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Miami Dolphins

State of the Roster – Offensive Line

Travis Wingfield

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Prelude

The 2019 off-season schedule had an unusual beginning for the Miami Dolphins. Not that the once proud, winningest organization in the NFL is suddenly new to coaching turnover (quite the opposite, rather). It’s the timing of the hire that provides the distinction from Stephen Ross’ three other head coaching appointments.

Typically, when the incumbent or new staff is in-place by Early-January, the roster dominoes begin to take shape. Waiting for Brian Flores to win his fifth Lombardi Trophy delayed that process by a month.

Now, with the majority of Coach Flores’ staff settling into their new offices, we can begin to speculate and forecast what will transpire over the next three months.

It’s not hyperbole to say that these next three months are the most important of Chris Grier’s professional career. Miami’s new General Manager is charged with resurrecting a franchise that, in the last 15 years, has fallen from the peak of the winning percentage mountain top, all the way down to fifth place on that obscure, yet illustrious list.

In this series we are going to explore the current assets on the roster and what their futures hold. Plus, we’ll explore the free-agency market and point out scheme fit pieces the Dolphins might seek to add in April’s draft.

Offensive Line

Current Cash Owed: ~ $13 Million
NFL Average: ~ $30 Million

Players Under Contract – 2019 Cash Owed:

Laremy Tunsil – $2.1 M

Arguably the best left tackle in the NFL, Tunsil is going to break the bank when he hits free agency. Fortunately, Miami can sit on their hands for three years, if they choose, on the decision. 2019 is the final year on his rookie deal but the ‘Phins can exercise a fifth-year option that will pay Tunsil an eight-figure salary in 2020 and then use the franchise tag in 2021 if need be.

Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

All of that is a contingency plan, however. The Dolphins can set-and-forget the Left Tackle position for a half-decade, and set a precedent in the organization, by rewarding the team’s best player.

Tunsil’s elite feet and pass protection skills were matched by dominant work in the run-game. Locking out the likes of Khalil Mack and Jadeveon Clowney, Miami’s protection schemes are built around Tunsil’s ability to shut down the game’s elite one-on-one.

Tunsil’s Projected 2019 Action: Starting Left Tackle

Josh Sitton – $7 M

Miami faces a lot of difficult decisions this off-season with none potentially tougher than deciding on a future Hall of Fame Left Guard. Sitton provided stability, even just for one game, at a position that has long been lacking. But the durability concerns are legitimate for a 33-year-old.

Missing games each of the last three years and owed a healthy pay-day for an interior lineman, the prospects to cut Sitton are legitimate. But Miami’s failures to pick up stunts and properly communicate protection calls appeared fixed in Sitton’s one game in 2018. Those problems returned and persisted once Sitton was out of the line-up.

If the New England operation is any indication of how Miami will do business on the O-line, Sitton will be gone.

Sitton’s Projected 2019 Action: Cut

Dan Kilgore – $2.8 M

Originally thought as a savvy move to bring in a quality player under budget, Kilgore’s torn triceps backfired that plan. Kilgore’s start to the year wasn’t going in that direction to begin with as he struggled immensely with power-players.

This is pretty cut-and-dry decision.

Kilgore’s Projected 2019 Action: Cut

Ted Larsen – $1.9 M

Easier than the decision to move on from Kilgore, Larsen will be playing football elsewhere in 2019 – if at all.

Let us never forget the “TED! TED! TED!” chants that reverberated throughout the Dolphins locker room post-New England game for his efforts on the miracle play.

Larsen’s Projected 2019 Action: On the 53-man roster

Pending Free Agents – 2018 Salary

Ja’Wuan James – $2.1 M

The highest paid right tackle in 2019 is due $11.1 million (Lane Johnson, PHI). If Miami wants to retain James’ services, the baseline for the new deal won’t be far from that mark. Detroit’s Ricky Wagner signed for $9 mil per, about where James can expect to land on the open market.

Miami has plenty of room to make this work and with only one surefire starter on the books on the o-line, letting James walk is not an option. He does have slumps that result in poor pass protection and failures in the run game, but he’s been a solid and, at times, spectacular tackle.

James’ Projected 2019 Action: Re-Signed estimated 4 years/$38 million

Jesse Davis – $510 K

An exclusive rights free agent, the ball is in Miami’s court to decide Davis’ football future. After a promising finish to the 2017 season Davis cratered in 2018. He got whipped by Geno Atkins in Cincinnati, had an atrocious game at home against Buffalo, but locked out Akiem Hicks when the Bears came to town.

Davis will be brought back but his starter status will have to be re-earned via a competition, though his versatility as a tackle gives him more leverage.

Davis’ Projected 2019 Action: Re-signed as the sixth man.

Travis Swanson – $850 K

The pleasant surprise of this group, Swanson was Miami’s most viable option at center all season. That might speak more to the quality (or lack thereof) of Miami’s group as a whole, however.

Swanson is a swing option and could get an invite back to camp.

Swanson’s Projected 2019 Action: Re-signed/Camp Invite

Sam Young – $900 K

Sam Young had one of the worst stretches of play ever experienced on an NFL field back in week-five. Filling in for Laremy Tunsil, Young allowed 3 sacks on 12 reps and two more pressures. Serving as the ‘Phins swing tackle for the last three years, the time to move on is now.

Young’s Projected 2019 Action: Not re-signed

Wesley Johnson – $790 K

Another body brought in to make up for all the injuries on the interior, Johnson’s career didn’t revitalize the way Adam Gase and company had hoped.

Johnson’s Projected 2019 Action: Not re-signed

Jake Brendel – $630 K

Playing in just one game Brendel’s prospects for development were delayed considerably. He’s had moments but that lack of availability will be the first thing the new regime sees upon reviewing his file. He could be brought back for camp, but he’s on thin ice.

Brendel’s Projected 2019 Action: Re-signed/Camp Invite

Isaac Asiata – $555 K

Teaching and development has long been a problem for Miami’s Big Uglies. Asiata was an incredibly raw prospect with little technical and fundamental refinement, so it’s no surprise he never put it together in Miami.

Asiata’s Projected 2019 Action: Not re-signed

Zach Sterup – $510 K

Playing significant time in the 2017 finale was a failed experiment for Sterup and his one start (six games total) in 2018 didn’t provide any semblance of improvement.

Sterup’s Projected 2019 Action: Not re-signed

2019 Offensive Line Free Agent Market:

Operating under the assumption that James is back at right tackle and Davis as the swingman, along with Tunsil at left tackle that leaves some work to be done for Miami.

Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The Center position’s value has increased in recent years. Miami, on the other hand, hasn’t had a viable option for the position in years. Mike Pouncey was either too hurt to play, or too hurt to play effectively, and the position was even worse in 2018 after he was cut.

Miami announced a strong stance against spending in free agency but acquiring a legitimate captain right in the middle of the offense would be a wise decision.

Mitch Morse should shake free from Kansas City. He missed five games and his backup, Austin Reiter, filled in without missing a beat. New Assistant G.M. Marvin Allen was the Director of College Scouting in Kansas City when the Chiefs took Morse in the second round in the 2015 NFL Draft.

The rest of the center market isn’t attractive.

At guard, things don’t look much better. Age is the predominant feature of the better players on the list (Mike Iupati – 32, Andy Levitre – 33, Rodger Saffold – 31, James Carpenter – 30, Ramon Foster – 33).

Quinton Spain from Tennessee would be worth a look to recapture some of the magic from earlier in his career. J.R. Sweezy has long been a staple of Seattle’s power run game if the Dolphins are so inclined to venture down that path.

A.J. Cann has a connection to new OL Coach Pat Flaherty – he’s a 27-year-old with 59 career starts. Cann was excellent in 2017 but endured serious regression in 2018.

2019 Offensive Line Draft Class:

The shine on this year’s interior-line class is brimming. If Miami strikes out on Kyler Murray a trade back to accumulate top-100 picks could instantly fix the line ala the Indianapolis Colts in 2018.

Dalton Risner (KSU), Chris Lindstrom (BC), and Garrett Bradbury (NC State) all have first-round pedigrees – those are the options in Miami’s trade-back scenario.

The second tier offers some potential day-one starters as well. Elgton Jenkins (Mississippi State, Center), Dru Samia (Oklahoma, Guard) and just about everyone from the Wisconsin O-line (Michael Deiter and Beau Benzaschawel – both guards).

Texas A&M’s Erik McCoy (C/G) and Lamont Gaillard from Georgia (C) are high-profile options as well.

2019 Offensive Line Roster Prediction:

As you can tell, the option combinations are endless. Miami has a lot of work to do on this area of the roster. If Kyler Murray (or the QB of the Dolphins’ choice) is gone, the opportunity to rebuild the trenches exists. This is the best offensive line draft class in some time and the aforementioned interior free agent options provide plenty of value.

Re-signing James and Tunsil rounding into his prime gives Miami arguably the best bookends in the league. From there, two interior additions could finally give the ‘Phins a stable line.

LT – Laremy Tunsil
LG – FA/Rookie
C – Mitch Moore (Veteran FA)
RG – A.J. Cann (FA/Rookie)
RT – Ja’Wuan James

Swingman- Jesse Davis
Backup C – Jake Brendel

Tomorrow: Edge Defenders

@WingfieldNFL

 

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins Sign Chris Reed

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Looks like the Miami Dolphins have begun replacing the plethora of offensive linemen they either released or let walk this past offseason.

According to the Dolphins official social media account, the team signed offensive guard Chris Reed.

Details of the contract are currently unknown, but with the losses of Ja’Wuan James, Ted Larsen, Josh Sitton and possibly even players like Jake Brendel and Travis Swanson, the Dolphins need bodies to fill out their roster.

After signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars as an undrafted free agent out of the 2015 NFL draft, Reed was placed on the team’s practice squad and wasn’t activated until September, 2016. Over the past three seasons, Reed has been active for 25 games and started 8 of them.

You can’t expect too much from this signing, as Reed is simply expected to compete for depth on the offensive line and it’s possible he doesn’t even make the team out of training camp. Then again, Ted Larsen was originally supposed to be offensive line depth and he ended up playing 1,272 snaps over the course of his two-year Dolphins career.

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Miami Dolphins

Rebuilding Previous Rebuilds

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Now that we have accepted the notion that the Miami Dolphins are going to start rebuilding their franchise in 2019 (and as a result, a lot of losing will incur), we have moved on to the optimistic hope that this team is going to build their foundation “right”.

Hope is about the only thing that will temper the frustration that comes with going 6-10 with freshly signed Ryan Fitzpatrick as our starting quarterback, so over the next calendar year, you’re going to hear how most decisions are geared towards 2020.

Sure, Fitzpatrick will dazzle us with a couple 400-yard passing games and a few offensive performances that trick us into believing that we don’t need to desperately grab a franchise quarterback, but don’t let those extremely inconsistent anomalies fool you. Miami most definitely needs a franchise quarterback – one that leaves us with minimal doubts at the top of the draft.

Are they going to trade up for one in 2019? Or are they going to, um, conveniently lose in 2019 and attempt to save their assets for 2020, where there’s a chance that four starting-caliber quarterbacks come out of college – all of whom are possibly better than the top-2 quarterbacks in this class: Dwayne Haskins and Kyler Murray?

As Travis echoed on Sunday, the Miami Dolphins are building a treasure trove of draft picks that will allow themselves to navigate the murkiest of trade waters in either 2019 or 2020. With the trade of Ryan Tannehill to the Tennessee Titans netting Miami an extra 4th-round draft pick – along with the assumption that losing Ja’Wuan James to the Denver Broncos will return an extra 3rd-round pick as a compensatory selection – Miami will have the ability to tack on whichever mid-round picks are required to seal the deal for a top-3 draft pick.

But with all of these assets in mind, can we confidently assume that the Dolphins are just one year away from being a relevant franchise that can sustain success? No, not one bit.

Since Chris Grier took over as the Director of College Scouting in 2007, Miami has had 5 drafts in which they have had at least 9 draft picks to work with. Although it’s obvious that not every draft pick is going to pan out, the assumption is that a team should be able to identify enough cheap labor to fill their roster. You don’t need superstars in every round, though it would be nice if the Dolphins drafted even one of them.

Before you get ready to soak in the success of 2020, I’m going to remind you of the somber past we have together. Hopefully, Grier doesn’t allow history to repeat itself:

2007

Chris Grier’s first year on the job yielded Miami with multiple draft steals, but came with an ample amount of draft busts as well.

Whether the selection was general manager Randy Mueller‘s, head coach Cam Cameron‘s, Grier’s, or a combination of the three, the Miami Dolphins shocked everyone by selecting Ted Ginn Jr with the 9th-overall pick in the draft.

Choosing Ted Ginn Jr over Brady Quinn proved to be the correct choice, but was Ginn really the player you wanted to commit a top-10 pick to? Especially when he was coming off of an injury and was seen more as a dynamic kick returner than an elite, #1 receiver?

Here are a few players taken shortly after Ginn was picked #9: Patrick Willis (11), Marshawn Lynch (12) and Darrelle Revis (14). I was going to include Lawrence Timmons (15th-overall), but I don’t think Miami fans are going to think too fondly of that linebacker (though let’s be honest, he was still a better pick than Ginn).

But the Miami Dolphins had 10 draft picks in 2007, and should have been able to build a team with more than just a failed 1st-round pick, right? Alas, this is what they graced us with that year:

Paul Soliai in the 4th-round and Brandon Fields in the 7th-round ended up being phenomenal choices for the Dolphins, as both players combined to play 227 games with Miami. Even Samson Satele was a good selection in the 2nd-round; Miami just doesn’t understand their own talent and allowed Satele to be a good starting center for two other teams instead of their own.

The rest of that draft class? Combined to be active for 32 games with the Dolphins. All of which were off the team by the start of the 2008 season.

2008

Coming off of a 1-15 season that felt less like a rebuild and more like a purgatory, the Dolphins were now poised to genuinely begin their ascension with the 1st-overall selection in the draft.

The thing is, Miami’s biggest mistake wasn’t selecting Jake Long with the #1 overall pick, but bringing an archaic Bill Parcells on board to build a team for the future.

Parcells figured there was no sense having a franchise quarterback if there was no one to protect him (the opposite logic of what the Dolphins did with Ryan Tannehill throughout his career), and selected Jake Long to protect whoever’s blindside.

You might be able to excuse Parcells for selecting a potential hall of fame left tackle (for the first four years of their career) over Matt Ryan, since Miami did have 8 more draft picks that year. Instead, this is how the draft shook out:

Kendall Langford was a solid player on the Dolphins defensive line throughout his rookie contract, but other than Jake Long he was the only player to plug a hole on the roster. You can say Chad Henne played prominently for the Dolphins, but we all know he was a detriment more than a solution, and even forced Miami to pick yet another quarterback in the 2nd-round the following draft.

Phillip Merling gave us that exciting interception against Brett Favre and the New York Jets the year Chad Pennington led the team to the playoffs, but other than that, he was basically an extra 1st-round pick that ended up being a complete bust.

After two years and 19 draft picks, the Dolphins should have set themselves up to be a young team worth reckoning with. Looking back, there were really only 5 players that filled a capable roster spot: Satele, Soliai, Fields, Long and Langford. For reference, NFL rosters held 52 players…

2009

After two failed drafts and nearly 19 wasted draft picks, the Miami Dolphins actually got a draft right. This comes with the caveat that it’s the third-consecutive year in which the team is selecting a quarterback in the 2nd-round, so it tells you just how lost the Dolphins really are.

Pat White was a fascinating college athlete to watch, but he had no business being a quarterback in the NFL. The football community was stunned to see White selected so high, but the Dolphins envisioned a quarterback that could complete their wildcat offense and keep opposing defenses confused at all times.

The only confusion White caused was on Miami’s offense, because the playbook was extremely small for the limited quarterback, and the offense was stale at best.

Miami’s best selections came from Vontae Davis and Sean Smith. The team also envisioned having a pair of young, cheap, shutdown corners to give Tom Brady, Brett Favre and whoever the Buffalo Bills had hell. And they were really onto something for a little bit, but Joe Philbin‘s inability to handle egos mixed with some immaturity on the player’s side “forced” the Dolphins to trade Davis and allow Smith to leave in free agency.

At the time, this was a very good draft, but looking back at it, it’s just some more disappointment:

Brian Hartline received a contract extension with the team and probably outperformed all of our expectations. Maybe it speaks to the lack of playmakers the Dolphins have had over their history, but Hartline has the 7th most receiving yards and 9th most receptions in Dolphins history. We can knock the extension as a separate topic, but selecting Hartline in the 4th-round was a very good draft pick.

Chris Clemons ended up playing 80 games with the Dolphins and served as a valuable depth player for 5 seasons.

This can be deemed a good draft for the Dolphins, but the problem is, we’re excited the team was able to find 3 starters. While every team would love to say they found 3 starters in each draft, the Dolphins didn’t have much of a roster around those guys, which meant the team hadn’t rebuilt much of anything up to this point.

A budding franchise looking to sustain success is going to need more than a good #3 receiver to escape mediocrity.

2012

2012 was another very good draft for the Dolphins that saw virtually no sustained success going forward. This is the point where you have to wonder if the Miami Dolphins legitimately try to win or if they’re fine creating media headlines and bringing in ad revenue.

Ryan Tannehill was the first 1st-round quarterback the Dolphins selected since Dan Marino back in 1983. Between all of the excitement and optimism, fans were sold on the fact that Tannehill was going to turn the team around (after he firmly learned the quarterback position). His old coach at Texas A&M, Mike Sherman, was set to be his offensive coordinator, so you know Miami was really building this thing right because, you know, “chemistry”.

7 seasons later, and there are no surviving members of the 2012 draft class. In fact, only one of them made it past year 4 (Tannehill) – which also happens to be the same number of players eventually arrested from this draft class (Jonathan Martin).

How can a team sustain success when the team doesn’t sustain any of their successful players?

Olivier Vernon and Lamar Miller proved to be great risks that Jeff Ireland took. Coming right out of the Dolphins backyard from the University of Miami, Vernon and Miller were underclassmen that Ireland saw potential in. And he was right.

Both outperformed their draft status and earned themselves wealthy contracts in free agency. This goes back to the argument that the Dolphins are incompetent when it comes to signing their own draft picks, so overall, this draft doesn’t seem like much, but this draft could have been much more than a free agent payday for 3 of their selections.

Rishard Matthews was one of the best 7th-round picks in Dolphins history, but Philbin’s deadpan personality placed Matthews on the bench for most of his rookie contract rather than the starting lineup ahead of players like B.J. Cunningham and Legedu Naanee.

As of 2019, the Dolphins are still looking for a player at every position from the list of 2012 draft picks (QB, RT, DE, TE, LB, WR and DT). You can say Miami doesn’t need a running back, but that’s also the easiest position to find and it’s not even like the team currently has a solidified running back room anyway.

2013

Identifying a “can’t-miss” athlete in an inactive market, Jeff Ireland made one of the best draft-day trades of the century and traded the team’s 1st-round pick (12th-overall) and 2nd-round pick (42nd-overall) to move up to #3 overall. That kind of trade would be unheard of today, where those top picks are commodities that you have to pry away with current and future draft capital.

So what did the Dolphins do with their robbery? Select a stellar athlete with a history of demons that rivals that of Josh Gordon.

Dion Jordan was built to be a football player, but he never actually wanted to be a football player. He wanted to escape reality and realized this was a profession he was good at. Fortunately for Jordan, but unfortunately for the Dolphins, Jordan took 5 years to mature past all of those inner turmoils and emerge as a defensive threat.

But like the theme of this article, his success doesn’t benefit the Miami Dolphins one bit.

Dion Jordan wasn’t the only player to fail Miami’s expectations yet perform better elsewhere.

2nd-round pick Jamar Taylor was always hampered by injuries and was shipped to the Cleveland Browns for a 27 slot draft boost in the 7th-round (a farcry from #54 overall). Dion Sims was a solid backup and blocking tight end before cashing in with the Chicago Bears. Mike Gillislee was a decent kick returner who has seen a good amount of success as a running back with the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots. Even Caleb Sturgis was viewed as a “bust” and has since played 36 games for other teams.

You could argue that Don Jones was Miami’s best draft pick behind Dion Sims that year, and that’s only because he was a very good gunner on special teams.

Truth is, the Dolphins have had plenty of opportunities to rebuild and yet, years later, here we are, still trying to rebuild. So now that Chris Grier has ultimate control, will this be the rebuild the Dolphins finally turn it around? 6th time’s a charm, right?

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Miami Dolphins

Free Agent Analysis: Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick

Travis Wingfield

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Buckle up, Phins Fans – the Fitzmagic Roller Coaster is coming to your town

Ryan Fitzpatrick is on his eight NFL team following a circuitous route that spans 14 seasons as a professional football player. The journeyman stopgap heads to America’s retirement home on a two-year contract that starts at $11 million and could escalate to $20 million if unspecified incentives are met.

Though details of the contract’s structure are not yet available, it’s a near certainty that the bulk of the money will be paid out in year-one. With the Dolphins eating a chunk of dead cap, and pushing assets down the road, this move not only helps Miami get closer to the salary floor, it secures a sturdy backup quarterback for the 2020 season.

Whether it’s Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins, Tua Tagovailoa, Jake Fromm or any other quarterback prospect, Fitzpatrick has been heralded for his calm demeanor and approach to providing this very important element to his past teams.

Barring a trade-up for one of the top two prospects in this draft Fitzpatrick will be under-center when the Dolphins open the season on the second Sunday in September. Only one September ago, Fitzpatrick was on an unprecedented roll for a quarterback of his caliber – of any caliber, really.

After the three-game stretch of consecutive 400 yard outputs, Fitzpatrick throttled into a nosedive throwing for less than 250 yards in four of his next five starts. Cumulatively, his passer rating on the season was 100.4, but he failed to eclipse the 90.0 mark in all but one of his final six starts.

The strengths and weaknesses of Fitzpatrick’s game are abundantly clear. Where the flashes with Ryan Tannehill provided false hope, Fitzpatrick is an open book – it only takes a couple of games of all-22 to figure out exactly who he is.

First, the strengths. I’ve talked at length about the importance of a backup quarterback providing the locker room and huddle with a sense of comradery. Whether it’s this season or next, Fitzpatrick will eventually be relegated to the number-two QB. The Ewing Theory suggests that the rest of the roster can elevate its game when the backup enters the lineup, but that typically only applies when said backup is likable.

That clip also showcases the gamer-mentality of Fitzpatrick. With reckless abandon, he’ll take a hit for his team in a way you’d never want your franchise quarterback to play.

As for Fitzpatrick the starter, the strength of his game is also his biggest weakness. He trusts his eyes as much as any quarterback going right now and will let ‘er rip without hesitation. There’s a hint of Matt Moore in his game where he evaluates pre-snap and makes quick decisions based on the leverage of the defense.

The first touchdown of the season for Tampa Bay provides a terrific example of Fitzpatrick’s ability to move the defense with his eyes and hips. The clip also showcases his strength as a play-action passer when given a comfortable pocket.

There’s a reason he’s been on eight teams in 14 years, however. That anticipation, coupled with sloppy mechanics, gets him into a lot of hot water. If the defense is at all nuanced, and capable of disguising coverage, he’s going to turn the ball over a heck of a lot.

Randomly, the ball will sail as he is prone to rushing his setup and spraying bullets all over the field. Pressure in his face only amplifies this shortcoming.

All things told, this was the best veteran option available both in terms of playing time and veteran mentor to the inevitable draft pick coming in a year or two. There will be equal parts excitement and sheer frustration with Fitzpatrick playing in Miami.

As far as the Tank for Tua conversation, this signing likely solidifies that Miami will not be the worst team in football. I’ve argued that they would never reach those valleys to begin, even with a rookie or Luke Falk under-center. I believe too strongly in Brian Flores and the staff he has assembled for this team to lose a number of games in the teens. Fitzpatrick at least gets Miami out of the massive hole of unworthy NFL quarterback territory.

Ideally, the Dolphins find their quarterback straight away and never have to start Fitzpatrick. The more likely outcome is that he starts the season and puts the Dolphins in a tough spot regarding the playing time incentives in his contract.

This signing is great from a financial standpoint right now, but if the Harvard product (had to get it in) starts hitting those contract escalators, that would not be ideal.

@WingfieldNFL

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