With the most salary cap space in the NFL at a whopping $88 million or so (as of Tuesday night) the Miami Dolphins are loaded for free agency next Monday when the so-called legal tampering period begins at noon.
If the Dolphins wanted to, they could effectively sign not one big-splash free agent but maybe three or four and still have plenty of money (cap space) left over for the draft and practice squad and the season’s financial needs -- such as signing players to fill voids left by injured players.
Think of it:
The Dolphins, 27th in the league against the run and dead last in sacks, could address both issues by signing Kansas City Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones. Jones, excellent against the run, also collected 31 sacks the last three years.
And then the Dolphins could address the offensive line with maybe Washington Redskins guard Brandon Scherff or New England’s Joe Thuney and why not address the right tackle spot, too, with Tennessee’s Jack Conklin.
And then the alarm clock sounded.
That’s not likely how it will play out.
First, teams don’t typically let players like Jones hit free agency and the Chiefs didn’t win Super Bowl 54 by doing dumb things. So, if the reporting is to be believed, they are currently negotiating to re-sign Jones and would likely use a franchise tag on him if no deal is struck.
Womp, womp, womp.
Fine, so no Jones. But other guys right?
I am expecting the Dolphins to be aggressive in free agency. But also conduct themselves with some discipline and even restraint, based on what I’m hearing.
They will sign players. They definitely will do that.
It could be half-a-dozen to maybe two handfuls of players that Miami signs. And some will be very competitive contracts because that’s simply the way free agency is set up.
But there’s not going to be a tidal wave of stars walking through the door of the Dolphins’ facility during free agency. And the way the contracts will be set up will have to make sense ... for the team.
What I mean by that is the Dolphins just emerged from something of a dead money hell last year when they saw fit to jettison multiple players that were either older or not living up to their big salaries.
But in getting rid of those players, the guaranteed money the team had to absorb onto its cap was onerous. The sting was softened in that the Dolphins were, well, taking a strategic step back. Yeah, tanking.
But that is over and the lesson is learned.
So going forward, at least for this offseason, the Dolphins don’t intend to be a big guaranteed money bank for free agents.
They will pay. But it will have to make sense.
Example: Last May the Dolphins had a player they love in cornerback Xavien Howard. So they signed him to a five-year, $75.25 million extension through 2024.
And the headline was Miami made Howard the highest paid cornerback in the game.
But the reality is the Dolphins fully guaranteed only $27.18 million, according to ProFootballTalk, and set themselves up to exit the contract with negligible pain (dead money) the final three years of the deal.
So Howard has to produce at a high level the next couple of seasons to see the nearly $36 million owed him on the contract from 2022-2024.
Think of that as a template for the type of contract the Dolphins want to be doing in free agency in 2020.
The deals may sound like a lot at first blush. The headlines will blare it’s a lot and the Dolphins are spending.
But on the back end, the team will be able to exit without bleeding very much dead money at a time players are getting older and perhaps playing at diminished levels.
This makes sense for the team. But not all teams are necessarily doing this.
So the Dolphins may be competing for players against teams willing to risk more guaranteed money throughout the deal and players getting those offers -- usually the brightest stars -- aren’t likely headed to Miami to sign a more team-friendly deal.
So not Chris Jones as an interior lineman option. But perhaps players a step down in both talent, availability and affordability like Houston’s D.J. Reader or Pittsburgh’s Javon Hargrave.
Definitely not Jadeveon Clowney as an edge rusher -- based on his feelings about the Dolphins last year, desire to get paid, and desire to still be on an playoff-caliber team after this offseason.
But the Dolphins will have interest in New England’s Kyle Van Noy, who collected eight sacks with nine quarterback hits and 43 pressures, according to ProFootball Focus.
I was thinking the Dolphins should have interest in Los Angeles Rams edge rusher Dante Fowler, but there’s a sense in league circles he doesn’t fit the character mold of players Dolphins coach Brian Flores wants.
Fowler a couple of years ago was something of a problem -- being arrested multiple times, being seen on video apparently serving as referee of a fight between his girlfriend and the mother of his kids. So we’ll see on that one.
Me? I think that might lower Fowler’s eventual price in free agency but I won’t believe Flores would roll with that until I see it.
By the way, keep your eyes on Baltimore’s Matt Judon, New York Giants edge Markus Golden and Pittsburgh’s Bud Dupree. The Dolphins have closely studied all of them.
(And I pause here to remind you these guys are all 6-3ish and somewhere between 260-270. And you might wonder why can’t the Dolphins just trot out Charles Harris or Taco Charlton? I think it has something to do with the fact Harris finished last season with 1/2 a sack and Charlton was a healthy scratch in three of the team’s final four games.)
Moving on ...
The Dolphins want cornerback help this offseason. Maybe they get it through the draft, which is preferable. Maybe they get it through the draft and free agency because they probably need more than one.
Cornerback Byron Jones is a name I’ve heard connected to the Dolphins but I’m not sure I buy this. I also don’t like zero interceptions the past two years.
Brian Poole seems like something of a fit because I don’t believe his market is going to be exorbitant and he’s a good slot corner. Chris Harris, an excellent slot who played outside last year, is a baller.
But he’s 30 and this: $$$$$.
One more name I keep hearing: Logan Ryan.
Yeah, pretty obvious in that he’s a former Patriot who played for Flores. Don’t sleep on this possibility.
About the offensive line:
I believe the Dolphins are going to draft an offensive tackle. This is the year to do it and they have the resources to do it. They also could address the guard spot in the draft.
But I hear through the grapevine -- the Dolphins hate my grapevine, by the way -- that perhaps an under the radar offensive lineman will interest Miami.
Detroit’s Graham Glasgow fits that mold. He’s started 58 games over the past four seasons and played well last season, yet the Lions have decided to let him go. Glasgow did not allow a sack in 87 snaps last season, per PFF.
And now you’re asking about Scherff and Thuney.
I get it, they’re better known and good. But there are issues.
The Redskins reportedly have no intention of letting Scherff go in that they’re negotiating a deal with him currently and still have the option of tagging him if no deal is worked out.
Also, Scherff has been nagged by injuries in recent years, missing a total of 15 games, or almost one full season, over the past three.
Thuney? He’s gonna get paid!
We’re talking perhaps setting the market as the highest-paid guard at $15 million per season.
Yes, the Dolphins could pay that if they wish. But that would not exactly fit the plan unless Thuney agrees to a contract that gives the Dolphins options on the back end of the deal when the 27-year-old perhaps begins a decline and isn’t living up to that $15 million per year.