When we left off a few days ago I introduced you to the idea of the Turtle Approach, a bold new outlook on how I'd like Miami to approach this offseason. We already looked at what I'd like to see happen with our current free agents. Today I'd like to look deeper at the state of our current roster and what changes we should make to it.
The Turtle Approach
- Re-signing Dolphins Free Agents (click link to read)
- Roster Management of Current Depth Chart
- Addressing Free Agency
- Tackling the NFL Draft
- Looking ahead to 2017 and Beyond
Turning a New Leaf and Building for the Future with Coach Gase
Now that Coach Gase has inherited the pros and cons of this team, both him and our front office representatives Mike Tannenbaum and GM Chris Grier will be looking to something they can build upon. This will involve building upon young players (primarily through the draft) and parting ways with aging veterans that may not have a role in 2-3 years when Miami will be best poised to make a big run. You have to think that Tom Brady may only have 2-3 more years in the league and after that the division will most likely be completely up for grabs... can the Dolphins start planning ahead to be in the best position to take the reigns? I think so, but a few moves should be made sooner than later to show our commitment to the future.
As of today, Miami is $5.3 million OVER the Salary Cap but that includes the $12.3 million transition tag given to Olivier Vernon yesterday. Considering I expect another team to eventually sign him, that would leave Miami with $7.4 million in cap space. You can follow along with the following moves below and the flow of $$$ here.
Releasing Key Veterans
Guys like Greg Jennings and Earl Mitchell are as good as gone, which would save Miami a total of $6.5 million right out the bat. I would also release Dallas Thomas who has had ample time to show his
lack of skills and has been more of a liability than anything. Releasing him won't break the bank, but Miami will save $1.6 million there and they would still have young guards Jamil Douglas and Billy Turner to hopefully groom for a starting role. Hopefully.
Releasing Brent Grimes
Brent Grimes up to this season was my favorite Miami Dolphin. He's been scrappy, made highlight plays for this team in big moments and seemed to be the only anchor at cornerback for us. While I do believe many overreacted on his performance this season (he still did make the Pro Bowl), he did seem to end up on the tail end of many more touchdowns than we were used to seeing, which have made him appear more expendable than year's past (As Pot M so kindly pointed out). His new move this year seemed to be tripping over his own feet, which was a bold move and didn't really play out so well for him. Even so, as of now he's still the team's only capable cornerback and he's still a solid starter.
But as much as I love him as a player and appreciate his efforts, I think releasing him is the team's best option in the long run. He's 32 years old and even if he plays better this season and rebounds (which is a big IF), he'll be 33 next year and his chances aren't going to get any better to cover younger more physical receivers like Sammy Watkins and Brandon Marshall 2 times a year. Miami might as well go the rebuilding route and cut Grimes now so they can get more playing time opportunities for second-year player Tony Lippett and possibly look to this year's draft to get our next young stud cornerback. Releasing Grimes saves us $6.5 million in cap space for the 2016 season. While releasing a productive player is a risk, I think the pros outweigh the cons and fit in line with the overall goal of this team and offseason.
Ndamukong Suh's Contract, Let it Be
Initially, it seemed like a no-brainer to restructure Ndamukong Suh's contract and his massive $28 million salary cap hit that he is scheduled to absorb this year. It gives us free money this year to spend, and hey, who doesn't love free money! Except as we've all been told before... there really isn't such a thing as "free money". Yes, restructuring Suh would get Miami more flexibility this year, but it significantly hurts their options and salary cap down the line. If Miami is trying to re-build for the future then that seems extremely counter-productive. While I don't really see any scenario where Suh would be released within the next 3 years, re-structuring his contract will give us zero choice but to keep him until the end of his contract, where currently Miami has an option after 2017 with limited dead money in play. Max Himmelrich put a good article out that explains this in greater detail and agrees to leave his option alone this offseason. While 28 million is an astronomical hit, Miami can make minor moves and still be absolutely fine this offseason; they should bite the bullet and keep the contract as is, rather than jeopardize the future.
Cameron Wake - Stay or Go?
So judging by the theme of this article, it should be an easy decision on how I would deal with a 34-year-old player coming off a season-ending Achilles injury, right? Oddly enough, I'd consider Cameron Wake as the true exception in this scenario and mainly it has to do with his contribution to this team and franchise. While his $9.8 million dollar cap doesn't seem like a reasonable option to pay up, I'd make an offer to extend Cameron Wake's contract for a handful of reasons.
One, it shows the current players that although the NFL is a business, if you work hard enough then you will be rewarded. Even though the front office is a group of fresh faces, I believe it would be a wise (and honorable) move to offer a contract to Wake to finish his career as a Miami Dolphin which would practically enshrine him in the Miami Dolphins Ring of Honor. If there is one player on this roster that deserves it, it is Cameron Wake.
Which brings me to my second reason; if there was one 34-year-old player to rebound from an injury, it would be also Cameron Wake. We all know that on the field he brings one-of-a-kind game-changing abilities that we haven't seen since Jason Taylor retired (another reason why I value him in another class above Olivier Vernon). And despite his age, he's only played 7 NFL seasons and his conditioning and diet is in a class of its own. Obviously, Miami would wisely protect themselves in the contract language from injury, but I would look to restructure Wake's contract for around $6 million this season and re-sign him to a 3-year deal to finish his career in South Florida. Wake should still have some gas in the tank, and even if he ends up as a 3rd down pass rusher to end his career, his locker room presence and mentoring should end up being worth every dollar.
Additional Cuts If Necessary
So far we've trimmed over $30 million in cap space and the only drastic move we made was the release of Brent Grimes. With these 6 moves, we would have nearly $26 million in cap space to spend. For the sake of this article, I have the Dolphins standing pat here, but Miami could also release players like Koa Misi, Dion Jordan (if he does not get reinstated), Jordan Cameron, Jamar Taylor and Brandon Albert. It seems doubtful, but the release of those 5 additional players nets Miami an additional 20-million in cap space (although it also adds over $11 million in dead money). The point is that Miami still has flexibility and can get rid of a few pieces and be absolutely fine when it comes to having flexibility and cap room despite people trying to argue that Miami and their Suh contract is royally screwed.
With my proposed moves above, Miami will end up with $25 million in cap space, and can easily get up to $46 million in cap room with a few additional (and more difficult) decisions. Either way, this will give room for Miami to re-sign role players and offer a reasonable contract to Lamar Miller, as well as make a run for a handful of players in free agency.
And that is exactly where we will look next.