a complement to Jarvis Landry, who does most of his damage underneath.
No. 3: WR Devante Parker
Stats: 43 receptions, 855 yards, five touchdowns
Analysis: Choosing between White and Parker at this stage is really a matter of preference. Both are projected top-15 picks. Currently, I have White slightly ahead due to the difference in college production, which is something the Dolphins often value. But Parker has most of the tools that would fit in Bill Lazor's offense. He's big, tough and has good ball skills. However, Parker lacks the elite, top-end speed on tape. His 40-yard dash will be important at the NFL combine later this month.
No. 4: DT Danny Shelton
Stats: 88 tackles, 9.0 sacks
Analysis: Shelton was No. 2 on my mock draft list a month ago. The main reason why he's falling is because Shelton was so impressive at the Senior Bowl that there's doubt he falls to No. 14. In fact, Shelton has a good chance to go in the top 10. There aren't many players like Shelton in this draft. He's a natural run stuffer who is hard to move. Shelton also has surprisingly nimble feet. If Shelton happens to be available at No. 14 -- and that's a big if -- the Dolphins should not hesitate with this pick.
Hyde also reports the contract would be guaranteed for two years and the team would have an out clause before the third season. This layout is similar to what the Cincinnati Bengals did last season with Andy Dalton, who signed a six-year, $115 million contract.
Here is the big question: Is Tannehill a $100-plus million quarterback? There are two ways to answer this question, and a strong case can be made either way.
Tannehill’s critics say absolutely not. He is 23-25 as a starter and has yet to lead the Dolphins to the playoffs or have a winning season. Football is a team sport, so it’s not all on him. However, elite franchise quarterbacks elevate the play of those around them, and Tannehill has not yet proven he can do that. Tannehill also struggles mightily to throw the deep ball, which is a weakness that may not be fixable. With a long-term contract, the Dolphins are essentially committing to a short and intermediate passing game that doesn’t attack opponents deep.
In contrast, Tannehill supporters make a case that he is worth $100-plus million simply because that is what the market dictates. Quarterbacks play the glamour position and get paid handsomely for it. Tannehill also is coming off a career year where he threw for 4,045 yards, 27 touchdowns and had a 92.8 passer rating. If quarterbacks such as Dalton (83.5 rating), Jay Cutler (88.6), Colin Kaepernick (86.4) and Matthew Stafford (85.7) all recently signed $100-plus million extensions, why not Tannehill?
Is Tannehill a top-10 quarterback? No. But neither are these aforementioned $100-million quarterbacks in his peer group. The market may be overblown, but that is something the Dolphins can’t control.
What the Dolphins can control is their options and, ultimately, their decision. The team can work out an extension, use its fifth-year option for $15 million in 2016, or roll the dice and let Tannehill play out the final year of his rookie contract.
If I’m the Dolphins, I would take advantage of the fifth-year option. It would keep Tannehill in the fold for two more years for approximately $17 million. After that point, the Dolphins should definitely know if Tannehill is a franchise quarterback.
The Dolphins must get this quarterback decision right for the long-term health of the franchise.
Soon after the signing became official, I took to Twitter to see how Dolphins fans feel about Incognito joining the Bills. The reaction was mixed.
Here is a sample:
@JamesWalkerNFL the circus has moved to buffalo! Hopefully we have a quiet productive off season/draft and get to 10-11 wins!— Mike Fikaris (@fikaris) February 8, 2015
@JamesWalkerNFL Glad he's playing again but doesn't worry me.He was average at best.Ppl that wanted him back in Mia don't understand schemes— Joey Philbs (@TheDolphinJoe) February 8, 2015
@JamesWalkerNFL Hate that he is now on a rival, but glad to see him back in the NFL— Bobby Krause (@SportsFan_13) February 7, 2015
@JamesWalkerNFL I thought we should have brought him back last season. Whole thing was way over blown— joe grauso (@warriorboss2) February 8, 2015
@JamesWalkerNFL He should still be a Phin if not for our horrific 2013 front office. Best of luck to him he was screwed by our team.— Sgt.FinzFan (@FinsFanIn813) February 7, 2015
@JamesWalkerNFL Ryan will get the "Probowl" Ritchie. He's going to love playing for Rex.— Jerry Bracco (@JerryBracco) February 8, 2015
That also means it’s officially mock draft season where dozens of projections will be made over the next several months. This week ESPN draft expert Todd McShay provided his second offering, and he has an interesting selection for the Miami Dolphins at No. 14.
McShay's Dolphins pick: CB Trae Waynes
School: Michigan State
2014 stats: 43 tackles, three interceptions, one sack
Analysis: I am a bit surprised by McShay's projection for Miami. This is not a knock on Waynes, who is the No. 2-rated cornerback in the draft by Scouts Inc. However, corner is not nearly as big a need as positions such as linebacker, defensive tackle, guard and safety. The Dolphins have one Pro Bowler at cornerback in Brent Grimes. The opposite cornerback position is open. But Miami has decent in-house candidates such as Jamar Taylor, a 2013 second-round pick, and Will Davis, a 2013 third-round pick. Taking a cornerback in the first round is essentially giving up on the Dolphins' two young corners, while also passing on filling bigger needs. I would be surprised if Miami goes this route. The team is better off coaching up Taylor and Davis for another year with the hopes that at least one of those players develops and emerges as a starter.
Here are Miami's options:
- Tannehill is entering the final season of his four-year rookie contract in 2015. However, the Dolphins have a fifth-year, team option for 2016 worth approximately $15 million with a May deadline. That is a lot of money for one season. But using the option, in addition to Tannehill’s affordable salary of $2.117 million, would keep the quarterback in the fold for two more seasons at about $17 million. The Dolphins could view it as paying their starting quarterback about $8.5 million per season over the next two years. That way, it doesn’t appear to be as risky an investment.
- The Dolphins also could work out a long-term contract extension with Tannehill this offseason that would make him Miami’s starting quarterback for the foreseeable future. That would include multiple years and it won’t come cheap. Quarterbacks such as Jay Cutler ($126 million), Colin Kaepernick ($126 million) and Andy Dalton ($115 million) all received huge extensions. A case can be made that Tannehill is now in that class coming off a career year where he threw for 4,045 yards, 27 touchdowns and a 92.8 passer rating. If Dalton can get $100 million, so can Tannehill. That’s how inflated the quarterback market is right now. But also keep in mind that these contracts include performance bonuses and clauses that make the final number higher than it truly is.
- Finally, the Dolphins can roll the dice and wait it out with Tannehill. This seems like the least likely scenario. But if Miami isn’t convinced it wants Tannehill to be its starter beyond 2015 -- and there has been no indication that is the case -- the team can let him play out the final year of his contract and risk him becoming an unrestricted free agent next year. The Baltimore Ravens did that with their former first-round quarterback in Joe Flacco and paid dearly for it. Flacco won the Super Bowl in a contract year and Baltimore was forced to make Flacco the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL at the time when it could have signed him for less the summer prior. Tannehill doesn’t appear close to leading the Dolphins to a Super Bowl championship. But they like him enough to not run that risk.
So which option will Miami take? I’m expecting the fifth-year option for Tannehill.
Sure, the $15 million price tag for 2016 is a bit scary. But the team should focus on the $17 million investment over two seasons, which makes it look less daunting.
The Dolphins think Tannehill can develop into a legit franchise quarterback who can consistently lead the team to the playoffs. But he has yet to prove it. Miami should know for sure by 2016 if Tannehill is worth the mega extension other quarterbacks like Cutler and Dalton received prematurely.