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Miami Dolphins

The Bridge to the Future at Quarterback

Travis Wingfield

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Tuesday’s trade deadline came and went without participation from the Miami Dolphins. The ultra-competitive Adam Gase says this team, at 4-4, with the starting quarterback on the shelf once more, is in the thick of a playoff race.

Technically speaking, Gase is right – Miami is a game behind the sixth-seeded Bengals in the AFC wildcard hunt. This is a familiar place for the Dolphins, but the outside-looking-in standing is shrouded in doubt this time around as Brock Osweiler mans the controls for the immediate future.

A silver lining to the uncertainty of Ryan Tannehill’s shoulder injury exists. The optimist believes Miami could finally make a clean break from the 2012 first round draft pick after a failed 2018 season.

Physical traits have always been Tannehill’s saving grace. In addition to his mental processing progress coming along at the pace of slow crawl, Tannehill now carries the tag of a medical risk.

On top of the dubious nature of the injury to the seven-year pro’s throwing shoulder, if Tannehill loses any zip on his fastball, it’s difficult to imagine his career ever materializing beyond what it is today.

The greatest redeeming trait of Ryan Tannehill was the pinpoint accuracy to the short and intermediate portion of the field, and the ability to fit tight windows with an arm rivaled by few on this planet.

In life, there’s a yang to every yin, and that’s true of the football universe as well. If Miami parts company with 17, it comes in a potentially historically wanting off-season for quarterback-needy franchises.

The draft bears almost no fruit with top prospects Justin Herbert and Dwayne Haskins likely headed back to campus. The pair will join a positively loaded 2020 class of side-arms if that’s the direction the Oregon and Ohio State QBs take.

Even those names come with a distinguishable degree of uncertainty. On Tuesday’s Locked On Dolphins podcast, I spoke with Jon Ledyard of The Draft Network and the Locked On Draft Podcast and he put a wet blanket over the entire 2019 QB class (listen to that episode HERE).

That leaves trade prospects and free agency. Unless the Seahawks come to an unsalvageable point in their contract discussions with Russell Wilson, a viable option does not exist. Derek Carr is a lateral move from Ryan Tannehill and, like Carr, any other name thrown into the fray is merely speculation at this point.

So it’s onto the free agency board. The following material may not be suitable for children or readers with weak stomachs.

One name on that list, however, stands out above the others. One quarterback that will likely field starter-level money come the new league year in March.

Teddy Bridgewater.

I can hear your hemming and hawing through the monitor, or the screen of your smart phone, so allow me to walk you down this path – or rather…this bridge.

Not-so-clever puns aside, the Bridgewater interest is real. And it’s mutual. According to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, the Dolphins contacted Bridgewater’s representatives in March to gauge the Miami-native’s desire to play professional football in his home town.

First, we go back to 2017 when Bridgewater was asked about whether he would welcome a trade to Miami following Tannehill’s season-ending injury in August.

In this investigative-style column penned by AJ Mansour, he detailed a collection of tweets from Bridgewater on that day. Bridgewater’s cryptic messages became a bit clearer when he “liked” a tweet suggesting Miami pursue his services.

Dec 21, 2014; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) is tackled by Miami Dolphins middle linebacker Jason Trusnik (93) during the second half at Sun Life Stadium. The Dolphins won 37-35. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Bridgewater clearly felt that the Tannehill injury could be a precursor to a dream of his coming true – playing for childhood team, the Miami Dolphins.

Gase and the Dolphins opted to turn their attention towards familiarity by way of the walking meme that is Jay Cutler. Bridgewater was immediately relegated to the abyss of the Minnesota depth chart – he played only nine snaps all season, all in mop-up duty.

Fast forward to March 2018. Bridgewater’s rookie deal with the Vikings expired and he was set to hit the market. Once a first round quarterback with lofty ceiling, Bridgewater was hearing offers commensurate with that of a backup passer, including the Miami Dolphins.

With Tannehill on the mend, Miami’s interest in Bridgewater was in that exact vein, as a backup.

According to Salguero, Miami’s interest faded when they learned the asking price for the previously hobbled quarterback. Bridgewater’s representation knew an incentive laden-based deal was the camp’s best shot to maximize his earning potential.

With Tannehill entrenched as the unquestioned starter, Bridgewater’s only path to that $15 million pay day was to earn a starting role, and hitting specific playing-time and statistical benchmarks.

So, despite that mutual interest, Bridgewater signed with the Jets for a base salary of $5 million. With incumbent Josh McCown representing a place-holder position, Bridgewater’s competition would surface via the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft.

The Jets landed Sam Darnold and, despite an impressive pre-season showing, Bridgewater gave way to the rookie on opening day. As a result, Bridgewater became expendable, and the suddenly journeyman quarterback was placed on the back burner for another year.

Bridgewater landed in New Orleans via a pre-season trade.

Providing the Saints with injury insurance in the event that Drew Brees has to miss any time, Bridgewater is set to enter 2019 free agency as the most coveted quarterback on the market.

How much money he will command is anyone’s guess. The given, however, is the shared interest between Bridgewater and Miami. This time, the Dolphins will likely need a starter (assuming Tannehill’s shoulder and/or performance don’t return to form over the next eight weeks).

Assuming Gase is back for a fourth season (also a near-given provided Miami doesn’t play out the string with 10 consecutive losses), his approval is the final checkpoint standing in the way of this potential marriage.

Per the Salguero column, Miami contacted Bridgewater’s agent, and this only occurs if Gase himself signs off on the move (Gase has final say on the roster, and it can be assumed that the quarterback position is entirely left up to Gase).

So, with an opening and shared intrigue, the final step is to hammer out compensation. Miami offers Bridgewater an opportunity to prove his worth as a starter in the league, Bridgewater offers Miami a bridge (no pun intended) to the 2020 rookie quarterback class.

The best case scenario; Bridgewater becomes the quarterback many pegged him to be and the Dolphins finally have the long-term answer at the most important position in all of sport.

At that juncture, the only thing left to debate would be Bridgewater’s value and likelihood to succeed. Plenty of fans have written Bridgewater off because of a slow statistical start to his career. This tweet from Chris Kouffman, however, displays an encouraging number regarding Bridgewater’s only two years in the league.

Four rookie quarterbacks are starting in 2018. The passer rating high-water mark for those quarterbacks is Baker Mayfield at 78.9 – 29th in the league. Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Josh Allen rank 32nd, 33rd, and 34th respectively.

In this day and age, football fans want immediate results, but that’s hardly realistic. For every Patrick Mahomes, there’s a Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Blake Bortles – or even a Robert Griffin III, who shines one year and quickly disappears from NFL relevance.

If Bridgewater starts opening day (for Miami or otherwise) on September 9, 2019, it will have been 1,337 days since his last meaningful snap (the 2015 season’s playoff game against Seattle). Rust and chemistry are a concern with such a long layoff, but Bridgewater’s 2018 pre-season piqued plenty of interest around the league, and rightfully so.

The casual fan will dismiss anything that happens in the pre-season but, upon further review, Bridgewater showed multiple facets of his game that should quell concerns.

Up first, Bridgewater shows the nimble feet that becomes problematic for pass rushers closing down on the quarterback. A subtle step-up, a spring backwards, and Bridgewater is on the edge throwing past the sticks.

Here, he shows the mental aptitude for the game as well as perfect touch on a seam route. Bridgewater moves the defense with eye manipulation, comes out of his drop and throws a dime (ignore the receiver’s efforts).

Again, Bridgewater’s escape-ability is on display as he sidesteps a free-rusher, extends the play and dials up a first down strike.

The most important trait a quarterback can showcase is the foot-to-eye cohesion. Whatever the passer sees, he needs to be in a position to get the football up and out quickly, meaning the eyes need to be hard-wired to the feet. Here, Bridgewater eschews his option to the flat, meanwhile he knows this frees up his target to the corner. He finishes it off with a perfect ball.

The same idea here, Bridgewater manipulates the defense with his foot work, then comes back over the middle to extend a drive on fourth down.

Lastly, he displays an absence of fear under duress by buying crucial milliseconds, allowing the route to develop.

These plays are a mere glimpse at the progress Bridgewater made from his second year as a starting quarterback. More importantly, he showed off the agility that would’ve previously given decision makers pause due to the severity of his injury. And yet, despite everything he’s been through, Bridgewater will be just 26-years-old when the 2019 season begins.

Bridgewater is far and away the best option if the Dolphins want to go in a new direction under-center for the 2019 season. His intellect would be an attractive quality to Gase, and the mutual interest makes this a very real possibility.

It might work, it might not, but the upside alone should get Dolphins fans through another off-season of disappointment.

@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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