The Miami Dolphins have become near-mainstays on the various Pro Football Focus worst contracts by position lists, with Jordan Cameron on the tight end list and Mario Williams on the defensive end list. Another Dolphins player landed on the “interior defensive lineman,” which looks at nose tackles, 4-3 defensive tackles, and 3-4 defensive ends, but it may not be the defensive tackle contract you were expecting.
The Dolphins signed defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to a 6-year, $114 million contract in the 2015 offseason, making him the highest paid non-quarterback in the league. Suh was not selected to the Pro Bowl this year, and many fans saw it as a disappointing season for Suh, mainly because he signed such a large contract. But, he did not make the top five worst interior defensive players contracts from PFF.
Instead, it is Earl Mitchell who lands on the listing.
Years remaining on current deal: Two
Average remaining cap hit: $4 million
Year he can realistically be cut: 2016
Playing alongside Ndamukong Suh in 2015, Mitchell struggled mightily, finishing 97th among interior defensive linemen with a 64.1 overall grade. He was especially weak against the run, finishing 60th among defensive tackles with a 4.2 run-stop percentage (for an overall run-defense grade of 34.2). He didn’t grade positively after Week 8 of 2015, accumulating just three stops and four pressures during that stretch.
Like Bryant, Mitchell’s contract is not an onerous one for the Dolphins, as he is due—at most—$1 million in dead money were he to be cut at any point over the next two seasons. That said, Mitchell has never finished higher than 30th in overall grading among defensive tackles during any point in his career, and yet his salary is currently 16th among 4-3 defensive tackles on a per-year basis. With the Dolphins allocating significant resources to Suh for the foreseeable future, it’s probably not the best use of resources to pay Mitchell like an above-average interior defender, especially given that they’re making a similarly questionable move by paying Mario Williams $17 million over two years to replace Olivier Vernon.
Mitchell clearly struggled last year, and should be pushed by, if not replaced by, second-year defensive tackle Jordan Phillips this year. Miami should be hoping that their second-round pick from the 2015 Draft is ready to take over the top spot from Mitchell this season. Would it be enough to allow the Dolphins to cut Mitchell? Probably not, given the playing time rotation that should be happening with the defensive tackles and the depth that will be needed in case of an injury, but it would put them in position to address a depth option behind Phillips in 2017.
PFF probably is not wrong on this contract, where Mitchell is the 11th highest salary cap number for Miami this year, though that number is only $3.5 million. Mitchell moves up to $4.5 million next year, when he would only count as $500,000 in dead money if he were cut.
Maybe Mitchell plays better in the new defensive system Miami will use this year. Maybe he will prove to be suited for a backup role behind a growing Phillips. Whatever the case, Miami will likely continue to absorb his contract this year, then make a decision on what to do with him next year.