Jamil Douglas was probably drafted a round too early.
Not that his ascendency through the depth chart is not worthy of a fourth round pick, but it makes what I am about to say more resonant: Spending big money on the offensive guard position is fool’s gold in the NFL.
Tell me about the last time an aged veteran guard signed a huge money contract with a team, and it ended well. I’ll wait.. ..seriously. It does not happen, and the reason why is that guards in the NFL are slightly more important strategically than place holders on the kicking team. You have to have them, but you don’t really want to pay someone a lot of money to do that job, In fact the holders are always moonlighting as something else: Punters, backup QB’s, or beer vendors.
The constant refrain that we all hear is that we can’t be sure on Douglas, as he has not played a game. This is true; so true in fact that it is indisputable. Who cares though? If you do care, tell me why? If you think that Evan Mathis is the cure-all to what ails the Miami Dolphins then I have news for you.
Let’s start with his age. While I look back fondly at 34, I am not a professional athlete; 34 is near the end of the line for a football player. Consider that Mathis missed nine weeks last season with injuries ought to be a concern; in fact he has only played 16 games twice in his career.
Plus, Mathis would be expensive. Very expensive. The average for the top 64 salaries for offensive guards in the league is just under $3 million per season; Mathis is looking for almost twice that amount. Meanwhile Jamil Douglas, who plays the same left guard position, only costs a bit under $700K, which for those of you not inclined to do math is a large difference.
The money is deeper than that though. While it is nice for basketball folks to opine about how things are done in the Association, the NFL operates with a Hard Cap. The only way to create space above that cap is to roll over unused salary from the prior season to the next. So even if it is only a one year deal in the $5.5 million range that Mathis is seeking, that still lowers Miami’s cap for 2016 by that same amount, regardless if he is still on the team next year or not.
That means $5.5 million less to try and keep the core of this team together in 2016. While the Dolphins are playing the 2015 season this year on the field, off the field this organization has already made the decision that drafting and developing players in house is how they plan to grow. The contracts given to Ndamkong Suh, Ryan Tannehill, and Mike Pouncey have all but assured that this is the path the Dolphins must walk to find long term success.
Let me put this another way: sign Mathis and you can wave goodbye to at least three if not all four of these players: Cam Wake, Brent Grimes, Oliver Vernon, and Lamar Miller. As things stand now the Dolphins will be hard pressed to find the space to even keep two of them following this season. Are you willing to trade any of them for any guard in the league? I know that I am no in any way inclined to make that type of move.
Back to Jamil Douglas, a good prospect out of a Power-5 school who has played against solid competition during training camp, and has performed well enough to challenge the 3rd year incumbent for the starting spot. Along with all of that, he potential also happens to be on the roster already, and has a salary that is a little more than a tenth of what Mathis is asking for.
When an organization commits to a financial model in the NFL, it must stick to that model or it will undoubtedly end up in a nightmare salary cap scenario, much like what we have seen in New Orleans, Detroit, and Arizona. All three of those teams have been forced to let go of integral pieces of their team, and they will have to keep making cuts into the future.
This is the future scenario the Dolphins are attempting to avoid. They want to limit their dead salary cap money, they want to maximize their rollover, which is why I expect both CJ Mosley and Zach Bowman to get cut. And they want to create a window of opportunity to win championships, not just a one-and-done run.
Finally, the most important lesson of finding a usable guard in the fourth round like Douglas, it leaves you with room for when a potential valuable veteran player that fills a real team need (in the Dolphins case, think linebacker) becomes available. I have heard rumbles that at least one starting-caliber player will be cut from a deep Pittsburgh unit. That is the opportunity the Dolphins should be looking to leverage, not for a progress-stopping 34-year-old coming off a good, but injury-mired season.
Perhaps the Dolphins do end up signing Mathis, and that may even end up being the right move for 2015. But it is a move that should only come as the last resort. No teams are running to meet his salary demands, and that alone should tell everyone something. If, after a couple of preseason games, Douglas has not firmly entrenched himself as the starting left guard, fans should perhaps turn their attention back to Mathis. But right now we should all be paying attention to the lessons that Jamil Douglas has to teach us.
This story was written by Ryan Winters. Follow him on Twitter @WintersNFL.
Editing by @EJFootball
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