The annual Football Outsiders almanac is out and available over on their site. Recently, they gave me a preview of the yearly publication, and gave me a chance to talk to Scott Kacsmar, the author of the Miami Dolphins sections of the book. We discussed Miami’s addition of quarterback Jay Cutler and linebacker Lawrence Timmons, wide receiver Jarvis Landry and where he fits among the league’s top receivers, the Dolphins’ cornerbacks, and Laremy Tunsil’s move to left tackle.
If you would like to check out the Football Oustiders Almanac for 2017, you can find it here.
1. Obviously, things have changed for the Dolphins this year following the injury to Ryan Tannehill. Can Jay Cutler fit in with the Dolphins?
Sure, Cutler has already played in an Adam Gase offense before (2015 Bears), so that familiarity should help him get acquainted quickly with things in Miami. He has some decent receivers, a few standout linemen, and a running back in Jay Ajayi who the offense looks to want to build around. I think Cutler could pretty much show up in any offense and move the ball, because the arm talent is still there, assuming he’s healthy after a torn labrum injury ended his 2016.
The problem is we won’t get to October before Cutler practically loses a game on his own with a few terrible decisions or throws. In between the “wow” throws and game-winning drives, Cutler guarantees a few mind-numbing performances where his carefree style of play sinks the team, because arm strength isn’t everything. If Cutler ever aspired to be more than the 14th-best quarterback in the NFL, then this might actually work out into a playoff spot for the Dolphins, but in the end I think he’ll be more than content with his usual mediocrity for $10 million.
2. Can you go more in depth on what the Dolphins are getting in Lawrence Timmons as the Dolphins are looking to revamp their linebacker corps from last year’s struggles?
I watched him in Pittsburgh for a decade. He was quite good in his prime, capable of doing a little bit of everything. His last few seasons showed a decline, which may just be age related since he is 31 now. He started missing a lot of tackles in 2015, and he wasn’t quite as effective in dropping into pass coverage anymore. The Dolphins aren’t getting a linebacker in his prime by any means, but Timmons can still be a helpful starter for a year or two.
3. One of the biggest on going storylines for the Dolphins is the potential contract extension for Jarvis Landry. How do you stack him up against the rest of the league and where would you see him landing among the top paid receivers?
I wouldn’t rank Landry among the top 15 wide receivers in the NFL. We recently did a two-part study (Part I and Part II) on the website on Jarvis Landry’s value, which is an extension of things we first brought up in the book. To summarize, Landry’s reception totals are inflated due to all the short catches he makes. His average third-down target is thrown 2.7 yards behind the line of scrimmage, which almost makes it like Landry is playing a different sport from his lofty peers at the position. This makes it difficult for him to produce effective offense for his team, so on the WR screens in particular, Landry lost more value than any receiver not named Tavon Austin last year.
As long as the Dolphins are going to use him in a limited way, they shouldn’t pay Landry like a true game-breaking receiver. He’s not Antonio Brown, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr., A.J. Green, or Mike Evans. He’s not even Demaryius Thomas, T.Y. Hilton, DeAndre Hopkins, Michael Thomas, or post-ACL Jordy Nelson. I wouldn’t go above $12 million per season for Landry, which would still put him above some wideouts I think are better, such as Doug Baldwin, Emmanuel Sanders, Keenan Allen, and Larry Fitzgerald.
4. One area where Dolphins fans expect to see improvement this year compared to 2016 is in the secondary. Byron Maxwell seemed to find his groove later in the year and Xavien Howard looks like he is going to be better after being injured last year. Do you see any improvement coming in the secondary this year? Was there any point in 2016 where Howard flashed enough for you to believe there is more to come from him this year?
Corner is always difficult to play due to the rules, but rookies especially deserve a bit of a break for a slow start. Howard did not chart well in coverage last season (44 percent success rate would have ranked him out of the top 70 among cornerbacks), but he also was injured. I don’t see any reason why he can’t get much better right away this year. The fact that Maxwell looked competent after a miserable 2015 with the Eagles was promising, and Tony Lippett and Bobby McCain had some bright spots as well. Safety T.J. McDonald also could be a nice pickup, though he will serve an eight-game suspension first.
5. The Dolphins offensive line continues to be a question mark year after year. Laremy Tunsil played well last year at left guard, but now he is moving out to left tackle. How do you see him adjusting to his new role?
Tunsil was widely considered the best tackle in the 2016 draft, and it should be a natural transition for him to slide over. Tunsil already ranked No. 1 among left guards in snaps per blown block last year, but the Dolphins need to put their best linemen in the most important role of left tackle. The guards this year are what should be most concerning about this line.