Long time listener, first time caller.
Hi; my name is Jon and I'm a Dolphins fan.
If that sounds a bit like the start to an AA meeting, you can probably understand the similarity. Meaningful games in December are something we'd all but forgotten about since the team's last postseason appearance way back in 2008. That was, of course, until Grandmaster Gase (TM) rolled into town and sobered us up. Turns out he can really coach a football team and it's thankfully ours.
How do we ensure that the Dolphins' magnificent, stupendous, unheard of, awe-inspiring (at least well above expectations, anyway) 2016 season wasn't a fluke? By killing it in the offseason.
The offseason is the time of year the Dolphins get blasted for 'winning' almost annually. Whether it's Mike Walrus, Branden Albert, or Ndamukong Suh, we are crowned Offseason Champs and told that's where our championships end. Unfortunately, that's held true in recent years. But is avoiding the proverbial big splash enough to assure future success? The Patriots* rarely make big moves in Free Agency and they "win" Superbowls (Let's just say the Falcons would have gotten better results If Matt Ryan peeled the ball and ate it).
While I won't begrudge a team trying to find the final missing piece to its championship run, the Dolphins aren't there quite yet. We should seek quality players without overspending, while also cutting dead weight, orchestrating cap friendly contracts, drafting top tier talent, and maximizing the abilities of players already on our roster. No big deal, right? Easy peasy lemon squeezy. It's why there are so many undefeated teams every year. It's so easy, in fact, that any idiot can do it.
Any Idiot's Guide to the Miami Dolphins' Offseason: 2017 Edition
A few quick notes before I dive headfirst into the weeds.
- All cap, contract, and financial information is taken from Spotrac and OvertheCap.
- All roster information is taken from OurLads
- I don't know how realistic any contract specifics, e.g. bonuses, escalators, etc. I plugged into the Spotrac calculator are, but I took a swing anyway.
- Sorry for the length. It's rare I get the motivation to contribute to society.
Cap Space (as of 3/2): $41m
The first step in any successful offseason to do list is cutting ties with underperforming or overpaid players (ideally ones that combine the two traits).
Miami has already cut:
- Mario Williams (bad and expensive; easy call)
- Earl Mitchell (see Mario Williams; strong start for John Lynch in SF, btw /sarcasm)
- Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (low risk flyer that didn't pan out; no harm no foul)
Miami should cut:
- Koa Misi, LB: There's a school of thought that says keep him because he has versatility and experience, but his injury history and pedestrian career should be enough to justify saving his $4.2m cap hit.
- Dion Jordan, 3rd overall pick in real, actual life: Potential is a terrible thing to waste. The Dolphins should take their lumps on this one along with their $3.25m in cap savings.
Following those cuts, the team will be sitting with just shy of $50m in cap space to fill out the roster.
RE-SIGN FREE AGENTS
Checkbox two is re-signing our own. Miami has 22 players in some form of free agency. Some should be allowed to leave, others tendered, and the rest signed. Of those signed, some should be signed with the intention of starting (and given commensurate pay) while others should be brought back as depth (and also paid accordingly).
Miami should let walk:
- Jordan Cameron: Concussions and lack of production sums up Cameron's time in Miami.
- Donald Butler: Signed off the street, Butler's ceiling is known and he isn't a big special teams contributor.
- T.J. Yates: Brandon Doughty (hopefully) or another young challenger makes him expendable.
- Dominique Jones: If Dion Sims goes unsigned, Jones becomes a depth signing.
Miami should sign as starters:
- Kenny Stills: Rumors are swirling that Stills will command $12m/year on the open market. If that's the price, Stills gets moved to the 'let walk' section. Miami should stick to their price (~$6.5m/yr) and try to keep the young receiving corps together. (Spotrac Market Value = $6.4m)
- Kiko Alonso: Whether he's best at MLB or OLB is likely a topic of debate and that question should be answered by the Dolphins, not the competition. Tender him and try to work out a long term deal.
- Andre Branch: The Dolphins are paper thin at DE (especially since I advocate removing Dion Jordan) and Branch played reasonably well last season. Re-sign at ~$5-6m/year. (Spotrac Market Value = $7.2m)
- Dion Sims: With Julius Thomas coming to town as the seam threat TE, Sims has a chance to thrive in two TE sets with Miami. Re-sign at ~$5m/year. (Spotrac Market Value = $4.9m)
- Michael Thomas: Thomas has positional versatility and special teams prowess. Apply RFA Tender, but look to sign longer term.
- Damien Williams: Williams has proven to be a serviceable change-of-pace back for the Dolphins. Apply RFA Tender.
- John Denney: Re-sign Denney at $100m/year for 250 years.
Miami should sign (or tender) as depth:
- Anthony Steen, RG (Tender)
- Jermon Bushrod, OL (1yr/$1.5m per)
- Mike Hull, MLB (Tender)
- Jelani Jenkins, OLB (2yrs/$1.5m per)
- Spencer Paysinger, OLB
- Thomas Duarte, TE (Tender)
- Baccari Rambo, SS (2yrs/$775k per)
- Lafayette Pitts, CB (Tender)
- Nick Williams, DT (Tender)
RESTRUCTURES AND EXTENSIONS
The Dolphins should try to reduce some of their larger cap numbers and look toward the future for their difference makers:
- Restructure Mike Pouncey: He has a cap hit of almost $9m and is coming off of hip surgery.
- Restructure/Extend: Byron Maxwell. Hard to say if he's worth a long term deal just yet, but getting his $8.5m cap hit down is worth exploring.
- Extend Reshad Jones: Nothing like getting your stars locked down.
- Extend Jarvis Landry: See Reshad Jones.
SIGN MARKET FREE AGENTS
With their in-house players taken care of, the Dolphins can now move outside for Free Agent additions. Leaving plenty of room for debate, Miami's needs are:
- Defensive End
- Depth All Over
Fortunately, the top two positions are some of the lower priced positions to fill via Free Agency.Linebacker
Kiko Alonso's assumed versatility leaves the door open for MLB's and OLB's and there are good players available at both spots. Moving Alonso to OLB allows the Dolphins to grab a low-ish cost, high ceiling OLB to start on the other side while a young newcomer fills the middle, creating a strong, young corps of backers.
*Disclaimer - I am a loyal Penn State University alumnus and fan, so if I can weasel any Nittany Lions onto my beloved Dolphins, it's happening.
Gerald Hodges, OLB: Hodges is my choice for cost, contribution, and college. He played OLB in a 4-3 at PSU and can likely be had for ~6m/year.
There are other options at OLB, but I'm going to be greedy and only hope for my guy.
It's been so long since we've had a set of true dominant guards. Free Agency has some enticing candidates the Dolphins should target. If we can get two, we should get two (though one will have to move from RG to LG).
Larry Warford, G: Warford makes a lot of sense when age and cost are considered. He can be a Dolphin for ~6m/year. (Spotrac Market Value = $6.2m)
Ronald Leary, G: Leary would be my pairing with Warford since I think Zeitler (and Lang) will earn a huge deal from teams loaded with cap space. If he'll take $9m/year to be a Fin, bring him in. (Spotrac Market Value = $9.1m)
Kevin Zeitler, G: If I'm wrong and Zeitler can be brought South for ~9m/year, spend it. (Spotrac Market Value = $11.6m)
The Dolphins run defense was abysmal despite Ndamukong Suh eating up blocks. Jordan Phillips has shown flashes, but adding a big body to rotate in the defensive middle can only help stop the run. There are high price and big name DT's to be had and if the front office can work that out within the cap, I'm all in. Based on my other signings, I look for a cheap depth guy and eye the draft for another. I wouldn't balk at a reunion with Paul Soliai or Jared Odrick, if the price was right, either.
Sealver Siliga, DT: Young-ish, big, and cheap depth for ~$750k/yr
These moves might be more Free Agency spending than the Dolphins want to take on and, of course, younger and cheaper options are available with draft pick trading and wise/lucky selections. But the Draft is basically a lottery, so taking known quantities where affordable is a good supplementary approach to fill gaps.
Following these transactions, the Spotrac calculator shows ~$9m of cap space remaining.
If you've made it this far, you are a national treasure (Nic Cage notwithstanding). Thanks for sticking it out. Obviously the Miami Dolphins will take all of my suggestions to heart and do precisely as noted, thus guaranteeing dominance for decades to come. If, however, for some crazy inexplicable reason things don't play out exactly as my plan describes, Free Agency could look mighty different and, therefore, Miami's needs come draft time have a lot of flexibility.
Ignoring that completely and blindly forging ahead, here is a mock draft based on Free Agency transpiring as if I'm secretly Chris Grier.
I used FanSpeak's Mock Draft Generator, declining all trade offers (though I hope the Dolphins listen to theirs very carefully), and ran the sim a few times to make sure I wasn't ending up with an impossible wishlist.
Round 1.22 - Zach Cunningham, LB Vanderbilt
Round 2.22 - Demarcus Walker, DE Florida State
Round 3.33 - Eddie Vanderdoes, DT UCLA
Round 5.22 - Kyle Fuller, C Baylor
Round 5.34 - Stacy Coley, WR Miami
Round 5.40 - Jalen Myrick, CB Minnesota
Round 6.22 - Sefo Liufau, QB Colorado
Finally, here's how the 2017 Dolphins' depth chart would look if I wasn't just some guy not working in the Miami front office:
After all this, only one question remains: is our mantle big enough for all these Lombardi Trophies?