One of the more surprising final cuts announced around the NFL before the start of the regular season was former Dolphins starting safety Chris Clemons, who was cut by the Houston Texans just months after signing a 2-year deal. The events leading up to Clemons being cut were already covered in a previous article. In that article, I advocated that the Dolphins seriously consider re-signing Clemons given the unexpected suspension of starting safety Reshad Jones, the somewhat shaky play of Jimmy Wilson at safety in preseason, and the fact that Clemons' asking price would be low due to his situation.
When a player finds himself unemployed in late August, he's in trouble because most teams have chosen their starters for the upcoming season and wouldn't want to take the time to "train" a veteran Clemons to learn a new system unless they suffer injuries. Clemons' goal is to start as many games as he can and play well because he needs to build up his appeal as a free agent so he can find a new long term deal. With Clemons having spent 2 years in Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle's system, there would be no training necessary for him to step in if he re-signed with the Dolphins, and Jones' suspension opened up a natural starting spot for Clemons (at least for the next 4 games).
Well, apparently Dennis Hickey had similar thoughts. As Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reports,
### The Dolphins made an inquiry, but not an offer, to former starting safety Chris Clemons after he was released by Houston on Sunday. They could revisit the idea of signing him if they feel they need to upgrade in the coming weeks.
There are 2 reasonable justifications for why Hickey would choose to wait before making Clemons an offer.
First, the Dolphins genuinely believe Wilson can be a pretty good starting safety. Wilson had been receiving practice reps at safety the past couple of seasons, so they think he's ready now to step into a starting role. It's possible the Dolphins don't need additional safety depth.
Second, there's a financial motivation behind the delay. Nothing about NFL contracts is straightforward, but to put it simply, even "non-guaranteed" salary for the upcoming season becomes fully guaranteed if a player is a veteran who is signed before the first regular season game and remains on the 53-man roster at the start of the regular season. By contrast, if a veteran is signed after the first regular season game, his non-guaranteed salary for the upcoming season only becomes partially guaranteed on a weekly basis, meaning he earns an additional 1/16 of his annual salary after each game. As I wrote previously:
If the Dolphins wait until after the 1st regular season game to sign Clemons, the Dolphins would only pay Clemons a weekly salary for however many weeks he's on the roster instead of his entire season salary. That way, once Jones comes back from his 4 week suspension, Clemons could be cut after receiving only 3 game paychecks if the coaches don't like the way Clemons is playing, if they feel Wilson is a better option, or if they feel that they don't need a veteran backup anymore.
So financially, the commitment to Clemons is minimized if the Dolphins wait to sign him. By waiting until Monday, the Dolphins can choose to keep him for 1 week, 3 weeks, or the whole year, and the less time he's on the roster, the less money he earns (and the less he counts against the salary cap).
Long story short, there's a lot at stake for Jimmy Wilson this game. This season is a "contract year" for Wilson because he will be hitting free agency in 2015, so his value as a free agent increases if he demonstrates starter potential. Meanwhile, Tom Brady is the best quarterback the Dolphins will face during Reshad Jones' 4-game suspension, and Brady has no shortage of targets that can attack the middle of the field this season with tight ends like Rob Gronkowski and Tim Wright, running backs like Shane Vereen, and wide receivers who can line up in the slot like Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola.
If Wilson plays well today, the Dolphins probably won't re-sign Clemons, and Wilson will likely earn 4 starts at safety this season to put on his résumé. If Wilson plays poorly today, it's likely the Dolphins front office will quickly sign Clemons to hold down the fort for at least 3 games until Jones comes back. From there, they can decide whether Clemons' value as "insurance" in case Jones or Louis Delmas become injured outweighs his weekly salary.
Expect Wilson to do his best to prove he's a starter today because in addition to helping the Dolphins win, a good game for Wilson could lead to a bigger contract this upcoming offseason.