So many hashtags have come out of the past year and a half of the Miami Dolphins history: Things like #TheNewMiami or #InGaseWeTrust have been slogans that fans have hung their hats on in order to represent how the city of Miami is on the road to becoming a football town after many, many years of mediocre seasons that have left the Dolphins in the depths of irrelevancy.
But this 2017 season has given all of those fans several reasons to question whether their faith in the head coach is somehow misplaced, perhaps Adam Gase is not so perfect after all, that maybe he needs to be replaced before he ruins everything and removes all semblances of talent on the roster.
The problem is, fans cannot have their cake and eat it too. They want to change the culture, to make a winning culture, but they want to keep all of their favorite players too, because it's their jerseys they buy in the team store, not Gase's. It's the players that score the touchdowns and show up on the highlight reels, not Gase.
The reality is, unfortunately, culture change does not come about just because one coach comes in and starts trying to lay down the law. It seemed that way on the surface last season, when the team suddenly - and inexplicably - started winning games left and right after having a horrible start. Gase seemed like a hero, the culture had been changed and the hashtags began. It almost seemed too good to be true.
That's because it was, and now the truth has come out.
Dolphins fans thought that creating the "New Miami" would be a painless process, that Gase would come in and - with his no-nonsense attitude - whip the Dolphins players into lean, mean Super Bowl winning machines. Sure it probably would have taken a while, Rome wasn't built in a day after all, but this process would only include removing the bad players, like Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner, who fans cheered their departure when it happened.
But now the fans are very upset with Gase for pulling off a similar move at the trade deadline. How, could anyone in their right mind, trade a Pro Bowl caliber running back in Jay Ajayi to the Philadelphia Eagles for a mere fourth round pick? Has Gase lost his mind? He was the best player on offense outside of Jarvis Landry, who is also rumored to be gone soon!
Gase isn't crazy, it's just the painful part of changing the culture.
You see, culture is not only dictated by the coach in charge, it is also dictated by the players in the locker room, their feelings and their thoughts have just as much of an effect on the culture as the coach. When Joe Philbin was the head coach, the culture felt boring and you could feel the lack of passion in the air.
Now with Gase, you feel like there's been a major upgrade as far as coaching prowess goes, but the same issues still remain. Why is this?
Apparently, the culture has not been changed as much as we would like to think.
The biggest sign that there was a much more serious problem in the Dolphins organization than we originally imagined was when Adam Gase stopped defending his players and started going after them during press conferences, stating that he had to dumb down the offense because players weren't getting it.
Then it all came to a head again after the 40-0 embarrassment against the Baltimore Ravens, as Gase ripped his players and called them out for one of the worst sins a player can commit: not caring about the effort they put into being good.
"I don’t think it’s a retain information thing." Gase said. "It’s we’re not putting the work in. That’s what it comes down to. If you can’t remember it, you shouldn’t be in the NFL. At the end of the day, guys have got to actually take this stuff home and study it. They’re not going to just learn it all in meetings. We’ve got to find guys that will actually put forth effort to actually remember this stuff and really, it starts with our best players."
That last statement is the most significant comment we have ever heard come out of Gase's mouth ever since he became the team's head coach. The best players have to put forth effort, and this implies that they are not. That means Jay Ajayi, that might even mean Jarvis Landry to some extent, though there's still a chance he may stay if he shapes up and flies straight, but even he is not doing things the way that Gase wants it done, if Armando Salguero's story is anything to take into consideration.
This means that the culture change isn't done, in fact it's only begun. Gase did wonders with what he was given last season, but if it's true that Miami's top players are not putting in the due effort to stay on par with the rest of the league (most certainly the Patriots who seem to do nothing but study), then they are not really Miami's top players, and they need to go.
No matter how much it hurts.
There is an old saying that says no one likes change. I feel that isn't true. I think the phrase should be this: no one likes change...when it hurts.
But culture doesn't change without major growing pains, and painful emotional departures of talented players.
Jay Ajayi fought with Adam Gase constantly over getting the ball, and he was even benched in week one of last season as a result of his attitude. In a sense, Jay Ajayi became a more productive version of Mike Wallace, but even if he produced, no one questioned Wallace was a detriment to the team. If what has been said about Ajayi is true, then he's no better than Wallace, and getting a fourth round draft pick instead of nothing is a win.
Culture cannot change if there are cancers in the locker room.
But no one said curing cancer was a painless process.
Does losing Ajayi hurt? Yes it does, because Ajayi is undoubtedly talented and now Miami will have to move forward with Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake. We know Williams isn't anywhere near Ajayi as a runner, and Drake is an unknown. But supposedly they work hard, so that's a plus.
Will losing Landry hurt if he doesn't return? Absolutely, more so than Ajayi. But if Landry isn't buying into Gase's system, then there will be conflict, and conflict cannot be present if a team wants to move forward.
So, yes, there is suffering to be done before the Dolphins can truly move past this and say their culture has been changed.
To draw parallels from the Bible, Joseph was sold into slavery and then thrown into jail, doing nothing but suffering despite having done nothing wrong at all. Then, God eventually made Joseph the second most powerful man in Egypt, effectively ending his suffering.
Right now, the Dolphins are suffering, and it will take time for the suffering to end. But once it does, and everything (and everyone) is going the way Gase wants it, then fans will finally be able to take a sigh of relief and enjoy football again.
But first, the pain must be endured. We won't understand it, we will question it, we will question Gase countless times in the weeks and years to come. But in the end, once the suffering is over, then the league will have to watch out, because Miami will have truly undergone the transformation into the New Miami.
Don Shula would not have hesitated to make this move if that's what it took to make that transformation happen, and neither has Gase.
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung
When the Miami Dolphins went up to MetLife Stadium, they were greeted by a ton of Dolphins fans who were on site for the annual MetLife Takeover held by the folks at DolfansNYC, who expected yet another victory as they went up against the thousands of Jets fans in an attempt to mitigate New York's home field advantage.
Unfortunately, no amount of cheering would have been able to get the inept Miami offense, as they were held to a grant total of zero points up until the final seconds of the game, when the Jets defense ultimately stopped caring and let the Dolphins score a touchdown as time elapsed.
To add insult to injury, kicker Cody Parkey missed the extra point, which made the final score of that game 20-6 in the Jets favor.
It was humiliating.
But on Sunday, the Jets will be coming to Miami for a rematch, and the Dolphins currently stand at 3-2, one game behind the New England Patriots (4-2) and tied for second with the Buffalo Bills (also 3-2). The Jets are currently at 3-3 after arguably having a victory against the Patriots stolen from them by the referees.
So needless to say, both teams will have a chip on their shoulders, but here are three reasons why the Dolphins will get their revenge on the Jets for their previous loss.
Lawrence Timmons at LB
When the Dolphins went to MetLife Stadium, they were missing a key component of their defense. Linebacker Lawrence Timmons went AWOL before the team's opening week against the Los Angeles Chargers, and he was then suspended indefinitely by the team, which left him unavailable for the Jets game.
Now, Timmons is on the roster and is ready to rumble. In just three games, Timmons has already racked up a total of 21 tackles, several of which have gone for either no gain or a loss of yards. As of now, Miami has the fourth-ranked rushing defense in the NFL, and Timmons is an important part of that.
The Jets have the 18th ranked rushing offense in the NFL, but they racked up 103 yards against the Dolphins in Week 3 with Chase Allen and Mike Hull platooning to take the place of Timmons. Since Timmons' return, the defense as a whole has taken a drastic leap forward.
Which means they won't be able to run over the Miami defense, and subsequently, they - logically speaking - won't be able to simply shred the secondary to pieces like they did last time.
The presence of Timmons will likely do wonders for the Dolphins defense as they face Josh McCown a second time, and this time, it could very well lead to a victory.
Dolphins offense gaining rhythm
The offense still isn't firing on all cylinders, but over the past couple of games, there have been signs that the team is starting to figure out what it takes to get things going, through plenty of two-TE sets and extra emphasis placed on running back Jay Ajayi.
But the emphasis on Ajayi is exactly what the Jets were waiting for during their first matchup, and it cost Miami any semblance of having an effective offense, as the multiple screen passes called by coach Gase were complete failures each time.
Now, however, there seems to be more of an emphasis on passing the ball forward rather than sideways, and although Cutler is still making a few poor decisions, he too seems to be getting into a better rhythm, meaning the Dolphins offense could be on the verge of being, dare we say, decent?
With the defense holding teams to such a low point total, this may be a situation where we flashback to the Dave Wannstedt days, where the focus would be on the defense, and the offense just needed to score at least 14 points. Ideally, they would get more than 14 points per game, but in this case, all that is really needed is competence. They seem to be getting to that point.
There was some initial skepticism regarding the Dolphins head coach and his overall ability to be a coach after the team's struggles to even look competent throughout the first several weeks of the season, but once again, Adam Gase has proven that he does have a good head on his shoulders and he knows what he needs to do to get the job done.
After the game against the Tennessee Titans, Gase revealed that the playbook had been greatly scaled back, though he didn't specify what the reasons were. To speculate, it's very possible that Jay Cutler didn't have nearly as much knowledge of the playbook as we had been led to believe, which would explain why the offense consisted almost completely of ineffective screen passes and running Jay Ajayi into proverbial brick walls.
But now it seems the playbook is starting to open up again, and Gase is slowly getting his team back into regular season form, the same form that they possibly showcased during their winning streak last season after spending the first several weeks as one of the most inept teams in the NFL, not unlike this season.
Is this all simply proof that there is a method to Gase's madness? Perhaps. But the true reason why Gase is a big reason the Dolphins will get revenge on Sunday is simply because of one thing: Gase is not known for making the same mistake twice, and so far, any assumptions made that he has made the same mistake, as eventually been proven wrong.
This time, it may be wiser to just assume he knows what he's doing, and that we should all trust the process and wait and see what he does.
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung
Adam Gase is not happy.
And he has every right to feel that way, after agreeing to give 11-year veteran linebacker Lawrence Timmons a two-year contract that is almost fully guaranteed, praising his leadership qualities and his drive to always work hard, only for Timmons to go AWOL before their first game of the season, and all without even a good explanation.
Or so we assume.
We know what he did, as TMZ reported that he was found at the airport and - presumably - was going to board a flight to California to visit his wife and kid. Why he did that, or why he felt the need to do so, we still don't know.
Timmons may have some underlying mental issues that only the Steelers were aware of, which could explain why they let him walk after being a staple of their defense for so long, or maybe Timmons had some other reason for deciding to take off.
But clearly, Adam Gase felt that his reasons for leaving weren't worthy of leaving the team right before game time, and his comments to the media were a clear indicator of just how livid Gase was - and is - with the team's top linebacker.
His answers were short, quick, and to the point. The most lengthy answer he was willing to give regarding Timmons was when he was asked if he expected Timmons to play the next game after disappearing for the first one.
“I haven’t even gotten through Step 1 yet." he said on Monday. "We kind of got in a little late last night so I’m kind of dealing with the guys that played.”
And there is where you can see the underlying message. The guys that played. As in, not Lawrence Timmons. Gase does not seem to care what happened with Timmons, the fact of the matter is, he didn't show up to work, and that sort of behavior is intolerable in this new Dolphins regime. Adam Gase has two rules: be on time, and play hard. Timmons violated both, and how does he tolerate it?
"What do you think?'' Gase said. "I've got two rules. It's not hard.''
Intolerable. Joe Philbin is not the head coach anymore, there is no one who is bigger than the team, and in a way - several ways in fact - that is a good thing.
Gase then took the next step, as the team announced on Tuesday that they had suspended Lawrence Timmons indefinitely, which in simpler terms, means that he won't be around for a maximum of the next four weeks, as per the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement).
As more and more information comes out, the situation becomes more and more bizarre. ESPN's Adam Schefter's reported on Monday that whatever was wrong with Timmons was checked out by team doctors - which indicates that there is something wrong with him. The idea of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) - which is a degenerative brain disease commonly found in NFL athletes - was thrown around, but it was also soon dismissed.
Later, Schefter was told that whatever was wrong with Timmons, he's "doing much better," but Schefter was also told that "no one has ever seen anything like it."
Foreboding, isn't it?
At this point, the question revolves around what the Dolphins should do next. They can only ignore Timmons for a maximum of four weeks, and then he either has to return to the team - which the players have stated they would welcome him back with open arms, or Miami has to release him. Perhaps he could be placed on injured reserve if doctors can pinpoint an injury that would keep him from playing, but no matter what, this situation isn't going away. Eventually, a decision on Timmons will have to be made, a permanent one.
But what is it Gase is really concerned about? Is it Timmons' possible mental health issues, or is it the fact that - regardless of what and why - Timmons defied his authority? Most people are focusing in on the fact that Timmons "quit" on his team, that what he did was "selfish," and has no place in what is being called the "New Miami," where players don't have free rein over the locker room like in the Philbin era.
No one is denying that what Timmons did is wrong, and is almost unheard of in the NFL today. But if we take a step back and examine the situation from a more neutral perspective, is what Timmons did really that horrible?
Yes, he quit on the team, that's bad, even selfish, and he deserves to be punished. Gase has done that. But is what he did really worse than getting suspended for PEDs or drug abuse? Or being arrested for domestic violence, which seems to be an all-too common occurrence with NFL players.
Or even - dare I say - abandoning your teammates after being unable to take a joke and throwing your other teammates under the bus, leading to a national scandal that eventually led to the release of the team's best guard? Is what Timmons did really worse than all of that?
I suppose that's up to you to decide.
I can't say that I am okay with what Timmons did, that would be a bold-faced lie. But while he did make a mistake, and an egregious one at that, Timmons has stated that he wants to return to practice and he wants to play again. He made one mistake, and up until this point, he has been a consummate professional in the NFL.
Surely, he deserves at least some benefit of the doubt? This has not been a recurring pattern, this has not been something he is notorious for. This is his 11th season in the NFL, and this is the first time anything like this has ever happened.
Timmons is the most talented linebacker on the roster, his absence on the field hurts the team, there is no doubt about that. Trading for Stephone Anthony won't do much to change that, at least, not for a while. Not only that, cutting Timmons outright would be very detrimental to the team's cap space over the next two years.
But even more important than that, while it is good for Gase to show his toughness, and make an example of someone who broke the rules, there is such a thing as giving a second chance, especially towards someone who has been as solid over the years as Timmons. He hasn't stayed gone, he wants to return. He now has four weeks (or less) to prove to Gase he wants to be a Miami Dolphin.
Thankfully, Gase's comments on Wednesday indicated that he is not above forgiveness.
“I think every situation’s different and I would say that you can be forgiven if the right steps are taken.”
That is exactly what I wanted to hear. Now, Lawrence Timmons, the rest is up to you.
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung
1. In addition to the old “it's meant to motivate him - and it's working!” nugget, I’m reading now that people think that starting Davon Godchaux over Jordan Phillips will make his “stamina issues” less obvious.
I’m really having a hard time understanding why people insist on making excuses for this guy. I know he’s a former second round pick but for heaven’s sake, let it go.
He’s not good enough. Period. Time for the Dolphins to move on. I’m frankly disappointed that they haven’t and that they didn’t do more to protect themselves at the position before the summer started.
2. There are more than a few people who seem to be wondering why Lawrence Timmons isn’t playing middle linebacker given that he played inside in a 3-4 scheme with the Steelers.
There are probably a number of reasons for this but one that’s apparently undersold is the fact that calling plays isn’t really Timmons' strong suit. Traditionally, the middle linebacker has the speaker in his helmet and fills this role.
One of the things that the Steelers found out early is that Timmons is at his best when he’s unhindered by a lot of details. Dealing with a lot of Xs and Os isn’t his strength.
You don’t want to make him worry about things like where guys are lined up. You want him to line up and just play. He can do that better on the outside.
3. If the Dolphins can’t get Jakeem Grant to the point where he can get through a game without dropping the ball, I just don’t see how they can continue to waste their time on him.
They’d like to see Grant develop as a punt returner but, despite reportedly catching hundreds of balls in the offseason, he doesn’t seem to be much more reliable.
They say that the biggest jump in performance for any player is between his first and second years. There’s a reason for that - the expectations are considerable higher and you need to either fish or cut bait.
People don’t keep talking about how you are a young player still learning the game anymore and there are no more “rookie mistakes”. By your second summer you’ve either corrected them or the team moves on.
For all Grant’s apparent talent, the first thing you have to do as a receiver or returner is get a hold of the ball and keep it. Unless he can show he can do that consistently this year, we can safely conclude that it’s never going to happen.
4. I was a little surprised and not a little concerned by reports that the Dolphins negotiated a contract extension with T.J. McDonald.
I like McDonald well enough on the field but what’s the rush? He’s serving an eight game suspension after a second run-in with the NFL over disciplinary issues. I can’t help but think that if it wasn’t a problem he’d still be a Los Angeles Ram.
Yes, you can protect yourself to some extent in the contract language. But it's not a good look.
The Dolphins needed to show a little more caution here.
5. The most comforting thing about the Jarvis Landry domestic violence allegation? The NFL has video of the incident.
Landry’s ex-girlfriend, Estrella Cerqueira, claims that the couple had a “vocal disagreement” but that Landry would “never, ever do anything to harm me or anyone else.” The problem is that Cequeira is the mother of Landry’s child and has a monetary incentive in the form of child support to downplay the incident.
In any case, the camera never lies. One way or the other, we’ll know for sure when the NFL’s decision on whether to punish Landry or not comes down.
6. I sympathize with the Dolphins and their fans in terms of the injuries that the team suffered during training camp. But really, other than the loss of the starting quarterback - and the team ended up breaking even on that one - I don’t think the injuries have been that far out of the ordinary.
Yes, the loss of your starting left guard hurts. But those things happen every year to every team. And it's not like Ted Larsen was anything more than a borderline NFL starter to begin with.
Sure losing Raekwon McMillan hurts. But he was a second round rookie linebacker who has proven nothing. As for Koa Misi’s ongoing neck troubles, see the comment on Larsen above.
If these are the only linebackers to go down this year the team can consider itself to be extremely fortunate.
If your team’s depth can’t carry you through injuries like this - and I mean not just through training camp but all year - then you were never meant to win anything anyway.
Only true mental toughness can sustain a winning culture in the NFL. Injuries can never be allowed to be an excuse for failure. Once that happens, death inevitably follows.
7. Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson going to the Seahawks for Jermaine Kearse and a second round pick was quite a shock. A seventh round swap was also involved.
Richardson will fit in well with that locker room. I can’t imagine the Seahawks don’t win that division even with what looks to be a terrible offensive line.
8. Meanwhile the Jets take one more step towards first overall pick as the dump a 26-year old Pro Bowl defensive lineman in exchange for a wide receiver who has never had more than 685 receiving yards. And people in New York are steamed. One source told the New York Daily News, “We should have sent them Hack.”
It’s now evident that quarterback Christian Hackenberg was way overdrafted. His physical talent was undeniable but after some very rough years as the Penn State quarterback, this was a gamble that the Jets should have never taken.
The odds are good no one else in the league was even considering Hackenberg for at least another round and, truth be told, even with most quarterbacks being overdrafted nowadays he belonged in the fourth. It’s just one more piece of evidence that the organization is in total disarray.
Rebuilding is the right thing to do there. Rebuilding with the current leadership under general manager Mike Maccagnan is useless.
9. Having said that, personally I think just throwing away the entire 2017 season in an effort to get the top 2018 draft pick and the chance to select a quarterback from the much touted 2018 class is a mistake.
For one thing, its not a given they’ll be bad enough to get it. The Browns and the 49ers are both going to give them a run for their money almost no matter how bad they get and Buffalo is approaching the same territory.
I’d say there are three consensus potential top ten QBs, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen. If one gets hurt or has a lousy year, one decides not to forego his senior year, and the Jets don’t get the first overall pick, they tanked away an entire season for nothing.
Add the fact that history shows that only one of those quarterbacks will turn out to be a legitimate franchise quarterback anyway and you realize that the whole thing is ridiculously stupid.
Whenever Dolphins fans get depressed and start to doubt their fandom after yet another loss to the Patriots or some similar event, they should pause, think a minute, then fall to their knees and thank whatever god they worship that they aren’t Jets fans.
10. On a related note, I never want to hear another Dolphin fan claim that they have it extra tough because they play in the AFC East.
Half of the division tapped out before the season even began.
This story was written by Tom Shannon. Follow him on Twitter: @bearingthenews
1. I can understand why the Dolphins are uneasy with Byron Maxwell at cornerback. I have never been comfortable with the Dolphins depending on Maxwell to hold down one of the cornerback spots and its no surprise that he’s having difficulty doing so (again). The problem that the Dolphins have is that they don’t have any good alternatives. Head coach Adam Gase explains what the Dolphins are trying to do:
“We’re trying to play physical and really challenge the receivers and let our defensive line get there. Just keep that consistency going. You practice hard and do it right, I think good things usually happen.”
The alternative that’s most commonly mentioned for the spot is Alterraun Verner. The problem? Verner is 5'10". Maxwell is 6'1".
If the Dolphins want more physical play from their cornerbacks they almost have to go with Maxwell. And that’s a problem.
2. The way the Dolphins continue to rely on Maxwell reminds me a bit of the situation with defensive tackle Jordan Phillips.
Phillips is a second round draft pick that the Dolphins don’t want to give up on. But its far past time for them to cut their losses, especially now that Davon Godchaux has shown that he can handle the job. The Dolphins are probably thinking they can rotate in Phillips on passing downs which is much better than allowing him to get run over.
But, unlike Maxwell, Phillips has shown me nothing that suggests that he can play defensive tackle in the NFL.
Ideally the Dolphins should have planned for this failure and signed a veteran in the offseason. They won’t do it because they are evidently bound and determined to see what they want to see in Phillips but it’s still not too late to find someone on the waiver wire after this week’s roster cuts should they come to their senses and want to get in another rotational player.
3. No one is going to hear this but tight end Julius Thomas is already showing signs of being this year’s Mario Williams. He can’t block, he’s not getting open, and he’s showing every sign of being a Mike Tannenbaum roll of the dice that came up snake eyes.
I guess we’ll see.
4. This isn’t going to shock anyone but you can count on DeVante Parker seeing a lot of passes this season now that Jay Cutler is the quarterback.
Signing Cutler was the best thing that ever happened for Parker’s career. Past history tells me that Cutler walked into the first Dolphins practice, looked around, found the biggest guy on the field and said to himself, “There’s my guy.”
Most people seem to think that this will cut deeply into Jarvis Landry’s targets. It won’t. Landry will get his passes out of the slot. But other outside receivers, especially guys like Kenny Stills and, most especially, Leonte Carroo, are going to suffer a great deal.
In any case, Parker’s going to get the ball. Whether he’s open or not.
5. I’m very disappointed that linebacker Rey Maualuga is still apparently not in shape to play. The Dolphins need him to be ready to start the season badly.
With the two-gapping Godchaux in front of him taking on double teams, the team needs a linebacker who can read the play and attack downhill to meet the runner in the hole. If the preseason has shown us anything, that is not what Mike Hull is. He’s getting caught flat footed right where he lines up four yards deep in the backfield.
As it was put very well in the Sun-Sentinel on Tuesday, after Lawrence Timmons and Kiko Alonso the Dolphins might not have a linebacker who would get claimed by another team if they were waived.
6. One of the most interesting questions of the Dolphins offseason has been why the over-under for the team in Vegas is only 7.5 games.
Based upon their performance last year, you would think that the over would be a slam dunk. And yet… these guys make their living setting betting lines and they have a bad habit of being right.So what gives?
There are a number of reasons that are commonly given for why this could be.
Last year I wrote about that “new coach boost” that teams with new coaches can get. Every player concentrates just a little bit more because every player knows that with a new staff with no loyalty to any player on the team, every job is up for grabs - more than usual. Everyone is uncomfortable and that can lead to better focus and a boost in performance.
This year that boost is gone. Don’t get me wrong. Adam Gase is a tough coach and I’m sure he’ll do what it takes to keep these guys on their toes to the extent that he can. But the fact is that they’ve all had a year with him now. They know him and they’ve developed relationships with him and, well, they’re more comfortable with him. It’s a different situation and it might lead to a natural let down - one that every team in the second season with a coach might reasonably expect to experience.
But with the Dolphins it's even more than that this year.
There’s a dichotomy in sports in general and in the NFL in particular that comes into play here. Over and over again you’ll hear that teams want to “sign their own”. They want to re-sign their own draft picks to second contracts rather than rolling the dice with free agent rejects from other teams. I’ve said it too.
The Dolphins acted on their words this year. Boy, did they ever.
They took care of a lot of their players with long term contracts - Kenny Stills, Kiko Alonso, Andre Branch, Reshad Jones.
Ordinarily everyone would support this. But this isn’t just one or two guys they signed. It's a good chunk of their most important players. The downside is that they’ve made everyone, well, comfortable. Comfortable financially. Comfortable in that they know they aren’t going anywhere. Secure in their starting jobs into the future. A lot of guys.
The truth is that this is something that we all want - me included - and I congratulate these players. It’s a feel good. And, hey, a little loyalty might boost performance, too, right?
But there’s also this niggling feeling that a little discomfort isn’t always a bad thing. Here’s hoping the 2017 Dolphins aren’t going to make that doubt into disappointing reality.
7. The likely backup tackles for the Dolphins? The inconsistent Sam Young and undrafted rookie Eric Smith.
Look for the Dolphins to rake carefully through the waiver wire to fortify this position along with defensive tackle (as usual) and, as mentioned above, linebacker (as usual) if at all possible. Otherwise they’re asking for trouble again the minute a starter goes down.
8. Is anyone else wondering if it's time to cut ties with Brandon Doughty? He certainly hasn’t done enough to make a case to be the backup on this team (or any other team) entering his second year.
Teams should always, always have a developmental quarterback, especially teams like the Dolphins who have a coach like Adam Gase who can likely help develop one. Matt Moore isn’t going to play forever. A seventh round pick last year, it may be time for the Dolphins to consider other options if they already suspect, as I do, that Doughty doesn’t have what it takes.
9. I like Dave Hyde at the Sun Sentinel, especially when he’s going toe to toe with the smirking Omar Kelly on video. But I have to disagree mildly with him as he compliments Adam Gase on the way that he handled the Jarvis Landry trade rumor.
For the uninitiated, Mike Lombardi was doing his typical troll job by “reporting” that the Dolphins were trying to trade Landry. Lombardi pulls things like this every once in a while to stir things up. Similar statements have never to my knowledge turned out to have anything substantial behind them.
In this case, he’s likely referring to trade conversations that took place before the draft and almost certainly no later than May. That’s neither surprising nor helpful to his readers/listeners, especially when he’s trying to pass it off as something that’s currently relevant.
In any case, Gase responded by sitting Landry down and addressing the issue rather than letting it fester - nice work! The problem is that Gase told him there was “no chance” that he’d be traded. And I guarantee you that’s a lie.
If anyone calls to ask about Landry, the Dolphins have to listen. They might demand something that they think no one will pay this close to the start of the season and that’s fine. That means the chances are extremely low. Perhaps I’m being too picky about it but everyone has been surprised before and the truth is that the chances aren’t zero.
10. Yes, it's a disappointment that Charles Harris hasn’t flashed in the preseason. But all that means is that he might join the long list of defensive ends that needed a year to get their feet underneath them. Gase has it right here:
“I remember when playing Oakland early in (Khalil) Mack’s career, that first year everybody kept talking about how he didn’t have any sacks and when you’re a coach and you’re watching tape, you’re going we don’t want to be the team that gets this guy rolling because he was close so many times. You know it’s just … that’s how it is.”
Another recent example can be easily found in Atlanta where Vic Beasley followed up a disappointing four sack 2015 season with a whopping NFL leading 15.5 in 2016.
Dolphin fans may just need to be patient with Harris. The result might be worth the weight.
This story was written by Tom Shannon. Follow him on Twitter: @bearingthenews
Okay, now that you’ve had some time to let the offensive side marinate a bit, time for the defense.
If you want to check out last year's predictions, check out these links. Offense / Defense
Without further ado, let's get started.
Defensive Line (9)
This is a tough group to call. The Dolphins are loaded with edge guys especially with the additions of Hayes and Harris. It leaves little room for guys like Fede and Warmsley. The only way Warmsley really sneaks in is if he can show value at the tackle position. I think the team will move on from Fede this year.
The four edge guys on the list should be able to put pressure on the QB while at the same time helping to improve the run defense. But my opinion of the tackle position may be considered a bit of a hot take to some.
Obviously they have one of the best if not the best defensive tackle in Ndamukong Suh. For the sake of saving a longer conversation for another article I’ll just go ahead and give you Phillips at the other starting spot as a safe guy we’re comfortable with. Behind those guys though, it gets scary.
I give you another number. The number is 12. This is the number of the total career tackles from every single interior D-lineman behind Suh and Phillips. Defensive tackle is a position of continuous rotation throughout the game. Miami must acquire another experienced, at least somewhat solid guy to rotate in with the two starters. If they don’t we are likely to see this line get gutted up the middle by the run whenever Phillips or Suh aren’t in there and those times will be plenty. I hesitate to even mention if one of the starters go down and we need someone to fill in.
I’d love to keep ten linemen but that’s not likely with the need of so many linebackers and defensive backs for special teams play. That would allow me to add either Fede or Warmsley of which I’d probably choose Fede in that situation. If for some crazy reason the Dolphins decide to roll with what they have at defensive tackle it will be a battle between those two guys in camp for that ninth spot.
By the way I’ll toot the horn and mention I put a place in last year’s defensive roster article for a free agent player to be named later and weeks later we signed Jason Jones.
Any Dolphins fan knows this has been one of the worst units over recent years. Many times we’ve relied on backups to play starting roles. They’ve even pretended backups were starter worthy because we had no one else. But things are looking up.
The Dolphins added Kiko Alonso in a big trade that also brought us Byron Maxwell (and in a stroke of luck, Laremy Tunsil) last year. Alonso was a savior at the middle linebacker spot making big plays all season long.
Misi will still play a role in this unit, he has his strengths but struggles to stay on the field. The aging Timmons is the biggest addition for this year and looks to help a poor run defense from last season.
We drafted Raekwon McMillan whose strength is also on the run stopping end. Hewitt and Hull have been contributors to the unit as well as have special teams value so they stay. I would like to have added undrafted free agent Chase Allen or CFL standout Deon Lacey but there just wasn’t room so they’ll likely see the practice squad.
I’m excited about this unit. I know we still don’t clearly see the shutdown guy yet but the talent is there from top to bottom. It’s a deep unit with enough experience in the backups to make you feel very comfortable going into the season.
Howard, Maxwell, and McCain are locks to me. I think Lippett has shown enough improvement and gained enough experience from last season he makes it too. I would like to see someone push Bobby McCain for the nickel spot but it seems he’s the one and only there except for maybe one option I’ll discuss in a bit. He’s my biggest question mark on this unit and he needs to improve to not be picked on by opposing quarterbacks.
Tankersley is a high draft choice from this year's draft and there isn’t much chance he won’t make it. That brought me down to Jordan Lucas vs. Lafayette Pitts. I think the experience and what Pitts has been able to show the coaching staff will be enough to win out over Lucas with a decent camp and Lucas will likely make his way back to the practice squad for a second season.
Reshad Jones. Need I say more. He’s the best in the NFL at his position. They signed Nate Allen, yet another stop gap at free safety. When will they finally find a permanent solution there? They just haven’t been able to draft at that position due to other needs and the ability to find guys in free agency.
Michael Thomas and Walt Aikens are great backups with lots of experience. The unit overall is very good. McDonald will be available November 5th at home against Oakland on Sunday night football but the team will likely work him in slowly. Perhaps he’ll be the answer we’re looking for at free safety.
Michael Thomas has recently mentioned he’d like to play some more nickel corner which at least would give McCain some competition but who knows if he’d be up to the task of truly pushing him out of that starting spot.
Special Teams (3)
For the second season in a row they brought in some competition for Denney at long snapper but he should still be able to hang on. He’s one of the league’s most consistent players at the position. He's also the longest tenured member of the team at this point.
Matt Darr has been solid at punter and will continue to boot 'em for Miami this season. Franks is a guy that seemed to change his outlook in the blink of an eye. His field goal against Buffalo in the waning seconds to help hoist us to the playoffs may have solidified his place on this team for 2017 and I doubt many fans will have an issue with that. It was one of the exciting moments of last year and one I know I won’t forget for a while.
No matter how it shakes out the Dolphins will have tough decisions all the way around at almost every position on the team. Looking at last year’s week one roster you can see the amount of depth and experience this team has added along with youth and potential. Should be a fun camp in a few months.
This column was written by Ron Canniff. Follow him on Twitter: @FinsBroadcaster
If you’re going to write a second annual way too early 53-man roster prediction, I guess it’s only fair to recap the first one. There were a few bright spots and one great call. But perhaps it was all wiped away with a very poor prediction worthy of Bill Barnwell. With that, here’s your recap.
I nailed QB. Well that wasn’t hard. I said there was no way Dallas Thomas would make the roster. I was wrong but I bet Adam Gase wishes he had read my article before the season started.
I said Chris McCain wouldn’t make it, basically insinuating he wouldn’t be able to grasp the defense. Regardless of the reason he didn’t make the team.
Now, onto the biggies. I said Arian Foster would go into the season as the number one running back. Impressed yet? When the article was written he wasn’t even a Miami Dolphin. How about now?
But of course we come to, paraphrasing the great Albert Einstein, the greatest blunder of my life (sorry about the dorky science humor). I hang my head low as I write this, I said Kenny Stills would likely be traded before the beginning of the season. Yeah, I know, it was bad.
If you’re interested in referencing last year’s articles you can do that here: Offense / Defense
Now we move to this year’s predictions. I must say there really aren’t any bombshells good or bad in this one. For the most part it’s straightforward, and that’s a great thing. The Dolphins have some good to extraordinary talent in their starting lineup this year and have worked to add depth to the team.
They also have some players who played more last year than we would have liked. Last year’s problems are this year’s solutions. Guys who may have started last year will play some nice backup roles with the experience they gained being thrown to the fire.
One and two are locked for the Dolphins. They will roll into this season with the same two QBs they have for over half a decade now. Personally I enjoy the consistency at such a crucial position. But what will Miami do with the third position?
David Fales spent time on a Chicago team with huge QB issues and could barely get on the field. Not sure that bodes well for him. In the end, the Dolphins will stick with Doughty. They drafted him and he knows the system.
Running back (3)
Picking the first three is like shooting fish in a barrel (no pun intended). Ajayi definitely had his struggles heading into the season last year. Three 200-yard games have a way of making problems disappear. There’s no doubt he’s the starter going into the season.
Right behind him is Kenyan Drake. He has speed and elusiveness in a completely different fashion than J-Train. This is one of the best 1-2 RB combos in the NFL, hard stop. Past his ‘hold out’ is Damien Williams who had six touchdowns last year and found a nice role in the offense even with Ajayi and Drake ahead of him.
However, determining the fourth RB in the group was tough. There’s a lot of excitement around undrafted free agent De’Veon Smith. In the end, I believe he’s too slow for the NFL and doesn’t provide much special teams contribution which is a must to be the fourth back on any team. But I have an idea. I give you the number seven and a guy named Jakeem Grant.
Wide Receiver (7)
Seven wide receivers, what? Yes, I know it seems improbable but hear me out. Let’s start with the big three of Landry, Parker and Stills. Those guys are locks.
Leonte Carroo is a player of much debate lately. It’s been rumored he could be cut. He scored in the first game of the season last year but then started to fall out of favor with the coaching staff. However, I think it’s too early to give up on him so he’ll make the 53.
Grant is someone an offensive genius like Gase has been chomping at the bit to draw up plays for. His unique skill set allows Miami to play him in various spots including catching balls out of the backfield and he has tremendous special teams value ala Darren Sproles.
I believe he’ll be a pseudo fourth running back for Miami allowing them to keep only three RBs but seven WRs.
Now for Scott and Ford. Rashawn Scott spent much of his time on the practice squad last year and worked up to the 53-man roster the old-fashioned way, he earned it. Coaches want to see more from him and I believe he’s making the 53.
Gase and company were surprised to still see Ford on the board when it came time for them to draft in the seventh round this year. The only reason he was likely still there was a slower 40-time. I remember another guy who ran a bit slower 40 and it dropped his draft stock. Not to compare Ford to Landry but I believe he’s also making the team and falls into the seventh spot.
Tight End (3)
This is the most improved and transformed unit on the team. Last year we got by with backup quality players and guys off the street.
This year we will roll into the season with one of the most prolific pass catching tight ends in the league and PFF’s rated best blocking tight end. Nuff’ said. We could clearly see the offense was begging for someone who could be a seam threat from this position and now they have it in Thomas.
Gray will stick around for sure. He knows the offense and did well in his role last year. One of the aforementioned players thrown into a starting role who will make great depth for us this season.
Thomas Duarte would need to really shine during camp to push Gray out or someone else at another position so he’s probably going to see the practice squad again.
Offensive Line (9)
No doubt there are some things to be worked out in a starting spot or two but this unit as a whole is very deep and contains some nice pieces. When healthy, Pouncey is one of the league’s best centers. Coach Gase has mentioned he will go slow and careful with him during the season, hinting he may practice very little to be available for the season and hopefully the postseason.
Tunsil will now man the left tackle position with the departure of Branden Albert, a position he seems born to play. Ja’Wuan James had a slow start in 2016 but was arguably one of the teams most improved players by season’s end.
The team added some competition and depth in the middle with veteran Ted Larsen and rookie Isaac Asiata who will likely battle for one of the starting guard spots. Urbik, Steen and Young are competent to play when needed and start if necessary.
Look for the defensive side of the 53-man roster coming very soon.
This column was written by Ron Canniff. Follow him on Twitter: @FinsBroadcaster
On Week 14 of the 2016 NFL season, Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill suffered the first major injury of his still young career, when defensive lineman Calais Campbell crashed into his knee and caused what was originally diagnosed as a sprained ACL and MCL.
In essence, this means that Tannehill only partially tore his knee, which gave the team hope that surgery could be avoided. This is exactly what took place, as Tannehill decided to forego going under the knife and let his body heal naturally, the way it's supposed to.
Every indication since then has stated that Tannehill is ahead of schedule on his recovery, and the now veteran quarterback is back to normal and looks as good as he ever has, so says head coach Adam Gase who spoke on the topic this past Friday during a press conference.
“He looks normal to me. He just looks like he did last year." Gase said. "The difference is he’s got a better grasp of the offense at this point compared to last year. He moves around fine. He’s got a good edge that I like to him right now. You can tell that he wasn’t real happy about getting hurt last year. I like the way he’s working right now, and we’ll just keep doing what we’ve been doing. I know he’s really trying to make sure that he’s one of the reasons that we’re taking the next step. He’s really been pushing himself.”
Of course, there are those that are still skeptical, and that's perfectly understandable given the mindset that the average individual has in situations like these. Tannehill's knee was torn, partially or not, so naturally, the logical solution would be to do what 99.9% of athletes do and go get a surgery done to give him a "new" ACL.
But he didn't.
So there are those who are suggesting that despite all the news and all the visual proof that Tannehill is back to his pre-injury form, it's all a bunch of hooey and Tannehill will more than likely find himself down for the count again, resulting in a phone call being made to a certain quarterback that has recently taken on a broadcasting job with FOX Sports.
That's Jay Cutler, in case you didn't know.
Most would assume this is a very logical assumption. After all, how does a torn ACL - even a partially torn one - simply just heal on its own? Tannehill is just playing with fire by not getting surgery and having it get reconstructed, it is foolish and he is counting on something to happen that just doesn't happen. Right?
Allow me to perfectly frank. The very thought of someone getting surgery to have something repaired nowadays just makes me sick to my stomach. I realize that sometimes it legitimately is necessary, but after seeing the things I've seen, learning the things I've learned, I cannot help but wonder how many surgeries could have been avoided altogether, and how many of those people who underwent surgery actually regretted doing so later down the line.
Tannehill did not get the surgery, it was not deemed necessary, and I think that he will actually be better off for it. Not to cast aspersions, but here are just a couple of examples - aka testimonies - from people who personally told me that they found alternative methods of healing - defying conventional logic, and in at least one case, doctor's recommendation - and have yet to suffer any adverse effects.
The first story is of a young man who had a labrum tear in his shoulder. As a baseball player, a shoulder injury is one of the worst things that can happen, and the surgery to repair it would have forced him to sit out for a total of 10-12 months before he could play baseball.
Instead of going through with it, this young man went with a different approach. He had PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injections, along with stem cells in both his shoulder and his elbow. Within two months, the PRP regenerated his shoulder, and he has yet to have any issues with it.
The other story I have is of a middle-aged woman who was playing tennis one day. While getting in position to return a volley, her knee twisted unnaturally and she fell into excruciating pain. She went and got an MRI soon after, and the sports doctor informed her that she had torn her meniscus tendon and MCL, and if she didn't get a surgery, she would never walk again.
Going with the theme of this column, she of course refused, and she decided to start working with natural means of recovery. After a few months, she went back to the doctor with the intent of getting another MRI to check her progress. The doctor - who had worked with several athletes, including numerous hockey players - refused to see her unless it was with the intent to schedule a surgery.
Anyone else see something wrong with that picture?
To make a long story short, with proper supplements, the right medicines and creams, combined with plenty of rest (and no small amount of prayer, make of that what you will), this woman is now walking around and doing everything she could before her injury, and the doctor never got to lay a finger (and more importantly, their knife) on her knee.
There are so many other options out there besides getting surgery to repair injuries, and there is documented proof of instances where people have completely healed from their injuries without the help of a doctor and their tools. Ryan Tannehill made a good choice when he decided to let his body heal naturally, and I believe he will be better off for it in the long run. It's already been reported that he's totally healthy already, so why should anyone doubt it?
Knees can regenerate, they have done so in the past, and they will continue to do so in the future. You just have to go beyond the surface of medicine and dig a little deeper, and find the right way to support and care for them.
On a slightly related note, just for the record and to give some more encouraging news, there's a way for Jay Ajayi to regrow his knee cartilage as well, as one Richard Bedard wrote in the Huffington Post all the way back in 2011.
Just let all this sink in.
The human body is a remarkable creation, one that is built to heal itself and will do so if given the proper tools it needs to make its own repairs, no matter what the issue. So the next time you hear a doctor say something is impossible, turn around, leave their office, and remember that doctors don't always have the right answers to problems.
This column was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung
As I watched the NFL draft unfold last night, I was convinced that the Miami Dolphins were going to go with a defensive player when their pick came due. And on that front I wasn’t disappointed when the team selected defensive end Charles Harris out of Missouri.
I was slightly miffed that the Dolphins didn’t take a chance on linebacker Reuben Foster, but not really surprised. All indications this offseason have pointed to the team wanting players without baggage; self-starters who don’t need a carrot dangled in front of them each day.
Foster had red flags, and a key barometer to whether those flags could harbor more issues became apparent when the Baltimore Ravens passed him up with the 16th pick. GM Ozzie Newsome has close ties to the Alabama program and coach Nick Saban, probably closer than the ties with Miami head coach Adam Gase. Saban has a history of being honest in evaluations of NFL prospects from his program, and once Baltimore passed on Foster, I was pretty sure the Dolphins weren’t going to take him either.
Oh, and for what it’s worth, Charles Harris is going to be a very good player for Miami. You just wait.
Another player on the board whom was tied to Miami pre-draft was offensive lineman Forrest Lamp. But here again, I wasn’t surprised that the Dolphins didn’t select him. From the end of the season, the Dolphins have stressed the need to get quicker and better on defense, and I fully expected the first two rounds of this draft to be spent on that side of the ball.
In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Dolphins don’t select a lineman at all in this draft. After signing Ted Larsen to man the left guard spot, the team has the bodies to fill a quite serviceable offensive line. And heading into the season, the Dolphins will have four of their five linemen playing positions that suit them. Only right guard Jermon Bushrod is playing "out of position," per se.
And Bushrod should be much improved with another full offseason at right guard. Offensive line can be addressed later in the draft, or in the post-draft cuts that will be coming next month. Unlike many, I’m not greatly worried about this area. When healthy, we are already better than last year, and we have some good versatile backups in the mix.
And to those who say we need to put huge investments into the offensive line, let me point something out: the Super Bowl was just won by a team that patched their interior line with three guys paid a total of $1.54 million. Granted the Dolphins line doesn’t scare many, but it’s a serviceable bunch capable of getting the job done.
So what happens now? I fully expect the Dolphins second round pick to be used on a linebacker or defensive back. And then at the end of the third round, the team can look at a truncated Best Player Available (BPA). I’ve never truly supported the BPA approach as I believe teams should look at the best available positions that fit a need.
And no matter how you want to slice it, the Dolphins need this year is on defense.
This column was written by Eldon Jenson. Follow him on Twitter @EJFootball
1. I found it interesting that Dolphins Executive Vice President of Football Operations Mike Tannenbaum was so anxious to make it clear that the Dolphins were open to trading back in the draft to pick up more picks.
The Dolphins have a huge advantage over much of the rest of the NFL for one reason - they are apparently satisfied that they have a good starting quarterback and don't feel that it's a need. That puts them in a position to take advantage of those teams that do.
Number 22 would ordinarily be a long way to trade up to get back into the first round to take a quarterback. But with so many teams with a need at the position, teams picking at the top of the second round may feel that that's what they need to do in order to get their guy. The Dolphins also have the Giants, the Texans, the Chiefs and the Saints sitting behind them in the first round.
This could definitely be the year to look at the team successfully trading back in what looks like a very deep draft at a couple positions of need.
2. I also have found the debate about whether the Dolphins should take a guard in the first round to be entertaining, seeing that it has led to some Sun Sentinel-on-Sun Sentinel infighting.
For what it's worth, I think Omar Kelly has the right on this debate. Dave Hyde seems to subscribe to the somewhat old fashioned idea that guards aren't that important and that they can be picked up late in the draft. The truth is that it depends on what kind of offense you are running and, especially, on what kind of quarterback you have.
If your quarterback is working mostly from the pocket, keeping a clean space in front of him is far more important than completely controlling a defensive end on the edge. Good pocket quarterbacks know when to step up almost by instinct and, given room to maneuver, they can keep their eyes down field if the pocket isn't too muddy. That's where a really good pair of guards can be extremely important.
Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill definitely falls into the category of a quarterback who could benefit from this kind of thinking. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to have been prevalent in the organization for some years with some really bad guard play coming from the likes of Dallas Thomas, Jamil Douglas and Billy Turner taking place in front of Tannehill. Meanwhile they have spent first round picks on tackles Ja'Wuan James and Laremy Tunsil.
The presence of Adam Gase may change all of that, however, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Dolphins go guard in the first round this year.
3. I've heard it said that the Dolphins did a good job of filling their holes in free agency so that they can go in any direction in the NFL.
Hogwash. As outlined above, guard is a need but it is far from the only one.
Cameron Wake is 35 years old and Andre Branch, Terrence Fede, William Hayes and Julius Warmsley are all below average defensive ends with limited upside. At the third linebacker spot the Dolphins are still sticking with Koa Misi despite seven years of direct evidence that he's not an adequate answer at the position. And, worst of all, at defensive tackle the Dolphins have Ndamukong Suh with a whiff of a hope of a dream that Jordan Phillips will somehow magically turn into a good, consistent player in his third year in the league on the other side.
That's no way to build a roster, folks.
The Dolphins got by with some poor defensive talent last year because they had some good coaching and there's no better evidence of that than the fact that Vance Joseph was hired as the Broncos head coach. This despite being the coordinator of a Dolphins defense that was statistically well below average (30th against the run and 18th in points allowed). Now Joseph is gone but much of the talent deficit is still there.
The Dolphins badly need to build at the line of scrimmage in this draft on both sides of the ball if they want to compete as an elite team. And they have a lot of work to do.
4. Speaking of Tannehill, as good as he was last year, he seems optimistic that there's still a lot of room for improvement in his second year under head coach Adam Gase.
“I’m looking to take a big step forward this year,” Tannehill said. “You’re kind of getting your feet wet, especially in the spring of your first year. You’re learning, you’re trying to take in as much information and new stuff as you can. Along the way, you miss a few things or you’re not as good at a few things as you’d like to be. You combine that with having a year of tape and film and just being in the offense, you should some big improvements throughout the spring. Zero in on the details, getting a little more comfortable with things and once you get into the season, you’ll see those things paying off.”
One of the smartest things the Dolphins have done in the last ten years is hire a head coach who can coach quarterbacks. Tannehill was barely an average quarterback before Gase arrived. Now he's arguably on his way to being in the upper third of the league if he's not already there.
If you've got a quarterback, you have the opportunity to compete every year. If you don't, the best you can do is the occasional spurt where you get lucky and stay healthy in virtually every other area. Coaching is a huge part of that and if your quarterback guru isn't the head coach, you are going to quickly lose him to another team.
In that respect, the Dolphins are set for a long time to come.
5. The Dolphins caught a little bit of a break when the New England Patriots opted to offer Buffalo restricted free agent Mike Gillislee a contract.
The Patriots hosted the restricted free agent on a visit last week and have made him an offer. The Bills did not match the offer to Gillislee, which means the Patriots will have him.
I've long held that Damien Williams is an undervalued asset for the Dolphins, one who is a valuable special teams contributor and one who I still think could share carries with a bigger back on many NFL teams.
6. One of the things that came out of the pre-draft press conference was that the Dolphins were making defensive adjustments that would eliminate the need to look for a prototype defensive end. This really shouldn't have come as a great surprise.
The Dolphins showed quite a bit of interest in signing defensive tackle Dontari Poe in free agency. Poe is a mountain of a man at 346 pounds who really fits best in a two gap defensive scheme.
A two gap scheme is one where a defensive lineman takes a blocker head on and is responsible for the gap on either side of him. A one gap scheme is one where a defensive lineman shoots a gap and is only responsible for that gap.
It is usually the scheme run by teams such as the Dolphins who, at least up until now, have expected their defensive linemen to penetrate and disrupt in the backfield. This certainly is what Ndamukong Suh will continue to do on his side of the field, meaning that the Dolphins might be planning to run one type of scheme on one side and the other type of scheme on the other in certain situations.
The guess here is that new defensive coordinator Matt Burke has decided to follow Adam Gase's lead on offense and adjust his scheme to the personnel and game situation. This means that fans can start looking for quite a bit more diversity and originality in how the Dolphins will handle their defense. It also means quite a bit more complexity and it should be interesting to see how the team handles it.
7. A lot has been made of how difficult the last six games of the Dolphins schedule are. They play the Patriots and the Bills two times apiece along with the Broncos and the Chiefs.
The New England, Denver and Kansas City games, I get. But, division rival or not, trouble with them in recent years or not, the Bills are still the Bills. They, along with the Jets, should be the reason why the Dolphins make the playoffs, not an excuse for failing to do so.
8. One of the more inexcusable actions to occur in the offseason was the way that the Washington Redskins handled the allegations by former Redskins player and radio personality Chris Cooley that GM Scot McCloughan was drinking again and that it was affecting the way that he did his job.
What was the response? Do nothing and say nothing, leaving it out there that McCloughan, a recovering alcoholic, was back off the wagon.
McCloughan was eventually fired by team president Bruce Allen, who effectively replaced him in the front office.
Allen now says that he talked to Cooley privately with McCloughan present.
Why didn't he respond publicly?
“There was someone who said on the radio that there was jealousy. Then, there was somebody who said we were trading Kirk Cousins for Tony Romo and giving the Cowboys draft picks. Then Chris said what he said. Then somebody said ‘X, Y and Z.’ I can’t keep up with sports-talk radio; I don’t ever want to keep up with sports-talk radio. If I had Twitter, maybe I would say, ‘This is false! This is false! This is false!’ . . . Every time somebody throws something against the wall to speculate, we’re not going to respond to all that. That’s what the media does. It’s impossible to answer all of the foolishness that’s out there,” Allen said.
Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com comments:
Of course Allen can’t be expected to respond to every single thing that’s said on sports talk radio. But this wasn’t just any old thing. This was a guy who works for the team speculating that alcoholism was affecting the team’s G.M. That would have been a time for the team president to speak up. Allen didn’t.
I don't ordinarily use this space simply to quote someone else and add "me, too." But this time I'm saying it with emphasis. Me, too!
This was an inexcusable way to treat an employee. The only thing that would have been worse would have been to falsely imply that the rumors were true, which Allen effectively did for weeks by simply not commenting up until the publication of this interview many weeks later.
9. One of the most enjoyable aspects of draft season for me is reading the anonymous quotes from NFL personnel scouts and executives that Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Bob McGinn collects. There are always a few surprises here.
Probably the most interesting article of the series this year was the one that McGinn did on DeShone Kizer. Like many athletes are big football schools, quarterbacks are apparently worshiped on the Notre Dame campus and it evidently affected Kizer because McGinn's scouts absolutely eviscerated him.
“You look at that team, they’ve got players,” an AFC personnel man said. “There’s no way they should win just four games. It was because of this guy, the quarterback. Boy, at times he looked bad. He was so bad against Stanford in the first half that they benched him.”
“You look at that team, they’ve got players,” an AFC personnel man said. “There’s no way they should win just four games. It was because of this guy, the quarterback. Boy, at times he looked bad. He was so bad against Stanford in the first half that they benched him.”
An NFC personnel man described Kizer as a selfish player worried mostly about status and money.
“That’s what drives him,” said the executive. “It’s all about him. Prima donna. Thin-skinned.”
We all know its lying season in the NFL and its possible these three men are all hoping that Kizer will fall. But his own actions lately have seemingly backed this evaluation up.
On April 20, Kizer was quoted as comparing himself to Tom Brady and Cam Newton.
“Name a college quarterback who goes into the game-plan meetings on Monday and throws his notes at the coaches,” Kizer said. “No one else game plans the way I do. No one else prepares the way I do. No one else knows football the way I do. No one else is as big as I am. No one else is as powerful a runner as I am. Pat Mahomes might throw the ball 80 yards and I can only throw the ball 72, but I guarantee he can’t throw an out route the way I can. No one else can do what I can do. And I’ve truly figured out in this process, if I can maximize all my potential in every aspect of the game – this is bold – I do have the ability to be the greatest quarterback to ever play. Imagine taking Brady’s intellect and Brady’s preparation and putting it on a guy with Cam Newton’s body. Why can’t I be the greatest? The only thing stopping me from it is me. That’s what’s driving me now.”
OK, the guy is confident. Not very unusual if you are a quarterback. Probably a lot of them think it even if they don't say it.
But Kizer, apparently realizing how arrogant he sounded, decided to claim that his comments were taken out of context the very next day.
Not even drafted yet and he's already blaming the media? Apparently upon thinking about it (and probably talking to his agent), Kizer thought so, too. Because the NEXT day, he decided to effectively retract his claim and own up to the quote.
The point? Kizer's first instinct was to blame someone else after his misstep. He then decided that didn't sound too good either and that he'd better say what he had to protect his brand.
Sounds pretty much exactly like the kind of guy the anonymous evaluators were describing. Even his college head coach said that he needs more time to grow not only on but off the field.
As Miami fans know well a la Dion Jordan, most NFL draft picks don't fail due to lack of talent. They fail because they don't have the attitude it takes to succeed. And Kizer sounds to me like he's got a great deal of Ryan Leaf in him.
Bottom line, heaven help the team that spends a high draft pick to draft Kizer.
10. Miami fans, there is one thing you should always, always be grateful for.
Let's set the scene. It's 2014 and you've got the 22nd pick in the draft. You like Johnny Manziel.
Your GM and head coach don't agree. He's 5'11", can't see over his linemen and can't throw from the pocket, something that every good NFL quarterback has had to do well since the 50s. To top it all off, your scouts can't find one single person on the Texas A&M campus who is willing to say that he'll grow up.
But you're the owner and you like him.
So what do you do? You reportedly overrule everyone and take the guy no one wants.
And what happens? It's a disaster because, well, no one wanted him, he can't throw from the pocket and he never grew up.
Fast forward to 2017. You are again in the draft room and this time you are drafting first overall in part because, well, you hitched your wagon to Manziel in 2014.
Again, you want a quarterback. The top guy is someone from North Carolina named "Mitchell" Trubisky. You like him.
Your head coach - the only one of the three men making decisions at the top who is a football guy - doesn't agree. He's OK but he only started for one year in college and he needs a lot of development. Your head coach wants a sure fire impact player who is the consensus best pick in the draft, Myles Garrett.
But you are the owner and you want a quarterback.
So what do you do? Do you:
a. Learn from your previous mistakes, go with the football guy and take the slam dunk first overall player
b. Overrule him and take the quarterback. Again.
Who wants to bet that Browns owner Jimmy Haslam chooses "b"?
Do whatever it is that you normally do. Get down on your knees and bow your head. Turn towards Mecca and bow. Sacrifice a goat in your living room.
Do whatever it is and then say the following: "Thank you.”
“Thank you for not making me a Browns fan."
This column was written by Tom Shannon. Follow him on Twitter: @bearingthenews
Every March, when NFL free agency commences, hope springs eternal amongst fans of the Miami Dolphins, and indeed fans of every team in the NFL. Bright, shiny baubles are on display all across the league, as teams explore the possibilities of adding talent to their rosters with veterans who can make an immediate impact on the field of play.
And more often than not, teams find out that there was a reason the player they signed was available in the first place, and they overpaid for average talent, rather than the superstar they thought they’d gotten.
The Dolphins have been active participants in free agency every year, and this year was no exception. But if you look closely, you can sense a difference in the approach of this second-year regime.
In the recent past, the Dolphins, with lots of money to spend, have doled out huge contracts to lure the top talent to South Florida in free agency. In 2013, they made wide receiver Mike Wallace one of the highest paid receivers in the league. In 2014, they lured left tackle Branden Albert with a high-end contract as well. And defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh became the highest-paid defensive player (at the time) when the Dolphins signed the prize free agent of the 2015 season.
But there has been an internal shift since head coach Adam Gase came aboard, as the Dolphins are looking to build from within, using the draft to add young talent, with the intent of developing their own and filling in needed spots with lower-priced free agents. They brought linebacker Lawrence Timmons, offensive guard Ted Larsen, and safety Nate Allen aboard for relatively affordable contracts, and continue to explore adding possibly one more free agent before the NFL draft at the end of April.
They’ve also extended the contracts of several other players, most notably wide receiver Kenny Stills and safety Reshad Jones, keeping core talent in place, hoping that the continuity of retaining in-house talent outweighs splashy (and high-priced) new signings.
And that’s a good thing.
Free agency in the NFL is not the bargain that many think it is. In fact, in the past three seasons, the teams that spent the most money on free agents (Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders, and New York Giants) with an average of nearly $430 million per team spent on free agents, averaged a paltry 18-30 record over those three years.
By comparison, the three teams that spent the least amount of money in free agency (Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Carolina Panthers), only forked out an average of $70 million per team, and did remarkably well, with an average record of 30-18 over the past three years.
The Dolphins are indeed being very wise in their new approach, and here’s why.
When the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) went into effect in 2011, a rookie wage scale was instigated, which set a predetermined scale for rookie contracts based on where they were drafted. That in itself translates to this result on the field: teams that draft well end up with some of their best players under contract for four or five years at salaries that are far below market value.
Add in another key component of that 2011 CBA – the salary cap has increased from $120 million in 2001 to $167 million this season – and teams find themselves in position to use available funds to retain their own players. Not only that, but most teams are able to do so while paying slightly under market value, as many players (and agents) are realizing that while chasing the almighty dollar is nice, playing in a familiar scheme, knowing where they fit in with schemes, coaches, and teammates oftentimes wins out over a few extra dollars.
There are certainly exceptions to the rule, with one or two immensely talented players hitting the market each year. For instance, no one will deny the impact that Suh has made for the Dolphins.
But by and large, the smart NFL teams know not to splurge in free agency, instead allotting that money towards keeping their own talent intact, drafting well, and hoping for the luxury of developing young talent to replace their own free agents. Should the player’s situation (age, injury history, salary demands) put them in a position where it is better for the team to let that player sign elsewhere rather than chew up a sizable portion of their salary cap, so be it.
And the Dolphins, as recent moves made by the team indicate, are realizing this.
And they are playing it smart.
This column was written by Eldon Jenson. Follow him on Twitter @EJFootball
On the second day of the 2016 NFL draft, the Miami Dolphins made a trade with the Minnesota Vikings that gave away the team’s sixth round pick in that draft, plus their third and fourth round picks in the 2017 draft, all to get a third round pick that they used on a player that wasn’t a need (wide receiver Leonte Carroo). This happened after earlier in the day, the team had traded away their fourth round pick in that draft in order to move up just four spots in the second round.
A gnashing of teeth ensued, garments were rendered, and curses echoed throughout the land.
Or maybe that was just at my house.
I was livid at the time. Why were the Dolphins trading away valuable picks, many of them? I’m not convinced the Dolphins couldn’t have gotten the same players, or very equal value, if they had stayed put with their original picks. And I tweeted as much. I’ve always believed that you never mortgage your future for the unknown, and that’s exactly what Miami did.
Calm down, I was told.
Relax, they said.
The Dolphins will fill those spots with free agents, and all will be well again in Dolphinsland again.
And one follower even told me to delete my tweet before I ended up looking like a fool (which I regrettably did).
Well, we did do quite well in free agency. Add in a heavy dose of new head coach Adam Gase’s winning ways, and the Dolphins ended the 2016 season with a 10-6 record and a playoff spot.
So was I wrong to believe that giving up valuable future draft picks was such a terrible thing to do?
As it stands right now, the Dolphins enter the 2017 draft with seven picks. Only three of those are from their original rounds (1st, 2nd, and 5th).
In addition to being without their third and fourth round picks, the team traded their seventh round pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars in a trade that netted tight end Julius Thomas. Then they sent their sixth round pick to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for defensive end William Hayes and the Ram’s seventh round pick.
I’m not criticizing those late round moves. In those cases, the cost is minimal, as late round picks are typically used for depth and development, and the team traded away two late picks (and recouped one) to acquire two players that are expected to make an impact on the field right away. Smart gamble, in my mind.
In a calculated gamble, due to having lost several high-priced free agents last year (Rishard Matthews, Lamar Miller, Olivier Vernon), the Dolphins were awarded three compensatory picks in this year’s draft, a third rounder and two fifth rounders. Smart gamble number two, and it paid off handsomely.
But if not for those three picks being added, the Dolphins would be looking at a very sorrowful draft indeed.
As it stands, as of today the Dolphins will have the following picks this year:
1st Round - 22nd overall.
2nd Round - 54th overall
3rd Round (Compensatory) - 97th overall
5th Round - 166th overall
5th Round (Compensatory) - 178th overall
5th Round (Compensatory) - 184th overall
7th Round, from Rams - 223rd overall
Great, you say, we still have seven picks, so it’s all good, right?
But let’s put those picks into perspective. The Dolphins will have just two picks in the first 96 picks, and just three in the first 165 selections.
Had the Dolphins simply stayed put with their previous picks, they would have EIGHT picks in the first 184 selections.
And you may have already heard, this year’s draft is a very deep one in several positions where the Dolphins have needs.
Had the Dolphins stayed put in 2016, they would have two third round picks this year (their own plus a compensatory pick). They would still have their own fourth round pick.
Add in those extra fifth round compensatory picks, and the Dolphins would be sitting on a bonanza of picks, letting them draft nine players this year, and that is in addition to still having Thomas and Hayes.
With new rules now allowing compensatory picks to be traded, the Dolphins would have the ammunition needed to move up in the draft, should they choose to go after a much-needed player. And they could do while still retaining their core picks.
Instead of having just three picks in the first four rounds this year, the Dolphins would be sitting pretty with FIVE picks in those first four rounds. And I remind you again that the Dolphins have deep needs at linebacker, guard, and on the defensive line, all areas with tons of depth in this year’s draft.
But nope, didn’t happen. The Dolphins brass, led by vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum, mortgaged the future last year, sacrificing picks in this year’s draft, even though they knowingly ignored the defensive side last year, leaving them on the short side as they approach this year’s draft.
Do I sound bitter?
Yeah, I am. And in hindsight, I was exactly right in questioning the trades in last year’s draft.
But my point in all of this is, I strongly caution folks who hope that the Dolphins trade up in the draft again this year.
To me, it’s just not worth the cost to move up a few slots unless you KNOW the player you are bringing in is a Day One starter. That wasn’t the case last year. And it doesn’t matter where the pick resides, Dolphins fans should be very well aware by now that no player in the NFL draft is a guarantee. Just look at Dion Jordan for further proof.
The draft is hard enough without losing future chances.
So please, Miami Dolphins, don’t mortgage your future for the unknown.
Don’t make me gnash my teeth again this year!
This column was written by Eldon Jenson. Follow him on Twitter @EJFootball
When I was in my early 20s I went through a repeated cycle every six months that most people likely go through.
I’d go out, often to a party and get very drunk. This would inevitably lead to what we might kindly call a “rough night.” After turning my intestinal tract inside out for most of the next morning, I’d say the same thing every time.
“Never again. Never, ever again.”
But it did happen again. Every six months or so I’d go out and apparently, with the previous incident being ancient history in my young and - let’s be honest - really stupid mind, I’d repeat the cycle. Over and over.
This didn’t stop until I hit my late 20s when a switch apparently clicks on for most of us and the feeling that you’re not invincible and that you are in the process of doing something you’re going to seriously regret later hits and actually sticks. But it took a long, long time with many repetitions for that to happen.
Which brings me to the case of recently signed Dolphins defensive back T.J. McDonald.
First the good news. The Dolphins have a gap at safety opposite Reshard Jones. Last year’s free agent acquisition, Isa Abdul-Quddus, has been released after suffering a severe neck/shoulder injury that likely won’t allow him to play in 2017, if ever again. McDonald appears to be an ascending player who could help the Dolphins a lot on the field this season in that capacity. Here’s a scouting report from ESPN Rams reporter Alden Gonzalez:
"T.J. McDonald, listed at 6-foot-2 and 217 pounds, is a hard-hitting safety who was ideal for the aggressive style of former Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Last season he also made some pretty drastic improvements in coverage. Pro Football Focus had him with an opponents’ QB rating of 68.8 while serving as the primary coverage defender, which was nearly half the QB rating he surrendered over the course of his first three seasons (121.6).
"McDonald played in every game last year and registered six defended passes. At 26, he was also a young free agent. He should provide the Dolphins with a major lift in their secondary for the second half."
The bad news has to with that last part: “for the second half.” As in “for the second half of the season.” Because McDonald is suspended for the first eight games for his violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. Though there are no reports of an initial violation, an eight game punishment almost always means that it’s a result of a second encounter of some type with the league.
Admittedly a lot depends upon the circumstances surrounding that first rules violation. But it’s fair to ask what the odds are that McDonald is in for a third suspension, which almost always is for an entire 16 game season.
If you listen to McDonald, the Dolphins have nothing to worry about.
"For me, definitely this is something that will never happen again," McDonald said on a conference call Friday. "I've learned, I've owned up to it, and I definitely want to grow from it. "
Uh huh. I’ve heard those words before. Heck, I’ve said those words before. Yes, I didn’t lose millions in free agency because of it but mine wasn’t the result of being under the influence of drugs, either.
In fairness, even McDonald acknowledges that actions speak louder.
"Yes, obviously words are only so much. For me, I definitely … This is something that will never happen again and I’ve learned (from it) and owned up to (it). I definitely want to grow from (it). (My) priorities changed, everything’s changed. This whole experience is something I’m definitely going to grow from.”
So what reasons do we have to believe that will be true?
Well, getting away from the west coast won’t hurt. McDonald was born in Fresno, California and went to college at USC. As the son of former NFL player Tim McDonald, it’s fair to assume that he didn’t grow up in poverty. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t bad influences around the area for him. Getting away from all of that with a move about as far away as you could get probably won’t hurt McDonald’s chances of staying clean.
Of course, Miami offers its own set of temptations.
Objectively speaking, a good look at the statistics behind these violations yields interesting results. The data that I’ve collected for players suspended for more than one violation of the substance abuse policy from 2013 to 2016 are in the following table (suspensions were considerably more rare before that, leading to very little useful data).
Each of the players listed which was suspended more than four games, presumably for more than one violation of the policy. Dion Jordan was included because, as most Dolphin fans know, his four game suspension was in response to a known second offense.
Of the 15 players in the table, seven (almost half, bolded) appeared again for a third presumed violation – so far. You can expect that number to grow, perhaps a lot, because six of those second offenses came in 2016, not allowing much time to pass for a third offense.
In other words, if McDonald actually manages to stay out of trouble, he will, to a certain extent, be beating the odds.
What does this means for the Dolphins? Well, for now, not much. His contract is reportedly for one year at the veteran minimum.
The problem will come if McDonald performs well and the Dolphins are faced with re-signing him. At that point, Miami will be walking into dangerous territory. The odds say that making a long-term commitment could have consequences.
Unless, that is, McDonald’s young brain finally syncs up with his mouth when he says, “Never again. Never ever, again.”
We shall see.
This column was written by Tom Shannon. Follow him on Twitter: @bearingthenews
“What in the world happened to Julius Thomas in Jacksonville?”
That is a question that everyone is asking right now along with its companion – “Will the Dolphins get more out of him?”
The answer to question #1 gives a great deal of insight into question #2.
Thomas was the toast of the league in the 2015 offseason. A premier free agent tight end out of Denver, Thomas caught 24 touchdowns in then offensive coordinator Adam Gase’s first two years as the Broncos’ play-caller. Jacksonville eventually signed him to a five- year, $46-million contract with $24-million guaranteed.
Then the wheels came off and Thomas began to underachieve and though Thomas did have 76 catches in two years with the Jaguars, it wasn’t anywhere near the production that they thought that they were going to get from him.
Why did Thomas fail in Jacksonville to the point where he was traded to Miami this offseason for only a seventh-round pick in next month’s draft? Part of it has to do with his own limitations and part of it with Jacksonville’s evident failure to recognize those limitations.
Thomas is at his best when he is used as a rebounder with straight-line speed. You expect him to be running seam routes and the like. But that’s not what Jacksonville did with him.
“We’d like to have him catch to where we can get up-field,” Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley said in November last year. “We knew [short routes] could happen, because we were chipping him. He had to chip and then get release. With that, maybe if his route was supposed to be at seven, it was going to be at five. Then we said if we are going to throw it to you, the last two are on you.”
Those short routes were a problem because what Thomas is not is a stop and start guy. Only seven of Thomas’ 76 catches (9.2 percent) were on passes that traveled at least 15 yards in the air. The average completion was 21 yards and included three touchdowns (29, 21 and 22 yards).
The average completion of his other 69 catches was only 8.4 yards.
In 2015, Thomas averaged only 3.1 yards after the catch (142 yards on 46 catches). In 2016, Thomas averaged only 3.3 yards after the catch (99 yards on 30 catches). That equaled only a 3.2-yard post-catch average in two years.
Thomas was a player who needed to make his catch downfield while in motion.
In November last year when Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley was asked what Thomas did well in the offense, his response was comical.
“We feel Ben Koyack is doing a pretty good job,” Bradley said.
Koyack has played in 14 games and has 19 career catches for 161 yards.
“I think the ability to keep us with more options, the style of runs that we’re trying to run when Ben is in there,” Bradley said. “I think everything is available to us that’s in our run game. I think that Julius has gotten better with the run game.”
You signed Julius Thomas to block? Really?
In fairness, Jacksonville general manager Dave Caldwell denies that Thomas was traded because he can’t block. And an anonymous source told the Florida-Times Union that he thought that the Jaguars did try to use Thomas correctly.
“They made him the single receiver, put him in the slot, had him play the wing – moved him around to give him all kinds of different advantages to create plays,” the source said. “Every tight end ran similar routes as he did.
“He’s a very specific player that, really, is hard for an [offensive staff] to game-plan for. In a true two-tight end system, he could put up better numbers because he would be on the field more and be treated as the third receiver. But to make a living doing that is tough because of the team-speed issue. Defenses are able to stay in base and stop the run and also with the speed of some linebackers, they were able to cover him man to man and were actually faster and more physical than Julius.
“The run-after-the-catch was an issue. For a big guy, I don’t know if he played like one.”
And that gets to the root of another somewhat disturbing problem. Justified or not, Thomas has gained a reputation for being soft. During the 2015 free agency period an anonymous Denver Bronco said, “Julius is here to get his money and get out. That’s just how some guys are. He didn’t grow up playing this game and it’s just not in his DNA to put it all out there.” When asked directly if Thomas was soft, he said, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”
Thomas had missed 28 games in his first four seasons and struggled with an ankle injury down the stretch in 2014. At one point, Thomas allegedly deemed himself 90 percent healthy, which in NFL circles is almost as good as new. As a result the question was asked whether Thomas was legitimately hurt or just taking it easy to avoid further injury.
Thomas also had a number of medical concerns with the Jaguars including a back issue but he has declared himself healthy and ready to go.
“I can tell you that it’s fortunate for me that I don’t have any lingering deficiencies from the injuries,” Thomas said. “At different times you’ll have injuries that really affect you and make it hard.
“I don’t have any handicap injuries that will hold me back. They’ve all been able to heal up. The fortunate part is it’s always something new. It’s not chronic.”
Setting that aside, it’s evident that Thomas really wasn’t put in a position to succeed in Jacksonville. Whether that was because he couldn’t beat a linebacker off of the line of scrimmage or because the Jaguars preferred to play him in a less that advantageous way according to how their offense runs is a big question.
But one fact remains true: whatever he did in Jacksonville he certainly did previously succeed with Gase in Denver. And I can’t imagine that two years has made him that much different physically now than he was then.
Reuniting with the head coach of the Dolphins could well bring Thomas back to prominence. Gase thinks a great deal more than most about how to use his players and he knows how to take advantage of their specific talents without asking them to do more than they can do. He’s flexible enough to fit his offense to his talent rather than insisting that the talent work to fit his offense.
His disappointment with how little he got out of tight end Jordan Cameron last year was to the point.
"I couldn’t really click with him,” Gase said. “I was trying to figure out what was best. I don’t know how many times I went back and watched his Cleveland tape, the year he had 80 catches to see what was I doing wrong.”
Gase didn’t succeed with Cameron or fellow tight end Dion Sims in the passing game. But he certainly did succeed with most of the rest of the offensive players and he certainly did the same with Thomas in Denver before that. Gase knew very well how to get Thomas off the line of scrimmage and push him up the seam, something that the Jaguars evidently could simply not figure out how to do.
If that’s true, we’ll have our answer to question #2.
This column was written by Tom Shannon. Follow him on Twitter: @bearingthenews
Yes, yes, Dion Jordan has been a major draft bust, everyone and their mother knows this.
The trade up back in 2013 will likely go down in Dolphins history as one of the worst moves Jeff Ireland - and possibly the entire franchise - ever made, worse than even back in 1987 when they drafted another defensive end in John Bosa, who didn't do much for the team but at least he contributed somehow.
Jordan has not.
The reason Jordan has not contributed is not even due to a lack of talent, it's completely been because of his attitude and his inability to remain off of drugs, leading him to getting suspended three times in three years. It's no wonder Dolphins fans are so bitter and upset over Jordan's continued presence on the roster, especially when they could just cut him and save over $3 million in cap space with absolutely no repercussions.
And yet he's still here.
So why does Miami seem to be clinging to the absolutely baseless hope that Jordan might somehow turn things around and start being a viable NFL defensive end? Why not simply cut him now and save the money for a rainy day when it's needed?
Well, there's two reasons.
1. Jordan is still only 27 years old, and he's under contract with the team for one more season after his numerous suspensions led to him having one season on his contract not count, which is why his deal hasn't yet expired. He was drafted for a reason, to rush the passer and to also have some use covering tight ends. He is an athlete.
An athlete that was drafted by Joe Philbin and from day one was not utilized to his true potential due to limitations in coaching. Regardless of personal feelings about Jordan, there are very few who would attempt to deny that it was clear Philbin had no idea how to utilize Jordan or his unique skill set. Adam Gase can do that, if given the chance.
2. The fact of the matter is, Miami has absolutely nothing to lose by keeping Jordan on the roster, nothing except a roster spot during the offseason, which will simply mean there will be one less fringe player attempting to prove they can contribute on special teams.
Jordan is now the fringe player.
There is no logic in releasing Jordan unless you feel that the roster spot and the $3 million in cap space is something that is needed right this second and not later down the line, which when you examine the situation, also is not accurate.
There is no time limit on when Jordan can be released, no incoming roster bonuses to motivate the Dolphins to make a quick decision on their former first round pick. There is no harm in letting Jordan come into the offseason program and attempt to prove that he still has some of what made him a first round pick to begin with.
This is not about expecting anything from Jordan, I am positive the Dolphins also do not actually expect anything from Jordan, nor should they based on the former Oregon standout's past issues. But perhaps they see the reasoning behind letting him stay and try to prove himself.
And if he can't show he's better than other players, he will be cut.
If he can't stay off of the drugs and gets suspended again, he will be cut.
If he gets injured again, depending on the nature of the injury, he will probably be cut.
It's quick, easy and simple to understand. No one is expecting anything out of Dion Jordan, but to simply call for his release at this current time is an emotionally-charged reaction. The emotions are justified, but the requested action for the team to take may not be the wisest move.
Keep in mind, that Adam Gase knows his players, does not fear personalities, and has no problems telling a player to his face that what he's putting forth on the field is not enough when the situation calls for it. For Jordan to still be on the roster at this point in time, it's an indicator that Gase may see something left in Jordan that warrants keeping him around, if only just to satiate curiosity.
Jordan may not be on the roster when the regular season rolls around, and if that happens, then so be it, he won't be missed. One can't miss something that was never there to begin with. But to deny Jordan the opportunity to get a second chance with Adam Gase as his head coach before he even has a chance to try would be illogical, based solely on the fact that Miami simply has nothing to lose by keeping him around for training camp.
If he fails to impress, then the Dolphins can release him, label him as one of the franchise's biggest draft busts ever and never look back.
But on the off chance he does show flashes of still being that first round pick caliber player, then everyone will no doubt thank Adam Gase for giving Jordan the chance that no one else was willing to give.
This column was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung
Following the lead of Miami Dolphins beat writer Armando Salguero, I thought I’d put together my own completely made up plan for free agency and the draft if I were to suddenly wake up one morning as the Dolphins General Manager. I know it’s way too early to prognosticate such things with any semblance of accuracy, given that the NFL combine is only just beginning, free agency is a week away, and the draft is almost two months down the road, but here is how GM EJ would do things if he had the clout.
The first order of business, as is the case in any business, is looking in my wallet and seeing how much money I have. The latest numbers being bantered about show that the Dolphins will have approximately $42 million to spend under the 2017 salary cap. That number includes a couple of moves that the Dolphins have already made, but won’t be finalized until the March 9, the first day of free agency.
On that day, left tackle Branden Albert will be shipped to the Jacksonville Jaguars for a conditional 2018 seventh round draft pick. And tight end Julius Thomas will be traded from the Jaguars to the Dolphins for a 2017 seventh round draft pick.
While the Dolphins are able to wipe most of Albert’s salary off the books with the trade, a portion of that money goes to cover the renegotiated contract for Thomas, who will reportedly swap his $7 million salary for a more friendly and incentive-laden deal.
Next, GM EJ will set aside about $10 million to cover the salaries and futures contracts for rookie players added via the NFL draft in April and any undrafted free agents added to the roster immediately after the draft.
That leaves about $30 million to play with. Sounds great, but just like your first paycheck at a new job, that money will fly out the door faster than a twinkie at a weight watcher’s meeting.
The Dolphins have at least two free agents that they would like to retain, defensive end Andre Branch and wide receiver Kenny Stills. Branch, who played in 2016 on a one-year fully guaranteed deal for $3 million, proved himself as a good bookend for Cameron Wake, and helped make it easier to part ways with 2016 free agent signee Mario Williams. Branch can likely be retained for a contract that gives him about $4 million per year. Backup running back Damien Williams is also a free agent, and the Dolphins are expected to try and retain him as well.
The Stills situation on the other hand, is complicated.
Stills has been rumored (likely by leaks from his agent) to command a contract that will average as much as $12 million per season. That’s some serious moola. And a lot more than GM EJ wants to fork out, especially for a complementary wide receiver in an offense with a lot of other moving parts.
A much more palatable number is $8-10 million per year, and the Dolphins are rumored to be looking at the low end of that.
But GM EJ says, “Nope, too much to invest right now in light of a couple of future contracts we need to take care of.”
You see, next season two of the Dolphins best players will reach free agency, and the Dolphins will need to set aside money this year to hopefully extend the contracts of both of those two players and keep them in the fold. The team highly values wide receiver Jarvis Landry and safety Rashad Jones, and those two will command contracts in the $12 million per year range.
So just like that, the Dolphins are scraping the bottom of their free agency money barrel. Granted they can (and likely will) free up some additional money with renegotiated contracts for some players, and outright releasing a few other.
But the end result of all this is, if the Dolphins are going to keep Jones and Landry in the fold, they need to take care of them now, before they reach free agency next year. And that means some 2017 salary cap dollars have to be applied. And that means less money to throw towards any high-priced free agents this year.
And given the Dolphins reported interest in adding a linebacker and/or offensive lineman in free agency, GM EJ would find room for two additions on that front. And part of doing that involves a painful decision.
Let Stills walk.
As valuable as Stills was to the Dolphins offense last year, and despite Stills’ interest in returning to the team, the simple fact is there are some viable options out there to replace Stills that would cost half as much as the low end of the contract likely needed to retain him. A couple of speedy free agent wide receivers that could step in as a deep threat wide receiver for the Dolphins:
Kenny Britt anyone? Or how about Marquise Goodwin? Marquess Wilson (who played under Gase in Chicago)? Or even Markus Wheaton? See the pattern there (besides it being a lot of Marks)? All are speedsters that could likely be signed for about a quarter of the cost that Stills will command.
And if the Dolphins go that route, there will be enough money left in the till to take a serious shot at adding two big name free agents to be Day One starters at critical spots on the roster.
Dont’a Hightower or Zach Brown, anyone? Kevin Zeitler? Ronald Leary?
GM EJ would try like crazy to get Hightower in Miami. He’s a dominant three down linebacker who can cover, and immediately upgrades the defense. If he gets priced out of Miami’s price range, Brown is a great fallback option.
On the offensive line, the Dolphins have a hole at both guard spots, although technically Jermon Bushrod still holds the right guard spot, and the team has indicated that they aren’t opposed to keeping him there. Although he graded poorly in 2016, Bushrod, who has played on the left side his entire career, took time to adapt to the right side, and improved towards the end of the season.
So let’s leave Bushrod in place for now, and look at filling the left guard spot. Guys like Zeitler and Leary are going to be pricey, so GM EJ is going to wait until after the first wave of free agency signings to see who gets cut from other teams as a result of those high-priced signings, and sift through the remaining inventory for some guys who fit the Dolphins system.
If the Dolphins fill those spots, the draft is greatly simplified, and they can look at filling two huge needs right off the bat.
In the first two rounds, the team should add the best available linebacker and edge rusher to solidify the defensive front seven. Their compensatory pick at the end of the third round should also be used on defense, and then the remaining four picks (one fifth round pick, two additional compensatory picks at the end of the fifth round, plus one sixth round pick) can be used to mine for gems and developmental players without having to focus on specific positions.
The work still isn’t done, as undrafted free agents and the third round of free agency (players released from teams as they are outplayed and replaced with rookies during camps) would be signed later in the Sumer to fill in any remaining spots to fill in the roster, and target practice squad players for the 2017 season.
But the first wave, which starts March 9, is to fill those glaring holes in the roster at critical spots. Linebacker, guard, defensive end, and a complementary wide receiver are the biggest needs. Fill those needs early, and the rest of the offseason should fall into place neatly.
And that, my friends, should put the Dolphins in good shape for the 2017 season.
This story was written by Eldon Jenson. Follow him on Twitter @EJFootball
Donald Trump - President of the United States.
Adam Gase - Head coach of the Miami Dolphins.
Not many people would look at these two men and see similarities between the two, unless you count the endless number of internet memes that have been made with them as the inspiration. But surprisingly enough, both men actually have a lot more in common with each other than you may realize.
There's no doubt that Donald Trump likes to do things his way, and that it's his way or the highway. Either get on board with what he wants to do, or get out of the way. That is precisely the type of attitude that Adam Gase brought to the Miami Dolphins this past offseason.
With the end of the Joe Philbin era, a new era began, one with a head coach who wanted to do things his way and redo all of the current policies in place and morph them until they matched what he envisioned. When players decided to not give it their all at all times or just simply weren't good enough for the task at hand (Mario Williams or Dallas Thomas for instance), you were benched or removed, no questions asked.
Now while the results of Donald Trump's attitude towards running things are still up for debate, there's no denying that Adam Gase's approach to running the Dolphins led to a massive amount of improvement, including in the ultimate category, which is wins and losses.
After spending the last three seasons going 7-9, 8-8 and 6-10, Gase came in and decided to stop trying to make the players fit the scheme, and shifted towards fitting the scheme to the players at his disposal. This led to a nearly unanimous buy-in from his players, and led to Miami 10-6 season and their first playoff appearance in eight years.
It was a complete 180 in terms of team philosophy and culture, very similar to what Donald Trump is doing in the United States right this moment. In this particular case, however, there's no questioning that Gase's decisions have led to a swift turnaround for the once mediocre and ultimately irrelevant Dolphins team.
Then there's Trump's current favorite pastime, calling out the media for being liars and ultimately being wrong in their evaluations of situations, much to the chagrin of journalists everywhere who swear that all they are doing is merely attempting to hold the President accountable for what he says. But whether the media is right or wrong, Trump just stares them in the face and uses a term that most journalists would find derogatory and insulting.
"You are fake news."
Like Trump, as everyone no doubt remembers (and thoroughly enjoyed I'm sure), Gase made very similar statements to beat writers covering the team and made no attempts to hide his displeasure with speaking to the media whenever it was mandated, and he never thought twice before voicing his thoughts when he felt that the media had made a mistake in their evaluations.
The low-key feud between Gase and longtime Miami Herald columnist Armando Salguero during the offseason and training camp has been well-documented. Salguero asked Gase on several different occasions about Miami's apparent predicament at cornerback, as it seemed that the players just couldn't seem to keep up with the likes of Kenny Stills, Jarvis Landry or even DeVante Parker in practice, and rookie cornerback Xavien Howard's knee injury meant that the team was but one injury away from being in serious trouble in the secondary.
Salguero even argued that the Dolphins already were in trouble, since Brent Grimes (along with his overly-outspoken wife Miko) departed to Tampa Bay in the offseason, and the only proven starting caliber corner was former Seahawks and Eagles cornerback Byron Maxwell, and the man alongside him was a second-year player in Tony Lippett who was primarily a wide receiver in college.
On the surface, all these concerns were valid.
Gase reached a point where he got tired of being asked about it, and all but told Salguero that he was incorrect in his evaluation of the situation.
In the end, Lippett held his own and it was Maxwell who actually required time to snap out of a funk rather than Lippett. So while Salguero turned out to be correct by season's end thanks to the numerous injuries that the secondary suffered from, Gase was also correct in questioning the talent evaluation of the media.
Lippett, Maxwell and Howard all did fairly well in their time on the field, and now both Lippett and Howard have another year of experience under their belts to build on for the next season.
And of course, let's not forget that moment when Adam Gase called out the entire media in one go for their - in his opinion - mistaken evaluation of Ryan Tannehill's growth and skill level, as well as his alleged inability to throw the deep ball and step up when it counts in the fourth quarter.
Gase looked the gathered media members straight in the eye and essentially called them "fake news," albeit with a lot more care for what words he used, though it wasn't any less snarky.
“Again, he hasn’t done anything to show me that he can’t do things in the fourth quarter.” he said in late November of last year. “What your experiences are and what my experiences have been have been completely two different things. I guess when we get in the fourth quarter and it’s a close game, I feel confident. Between him being able to play in the fourth quarter and the deep balls, I’m kind of questioning your guys’ evaluation skills right now. I’m just glad you’re not in personnel.”
Once again, Gase was ultimately proven right in his criticism of the media, as Tannehill put together arguably his best season ever, looking smoother and more comfortable than he has in any of his previous seasons, and most importantly - once again - going 10-6 and making the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Granted, it was Matt Moore who played the last three regular season games and the playoff game against the Steelers after Tannehill suffered a season-ending knee injury after Cardinals' defensive lineman Calais Campbell fell into him, but the point remains.
Gase called out the media, and in this case, it was the right call.
Depending on your political persuasion, this comparison of the Dolphins' head coach to the current President of the United States will either be something you agree on with a smile, or a frown. But these are no "alternative facts," these are documented events that took place that - like it or not - indicate that Adam Gase and Donald Trump are a lot more similar than one would imagine.
He has refused to listen to what other people attempt to tell him, relying on his own judgment and his own skills of evaluation. His decisions have overruled the clamors of fans, and in the end this turned out to be the correct decision to make.
One can only hope that Gase will continue to make the Dolphins great again, a sentiment that no Dolphins fan - Republican or Democrat - would even think of opposing.
This column was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung
After the lock out ended in 2011 and the players got back to work in a very shortened offseason, the NFLPA was feeling victorious. But all we heard about for months was money, money, money.
When the players took the field, they hadn’t missed a paycheck and they all probably thought they’d signed a deal that gave them a bit more in their pocket, especially for the veteran players.
However, after just a few years into the new CBA the players were starting to get buyer’s remorse. They did get the cap on first round rookie contracts they were hoping for, but that didn’t end up paying off for most veteran players.
Yes, we have seen the top free agents benefit from an increased salary cap and less going to rookies but the rest of the vets, especially those in their 30s, haven’t seen much of that money. Many of them competing with cheaper rookies and signing a lot of one-year and pretend two-year show me contracts.
Now that’s just the money side of it. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners were also able to pull off a series of ruses along the way. Let’s just start with the lockout itself. Automatically putting pressure on minimum salary players, many of whom live just to their means and could struggle to pay the bills without a paycheck.
The NFL operated on the concept that these players would start to put pressure on the NFLPA and the more established veteran players to get a deal done before the start of the season.
The slickest maneuver of all was the so-called perks the players received as part of the new CBA. Things like less padded practices and no more two-a-days. These were probably the best moves by the owners.
In essence they gave up nothing.
These are more inconveniences for the coaches, who have no part of the NFL CBA. Also, in many pundits' opinions, they have also been a disadvantage to players as well. Especially to the development of younger players.
This brings us to the buildup for the next CBA. Although it’s still years away, Roger Goodell and the owners have already started setting up the players for another bad deal. They are brilliantly laying the ground work for fighting on their terms and baiting the players into pushing for things in the next CBA that won’t put a penny in their pocket.
The first and biggest is likely to be Roger Goodell and his power. There has hardly been a week or month that goes by whether during the season or offseason that this has not been a topic of conversation. Players feel Roger Goodell abuses and pushes his power, the players signed off on, to the limit and possibly past the limit afforded him by the CBA.
The NFLPA will work the hardest to make changes here. The NFL will pretend to resist but in the end a compromise will be made likely in the form of some kind of committee, much like the one created for on field issues. Goodell may not love his loss of power but his continued paycheck will.
Another topic which will likely be high, no pun intended, on the players' list will be marijuana. Many states have either made medical marijuana legal or legalized marijuana for recreational use. However, it is still against federal law so allowing players to openly smoke marijuana as if it were alcohol isn’t likely.
So, the fight will likely be in the realm of testing and punishment. The NFL could simply increase the number of positive tests it takes for punishment. Not punish at all but keep players in a cycle of “treatment” etc. They could decide to test only in season or not test at all. There are many legal actions the NFL could make and the NFLPA will fight for any and all of them.
The franchise tag has become another issue the players have become less content with year after year. The players don’t like the danger it presents to them. Suffer a major injury while you’re on the franchise tag and you could lose millions. But how hard will the NFL really fight to keep the tag? Teams seem to dislike it as much as the players do, usually attempting to sign the player to long term deals by the deadline to avoid it all together.
The owners are likely indifferent on this. The percentage they give out depends mostly on salary cap and floor. Eliminate or make major changes to the tag is another carrot the NFL is sure to dangle in front of the NFLPA when the time comes.
It’s clear to see the NFL will continue to allow the players to put issues to the forefront that do not actually put money in their pocket and keeps it in the bank accounts of the world’s most prestigious billionaire’s club.
Will the players fall for it again just to regret signing yet another CBA because they just weren’t keeping their eyes on the big picture? We still have awhile before we see but it’s obvious where it may all be headed.
This column was written by Ron Canniff. Follow him on Twitter: @FinsBroadcaster
One thing that is being under-reported in the Miami Dolphins decision to hold onto left tackle Branden Albert as they work the phones for a trade partner: the Dolphins aren’t doing Albert any favors in this situation.
Albert may be 32, but he’s still a very good starting left tackle in the NFL, arguably the best available at his position if he were to become a free agent. As such, he would likely be able to pick the team he wants to play for, command top dollar in the open market, and would be in line for a very rich contract including guarantees.
Instead, things get complicated.
Because he remains on Miami’s roster, and because any trade deals cannot be finalized until the start of the NFL’s free agency period which begins March 9, Albert is unable to shop his services in the first wave of free agency. By the time March 9th rolls around, most teams will have already made their moves for the top players in the market, and the big money contracts that come with those moves will be drying up.
If a trade never materializes prior to the NFL draft in April, the Dolphins could still end up releasing Albert outright, leaving him to search for a contract in the second wave of free agency, a wave that sees smaller contracts, smaller signing bonuses, and smaller guarantees.
Even if a trade does happen, the team that acquires Albert will likely face renegotiating Albert’s contract, as none of the remaining two years of his current contract include any guaranteed money. Those renegotiations will very likely not come close to the money that Albert could have demanded in the open free agency market.
It appears that when the Dolphins were ready to release Albert, they received a call from at least one team expressing interest in Albert. Given Albert’s age and experience, if he had the chance to pick where he wants to play this year, he’d pick a team that has a solid shot for the playoffs, and can at least be in the conversation as a championship contender.
And there are contending teams out there that need a left tackle - Seattle for one, Denver on a lesser scale. And given head coach Adam Gase’s ties to folks in Denver, they could well be in play for Albert’s services. But Denver would likely be willing to compete for Albert’s services on the open market, and they'd have a good chance of signing him outright, which dims the prospect that they are in play in this particular picture.
Think about it, it is not much of a reach to assume that the interested team is not in position to woo Albert to come to their team as a free agent. Most likely the team calling Miami is one that would very likely lose out to more attractive situations suiting a left tackle that wants to play for a contender.
An up and coming team. A rebuilding team. Not a team Albert would choose on his own.
And rather than take their chances on being able to attract a top-notch talent to their team, they called Miami and asked for a chance to offer the Dolphins something for him. A win-win situation, right? The Dolphins get something for a player they were willing to cut outright. And the offering team gets a starting left tackle.
And that’s where the complications come into play.
The Dolphins were willing to cut Albert outright, leading to the prevailing thought that whatever compensation might be offered would be minimal, possibly a mid-to-late round draft pick, even a conditional 2018 draft pick, based on Albert’s playing time and performance in 2017.
On the other hand, the offering team is getting a starting left tackle that they’d otherwise likely have no chance of signing in free agency. And that would theoretically drive the price higher, which is why players such as Jacksonville Jaguars tight end Julius Thomas (who previously played under Gase) have entered the rumor mill.
Coming back to the lead paragraph in this article, the one party that is getting the short end of this suddenly - and overly-complicated - deal is Albert. He’s sitting on the roster of a team that no longer desires his services, he has no choice of which team he may end up with, and in the end will lose out on riches he’d otherwise have made in a free market situation.
Proving once again that the business side of the NFL is indeed a cold, cold world.
This column was written by Eldon Jenson. Follow him on Twitter @EJFootball
When playing Madden, I have always found the offseason portion of the game when you first get started to be the best part. You get to make trades, sign free agents and shape the roster of your favorite team to whatever you desire.
The job is much, much more difficult in real life.
Unlike in Madden, these players are real human beings, and there is no one controlling a player to make them the best player on the field at any given time, there is no reset button if things start to go sour, and there is definitely no take backs on draft picks. Whoever you draft - unless there's a trade - is the player you're stuck with.
This is the situation the Miami Dolphins will have to deal with in the 2017 offseason. There are players that need re-signing (Kenny Stills and Andre Branch most notably), players that need extensions (Jarvis Landry and Reshad Jones especially), and dead weight that needs cutting (Mario Williams).
But even then, there's an even bigger discussion to be had, even with free agency soon to open up and the annual turnover of veteran players to begin. Naturally, depending on what the Dolphins do in free agency, the current situation for their roster could change. As it stands, however, Miami has three truly pressing needs: Linebacker, defensive end, and offensive line.
The eternal debate when it comes to the draft always boils down to two different philosophies. Do you draft based on whoever is the best player available - regardless of his position, or do you opt to fill the glaring holes that are holding the team back from taking the next step?
In the past, Miami has used the first and second rounds to take the best player available, despite there being more pressing needs elsewhere on the roster. In the 2015 draft, their first and second round picks were used on a wide receiver (DeVante Parker) and a defensive tackle (Jordan Phillips).
Miami had extremely pressing needs at cornerback and linebacker, and had the opportunity to draft Marcus Peters (now an All-Pro CB for the Chiefs) in the first round, and Denzel Perryman (now with the Chargers) in the second round, but they traded back and lost the chance to pick him up.
Whether players pan or not largely depends on the coaching staff's ability to develop players, not just the raw talent of the player in question. That's why there are numerous players in the NFL who are drafted in the mid or even late rounds that are solid contributors or even stars.
In 2014, Miami chose need over BPA and drafted offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James out of Tennessee instead of a much more overall talented player in wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who went one pick later to the New Orleans Saints and is now one of QB Drew Brees' top weapons, putting together two straight 1,000 plus yard seasons.
James on the other hand had a down year at right tackle and has recently earned the wrath of Dolphins fans for his inconsistency and frequent penalties. I personally have said that James was the worst lineman on the team in 2016 for that very reason.
In 2013, it became about BPA once again, as the Dolphins traded all the way up from the 12th spot to 3rd overall to draft defensive end Dion Jordan out of Oregon, despite the presence of Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon and Derrick Shelby at the same position.
They then addressed the need at cornerback in the second round by drafting injury-prone cornerback Jamar Taylor and undersized ballhawk Will Davis. Both players have since moved on to other teams. As for Dion Jordan, there's really no need to go deeper into that situation.
This is where the Dolphins have a very difficult situation ahead of them, as the debate once again rears its ugly head and makes them decide whether to pick the best player available - even at the risk of not getting their top guy to contribute due to a crowded roster - or picking a less talented prospect while addressing a glaring need.
James in 2014 was a need pick, Parker in 2015 and Jordan in 2013 were BPA picks. At this moment in time, two picks are still up for judgment and one has been a total bust.
Luckily for the Dolphins, need and BPA came together and fell in their laps in 2016, and Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil fell to them at 13th overall after someone Tunsil's Twitter account and posted a video of him smoking marijuana through a gas mask, causing teams to pass on him until Miami finally picked him up. Tunsil has already proven the Dolphins made a good choice.
But now - depending, of course, on the results of free agency, Miami's needs are not as pressing as they were in years past, and this is where the necessity to draft based on need comes back into play. Linebacker, defensive end, or offensive line. Those are the top three.
Cornerback is not a need because of the improved play of project player Tony Lippett, who showed that he has what it takes to be a solid corner in the NFL despite not having much experience. Rookie Xavien Howard had mixed results but did manage to shut down Brandon Marshall in the two teams' second meeting in 2016, showing his potential to be great is there. Veteran Byron Maxwell started slow but woke up later in the season; an ankle injury unfortunately kept him out for the remainder of the year.
Wide receiver is not a need because of the presence of Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker, and there's still a chance Kenny Stills could be retained making the need for a wide receiver even less. Add to that the development of Jakeem Grant and Leonte Carroo, and drafting a wide receiver becomes even more of a waste just based on roster space. If Miami drafted WR early, the chance he plays is slim unless he shows signs of being s superstar.
Quarterback is not a need early on because of Ryan Tannehill. A midround pick would be welcome to groom in the meantime, but drafting a QB high is only viable if Adam Gase suddenly decides that Tannehill won't cut it at QB, and there has been no sign that he feels that way.
Running back is not a need because of Jay Ajayi and Kenyan Drake. There is an abundance of extremely talented RBs in 2017's draft, but with Ajayi and Drake, finding a place in the rotation for a highly drafted RB would be a very awkward situation.
The positions that the Dolphins could safely invest in during the first round - once again - are linebacker, defensive end, or offensive line. If necessary, they could also look into safety and tight end. But even the last two aren't as big a need as the other three.
Miami made the playoffs in 2016 with some very obvious weaknesses. To get back there, those weaknesses must be addressed accordingly. That means the time has come to again draft based on need. If the needs get ignored again, it's very unlikely they will meet the same success.
It's such a simple concept, I struggle to understand why this is even a debate at all.
This column was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung
For the past three seasons, wide receiver Jarvis Landry has been at the top of the list in receptions and in yardage for the Miami Dolphins, and all on a deal that pays him almost nothing. Now, with one year remaining on his incredibly cheap rookie contract, which is only for four years and $3.5 million dollars, Landry took to social media and left some very telling captions on his posts.
Under normal circumstances, there wouldn't be much reason to take a player's posts on social media that seriously, but when Landry makes references to his money, especially when he's projected to be paid like a top ten wide receiver when his contract inevitably runs out.
This puts the Dolphins in a very uncomfortable situation, as a lot of money is about to be handed out to players whose contracts are expiring, such as defensive end Andre Branch, linebacker Kiko Alonso, tight end Dion Sims and fellow wide receiver Kenny Stills.
But what sets Landry apart from everyone else is that he is one of the true faces of the franchise and his intensity on the field makes him more than just another excellent wide receiver.
He's also a leader in the locker room, and the team feeds off his energy, which is why he was originally given the nickname of "Juice."
2016 was Landry's second consecutive 1,000 yards receiving season, and this will also be his second straight Pro Bowl season. Knowing all of that, there's no doubt that the rest of the team will be looking at what the Dolphins front office does about Landry's contract situation, because if they stiff him now, especially after the comments made by Executive Vice President of Football Operations Mike Tannenbaum, there will be a lot of players who will try to play hard ball when the time comes.
See Reshad Jones, who already held out portions of last offseason in protest of not having enough guaranteed money on his deal and wanted an extension.
"To have sustainability, we want to take care our own. We want to care of our locker room," Tannenbaum said last week. "Adam [Gase] always likes to roll his eyes, but I always say, 'Our plan is firmly etched in pencil.' Because things are going to change. We're going to acquire players. There are going to be unexpected opportunities. ... What does the draft look like? What does free agency look like? But with that said, we're going to try to lean heavily towards keeping our own and building our program here."
It's going to be difficult to not break the bank for Landry, who despite his determination, is still primarily a slot receiver and doesn't fit the mold of the more elite receivers in the league like Julio Jones, Dez Bryant and A.J. Green. He doesn't require double coverage and he isn't a top scorer in the league, only getting 13 touchdowns in his three seasons with the Dolphins.
A "move the sticks" receiver simply doesn't count for upwards of $14 million annually, no matter how well he can create plays when he has the ball in his hands.
Seattle's Doug Baldwin, another top slot receiver in the league, recently signed a 4-year, $46 million dollar deal that pays him $24,250,000 in guaranteed money, and that could be the aspect of the contract Miami can use to get Landry to take a slight discount in annual pay.
In the NFL, the overall figures of the deal don't mean nearly as much as the guaranteed money, which is the true value of any contract since that's what a team has to pay an athlete no matter what happens. Guaranteed money is what Miami can use to try and potentially lower the cap hits, as guaranteed money only means that Miami will have to pay him, not pay extra.
The reason NFL teams don't like to dole out large amounts of guaranteed money is because guaranteed money doesn't allow a team to cut a player in a cap-saving move.
But if there's any player worth that risk, it's Landry.
He's been the most reliable weapon on Miami's roster for the past three seasons, and his leadership and energy are indispensable assets that can't be replaced. Giving him a large amount of guaranteed money would seem to be a safe gamble, especially if it means his annual cap hit won't be as high.
Extending Landry would be an excellent way to start off the offseason, and it would set the tone for the rest of the offseason with the rest of the locker room.
If they force Landry to play the last year of his deal, that would be a bad omen for Landry's future with the Dolphins, and in turn the rest of the locker room. He won't try to cause problems, but teammates see how the front office treats their franchise player, and that could set the tone for the future.
Landry needs to be re-signed, or it could mean trouble for the Miami Dolphins franchise.
This column was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung
Last time I broke down who the Miami Dolphins need to move on from for the 2017 season, which included the likes of some familiar names such as Earl Mitchell and Koa Misi, as well as a failed project in Mario Williams and a young - but oft injured - linebacker in Jelani Jenkins who hasn't lived up to expectations and is also looking for a pay day.
Now the time has come to look at things from the other side of the spectrum. Despite the overall lack of talent that Miami ended the season with due to massive amounts of injuries, there were some players who stood out above the rest and proved that they need to be locked up before they get the chance to go elsewhere.
Without further ado, let's get started, and the first one on the list may actually be the most important player of them all.
Kenny Stills - Wide Receiver
How ironic that the player who came with a bevy of questions about why New Orleans was so willing to part ways with him has now become one of the top weapons in Miami's offense, stretching the field and being a preferred target for big plays and leading the team in touchdown receptions in 2016 with nine, which is more than both Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker combined in the same year.
Granted, he wasn't targeted as much as Landry and Parker, and he didn't accumulate as many yards either, but Stills turned out to be the true home run threat that the Dolphins tried - and failed - to make Mike Wallace back in 2013-14.
Which makes the situation Miami is in very uncomfortable. Stills has officially played out his contract, and now he needs a new one. Some team somewhere will be willing to pay him a lot of money to do what he's done for the Dolphins, and Miami is going to have to outbid them somehow.
As far as skill sets go, Colts WR T.Y. Hilton - another speedy receiver and major home run threat - could be a model for what kind of deal Stills could be looking for this offseason.
Hilton outplayed Stills stats wise in both receptions and yards by a large margin in 2016, but that could very well have more to do with Hilton's role in the Indianapolis offense and quarterback Andrew Luck's propensity to throw it his way.
Naturally, no one is making the argument that Hilton and Stills are the same player, Hilton has clearly shown more and accomplished more than Stills has and no one can argue otherwise. But their skill sets and roles in their respective offenses are similar, and with Hilton making an average of $13 million a year after signing his 5-year, $65 million dollar contract back in 2015, Stills could look for something in that price range.
If the Dolphins can be flexible with the contract structuring, they could make Stills' new contract easier to swallow if it goes upwards of $10 million per year, but simply letting him walk would not be a wise choice considering he became Miami's top scorer in 2016, and no one else on the roster - not even DeVante Parker or Jakeem Grant - are in any position to replace that.
Michael Thomas - Defensive Back
The hero of 2013 is getting ready to hit the free market for the first time in his career, Michael Thomas was a restricted free agent last season and so the Dolphins still had some measure of control over whether he would be in aqua and orange or sporting another team's colors. Now though, Thomas' fate rests in Thomas' hands and no one else's.
While not necessarily starter material, Thomas has been a special teams ace and a solid backup for the Dolphins ever since he was picked up off the San Francisco 49ers practice squad, and he's in a valuable leader in the secondary and the team.
That's the kind of player you keep around if he's willing to stay at a reasonable price. $2.5 to $3 million annually is a likely figure he'll be looking for, and given what Thomas is able to do and what he brings to the table, that seems reasonable. Versatility is a trait that is highly sought after in the NFL, and Thomas can step in and hold down the fort at any position in the secondary.
Andre Branch - Defensive End
The Dolphins got a steal when they signed defensive end Andre Branch to a 1-year deal for a measly $2.5 million this past offseason, and after Mario Williams turned out to be a major disappointment, Branch turned into a starter opposite Cameron Wake and had himself somewhat of a breakout season after two less than stellar years in Jacksonville, setting a career high in tackles with 49, and tacking on 5.5 sacks, which is only half a sack off from his career high set in 2013.
Last offseason, the Dolphins lost their top reserve defensive end in Derrick Shelby to the Atlanta Falcons, who signed a 4-year, $18 million dollar contract after spending four years with Miami. Branch's one season with the Dolphins was better than any year Shelby had, although that could be at least partly attributed to the fact that he was thrust into a starting role and thus he received more playing time.
After the season he had, Branch is likely to get a deal upwards of $5 million annually, perhaps more if he can try and convince teams he can take on the role of another former Dolphin in Jared Odrick, who spent time in the defensive line rotation at both defensive end and defensive tackle and earned himself a 5-year, $42.5 million dollar deal from Jacksonville two seasons ago, although that seems unlikely for a reserve player.
A safe bet would be to assume that Branch will get somewhere around $5 to $6 million annually on a new deal. He's shown that he has a fair amount of skill, but he didn't prove himself to be a star by any stretch. Why does Miami need to be the one to retain him? Simply put, it's necessity.
Cameron Wake is fighting off Father Time and will probably be good for at least a few more years, but even he won't decide to play forever, and Mario Williams - as previously mentioned - was a major disappointment and will be released. Dion Jordan also is unlikely to contribute any time soon, and veteran Jason Jones was released shortly before the Wild Card matchup against the Steelers presumably due to attitude problems.
This means that the Dolphins have a severe lack of players on the edges, and there's no doubt they'll take to the draft and potentially free agency to restock the defensive end position. They can start by making sure Branch stays put instead of going elsewhere.
Kiko Alonso - Linebacker
It's been a difficult road for Kiko Alonso since his initial Rookie of the Year season back in 2013, dealing with injuries has kept him from being a star linebacker in the NFL, which he clearly has the potential to do. After coming to Miami via trade from the Philadelphia Eagles, Alonso made 115 tackles, two interceptions and a forced fumble in 2016 as the Dolphins MLB, and that was while dealing with an injured hamstring and a cast on his hand from a broken thumb.
As a restricted free agent, Miami will have the right to first refusal on any offers that come Alonso's way, but it would be a wise move to lock up Alonso on a new deal before it gets to that point. Whether he's in the middle (my personal place for him) or playing as an outside linebacker (where many would prefer to have him), Alonso has proven he's at least a solid NFL linebacker.
Similar players that Miami could model Alonso's contract after include Denver's Danny Trevathan and Philadelphia's Brandon Graham, who have annual salaries upwards of $6 million per year. Players with lower figures include Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil in Baltimore, but they - along with most other linebackers with lower figures - are older and don't match Alonso's situation.
At 26 years of age, Alonso is still in his prime and is more likely to get a contract like Trevathan's at the very least. Another option would be to simply place a tender on Alonso and let another team dictate what the young linebacker is worth, but doing so would risk losing him to another team, and given the Dolphins' desperate need for good linebackers, the best move would be to lock him up now and ensure he stays at a reasonable price rather than have another great year and drive up his leverage even further as an unrestricted free agent the next time around.
This column was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung
My favorite part of any Madden game is always playing the role of a GM, making transcations, signing free agents and drafting new players who could make my already awesome team even more awesome. After all, against the computer you're pretty much guaranteed to win the Super Bowl each year.
But I digress.
Now that the playoffs have come and gone, the time has come for the Miami Dolphins to begin evaluating the roster and analyzing what changes need to be made before 2017 begins, and that's exactly what I plan to do right here and now.
Before we begin, let's check and see how much salary cap space the Dolphins will have for the 2017 offseason before any moves are made with some help from out friends from Spotrac and overthecap.com.
With the projected NFL salary cap to inflate all the way up to $168 million, that means that after factoring in Miami's $634,494 in dead cap, along with the $14,899,982 in rollover from 2016, the Dolphins will have approxamitely $43,585,657 in cap space to work with even with the 51 players currently under contract.
So is there room to work with? Absolutely there is. But there's still a lot more that can be done, and that leads us to the hitlist. First we'll list the players who Miami would probably be better off moving on from, and that list is a lengthy one.
Mario Williams - Defensive end
This is the most duh worthy move that could possibly be made. Mario Williams was signed to a 2-year, $17 million dollar contract with the assumption that he would be back to his superstar form once he was placed back into a pass-rusher role. That did not happen, and he was benched for Andre Branch around midseason and was never put back.
The 31-year old Williams only notched 13 tackles and 1.5 sacks in 2017, and it reached a point where even Marist alumnus Terrence Fede was getting snaps at defensive end over him. That alone should indicate that not only is Williams' time with the Dolphins over, his career could possibly be in jeopardy after the miserable performance and effort he put forth.
On top of all that, cutting Williams will save Miami $8.5 million in cap space with only $2 million in dead money, making freeing up that roster spot even more of a no-brainer than ever. The Dolphins can easily use that extra space to sign a depth player who will give more production at DE than Williams did, and at a fraction of the cost.
Or, they can just re-sign Andre Branch, but that's another story to be written later.
Earl Mitchell - Defensive tackle
As much as I love Earl Mitchell, it's time to move on from him. After only playing 12 games in 2015 and then only playing nine games in 2016, it's clear that the 29-year old Mitchell is best relegated to a backup role rather than a starter.
After aggravating an injury he suffered in training camp, Mitchell was taken out of the Week 1 matchup against the Seattle Seahawks, and then upon his return, he had a brief burst where he was incredibly impactful, then mostly vanished for the rest of the season, only making 18 tackles on the year.
In fairness, second-year DT Jordan Phillips had been doing a well enough job as a starter opposite Ndamukong Suh, but neither he nor Mitchell really stood out. In the end, this boils down to being a salary cap casualty. Both Mitchell and Phillips create similar production, but Mitchell is much more expensive than a young DT on his rookie deal.
Cutting Mitchell will save $4 million in cap space with only $500,000 in dead money. With Phillips and reserve player Julius Warmsley, Miami could potentially get the same production at a fraction of the cost, unless the Dolphins attempt to look elsewhere to fill that role.
Koa Misi - Linebacker
Koa Misi is a solid NFL linebacker. Unfortunately, his tendency to get injured - combined with the nature of his latest injury - leaves the 29-year old Misi in a bit of a sticky situation. In the three games he played in 2016, Misi had already accumulated 22 tackles, but is that worth paying him over $4.5 million dollars?
In my opinion, the answer is no. Misi is someone who could be an excellent backup for a number of teams, but the fact that he's a key starter for the Miami Dolphins speaks to the awful situation in Miami's linebacker corps.
Cutting Misi will save the Dolphins $4.2 million dollars, with only $578,000 in dead cap. At this price, I would definitely part ways with Misi, but if the doctors clear him and he's willing to take a pay cut, I would definitely keep him around. But, I expect that Misi won't be willing to do that.
Jelani Jenkins - Linebacker
Similar to Misi, Jenkins - when healthy - is a solid NFL linebacker, but he too is extremely injury prone and he hasn't been the same player for quite some time. He's shown he has what it takes to be a starting outside linebacker in the past, but is that worth paying him a lucrative contract as he enters free agency for the first time?
It truly depends on the price in this case. If he's looking to get paid, then Miami would be wise to move on from Jenkins and try to draft new talent at linebacker this upcoming offseason, which is sure to be very high on the priority list.
In 2016, Jenkins only played in nine games, and the games he did play he struggled to even move most of the time. He only made 29 tackles and deflected one pass as he split time with Neville Hewitt and Spencer Paysinger. If he's willing to return to the Dolphins in a backup role, then I would certainly bring him back. Otherwise, it's time to move on.
Next time, we'll look at the players Miami absolutely needs to retain. Stay tuned.
This column was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung
It's wild card weekend for the NFL playoffs and the Dolphins are still in the game as they travel to play the Pittsburgh Steelers. Here are ten thoughts on the team and the NFL heading into the game.
1. I note that running back Jay Ajayi is playing the “disrespect card” this week.
“We hear a lot of talk about the other team and who they have and the players that they have,” Ajayi said. “And it’s kind of starting to get to me where you have to understand we have players too, you know?
“We have guys that are playing at a high level and are showcasing their abilities. And I think it’s time people need to respect that we have players on our offense, too, and we can get some stuff done when we’re on our game.”
I ordinarily scoff at things like this. But in this particular case, I think Ajayi has a bit of a point. The Dolphins are ten-point underdogs to a team that they actually beat earlier in the season.
I don’t think the Dolphins are exactly being “disrespected” so much as they are being underestimated. In particular, I don’t think national commentators have really been paying attention to what has been happening on Ajayi’s side of the ball.
This has become a very, very good, diverse offensive unit. Anyone who believes that the Dolphins have to have success running the ball in order to succeed against the Steelers hasn’t been watching. They need to commit to the run, yes. But they don’t necessarily need five yards per carry from it in order to score points.
Kenny Stills, Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker have become a handful and the Dolphins are getting more every week out of their tight ends. Though I don’t agree with it myself, there’s an argument to be made that Matt Moore is actually a better quarterback than Ryan Tannehill.
Offensively this is as good of a playoff team as there is out there.
2. Defensively this is a different story. From the beginning of the year, the team has been in trouble at cornerback and it looks like Byron Maxwell, the only one they’ve got that you could call “solid,” might not play. Injuries have hurt them at safety and they haven’t had a dropoff at outside linebacker only because their starters aren’t any better than their backups.
The last time these teams met, Roethlisberger had a particularly bad game. He got hurt but he wasn’t throwing well even before that. I don’t think anyone is counting on that happening again.
This is a defense that has, to an extent, been exposed late in the year. But all is not lost…
3. I am personally going to love watching every minute of this game because success for the Dolphins, indeed for each team, will be determined right where it should be - at the line of scrimmage. The Dolphins need to do exactly what they did last time these teams met in Week 6. Push them around up front.
The offensive line needs to protect Moore and they need to block for Ajayi. If they do both adequately, this is going to be a great matchup.
The defensive backfield might be a disaster and the linebackers might not be good. But if the defensive line plays like they did last time against one of the best offensive lines in the league, none of that will matter as much.
And the great thing if you’re a Dolphins fan is that the defensive line is playing about as well as they have all season. I’m still not a Jordan Phillips fan but Ndamukong Suh is peaking at the right time and Cameron Wake has been dominant all year.
This was a defense built to win up front. Phillips only flashes and hasn’t developed into a consistent force and Mario Williams is a shadow of his former self. But Suh and Wake are still leading the way and that might be enough to win.
I really can’t wait to see what happens.
4. I am going to start this item by apologizing to those of you who consider Williams to be irrelevant and are tired of me hammering him (which I did relentlessly during the first half of the season). If you are, skip this one because I can’t resist taking one more shot at a guy that I have come to dislike so much.
Williams was the biggest-name free agent acquisition of the 2016 offseason. He carries the sixth-highest salary cap number on the team and he reportedly will be waived this offseason. Some would call him a “salary cap casualty.” I call him a thief for stealing the Dolphins’ money.
Williams was a starter for the first five weeks of the season and managed only one sack. At the time defensive coordinator Vance Joseph called him out for needing to play harder. Eventually Joseph came to realize that he was wasting his breath because “playing harder” was only part of the problem. Williams couldn’t play dead.
Williams spent 2015 taking his failures out on former Buffalo head coach Rex Ryan by bashing him for playing him out of position and the Dolphins front office, headed by Executive Vice President of Football Operations Mike Tannenbaum, bought it.
They should have known better.
Predictably, it turned out to be just one of a series of excuses that Williams would use to explain his lack of production, now with the Dolphins, from blaming teammates in the defensive backfield who didn’t give him time to get to the quarterback to claiming that he couldn’t play due to injury long after he’d been benched.
The truth is – and even if Williams can’t face it, every other team in the league knows it now – Williams' skills have declined. He can’t help that and I certainly don’t blame him for it. But I simply cannot abide players who make excuses for failure.
The best players in the NFL are mentally tough people who overcome adversity and emerge from the other side as better human beings, if not always as better players. Williams was a huge disappointment because in Miami, just like in Buffalo, he couldn’t look within and blame the real cause of his problems - himself.
5. I find the fact that Vance Joseph is such a hot head coaching candidate to be very interesting. The Rams, 49ers and the Broncos all appear to be interested.
The Broncos aren’t a big surprise because Joseph interviewed with them before they hired Gary Kubiak and they were reportedly impressed. But why other teams would be interested given the state of the Dolphins defense is a bit of a mystery.
The comments from Dolphins head coach Adam Gase on the matter are almost ironic.
"Our players on defense should be proud because one of the reasons he's getting these opportunities is they've played well, and did some things people didn't expect us to do," Gase said of the Dolphins defense. “It is a credit to him and our defensive coaches.”
Hmmmm…the Dolphins defense allowed a franchise record 6,122 yards in the regular season and ranked 29th in total yards allowed per game (382.6) and 18th in total points allowed (28.3).
Yes, there were injuries, as documented above, especially to the safeties. But the poor defense pre-dated most of them and, when you look at the big picture and what was lost and what it was replaced with, I didn’t think what happened hurt them much more than injuries hurt most teams over the course of the season. I definitely don’t think injuries justify what was at times a really poor defensive performance.
I think it is a lot more likely that teams look at Joseph’s situation in Miami and they see it for what it is. They think he did a good job coaching a poor roster (except for the defensive line) with little depth (including the defensive line) and they think that a bad Dolphins defense would be even worse statistically without him.
I admit that’s a grim and somewhat cynical assessment for a defense that was at least good enough to be part of a playoff team. But that doesn’t make it wrong.
6. And now for our weekly look at the current state of the New York Jets.
Todd Bowles won the battle and survived the week. But his chances of surviving the war look grim right now. The team has struggled at the most important position in football since Brett Favre left in 2008. That puts them in the same boat with most of the bad teams in the league.
The Jets are apparently hanging their hats on the development of second round pick Christian Hackenberg, who they decided in the offseason had a higher upside than Bryce Petty and selected in the second round. The Jets will need to find a veteran starter this offseason because, coming out of Penn State, Hackenberg was so raw (read “bad”) that the Jets decided he needed, not one, but two years to develop and they therefore aren’t counting on him to contribute until 2018.
But potential gets you fired in the NFL and the Jets might be finding that out right now.
One Jets coach, quoted anonymously in an ESPN report, said Hackenberg is so inaccurate that he "couldn't hit the ocean".
Bowles had a different take. "He just needs to play, he has to play. There's nothing wrong with Christian, he just needs to play."
But apparently not this season where they were so afraid to put him on the field that they played Ryan Fitzpatrick, already with one foot out the door, rather than expose their future to the ridicule that almost certainly would have followed any effort to play him.
Even 2018 is uncertain but if Hackenberg doesn’t emerge from the miserable depths of ineptitude that he showed in the college ranks and fails, it’s unlikely that Bowles will survive to see 2019 with the team.
Hackenberg was over-drafted as a far too risky second round pick. Now it appears that Bowles and the rest of the organization will live or die with it.
7. It looks like the Dolphins won’t be getting much competition from the Buffalo Bills very quickly either.
In one of the oddest and funniest events of the year, things couldn’t have gone much worse for Bills GM Doug Whaley during his season ending press conference. To say that Whaley failed to inspire much confidence that the Bills are internally healthy and ready for a turnaround would be something of an understatement.
In a stunning revelation, Whaley said that he wasn’t involved in the initial decision to fire Ryan."I wasn't privy to the conversation so I cannot get into the details." When asked if he got any explanation from ownership for the firing Whaley said “I didn’t need any.”
OK. So what made him decide on Anthony Lynn as the interim head coach? Well apparently he didn’t decide that, either. Believe it or not, Whaley claimed that Rex Ryan recommended Lynn (apparently after being informed that he was fired) and so that’s who they appointed.
Predictably reporters reacted with incredulity.
Honestly, like the reporters who were there, I just don’t know what to make of this. Half of me believes that Whaley was out right lying. But if he was, then he was effectively throwing ownership under the bus because his denials clearly suggested a dysfunctional organization where no one knows what anyone is doing.
Which is, of course, probably what it is.
If only explaining the Patriots success was as easy as explaining the failures of the Dolphins' other AFC East foes. Then the Dolphins would really have some answers.
8. Speaking of dysfunctional franchises, let’s look in on the Cleveland Browns as they enter the post season. In so doing, let me address a report in the Chronical-Telegram that pretty much sums up my problem with how this franchise is being run.
The Browns are apparently doing their due diligence in investigating the top quarterbacks coming out in the draft. In the process, executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown and vice president of player personnel Andrew Berry made the trip to El Paso, Texas to get a look at North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky in the Sun Bowl.
Andrew Berry, OK. Sashi Brown, most certainly not OK.
Brown is a lawyer who has never worked in an NFL personnel department. What in the world is he doing going to a game to “scout” a quarterback?
Brown has no business evaluating an NFL prospect. He, in fact, has no business being anywhere near a NFL draft room at all. But for some reason, the owner of the Browns, Jimmy Haslam, has decided to put his franchise into Brown’s hands.
It was a year of havoc in 2016 where head coach Hue Jackson was practically the only football man making these personnel decisions. Jackson, predictably, was focused on game preparations at the time of the report. He didn’t even know Trubisky was playing.
“But since you said that, I will definitely take a shot and look if I can,” he said. “We are going to see all of these guys as we move forward, all the prospects that are out there and evaluate them accordingly.”
To his credit, the near miss on an 0-16 season may have finally made Haslam see the light. According to Ian Rapoport at NFL.com the Browns may be searching for a little more scouting muscle. The expectation is for Cleveland to hire a top scout to serve as the main football voice and be charged with finding the kind of players Jackson wants.
Unfortunately, the potential hire would still be below Brown. Nevertheless, let’s hope for the sake of all Browns fans that there is some truth to this rumor and that Brown has the common sense to step away from the process and let those who know what they are doing make the decisions.
Otherwise, I can’t imagine we’re going to see anything but more misery in “factory of sadness.”
9. Despite reports to the contrary, it looks like the Baltimore Ravens will be sticking with Marty Mornhinweg as their offensive coordinator.
"In my heart, in my gut and in my head, this is the best way to go," head coach John Harbaugh said.
Why he thinks that’s true, I don’t know.
The Ravens finished 8-8 largely because they ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in rushing (29th), third-down efficiency (21st), red-zone efficiency (19th) and scoring (18th) after Mornhinweg took over for Marc Trestman for the final 11 games of the season.
More to the point, the Ravens had the same issues that led to Trestman getting fired. Baltimore simply failed to commit to the run.
"I believe we're going to be physical," Harbaugh said. "I believe we're going to run good, solid concepts that Joe can execute efficiently and I believe, within that system, there's room for a lot of creativity. That's what we got to chase."
I get it. You can’t just fire your offensive coordinator every year and there’s value in continuity. But the key to continuity isn’t hesitating to fire the wrong guy. It's finding the right guy in the first place.
Terrance West is a talented running back who ran for four yards per carry. The Baltimore Ravens can run the ball. They just need a coach who will do it.
The evidence indicates that, despite his assertions, Harbaugh hasn’t found one yet.
10. "Do you want to know what they’ll say next?” Apparently not enough people do.
In a hilarious development, Skip Bayless, who has partnered up with Shannon Sharpe for a new show on FOX Sports 1 (slogan above), revealed both a huge ego and a huge degree of sensitivity to social media.
A “fan” apparently posted comments on a recent Facebook Live stream that contained over-the-top praise of Bayless. The problem? It turns out that Bayless was the poster. He apparently intended to do it under a dummy account. Apparently he’s the dummy.
I can’t imagine what it’s like having such a raging urge for the approval of others that you actually have to fake compliments and do it yourself. But I can’t say that I’m surprised.
The guess here is that Bayless actually doesn’t have too many fans, per se. He might have people who want to hear whatever outrageous garbage he will forcefully spit out of his mouth next. That’s their problem. But I think few people, if any, actually take it seriously.
Apparently not seriously enough to post compliments on Twitter so Bayless doesn’t have to do it, himself.
This column was written by Tom Shannon. Follow him on Twitter: @bearingthenews
The Dolphins are gearing up for a matchup with the playoff-bound Patriots this Sunday. This will be a good test against a quality opponent – perhaps the best in the AFC – to see just what kind of a team the Dolphins have and where they are.
As documented below, the Patriots have something to play for here and will likely be motivated. If the Dolphins win, it will position them amongst the top teams in the NFL.
Here are ten thoughts on the game and the state of the league as we enter the last week of the regular season.
1. Same ol’, same ol’.
The New England Patriots will enter this game needing to win it to clinch the top seed in the AFC and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. It’s the same situation they were in last year when they entered the Dolphins game and ultimately lost it. Same stakes but the guess here is that we’ll see a different conclusion. Or at least a different approach.
In 2015 the Patriots decided to go with a curious game plan in this game. Their run game had been struggling and they decided to use it to fix that aspect of the offense rather than devising a strategy which would have been more likely to take advantage of their current strengths and win. They failed on the ground and ultimately fell to the Dolphins, 20-10. The Denver Broncos took the top seed as a result and the AFC Championship was in Denver where the Patriots are 0-3 in the playoffs with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Ultimately it proved to be their undoing.
Not many people criticize Belichick too heavily nowadays but the way that the Patriots chose to play the game was universally considered to be a mistake in retrospect that may well have cost them a Super Bowl title. The guess here is that this year the lesson will be well learned though you wouldn’t know it from the quotes going into the game.
"[Finishing strong is] a big part of our mindset," defensive co-captain Devin McCourty said. "We just know it doesn't matter. I think everyone wants to talk about home-field advantage and playoffs and stuff like that. We just know the most important thing as a team is playing good football.
"That's going out, like I said during the week, executing during practice, playing and practicing at a high level. That gives us a chance to come out here Saturday and play well. We see it work. We go out there and have a good week of practice and then we come out here and play well so I think all across the board as a team, we know that, we understand it."
In any case, the Patriots will almost certainly play to win so that they can enter the playoffs on a high note. They definitely want the path to the Super Bowl to run through Foxboro.
2. One huge factor that will likely figure heavily into determining the outcome of this game will be whether the Patriots continue their thieving ways by winning the turnover battle against the Dolphins. They enter the game Sunday having forced 12 turnovers during their last five games, which is tied for the second most in the league over that stretch.
It’s a complete turnaround since opening the season with nine takeaways in 10 games, including only two from Weeks 4-11. That continued a trend in that their 21 forced turnovers last season were their second fewest under head coach Bill Belichick. So from the 2015 regular-season opener until Week 11 in 2016, including the playoffs, the Pats had only 32 takeaways in 28 games. In all four Super Bowl runs, the Patriots averaged at least two takeaways per postseason game.
“Once you start doing good things over and over, it starts to become contagious,” defensive back Malcolm Butler said. “It just goes with the flow. It just starts happening automatically, but you’ve got to work for everything.”
“There’s nothing that correlates more to winning than turnovers,” Belichick said Saturday, as he often does. “No. 1 is points. No. 2 is turnovers.”
Don’t the Dolphins know it.
3. As predictable as the sun’s rising and setting, the New York Jets media and fans are finally getting serious and calling for the team to play Christian Hackenberg. For weeks they wasted time calling for Bryce Petty to play when everyone knew that the Jets had no plans to make Petty a starter. The minute the Jets took Hackenberg in the second round, he became the heir presumptive and Petty’s status was superfluous.
Now that Petty injured his shoulder last week in New England and is unlikely to play this week against Buffalo, the voices rose in support of throwing Hackenberg into the breach instead of Ryan Fitzpatrick.
The thought was that Hackenberg would need two years of development before starting when he was drafted. But, at least as far as fans and some media are concerned, that’s all going out the window in the face of a losing season where fans just want to see progress wherever they can find it. The team’s explanation that Hackenberg isn’t fully baked yet and the implication that starting him may damage his psyche isn’t resonating as much anymore, no matter how much truth there may be to it. Comments from former NFL quarterback and current CBS analyst Dan Fouts are to the point.
“There’s only one way to learn, and that’s by playing," Fouts said. “The experience you get as a player far outweighs anything you can do by watching from the sidelines. [The Jets] are not going anywhere, so I think this is a perfect time to give Hackenberg a shot to see what he can do.’
“You have to have experiences in failure as much as success, and part of being a quarterback’s makeup is how do you handle the rough times?
“A rookie quarterback is going to have a lot of rough times. It doesn’t matter if you’re a first-round pick or a sixth-round pick like Tom Brady, you’re going to struggle and you’ve got to have that experience on the field to [learn how] to handle it.’’
For every Aaron Rogers who got years to develop behind Brett Favre, there’s a Peyton Manning who was thrown into the fire in a futile losing season before successfully emerging. There’s something to the theory that you’ve either got it or you don’t and if it's your destiny, you will succeed regardless of when you start playing.
The world will never know but given that if they stick to the plan, the Jets will have to sit Hackenberg in the face of the media pressure next year as well, he is bound to be a test case for one side or the other eventually. We just don’t know which one yet.
4. As the year winds down and coaching staffs come into focus, how a team reacts to the disappointment that all non-playoff teams becomes a huge issue. In that respect, two situations around the NFL are of interest to fans.
The first is the situation in New York where the team has looked an awful lot like it has quit on head coach Todd Bowles, making what should have been a disappointing, but not totally debilitating season into one that has put Bowles' head squarely on the block.
Defensive lineman Leonard Williams, one of the team's most promising players, said after a disastrous blowout loss to New England last week that, "Guys just weren't ready to play. We didn't really play with a lot of passion, a lot of enthusiasm. It seemed like we were out there going through the motions.
"Me, personally, I play hard every game. I know a lot of other guys on this team do, but some people are probably looking past the season, thinking that it's over and stuff like that."
Williams also said he doesn't think Bowles should be blamed for that. But he will be. In truth, you could argue that he should be.
But that’s not all. The latest problem is apparent in fighting amongst the players where defensive end Sheldon Richardson ripped Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall.
Marshall and Richardson have been at odds all season. In a situation that is familiar to fans around the country where Marshall has tried to be a team leader, the former Dolphin and Bear has instead caused a rift. A few days ago, Marshall apparently decided to “lead” by angering Richardson when he commenting on Richardson's vulgar Snapchat video, which drew the wrath of Bowles.
Echoing Bowles' comments on the video, Marshall called it "unacceptable."
"I don't care what that guy says," Richardson said, commenting on whether he was upset by Marshall's take on the matter.
The feud was sparked again Saturday, when Marshall said the 38-point loss was "embarrassing."
Minutes later, Richardson was asked by reporters if he felt the same way.
"He should be embarrassed," said Richardson, confirming he meant Marshall.
Richardson was asked why Marshall should feel embarrassed.
"No reason," Richardson said. "He just should be. He knows what he did."
Richardson declined to provide specifics.
Richardson and Marshall had a heated exchange in the locker room following a Week 3 loss to the Chiefs; the incident was so intense that Bowles addressed it immediately with the entire team.
Asked if he respects Marshall, Richardson said, "Personally? Yeah. Professionally?"
He shrugged, as if to say no.
This is bad news for Bowles. True or not, fair or not, the feud makes it look like he has lost the locker room that is no longer playing for him to begin with. Add that to speculation in the New York Post that owner Woody Johnson uncharacteristically stayed away from the New England game because he was tired of watching his team be uncompetitive and it’s a grim picture.
Bowles probably shouldn’t be fired. But don’t be surprised if he is.
5. The other situation to keep an eye on is in Minnesota. This one isn’t as dire in that no one really believes that head coach Mike Zimmer will lose his job. But a bit of an ugly incident isn’t casting his control over his team in the best light either.
The Vikings considered themselves to be on the verge of a playoff berth before the season started and when quarterback Teddy Bridgewater went down with a serious knee injury, they went all in, over paying the Eagles for Sam Bradford in exchange for a 2017 first round draft pick and a conditional 2018 fourth rounder. Initially the move appeared to pay off as the Vikings started the season 5-0. But their dreams were then flushed down the toilet as they went an ugly 2-8 in the last 10 games entering the Bears game on Sunday.
The Vikings desperately needed a win to keep their very slim playoff hopes alive last week. Zimmer wanted Xavier Rhodes to shadow Packers receiver Jordy Nelson throughout last Saturday’s 38-25 loss but in an act of outright mutiny, Rhodes decided that he should instead stay on his side throughout the first half before Vikings coaches put their game plan back on track by halftime. Rhodes explained it like this.
“We felt as a team, as players, we came together and we felt like we’d never done that when we played against the Packers.Us as DBs felt like we could handle him. That’s how we felt as DBs that we could stay on our side and cover him. In the beginning, we’d always played against them and played our sides, we never followed, so that’s what we felt as DBs. That’s what we went with.”
Nelson had one of the best days of his career, catching nine passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns. Almost all of the damage came in the first half, when Rhodes wasn’t shadowing Nelson and when Rhodes stayed on Nelson in the second half, he held him to two grabs for nine yards.
“That’s what he was supposed to do the whole game,” Zimmer said. “Someone decided they wouldn’t do that.”
That someone was apparently the other staring cornerback, Terence Newman, who approached Zimmer about the issue before the game and was told to “do what you are supposed to do.” He didn’t and the rest of the Vikings defensive backfield followed.
The incident probably says more about Newman’s future with the team than Zimmer’s. But these are the kinds of things that happen when a team goes all in thinking that they can make a playoff run and then becomes disillusioned as it collapses down the stretch.
6. Want to know why the Buffalo Bills can’t get out of their own way to compete in the AFC East? Look no farther than the timing of the firing of now ex-head coach Rex Ryan. Ryan was finally let go after weeks of speculation surrounding his job with what could be kindly termed, “curious” timing.
Anyone with any common sense would have fired Ryan on Sunday, giving interim head coach Anthony Lynn a full NFL work week to prepare for the season finale vs. the Jets. Yes, Sunday was Christmas but, as Mike Florio at Pro Football Talk points out, with three years left on a contract at more than $5 million per year, an eight figure unemployment package wouldn’t make for a terrible holiday gift.
In any case, Ryan was fired on Tuesday, leaving just five days until their next game and leaving Lynn in a difficult spot.
On top of that, the Bills have decided not to play quarterback Tyrod Taylor because if he were to get injured, he would be guaranteed over $30 million dollars in advance of an option which becomes due in March.
That sends a wonderful message to players who will told to play to win while the team’s actions say “just play out the string.” Combined with the Jets notable lack of effort over the last couple games mentioned above, I’m sure that will make for a wonderful environment for football in New York on Sunday.
7. I found comments by defensive lineman Marcell Dareus after the Ryan firing to be interesting. The conversation with ESPN reporter Josina Anderson centered on what went wrong with the Buffalo defense that is widely believed to be the single biggest reason why Ryan was let go.
"It was just too much detail for a lot of guys, and I feel like for a lot of guys it was too much going on for them to check here and check there, if this happens and that happens. Then nine times out of 10, a team will throw something out there that we weren’t prepared for, and then the adjustment to it, we had to get use to and try to make it happen and make plays."
Ryan is widely accepted to be a brilliant defensive coordinator and I always cast a suspicious eye towards explanations like this because Ryan’s defenses have worked extremely well in other places like Baltimore and New York. But Dareus added a kicker that makes a lot of sense.
"We’ve learned the defense this year, and we have played it pretty fast, and we have played it pretty good, but with injuries brings new players [and] younger players up, and from there you have more injuries. Then from there you simplify the defense to the point where everyone can play fast. There always was just constantly a change with whatever was going on and how everybody was playing it."
Having a plan for injuries when, not if, they happen is a big part of whether an organization can find consistent success year to year. A healthy year can mean good things for anyone but the organizations that compete year in and year out are the ones that overcome the injuries that always catch up eventually with any team.
Complex schemes mean it’s tougher for healthy and often younger back up players to step in and seamlessly take over. This appears to have played a big part in Ryan’s downfall and it’s a good point in favor of the “do a little bit and do it extremely well” group of strategists around the league.
8. Having said that I contend, and always contend, that fired personnel from the front office down to the coaching staff often find that they were their worst enemy.
Within the locker room every coach needs to set the bar high and players need to expect to win as much as possible every single week. But privately within the front office and publically in the press, this is a whole ‘nother issue. In particular, setting public expectations is a huge part of how you are perceived and how you are perceived is a huge part of whether you will keep your job year to year.
No one exemplifies this more than Ryan. This quote from January 2015 shortly after he took over as the Bills head coach, pretty much says it all.
"I'm not going to let our fans down," Ryan said. "I am not going to do that. I know it’s been 15 years since the Bills made the playoffs. Well, get ready, man. We're going. We are going."
Almost two years later, the Bills haven’t made the playoffs.
This really isn’t Ryan’s fault. Honestly, how Doug Whaley manages to keep his job is a mystery to me. Whaley has been with the organization since 2010 and in charge since 2013. In that period the Bills have arguably the worst drafting record of any of the NFL franchises. They have only 22 of their draft picks on the active roster and only 31 on the team, ranking them dead last in the NFL.
And yet it's Ryan who takes the fall because it was Ryan, himself, who implied that he was given a playoff quality roster and then ultimately failed to deliver.
9. We knew something odd was going on between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and running back Doug Martin. And it may not bode well for his future with the team.
Martin was a healthy scratch for last week’s game against the Saints.
"Coach's decision," Koetter said after the 31-24 loss Saturday to the Saints. "You know, we've got four backs, and we can't give them all touches. So, like we sat 'Quizz' a week ago. But (Charles) Sims and Peyton Barber are a lot more involved in special teams. So we really only have room for one primary ball carrier right now, so I felt like it was better for us this game to go with Quizz."
How much did Martin's lack of production (less than three yards per carry) factor into Koetter's decision?
"I'm not going to get into any of that," Koetter said. "We're blessed at running back. This was a decision for [Saturday]. It is what is it for [Saturday], and we'll see what we have to deal with what comes next."
Hmmm…well, as it turned out, there was more to it than that. Martin has now been suspended for four games and is entering a drug treatment center.
“Nobody knew," offensive lineman Evan Smith told reporters. "Nobody is mad at Doug. We don't want anybody to fall on hard times, and if they do, that's kind of a big part of the locker room -- we're a big brotherhood and we all pick each other up."
"I don't think any of us can understand what he's going through unless (we've) been in his shoes," Koetter said. "So I don't pretend to be able to understand what he's been going through. The only thing I really want to say is ... I think it's a positive thing that he's taken steps to put himself in position to have better health and a better life long-term."
Martin is having a bad year and has lacked explosion after missing six games with a hamstring injury. Still the star running back signed a five-year, $35.75 million contract with $15 million guaranteed last offseason. In light of this development, it’s not impossible that the Bucs will release Martin but the cap hit would be tough to swallow if they did.
And what would the market be like for Martin? Martin is a star in the league and, at 27 years old he’s in his prime. But teams aren’t too jacked up about shelling out money for free agent running backs nowadays, especially those who seem to have a serious drug problem. The thinking is that you can find a good one in the middle rounds of the draft.
It will be interesting to see what comes of this situation.
10. Who was the most disappointing team of 2016? An ESPN poll asked just that and at the time of this writing the Carolina Panthers were running away with it at 28% of the vote. The Vikings were second with just 11%. But for my money, I’ll take the Arizona Cardinals.
Carolina went to a Super Bowl last year but a lot of things fell their way as they were 2015’s team of destiny. Once things got tough, you pretty much knew Cam Newton would start to pout and that the team would be unlikely to be able to pull off a second run. The Vikings have been building towards this season for some time but hadn’t, and still haven’t, shown that they can beat anyone who is really any good with an awful offensive line that was and continues to be their Achilles heel.
But Arizona was a different story as they had shown that they could compete with the best in 2015. They had it all and had emerged as media darlings heading into 2016 with everything from head coach Bruce Arians being everyone’s favorite gruff and candid uncle to David Johnson who is well on his way to developing into the NFL’s best running back. Amazon even featured the Cardinals in a series called "All or Nothing."
Despite being 8th in total offense and 3rd in total defense, the Cardinals were 6-9 entering Sunday’s game and are a bit of a puzzle. All of that apparent mojo entering the season disappeared rather quickly and they have become something like the antithesis of the 2015 Panthers – whatever could go wrong, has gone wrong.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic told KJZZ radio that he thought part of the problem was that the team began to believe its own headlines.
“I always go back to their struggles at the beginning of the season. I kept hearing from players, ‘Well, we’ve proven that we can rattle off a lot of wins in a row. We won 4 in a row in ’13 and 6 in a row in ’14 and 9 in a row in ’15.’ This is such a year-to-year league and what you did last year means nothing. I kept thinking, ‘This team, the 2016 team, hasn’t proven that they can win 2 in a row.’ I think maybe there was a failure to realize that every season is a season unto itself and what you did last year doesn’t carry over into the next year.”
In any case, they have simply been unable to break through and a lot of it appears to have been just plain bad luck. The Cardinals have lost a lot of close games this year and you could argue that if they just snap the ball correctly and make the kick, they could have easily won three more games and been in the middle of the playoff hunt.
But that’s the loser’s lament and the more cynical amongst us might be more likely to call “bad luck” something more akin to “failure to finish.” In that respect, Arians and the rest of the Cardinals organization is going to have to give some thought to what they can do to turn that around. In the meantime, the challenge for those players who survive the offseason will be to bounce back in 2017 where, they hope, fortune will begin to favor them again.
This column was written by Tom Shannon. Follow him on Twitter: @bearingthenews
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