Sometimes we have to take a circuitous route to get where we need to go. Miami Dolphins defensive end Olivier Vernon, who was assigned the transition, and not the franchise tag, this week, has almost certainly played his final game in a Dolphins uniform.
The odds on destination for Vernon, at this juncture, if we look at teams with a need at defensive end who also have available cap space, would appear to be Oakland, Jacksonville or East Rutherford, New Jersey (Giants), although other teams could certainly enter the fray as the stakes of this year's free agency process begins in earnest.
As is the case with fellow UM alumnus Lamar Miller, Dolphin fans generally tend to have a soft spot for Vernon, due in no small part to his having played just a few miles from Sun Life Stadium during both his high school and collegiate careers.
Many of those fans are now venting their ire at the team's front office with gusto on some of the comment boards of South Florida's news outlets. Their argument seems to be that, like former Dolphins tight end Charles Clay, the team will lose out on Vernon after low-balling him in contract talks. As the Miami Herald's Armando Salguero pointed out, however, Clay's replacement last season, Jordan Cameron, had numbers relatively similar to what Clay had up in Buffalo; Clay had more receptions and yards, but both players scored the same number of touchdowns, while Cameron had a substantially lower drop rate than did Clay.
Turnover is a way of life in the National Football League; as players' contracts expire, teams must decide whether to resign them or bring in younger, cheaper replacements. Much has been made of Vernon only being twenty-five years old, but in four seasons, even with Cameron Wake lining up on the other side, Vernon notched double-digit sacks only once in his four years in Miami. Now, his departure from the team is a virtual certainty. Don't think for a moment that the team doesn't know that; they were well aware when they designated him as a transition player that he wouldn't be back.
So, what does that mean for the rest of this offseason? For one thing, it makes it much more likely that the team will select a defensive player in the first round of this year's draft, which, as we have noted before, has been a problem for the Dolphins. Miami has selected an offensive player in the first round of the draft eight times in the past eleven seasons. With Vernon all but assured of a new address this season, making it nine times in twelve years just got a little bit harder. If Mike Tannenbaum and new GM Chris Grier want to select Notre Dame offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley with the eighth overall pick seven weeks from now, God Bless them. If that happens, they will then have to field a defense that was the worst in the fifty-year history of the franchise against the pass last season, and they'll almost certainly be doing so without their starting right defensive end from a year ago.
The other less talked about ramification of Vernon not remaining on the team is that assuming Tannenbaum and Grier opt for a much less expensive replacement for Vernon, either through the draft or free agency, they will also likely have more room under the salary cap to pursue a veteran free agent guard or two. Several interior linemen have already been released by other teams, and you can be sure Miami is considering some of them as potential upgrades here.
Finally, if Vernon, as expected, leaves in free agency, Lamar Miller, the team's primary ball carrier the past few seasons, is much more likely to be retained, and new head coach Adam Gase is reportedly very high on Miller. If the team is going to favor offense over defense, in terms of the roster, it would appear to make more sense to do so with players up for free agency, rather than in the draft, since, even with Vernon, the defense has been subpar the past couple of seasons.