It's the first month of the off-season and so far I've spent my time like many of us have lately. My main hobbies are currently missing football and continually realizing how all the other sports are unable to truly satisfy my appetite. So like many here, I've been spending my recent time doing the usual; this includes looking into the combine and draft prospects, figuring out how Miami can keep it's top free agents, deciding which free agents we should bring in from other teams, and predicting every scenario in my head in which Miami can finally leapfrog the Patriots and win the division once and for all.
But, a strange thing happened recently... I caught myself in a state of deja vu. Isn't this the same thing that I do every year? And hasn't it felt like the Dolphins really haven't been good every year? I started to think deeper (Editor's Note: this usually ends up in personal injury). When was the last time you could say that Miami truly rebuilt? Would you say it was 2009, when they drafted a LT 1st overall and signed a 32 year old QB to be the starting QB? That season we did what the this year's New York Jets did, which was have some short term success (except we made the playoffs!) quite possibly at the expense of the future. Unfortunately for us, 2009 was the last time Miami has tasted the postseason.
I tried to imagine what would happen if Miami started fresh with our new coaching staff and forfeited our usual off-season title of "Kings of Free Agency", and instead focused on trying to win in December and January instead of in April? I'm going to take you on a five part series, the Turtle Approach, on how I believe Miami can start a mentality that is built on winning and success rather than tears and disappointment. You might call it a rebuild. You might be right. Either way, many of these concepts may not be popular, or even in line with my usual line of thought in the off-season, but I think that unless we start recognizing the issues and trying to learn from them that we're in jeopardy of repeating the definition of insanity.
As we stand today, we have a 6-10 team with a limited salary cap in a competitive division. This might be the year where we take a step back and finally accept the fact that we may not be ready to take down the Patriots in the division. I'm not advocating to 'throw the 2016 season in the trash" by any means, I just mean let's take a look at the current team, try to take off our teal colored glasses and curb our short term expectations a bit. The first step for us Dolphins fans is to admit that there is a problem. Consider this the first day of our substance abuse therapy, where the substance is making unrealistic goals and excuses for our team.
"Hi, I'm Brian.... And I am a Dolphins Fan." (Hi, Brian!)
I give you the Turtle Approach, a bold new outlook on how to approach the NFL offseason. We will look at the following parts of the off-season checklist and I will be addressing each item on a daily basis:
The Turtle Approach
- Re-signing Dolphins Free Agents
- Roster Management of Current Depth Chart
- Addressing Free Agency
- Tackling the NFL Draft
- Looking ahead to 2017 and Beyond
So buckle up and at least wait to the end before you demand a refund.
Don't Lose Sleep Re-Signing Dolphins Free Agents
Ok, so the first step is we want to cut Ryan Tannehill and release Jarvis Landry and Reshad Jones.... Ok, just kidding. Just making sure you're with me!
First of all... let's look at the free agent list; It's time to admit the 2016 NFL free agents are kind of weak this year. There are no Ndamukong Suh's this year (we already signed him, remember?). Guys like Von Miller and Josh Norman are right up there but we all know that they aren't going anywhere. In fact, of the top 25 free agents, I don't see more than 10 guys hitting the open market, and that's being conservative. That will only benefit teams with plenty of money to spend, Miami not currently being one of them.
To make things easier, let's look at the Dolphins free agents in two groups: Miller and Vernon & everybody else.
I think Miami needs to play it cool with both of these guys, meaning as sad as it would be to lose two twenty-something players in their prime that were drafted right down the street.... it really isn't the end of the world if Miami ends up with neither in 2016. I've said it countless times but I just don't see Vernon being re-signed by Miami for a handful of reasons. To sum it up, he's been respectable here in Miami but has never been the game-changer of a Cameron Wake caliber player (frankly, not even close). Although it would sting to lose a young pass-rusher, it would be wise for him to try and hit the open market and get as much money as possible. Hell, I would!
Additionally, I saw this article, which stated that Miami may be looking to franchise tag and THEN trade Vernon. This move doesn't have a high success rate in the NFL, but would be a best case scenario for the Dolphins, as they would not only not have to pay Vernon an inflated amount to keep him, but would also receive compensation from another team. Yes, another team would have to give up a player or pick to get his rights, but then they could negotiate a contract on their terms, without a handful of other teams trying to vulture in and drive up his price. Vernon would end up getting paid regardless, so it really doesn't affect him either way. If Miami could pull this off, even for a mid-to-late round draft pick, it would be a hell of a move to pull off. Either way, I fully expect Olivier Vernon to be making a TON of money next season, and not for the Dolphins.
Between you and I, I would really want to sign Lamar Miller, who I believe has done his part to get better every year only to be under appreciated and under utilized under our previous
circus act coaching staff. That being said, Miller will likely be in the same boat as Vernon, even more so considering the shelf life of a running back, so he will also likely be looking to take the money and run (20 times+ per game, his words, not mine). I think the chance of Miller being on this team in August is a coin flip, and as much as I'd like Miami and Miller to agree on a fair offer, I keep reminding myself that losing him won't be the end of the world. One, it gives more opportunities to Jay Ajayi, and two, because it gives Miami the possibility to grab the best RB prospect in the country in 2017 (teaser alert, keep reading the series).
Rishard Mathews is in a similar scenario, and has done everything he has been asked (and more) despite not getting many opportunities to shine throughout his career. While keeping homegrown talent like Miller and Mathews was my original plan to make a top priority, I think Miami should be firm on their offers and also not afraid to trim fat in a big way. Remember, this isn't a 9-7 football team on the cusp of being an AFC powerhouse, atleast not yet. Also, if for some reason Miami misses out on all their big names, then they will be awarded compensatory picks, which only helps to accumulate young, cheap players and build the team primarily through the NFL Draft.
If I were in charge of the Dolphins I would make an offer to Miller and try and persuade him that we want him to be the back to build around and would love for him to re-sign him to have a major role of the offense. I'd offer something like 4 years for $28 million and structure it so that it's front-loaded. If he takes it, great, but I'd stick to my guns for the most part; Miami has a promising back in Ajayi that is on a cheap contract and is a great bargaining chip in contract negotiations. As for Vernon, I would franchise tag him if possible, only to trade him away to another team. Like Miller, I'd offer Mathews a team-friendly contract but it would definitely be in his best interest to leave, so I'd let him. I'd re-sign young guys like Shelby and Stoneburner for depth and let everyone else walk.
Now Miami is left with a ton of holes (still) and looking to address some free agent pickups. We will look at those options in the next series...