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Cap-onomics: Breaking Down the Dolphins’ Offensive Salary Cap Situation

While many predicted a salary cap crisis after a spree of large contracts in 2015, the team's outlook is not as bleak as many expected it to be. There is not much room for the team to work with on defense, but there are plenty of simple approaches to help stabilize the offense.

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The NFL has the most restrictive salary cap of the three major sports leagues in America. The NBA features a luxury tax for teams that go over the limit, and the MLB does not even have a limit in place at all.

In the NFL, you simply do not go over the limit. Do. Not. Go. Over. The. Limit.

Franchises spend months crunching numbers, negotiating contracts, and weighing different scenarios all based on the salary cap. The number determines what a team can or cannot do during an offseason, and has a huge impact on how the front office in a particular city will go about filing the holes on a roster.

For the Miami Dolphins, many felt that the team would find themselves in a deep hole heading into 2016. After giving large contracts in 2015 to Ndamukong Suh, Ryan Tannehill, and Mike Pouncey, this seemed like a reasonable assumption. However, the team is actually in much better shape than many had expected.

When breaking down the salary cap for Miami, there are clear places that the team can trim fat on both sides of the ball. On offense, there are some veteran players, as well as some younger players, whose restructuring could make a world of difference as the team attempts to resign key players, and add more talent to a depleted unit.

The Biggest Hits:

Ryan Tannehill will be the second biggest cap hit on the team (after Suh), coming in at a reasonable $11,640,000. After Tannehill comes Branden Albert ($10,150,000), followed on offense by Mike Pouncey ($10,025,000) and Jordan Cameron ($9,500,000).

It seems counter intuitive, but the Miami Dolphins’ offensive line is one of their most expensive units. Branden Albert and Mike Pouncey are both generously compensated.

There are not very many expensive contracts on that side of the ball; after Tannehill, Albert, Pouncey, and Cameron, the group is fairly affordable.

The Best Bargains:

The Miami Dolphins have the luxury of playing with their three top receivers on rookie contracts. DeVante Parker costs them just over $2 million, with Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills coming in under $1 million. Along with a recent string of expensive contracts for pass catchers in the NFL, the Dolphins are very lucky that they have a talented and cheap set of players at the position.

Jay Ajayi and Damien Williams are also cheap players for the team. Each of these plays is accounting for close to $600,000 of salary cap. This is a very solid price to pay for depth ball carriers, and a very good price for Ajayi, who could step into a larger role in 2016.

Moves to Clear Cap Space:

Cut Greg Jennings:

The Miami Dolphins have very few places to trim fat on the offensive side of the ball.

The most notable cut they could make would be Greg Jennings. Jennings is set to earn $5,500,000 against the salary cap. This is a very high figure, considering his lack of impact and his advanced age. While Jennings is known to be a positive presence in the locker room, his salary cap number could simply be too high for Miami to justify keeping him around. The dead money would only be $1,500,000, so it seems likely that Jennings will not be wearing a Dolphins uniform in 2016.

Cut/Restructure Jordan Cameron:

Cameron’s lack of production was a disappointment for Dolphins’ fans in 2015. He was supposed to become Ryan Tannehill’s frequently utilized weapon, but did not develop as such.

At the end of the season it seemed very likely that the Dolphins would cut Cameron, as his contract was signed as a prove it deal with a huge $9,500,000 cap hit in 2016. That being said, it seemed unlikely that he would be retained.

However, that all changed when Adam Gase was signed as the head coach. Gase’s offense is tight end dependent, and he would be put in a very difficult position if he were forced to move forward with Dion Sims as his sole tight end.

Sims has consistently showed that he should remain primarily a blocking tight end, and that the team has too many needs going forward to bring in new players at the position this offseason.

The Miami Dolphins’ best bet will be to inquire about a restructuring of Cameron’s deal. If Jordan Cameron is willing to stay with the Miami Dolphins on a different contract, it could clear plenty of cap space that the team could use towards the improvement of other areas.

If Jordan Cameron refuses to restructure, and insists on remaining with the current terms of his contract, which would cost Miami over $9 million against the salary cap, then things will get interesting. That would truly show us how much Adam Gase values the presence of a dynamic tight end.

Miami’s Offseason Goals On Offense:

The Dolphins have two major items on the agenda that will have to be prioritized if they are going to succeed in 2016. The first is to rebuild the interior offensive line which, most likely by signing at least one veteran, is established option at guard. The next is to resign Lamar Miller.

Unfortunately, Miami’s defensive list of needs is so long that it really prohibits them from being able to shake up the offense. In a perfect world, they would be able to cut Jordan Cameron, save the money, and replace him with a younger option. The team would also have to worry much less about Lamar Miller’s contract, as they could simply replace him. However, we are not living in this world.

The Dolphins find themselves needing linebackers, cornerbacks, and defensive linemen. This limits what they will be able to do with their draft picks and cap space on offense. So, the best thing for Miami’s offense is to help maximize the resources that can be used on the defense.

The goal for Miami’s front office will be to create cap space to sign a veteran guard, possibly through a restructuring of Jordan Cameron’s deal. It will also be crucial that they make a strong push to bring back Lamar Miller.

If the team can accomplish both of those objectives, and bring in some young depth in the draft, then it will leave plenty of resources to help retool the defense.

The Skinny:

The Dolphins’ defense is going to be a major handicap for the offense during the offseason.

The team really just needs to do three things on offense before the season. First, they need to restructure Jordan Cameron’s deal. Then, they need to bring in veteran offensive linemen, and guards for depth. The third element of their plan, and possibly the most important, will be to resign Lamar Miller.

If the Miami Dolphins can check off those three tasks as completed, it will leave them plenty of room to improve the defense using their remaining cap space and draft picks.

The offense is not as far off as most believe, and if the team can get Adam Gase some solid offensive linemen, retain their tight end at a lower price, and bring back Lamar Miller to do the work out of the backfield required in Gase’s system, then that unit should be in good shape for the 2016 season.

Later this week, Cap-onomics Defensive Edition will be released. Hint: it’s not going to be as easy as the team’s plans for the offensive side of the ball.