Dawn Aponte

AFC East Notes: Bills, Dolphins, Patriots

With free agent signee T.J. Yates the favorite to act as the Bills‘ backup quarterback behind Tyrod Taylor, and fifth-round pick Nathan Peterman now in tow, Cardale Jones — a fourth-round selection just a year ago — is not a lock to make the Buffalo roster, as Mike Rodak of ESPN.com writes. The Bills are unlikely to keep four signal-callers in 2017, meaning Jones could be the odd man out. “You kind of sit around all day, try to go in there. You wait on your opportunity all day,” Jones said. “Your number is called, and you kind of didn’t take advantage of it.” Jones, 24, appeared in only one game in 2016 (the season finale), during which he completed six of 11 attempts for 96 yards and one interception. For what it’s worth, Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott said Thursday that Jones is “absolutely in the mix” for a roster spot, tweets Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News.

Here’s more from the AFC East:

  • Searching for versatility in their defensive backfield, the Dolphins haven’t yet decided whether Walt Aikens will play cornerback or safety, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald details. “[Aikens] is a big athlete,” said defensive coordinator Matt Burke. “He’s obviously a huge asset to us on (special) teams. We like having a versatile player in that role on the roster, so Walt has done a good job. Again, we’re trying to put him maybe in a spot that he’s not as comfortable and see how he responds, and he’s done a good job working for us so far.” No matter where the 25-year-old Aikens lands position-wise, he’s likely to act as a reserve, as he saw only 15 defensive snaps in 2016. But as Burke suggested, Aikens is a key special teams player, as he played on nearly 80% of the Dolphins’ ST snaps last year.
  • The Patriots auditioned a number of special teams players last week, according to Mike Reiss of ESPN.com, who reports punters Spencer Lanning and Drew Butler, kicker Adam Griffith, and long snapper Cole Mazza recently worked out for New England. Lanning hasn’t seen an NFL field since 2015, but does offer experience, as he was the Browns’ regular punter from 2013-14. He worked out for the Saints last summer. Butler, meanwhile, appeared in 54 games over four seasons with the Cardinals, but was waived on two separate occasions last year.
  • Former Dolphins executive Dawn Aponte has been hired as the NFL’s chief administrator of football operations, reports Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal (Twitter link). Aponte, who had also spent time with the Browns and Jets, left Miami’s front office in September to work for Dolphins owner Stephen Ross‘ Drone Racing League. Per Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk, Aponte will now report to vice president of football operations Troy Vincent in the league office.

AFC East Notes: Aponte, Dolphins, Pats, Lewis

Although there were some rumblings that longtime Dolphins executive Dawn Aponte would be heading to Detroit to help Lions GM Bob Quinn deal with contracts and the salary cap, Aponte will be staying in Miami, according to Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post and Alex Marvez of FOX Sports (Twitter links).

Let’s check in on some more items from out of the AFC East…

  • The fact that Adam Gase retained nine coaches from the Dolphins‘ old coaching staff doesn’t mean that he had trouble finding better candidates, writes Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald. As Salguero explains, many of those coaches drew interest from other teams around the league, so it’s not as if they aren’t highly regarded — special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi, for instance, had four interview requests, all of which the Dolphins turned down, says Salguero.
  • While the Patriots will have some potential free agents to deal with this offseason, the team’s priority may be to lock up the “big four” defenders who could reach the open market after the 2016 season, says Mike Reiss of ESPN.com. New England has a little over a calendar year to explore extension for cornerback Malcolm Butler, defensive end Chandler Jones, and linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower. In Reiss’ view, the latter three players could all be in line for deals that exceed $8MM annually — Butler will be a restricted free agent, so he should be relatively affordable for at least one more year beyond 2016.
  • Running back Dion Lewis, who signed a contract extension with the Patriots in the fall, is currently on track to be recovered from his torn ACL in time to participate in training camp, writes Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald.

Latest On Dolphins’ Front Office

Former general manager Dennis Hickey, whom the Dolphins parted with Saturday, had his role diminished in 2015 to that of a scouting director, according to Albert Breer of NFL.com (Twitter link). With Hickey gone, there are sure to be more changes forthcoming to Miami’s front office, Jeff Darlington of NFL.com reports.

Those changes could involve executive vice president of football administration Dawn Aponte, though she has a fan in owner Stephen Ross. However, her specialties (namely the CBA and salary cap) might soon fall under the purview of executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum, who is in position to become the franchise’s football czar. Despite that, Ross won’t let her go easily, Darlington writes.

Regardless of what happens with Aponte, the organization wants its all-time best player, Dan Marino, to take on a larger role. For his part, Marino – currently a special consultant to president and CEO Tom Garfinkel – is reluctant because of the commitment that would come with a higher ranking within the franchise. Nevertheless, the Dolphins do highly value the opinions of both Marino and vice chairman of the board Matt Higgins.

On the subject of the team’s coaching search, Breer tweets that Miami would be willing to let its next coach bring a personnel man with him. That goes hand in hand with Darlington’s notion that Tannenbaum would be open to decreasing some of his own power over the roster if it means hiring the right GM. If the Dolphins stay in house to hire their next GM, it’s likely to be director of college scouting Chris Grier. That would benefit Tannenbaum, who does not diligently scout players. Whether Grier or someone else becomes the GM, the Dolphins are cognizant that they need to put greater emphasis on scouting.

Of course, it remains to be seen whom the Dolphins will choose as their next GM and head coach. Two things are certain: Interim coach Dan Campbell won’t get promoted to the full-time role, per Darlington, and the team will enter its respective searches with Tannenbaum fully in control, tweets Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald.

Dolphins’ Internal Strife Continues

Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin was at the source of some mild team controversy earlier this week, when he was asked about the job security of starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill but gave an ambivalent response. Philbin later expressed regret that his noncommittal approach to the question created a distraction for the club, which has fallen to 1-2 after a promising opening week win against the Patriots.

According to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, however, a deeper and more troubling internal struggle may be brewing in Miami. La Canfora writes that Dolphins players have expressed concerns with Philbin and his coordinators, and the relationship between Philbin and team executive Dawn Aponte has become frayed. Aponte hired former Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum as a team consultant, but since Tannenbaum’s primary job is as an agent representing coaches–like Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who will likely be on the list of top head coaching candidates after the season–it is fair to wonder how much longer Philbin will be roaming the Dolphins’ sidelines.

La Canfora adds that owner Stephen Ross has not, as he promised after the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin debacle, taken a more active role in the guidance of his team, but he is said to be covertly trying to lay the foundation to trade for current 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh. Between those rumors and Philbin’s apparent wish to play backup signal-caller Matt Moore–which has displeased the front office, who have committed to Tannehill–the Dolphins may soon be in for a second front office overhaul in as many years.

More On Dolphins’ GM Saga

New Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey will have complete control over roster decisions, a team source tells Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald. This news comes amid reports that several Miami GM candidates opted against taking the position due to lack of clarity regarding personnel management.

Salguero also reports that Titans VP of Football Operations Lake Dawson and Patriots VP of Player Personnel Nick Caserio turned down the job due to potential conflicts with Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin. Dawson reportedly would have been agreeable to keeping Philbin on for one season before wanting to clean house and hire a new coach. Caserio, however, wanted to install a new regime immediately upon his arrival. Neither approach was acceptable to Dolphins ownership, as they wanted a GM who would continue to work with Philbin as the head coach.

Hickey presumably agreed to keeping Philbin on staff, and will likely have no say in coaching matters. Hickey will report directly to Dolphins owner Stephen Ross. Vice president of football operations Dawn Aponte, rumored to be gaining power behind the scenes, will report to Hickey on all matters, not just the salary cap, tweets Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald.