A six-pack of Miami Dolphins notes on a Friday:
▪ If you’re expecting the Dolphins to make another big spending splash this offseason — whether it be on Trent Williams, Cam Newton, Jadeveon Clowney, Jason Peters or Logan Ryan — it’s no longer realistic unless Miami cuts at least one player or any of those players takes a contract far, far below expectations.
After additional contract structuring and adjustments, the Dolphins’ cap space has dropped to $24.6 million, according to figures obtained by the NFL players union and confirmed by The Miami Herald.
During the weekend, spotrac reported Dolphins cap space at $37 million, overthecap.com reported the Dolphins’ cap space at $36 million, and the Herald reported cap space at $32 million based on numbers specified on initial submission of contracts made available to NFL agents.
But since then, overthecap has added about $4 million in 2020 cap charges for Byron Jones, Kyle Van Noy and Ereck Flowers that did not appear in their initial contracts.
Here’s why, per OTC’s excellent Jason Fitzgerald and the good folks at overthecap: After the Dolphins contracts were officially filed with the league there were some changes, with Miami instead opting to use first year roster bonuses rather than large signing bonuses. That elevated those players’ first-year cap hits but helps Miami with regard to 2021 and 2022 hits, and beyond in the case of Jones and Van Noy.
The Dolphins, believing they didn’t need the extra cap space in 2020, apparently changed the payment mechanisms from only a signing bonus to a combination of a small signing bonus with a larger roster bonus in 2020, thus taking on a greater hit in 2020 but a lesser one in future years.
Spotrac still listed Miami’s space at $33.4 million as of this morning, but that’s inaccurate, according to the union and a source with direct knowledge. The correct figure is $24.6 million.
The Dolphins need about $16 million to sign its NFL Draft class (if Miami makes all 14 picks) and another $2 million or so to fill out a practice squad. So that would leave Miami with only about $7 million in cap space as a safeguard to add a relatively cheap free agent after the draft or fill a need with a value free agent if there’s an injury in training camp.
But cap space is now very snug.
Why did the Dolphins take this approach?
By raising the first-year cap hit of some players, that lessens their hits in 2021, when Miami could forge as much as $80 million in space if the cap rises to $240 million, as FanSided has reported. So there is logic behind how the Dolphins structured these deals.
But unless Miami releases Albert Wilson or another player, the current cap situation doesn’t allow for any more free agent splurges among the big names still available.
As for Wilson, he’s owed a nonguaranteed $9.5 million in 2020, and the Dolphins can clear out $9.5 million in 2020 cap space by releasing him at any time prior to the week before the regular-season opener.
The reason Miami hasn’t done anything with Wilson is three-fold:
1). There’s no deadline with Wilson regarding guaranteed money in the next five months, so Miami loses nothing by keeping him all summer, seeing how he looks in training camp and then making a decision on him.
2). The Dolphins were encouraged how he played late in the season after he overcame hip and hamstring injuries.
3). The Dolphins don’t believe they need the cap space that would be created by his release. They did not feel it necessary to add a left tackle (from a weak group) or defensive tackle in the first wave of free agency.
Incidentally, signing players to minimum deals doesn’t diminish cap space at this point. The Dolphins’ cap, for example, would not be affected if they did a minimum deal with XFL receiver Cam Phillips, who has been linked to Miami.
Phillips had 31 catches for 455 yards and nine touchdowns in five games for the Houston XFL team this past season. The Houston Chronicle reported the Dolphins and Bengals are interested in him. He went undrafted out of Virginia Tech in 2018 and spent the 2018 season with the Bills, mostly on their practice squad.
▪ The handful of teams with a legitimate chance to draft Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa — or trade up for him — all face the same conundrum in balancing his durability issues with his impressive skill set and NFL potential.
Former Colts general manager Bill Polian offered insight into that process in a conversation with Alex Marvez on Sirius XM radio.
“I talked to two doctors who were at the Combine,” Polian said. “Both are positive about him. They had not seen his scan at a time we talked. Both docs felt he was well on his way to healing based on reports they had received from physicians treating him at Alabama.
“What worries you a little bit is that injury coupled with the high ankle sprain from the year before before that had to be surgically repaired. You worry is he a little bit injury prone? If I were drafting in the top five, it would keep me awake a little bit. But then I would watch the film and say, ‘I’m taking him.’”
Polian said: “Tua jumps off the film at you. He’s a quick-twitch athlete playing quarterback. That’s rare. That’s Russell Wilson territory. He’s built to some degree like Russell. A little on the short side and wide side. He’s got remarkable release, just incredible, ball is out of there and it’s spinning and it’s accurate and it’s got juice on it.
“He can throw it through a wall if he has to. He has got great touch, great accuracy. Has got tremendous quickness in his feet. When your feet and lower body are out of sync with your arm, you get inaccuracy and interceptions. Tua’s feet are like that of a tap dancer. His feet are incredibly quick. He can change direction quickly. He sees things exceptionally well and the ball comes out, ‘Whoosh.’ It’s out. Quickness of release, accuracy and processing are common to all great quarterbacks and he has all three.”
▪ NBC’s Chris Simms has been more skeptical of Tagovailoa than any national pundit, in terms of whether his style of play will allow him to stay healthy as a professional.
“He had a ton of talent around him,” Simms said. “This is where we have to be careful when we evaluate quarterbacks… He’s a gifted athlete, he’s got great feet, he can hop around the pocket, he’s a good runner… I don’t think he’s necessarily going to be a great runner in the NFL… He’s a natural at the quarterback position, he really does understand it…
“He is very scary to me, I’m not necessarily sold that the type of style he plays will translate to the NFL… I’m certainly docking him a little bit because of size, injury history and further injury concern…Being in the top 10, it would scare me with Tua.”
Simms ranks Tua as only the fourth-best quarterback in the draft, behind Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert and Jordan Love.
▪ The Dolphins have done their due diligence on Redskins left tackle Trent Williams, but Miami likes the offensive tackles in the draft and there simply wouldn’t be enough cap space — at this point — to give him a lucrative contract even if Miami pursued him.
Williams has received permission to seek a trade. His agent, Vincent Taylor, would like Washington to release him at this point.
▪ My colleague Armando Salguero has reported Dolphins’ interest in Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert and NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah said this week: “I’ve been told by trusted personnel sources around the league that the Dolphins have strong grades on Joe Burrow, Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert.
“I could see them attempting to move up for Burrow, but I seriously doubt the Bengals will trade the top pick. It’s not hard to imagine the Fins making a move up to the No. 3 slot in order to land their preferred choice between Tagovailoa and Herbert. However, I’m not certain which player will top their list. I’ll stick with Tagovailoa under the assumption the Dolphins are comfortable with his recovery from hip surgery.”
Jeremiah said he and NFL Network colleagues Bucky Brooks “had a good chat with Dolphins GM Chris Grier during the NFL Scouting Combine.
“He mentioned to us that his player personnel staff had spent time studying the QB crop in the 2021 class, as well as the current one. This led us to believe there was an outside chance they could address other needs in this year’s draft and pursue their signal-caller in next year’s class. Scratch that theory off the list.
They have greatly improved their roster with an aggressive free agency approach that will likely take them out of the running for a top pick in the 2021 draft.”
▪ New Dolphins linebacker Kyle Van Noy on Thursday was asked to share his best Brian Flores story from their two years together in New England.
“There’s a lot; I’ll share a good one,” he said. “It was in New England. It was during practice, and he was the d-coordinator at the time, so it was in 2018, and it was one of those days where it was just a grind. Everyone was cranky. It was probably in December, so in December everyone starts to get cranky in New England because it gets cold — something you guys don’t know about; but things weren’t happening at practice.
“He brought me and ‘High’ [Dont’a Hightower] over and kind of just said, ‘look. We’re just — we’re not just trying to be out here. We’ve got things to do.’ And I know it’s simple. That’s something simple to say, but it didn’t hit us until we got to the meeting because when we were watching the plays, he was like, ‘look at right here, we’re just not out here. We’re trying to get things done.’
“Then in that game, that week — we fast forward it. It came to a time and a place where the play that he wasn’t happy about in that practice popped up in the game, and me and ‘High’ started laughing at each other because me and him both made a play on it, and we go to the sideline and we started laughing at him like, ‘look, we’re not out here…’”
Van Noy laughed. “We kind of did his little comment back to him, and he started laughing. That’s just a small story, but it’s a big story because he takes something that’s so small and is able to put it into football and relate it, and he’s really good with his players.”
Here’s part 7 of my 7 part series with new details on every player on the Dolphins roster and their future. This one deals with running backs and tight ends.
This story was originally published March 27, 2020 12:42 PM.