SB Nation is our parent, and, obviously, they do a lot of great things to allow us as Miami Dolphins fans to have this site and discuss our favorite team throughout the year. That does not mean they are always right, however, and that is the case of Ryan Van Bibber’s recent article “Grading the Julius Thomas and potentially Branden Albert trade.” When the tag line for the article is “Today’s splashy move is tomorrow’s disappointment, at least that’s the way it usually works for the Dolphins. Is this one different?” you know things are not going to go well in the article, but Van Bibber’s conclusions are just wrong.
As a big part of his article, RVB focuses on the (presumed to be finalized) trade of Dolphins starting left tackle Branden Albert to the Jaguars. He writes, ”Albert is due more than $18 million in salary over the next two years, with a cap hit of $10.6 million this year and $11.3 million next year. As we’ve said before, that’s a lot of money for a left tackle who can’t stay on the field for 16 games.”
In the linked article, RVB wrote, “From a financial standpoint, parting ways with the 32-year-old Albert makes sense. He’s got a $10.6 million cap hit this year and an $11.3 million hit next year. That’s a big commitment for a player who hasn’t played a 16-game season since 2011.” He goes on to point out that the Dolphins’ offensive line - when healthy - was good in 2016, especially with the three 200-yard performances from running back Jay Ajayi.
Miami, however, has their new franchise left tackle to take over for Albert in the shape of 2016 first-round draft pick Laremy Tunsil. He is a player who allowed one sack last season while splitting time at left guard and left tackle - where he was filling in for the injured Albert. So, as RVB seems to indicate, trading Albert makes sense financially, especially when you add in the missed games, where Miami was having to rearrange the starting offensive line multiple times during the season.
Then, suddenly, RVB adds into the original “grading” article, “The Jaguars would definitely be getting the better deal here. Albert’s 32 and hasn’t played a full season since 2011, but when he is on the field, he’s a good left tackle, something the Jaguars desperately need, especially if Doug Marrone’s administration is going to take one last chance at salvaging Blake Bortles.”
He follows that up with, “Thomas is more of a luxury for the Dolphins. We’ll see if he agrees to a new contract and what kind of pay cut that carries, if any, but it’s hard to make a case that Thomas makes Miami a better team (especially since they’re going to have to overhaul their defense this offseason and fix up the offensive line with a need at both guard positions now).”
So, Albert, who is a “big commitment” due to his salary cap number and is oft-injured, is the better move because the Jaguars need a left tackle. Thomas, however, is a luxury for the Dolphins? Because the team can rely on Jordan Cameron, who caught 43 passes in two seasons in Miami while playing 19 games, and is a free agent this offseason? Maybe it is Dion Sims who makes Thomas a luxury - Sims, who hits free agency this offseason as well. At least they have depth with Dominique Jones...who also hits free agency this offseason.
So, Miami’s tight end roster, without any potential re-signings, is MarQueis Gray, Thomas Duarte, and Chris Pantale. That is 51 games of NFL experience with 14 starts, 26 receptions, 318 yards, and no touchdowns. Six of those games were Pantale playing special teams with the New York Jets in 2014, one game was an appearance from Duarte last year with Miami, and the rest of the games, including all of the starts and receiving stats, belong to Gray.
But, adding a starting-caliber tight end is a “luxury.” So very many mock drafts around the internet had Miami adding a tight end with their first-round pick because it was seen as one of the team’s top needs - but, yeah, we will stick with luxury.
RVB does point out the connection between Thomas and Miami head coach Adam Gase, who was the Denver Broncos’ offensive coordinator in 2013 and 2014, when Thomas, as Denver’s top tight end, earned back-to-back Pro Bowl berths and caught 108 passes for 1,277 yards with 24 touchdowns. Then, he immediately takes a swipe at Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, writing, “Ryan Tannehill isn’t Peyton Manning, but what mediocre quarterback wouldn’t like having a potentially dynamic tight end in the huddle with him.” No real reason for that entire sentence, other than to call Tannehill “mediocre.”
Finally, RVB finishes the article with this gem: “This is what the Dolphins do in the offseason: big, splashy moves that end in disappointment. We’ll see if this year turns out to be any different.”
Time to follow another link to see what kind of “disappointment” the Dolphins splashed their way too according to the article. This one, written in March 2016, has the great line in the opening paragraph, “Miami started its offseason by cleaning up the mess it made spending like a drunken sailor during last year's offseason.” The first issue he tackles was the team’s “restructuring” of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh’s contract - a “restructuring” that was always planned, was built into the contract specifically in order to do it, and allowed the team to essentially turn a six-year prorated signing bonus, effectively adding a year onto the NFL’s maximum of five years for the bonus. But, yep, the drunken sailor spending clearly could not have been thinking that far in advance. (Side note, I still love Dawn Aponte, even if she is not working the team’s contracts anymore.)
He also decided to hit Miami for restructuring Jordan Cameron’s contract and releasing Greg Jennings, as well as, at the time of the article, shopping Brent Grimes on the trade market (before they ultimately released him).
He also predicted that the addition of Byron Maxwell in a trade last year and Mario Williams as a free-agent signing, “could spell the end of Cameron Wake's time with the Dolphins.” Other than, you know, a Pro Bowl berth, 11.5 sacks, and a contract extension last offseason and this offseason, it does seem like Wake’s time in Miami could come to an end with Maxwell and Williams on the roster.
He then closes that article with, “It's not shaping up to be a repeat of the great spending sprees of 2013 and 2015, but the end result, finishing the season somewhere around .500, already feels inevitable.”
A 10-6 finish and a playoff berth seems to have missed that “inevitable” feeling.
But, hey, maybe RVB sees the Dolphins better than we, as fans of the team, do, because he is not wearing aqua-colored glasses. Mario Williams clearly did not work out. Jordan Cameron could never stay healthy. The team did trade away Mike Wallace after signing him to a big deal and they did release Brent Grimes. So, yeah, clearly the “splashy” offseasons are not working for the Dolphins.
- Ndamukong Suh - Pro Bowl in 2016 and a return to looking like the dominant defensive tackle he is.
- Byron Maxwell - Started all 13 games in which he played, and, after missing a game due to a benching, was rated among the top cornerbacks in the league, something even the Philadelphia media did not miss.
- Kiko Alonso - The “throw-in” player in the trade for Maxwell, Alonso started 15 games for Miami, missing one when he broke his thumb, tallying 114 tackles, two interceptions (returning one for a touchdown), four passes defensed, one forced fumble, and four fumble recoveries.
- Brent Grimes - Yes, the Brent Grimes era in Miami ended ugly, but during his playing time, he started 47 games, missing just one, and recorded 13 interceptions (with two touchdowns), 43 passes defensed, one forced fumble, and 167 tackles. He was selected to three Pro Bowls at the end of all three seasons he was with Miami.
- Kenny Stills - This was a trade for a rookie contract, but it still lumps into the “splashy” offseason moves. In two seasons with Miami, Stills has caught 69 passes for 1,166 yards and 12 touchdowns, with the majority of those stats coming this past season when Still was elevated to a full-time starter. He has become a true deep-threat for the Dolphins’ offense, and he and quarterback Ryan Tannehill have found their timing. Stills is a potential free agent this year, but the Dolphins have said extending him is one of their priorities before free agency begins.
- Andre Branch - A semi-quiet move last year, Branch signing with the Dolphins was a double-down on free-agent defensive ends in case the signing of Mario Williams did not pan out. Guess what? The signing of Mario Williams did not pan out, so Miami, because they were smart in their “splashy” free agent spending, had Branch to fall back upon, having him start 11 games, appearing in all 16, while recording 49 tackles, 5.5 sacks, one pass defensed, and two forced fumbles.
- Branden Albert - A “splashy” free agent signing back in 2014, Albert solidified the left tackle position for Miami - whenever he was healthy. He played (and started) in 35 games for the Dolphins out of a possible 48 in his three seasons with the club. He earned a Pro Bowl berth in 2015, and he dislocated his wrist during a game in the 2016 season, only to run off the field, have it popped back into place, and return to the game because he realized he was an important piece to the offensive line improvement this year. The wrist did cause him to miss games after the injury, but Albert was clearly a huge part of Miami’s offensive line rebuild. If Laremy Tunsil had not fallen in the 2016 NFL Draft, Albert likely is not being traded this offseason.
So, yes, Miami has spent during the past few offseasons. And, there are examples of moves that did not work, but there are also plenty of times where it did work, and it moved Miami in the right direction. A 10-6 season in 2016, a Playoff berth for the first time since 2008, and another offseason where they appear to be targeting players they want and they are making moves to improve the roster. They are not in cap-hell, despite so many predictions that the team could not do anything with the way they are spending. They are willing to take a chance on a player, and they are smart enough to build the contract in a way that, should it not work out, they can get out of the deal with minimal damage to the cap.
Last year was not a season with “big, splashy moves that end in disappointment.” To start this offseason, Miami made a big splash with an asset they were ready to cut without receiving any compensation. Even if Thomas does not return to his Denver Broncos form, the Dolphins, ultimately, received a starting tight end to fill a hole on the roster in discussions for a player, Albert, they were going to cut anyway. (Yes, technically, the Albert-for-Thomas trade is two separate trades involving the players and draft picks, but without Albert being available, the Thomas trade likely does not happen.)
Van Bibber clearly has a theme running with his articles year-after-year about Miami’s “big, splashy offseasons” and is continuing with it, despite evidence that there is less disappointment than he seems to see.