After being a staple in the playoffs for roughly the entire history of the franchise, the Dolphins have only one playoff appearance since 2001, including six consecutive seasons without a winning record. It finally feels like the Dolphins have the quarterback in place to make a run at the division – and it doesn’t hurt that their biggest competition might be missing theirs – and their offseason centered around winning the Ndamukong Suh sweepstakes. However, Miami did much more than just that to put itself in a position to make a run at the playoffs, and the team might not be finished just yet.
- Ndamukong Suh, DT: Six years, $114.375MM. $59.955MM guaranteed.
- Jordan Cameron, TE: Two years, $15MM. $5MM guaranteed.
- Greg Jennings, WR: Two years, $8MM. $3MM guaranteed.
- Brice McCain, CB: Two years, $5.5MM. $3MM guaranteed.
- Matt Moore, QB: One year, $2.6MM. $1.6MM guaranteed.
- Kelvin Sheppard, LB: One year, $1.35MM. $500K guaranteed.
- Jason Fox, T: Two years, $2.5MM. $475K guaranteed.
- J.D. Walton, C: One year, $1.025MM. $250K guaranteed.
- Zackary Bowman, CB: One year, minimum salary benefit. $80K guaranteed.
- C.J. Mosley, DT: One year, minimum salary benefit. $80K guaranteed.
- Jeff Linkenbach, G: One year, minimum salary benefit. $50K guaranteed.
- Derrick Shelby, DE: One year, $2.356MM. Signed second-round RFA tender.
- Louis Delmas, S: One year, $2.25MM.
- Josh Freeman, QB: One year, minimum salary benefit.
- Jacques McClendon, G: One year, minimum salary benefit.
- Spencer Paysinger, LB: One year, minimum salary benefit.
- LaMichael James, RB: One year, minimum salary.
The numbers speak for themselves: Six years, $114.375MM. $59.955MM guaranteed. LeBron James makes it hard to say that Suh is hand down the biggest free agent South Beach ever drew, and Giancarlo Stanton’s contract overshadows Suh’s, but the Dolphins made a very large move for a very large man. No matter which direction this team goes, Suh will get the lion’s share of the credit (or blame), at least on the defensive side of the ball. His detractors will note that he isn’t as good as J.J. Watt, but you could argue Suh is the best player to hit free agency in the prime of his career since Reggie White, and he got paid like it.
It’s a big gamble to devote that many precious cap dollars to one player, but Suh is a true difference maker on the defensive line. He’s a stout run defender, and he’s among the best in the league at rushing the passer from the interior — he has the talent to live up to that massive contract.
Suh wasn’t the only defensive tackle the Dolphins added. They also signed his former Lions’ teammate C.J. Mosley, who was thought by many to be a lock to return to Detroit in an increased role. Instead, Mosley should provide cheap insurance for the Dolphins in case Suh misses time, and he should also fit nicely in a rotation that can’t afford to be that deep with all the resources devoted to Suh. The team also spent a second-round pick on one of the top college nose tackles, but we’ll get to that later.
The Dolphins traded Mike Wallace and replaced him with veteran Greg Jennings. Charles Clay signed an offer sheet with the Bills and the Dolphins declined to match the offer, instead signing Jordan Cameron as a replacement. The club also took a flier on LaMichael James to complement Lamar Miller, in the role Knowshon Moreno was supposed to fill before going down with injury last year.
In addition to the holes they made sure to fill, the Dolphins also added J.D. Walton and Jason Fox along the offensive line. Both players are likely to provide depth, each bringing six years of NFL experience that could prove extremely helpful considering the recent struggles along the offensive line. Louis Delmas, Brice McCain, and Zackary Bowman should all provide similar depth along a thin defensive backfield, and if all goes right they should see the field plenty with a chance to have an impact.
One more notable name Miami brought in was Josh Freeman, who may have a chance to stick on the roster if he has a strong preseason and flashes the upside that made him a first-round pick to begin with. However, keeping Matt Moore in the fold was much more important, as he’s considered to be a high-end backup capable of steering the ship in the event of an unfortunate injury to Ryan Tannehill.
- Charles Clay, TE: Assigned transition tag, declined to match Bills’ offer.
- Daryn Colledge, G: Retired
- Cortland Finnegan, CB: Released (he then retired).
- Jonathan Freeny, LB
- Nate Garner, OL: Released
- Brandon Gibson, WR: Released
- Brian Hartline, WR: Released
- Knowshon Moreno, RB
- Jared Odrick, DT
- Samson Satele, C
- Shelley Smith, G: Released
- R.J. Stanford, CB
- Randy Starks, DT: Released
- Daniel Thomas, RB
- Jason Trusnik, LB
- Philip Wheeler, LB: Released
- Jimmy Wilson, CB
A number of the Dolphins’ offseason losses were either expected or at least left the team indifferent, such as Philip Wheeler, Daniel Thomas, Shelley Smith, Brian Hartline, Brandon Gibson, Nate Garner, Cortland Finnegan, and Daryn Colledge, all of whom had struggled. Miami appeared happy to move on from them, and that’s a good thing, considering an 8-8 team that spent so much in free agency usually would have to part with much better players to stay under the cap.
Still, the team was forced to let go of a number of players who were still making an impact, and chief among them is Jared Odrick. Odrick was still playing at a high level, and was rewarded with a big contract of his own with the Jaguars. Suh is definitely an upgrade, but Odrick had played well in Miami for years and the decision not to re-sign him is the cost of doing business. Randy Starks is another defensive tackle who has been a staple of the Dolphins defense, but the team decided to go younger at the position behind Suh.
After that, Jimmy Wilson, R.J. Stanford, Jason Trusnik, and Jonathan Freeny are all usable players, but since they’re more or less replacement level, the Dolphins could afford to let them leave during the offseason in order to throw their resources elsewhere on the roster.
Extensions and restructures:
- Ryan Tannehill, QB: Extended through 2020. Four years, $77MM. $21.5MM guaranteed. Club had already exercised his 2016 fifth-year option.
- Mike Pouncey, C: Extended through 2020. Five years, $44.75MM. $11MM guaranteed.
- Brandon Fields, P: Restructured contract. Reduced 2015 cap hit from $3.9MM to $2.52MM.
Tannehill is the spiritual brother to Suh on the Dolphins, in that the team’s success will be directly linked to how he plays as far as the public is concerned. He could complete 65% of his passes with 30 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, but if the Dolphins don’t make the postseason, Tannehill won’t get the respect as one of the rising stars in the league. Considering the blowback when he signed his deal, coming off a season where he completed 66% of his passes for 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, Dolphins’ fans are ready for a postseason berth.
Luckily for Tannehill, he should have the best offensive line in front of him he has had yet in his career, starting with the newly-extended Mike Pouncey, who signed a deal to keep him with the team through 2020. Pouncey will look to lead an offensive line that returns last year’s big free agent signing Branden Albert and last year’s first-round pick Ja’Wuan James, along with a pair of young guards, to keep Tannehill upright and run the ball effectively again.
- Acquired WR Kenny Stills from the Saints in exchange for LB Dannell Ellerbe and a 2015 third-round pick.
- Acquired a 2015 fifth-round pick from the Vikings in exchange for WR Mike Wallace.
- Acquired a 2015 second-round pick (No. 52; DT Jordan Phillips), a 2015 fifth-round pick (No. 145; CB Bobby McCain), and a 2015 fifth-round pick (No. 156; CB Tony Lippett) from the Eagles in exchange for a 2015 second-round pick (No. 47; DB Eric Rowe) and a 2015 sixth-round pick (No. 191; CB JaCorey Shepherd).
Trading Wallace isn’t going to hurt too much, as he was scapegoated for many of Tannehill’s struggles with the deep ball, and the team hedged against it by trading for Kenny Stills, who was one of the best in the league at hauling in deep passes during his time with Drew Brees. Getting rid of Ellerbe in the deal justifies the high price paid for Stills, and is the closest thing seen in the NFL to the NBA version of using draft picks to sweeten a salary dump.
Moving down five spots in the draft doesn’t seem like as big a move, but the two cornerbacks chosen with the fifth-round picks could go a long way to rebuilding a defensive backfield the team could have trouble filling out with all the money devoted to the defensive line and pass rushers.
- 1-14: DeVante Parker, WR (Louisville): Signed
- 2-52: Jordan Phillips, DT (Oklahoma): Signed
- 4-114: Jamil Douglas, G (Arizona State): Signed
- 5-145: Bobby McCain, CB (Memphis): Signed
- 5-149: Jay Ajayi, RB (Boise State): Signed
- 5-150: Ced Thompson, S (Minnesota): Signed
- 5-156: Tony Lippett, CB (Michigan State): Signed
DeVante Parker should quickly rise in the pecking order on offense, and if Stills comes through as a major deep threat but not much more, it shouldn’t be long before Parker emerges as the No. 1 wideout in Miami. Jennings may play that role early on, but he’s in the twilight of his career, and while he adds veteran value, it seems awfully optimistic to expect an 80-catch season at this stage of his career.
The more interesting selection came in round two, where the 6’5″, 329-pound Jordan Phillips comes in with an NFL-ready body who could plug in at nose tackle from day one and eat up blocks on the inside. He gives the Dolphins some flexibility with where to play Suh along the defensive line, allowing him to bump out in certain situations.
Jamil Douglas, a fourth-round pick, could be the starter at guard as a rookie, slotting in between Pro Bowlers Pouncey and Albert to ease his transition into the NFL. After that, the team was smart to take three depth pieces for the defensive backfield and an NFL-ready running back in Jay Ajayi, who was lauded for his abilities to run, catch, and block, even if his knees were red flag enough to drop him to the fifth round with the stigma that he may not survive until his second contract.
- Hired Mike Tannenbaum as executive VP of football operations.
- Learned DE Dion Jordan would be suspended for the entire 2015 season.
- Claimed OL Donald Hawkins off waivers from the Cowboys.
- Signed six players to reserve/futures contracts
- Signed 16 undrafted rookie free agents following the draft.
The most disappointing part of the offseason was learning that Dion Jordan would be suspended for the entire year. The Dolphins may have already given up on Jordan before last season, as they’ve reportedly tried to trade him multiple times and have either come up with no suitors or asked for too high a return. The former third overall pick missed six games due to a suspension last year, and continues to disappoint the organization and fan base that invested so much in him.
The biggest indictment on Jordan is that with Chip Kelly making personnel decisions in Philadelphia, even he wouldn’t pony up a little something for the former Oregon Duck, when it seems like the Dolphins would have given him away at a bargain rate. Even off the field, Jordan continues to be a headache for the team, and it’s not as if he was producing at a high level the few times he was playing.
Top 10 cap hits for 2015:
- Branden Albert, LT: $10,725,000
- Cameron Wake, DE: $10,450,000
- Brent Grimes, CB: $10,000,000
- Reshad Jones, S: $7,712,942
- Mike Pouncey, C: $7,000,000
- Mike Wallace, WR: $6,600,000 (dead money)
- Dannell Ellerbe, LB: $6,400,000 (dead money)
- Ndamukong Suh, DT: $6,100,000
- Ryan Tannehill, QB: $4,873,364
- Dion Jordan, DE/OLB: $4,682,276
The running theme of the offseason ran through the two big contracts, one for Suh and one for Tannehill. With the commitments made to those two this offseason, the Dolphins have made them the faces of the defense and offense, respectively.
Around the two stars, the team’s plan has for the most part been throwing a lot of things at the wall and hoping they stick. They should be commended for recognizing weaknesses at offensive line and defensive back, and throwing a lot of assets at those spots. However, the dangers of giving big contracts to two players can be seen in that strategy. While the team added and added to both position groups, they did so mostly with middling free agents and low-round draft picks. Hoping that one or two of these players turns into something more than a replacement-level player is a gamble, especially if the coaching staff struggles with player development.
Miami added some high-upside players early in the draft, but even those guys will grab minimal headlines early in their career. Come December, the Dolphins will either be in the playoff hunt or they won’t, and whether they are or not will likely fall on the shoulders of their two big stars.