Looking at the Miami Dolphins Salary Cap Tweet
Each week I am going around the AFC East with a look at the teams roster and salary cap situation. This week is the Miami Dolphins. I find the Dolphins to be a fascinating team to watch this offseason, even moreso in light of their owners recent comments about how it finally feels like his team. The salary cap is clearly not an issue with the team as my estimates have them at about $44.561 million under their adjusted salary cap figure for 2013. That should be 3rd or 4th most in the NFL and that is without making any additional cuts or restructures.
I admit to being completely dumfounded at the way Miami has built their football team. Their long term planning and commitment is completely non-existent. Most teams eliminated from the playoffs have well over 51 players under contract for 2013. Miami sits at 47. Most teams that would be considered on the rise have a portion of a roster in place for 2015. Miami has 9. In the last few years they have wasted cap space on bad franchise tag decisions, short term commitments to decent players, and dragging of feet on contract extensions. Itís just strange. At one point I assumed that Jeff Ireland had no real power or that Ross really wanted to sell the team if he couldnít get a stadium. But I really have no idea. Now that Ross seems to be embracing it maybe this is the year they go wild.
Miamiís salary cap strategy will be very interesting. Because they have no real long term commitments they can use this offseason to really determine the way they want to run the salary cap. The way they have been run makes me think that they want would ideally be best suited to following the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cap blueprint. This strategy consists primarily of avoiding the prorated bonuses, using large two year cash guarantees, and essentially being a cap equals cash type of team. For a team with cap room like the Dolphins this allows you to bring in 2 or 3 big ticket free agents that will not compromise their long term flexibility. Going the more traditional route the team could bring in 4 or 5 big ticket players if they so desired.
Now none of this means the Dolphins will actually be active in free agency this year. They may decide the crop of players is not good enough or that they donít have the internal budget to make these deals. One of the misconceptions I have seen on the internet as it pertains to the Dolphins and the Buffalo Bills is the feeling that they have to spend at least $107.6 million in cash this year because of the new cash minimums that take effect in the CBA. There are two things that people are not realizing with these rules. First is that the cash payments are grouped in 4 year buckets, in this case from 2013 to 2016, and they are not year by year mandated spend. What that means is if the Dolphins feel they donít want to spend this year they donít have to. They can wait all the way until the end if they want to make up for lower than minimum yearly spending.
Secondly the penalty is not severe. You donít lose draft picks. It doesnít seem like you lose cap room. The only negative is that you post pay the shortfall to all the players who were on your team in the years you failed to make the minimum payment. So in that case itís insurance. Why overpay for a player just to meet a minimum and get stuck with years of payments you donít want to make to him? A team may want to maintain flexibility and a low payroll and just deal with the consequences after the 2016 league year when they have to cut a check to their former players.
One of the things the Jets fans wonít want to hear is that Miami arguably has a better defense than the Jets. The run defense is far superior. While the pass defense is not as good it is passable and they have the ability to rush the QB through Cameron Wake. In terms of stinginess I had them ranked 6th in the NFL in terms of points allowed, with their opponents being held to 12.64% below their adjusted average. The last two years they have had a playoff caliber defense and really wasted them with poor play from the QB position. In 2011 it was Chad Henne and in 2012 it was Ryan Tannehill. Itís understandable with the rookie, but had the Dolphins started Matt Moore for 16 games the last two years they would have made the playoffs in at least one if not both seasons. Obviously at this point now they are only going to play Tannehill so I think the mission for Miami becomes finding the most talent possible to surround him with.
On offense there are a number of free agents who were starters on this past years Dolphins team. The names include LT Jake Long, WR Brian Hartline, WR Reggie Bush and TE Anthony Fasano. Long is the most interesting because he comes from a high pedigree and was dominant his first few years in the league but the last two years he has been one of the worst starting left tackles in the NFL. He is constantly getting injured and the last two years has finished the year on IR. The fact that Miami has not extended him likely means they are finished with him and they already drafted that insurance policy in Jonathan Martin this past season. Despite Longís fall from grace he is still going to have a team pay him big money. While it wonít be Joe Thomas money he should still earn in the ballpark of someone like DíBrickashaw Ferguson of the Jets or Trent Williams of the Redskins. Thatís around $10 million a season with either rolling guarantees or a moderate guarantee around $18 million. Miami could also consider more dependable options like Ryan Clady or Branden Albert and them move Martin to Right Tackle. They could also keep Martin on the left side and make a play for Andre Smith of the Bengals to play the right side.
Bush and Fasano cost the team $6 million and $4.375 million in cap last season, both I believe ranking 11th which is far too high, especially in Bushís case. If Bush is back it should be at a lower cap number. If they re-sign him Iíd think it will be a 3-4 year deal around $4 million a season maybe a touch less, though I have not really sat down and evaluated him. Fasano is a very underrated player and I think is a must keep. He is a very effective blocker and is good enough to grab more than a few passes thrown his way. Im not too sure of what his value would be since he is a different type of tight end than most but if they had no other franchise tag options the tag for Tight Ends is under $6 million so I could see going that route. I could see them using the less used transition tag in order to let him go find another deal and then they can make the attempt to match it. If nobody bites they could have Fasano for another year around $5 million. As they wait for Tannehill to develop I could see that being a smart option. If both will be back they were players that should have just been extended last season. I know Miami tries to sell the fact that the new carryover rules make it pointless to extend early, which is true to some extent because you donít want a player to get injured in week 15 right after you sign him to a 5 year deal, but there are plenty of benefits to it as well. One is that you can lower the cap charges in essence making that carryover larger. Secondly, for players on their third deals or with injury history, its always better to get the prorations out of the way early to make it easier to cut them when they become ineffective. Look at it this way. If they had extended Jake Long in 2011 they probably could have walked away in 2014 if not 2013. Now they will look at an extension starting in 2013, pretty much locking him in until 2016 which obviously makes this a way more complex situation now.
Defensively I would see Sean Smith and Randy Starks as must keep players. Smith could be given the franchise tag to keep his exclusive negotiating rights, though I think that pricetag is way too steep for Smith and he would run to sign his tender. I think that could lead to the same situation they had with Paul Soliai in which they got stuck on a tag number that was incredibly high compared to the free market value of the player. Jason McCourtys $8.6 million per year deal from the Titans is going to be the new deal everyone looks at as the new barometer for the first time free agent tier 2 cornerbacks. McCourty got $17 million guaranteed over 5 years and could likely be moved from the team after just two years. The approximate franchise tag is a guaranteed $10.6 million for just 1 year. Thatís why I would advise against it. Too much money for the value of the player.
With all the money the Dolphins have at their disposal I think they need to look for at least one if not two wide receivers. The names everyone will mention are Dwayne Bowe, Greg Jennings, and Mike Wallace. I have to think Bowe and Wallace will get Vincent Jackson type money so you could be looking at a $26 million dollar payout over two years. WRís are worrisome because there are plenty who get their money and never play well again, ala Roy Williams and Santonio Holmes. Others do very well. For that reason I like the Buccaneer style deal for the position and if they player does well then you have the option of prorating future money, which is exactly what Tampa just did with Jackson. Id be stunned if Miami does not come away with one of these players. I think if it was up to me Iíd go hard after Bowe and Jennings and consider re-signing Hartline if the price is right. You can always cut Davone Bess and get $2.683 in cap relief at the position to keep the spending from climbing too high at the position.
Defensively I could see the Dolphins looking at a new safety to replace Chris Clemons. LaRon Landry could be had from the Jets and the draft is always an option. They need an outside linebacker and probably another defensive end. I donít think there are any worthy OLBs in free agency that would make anyone take notice but they could look at veteran players like Osi Umenyiora or Israel Idonjie to pair up with Wake. With Wake on one end I could see those types of players really having great seasons rushing the passer.
While I doubt that Miami will look for cap relief they do have a few places to go, especially if they are simply interested in saving money. Cutting Richie Incognito saves the Dolphins $4.3 million in both cash and cap dollars, making him a clear target for release as they beef up the offensive line with younger playersÖ I could see the team needing to make a decision between Richard Marshall and Dimitri Patterson. Both save the team $4.6 million in cash if cut while Marshall saves the team just over $3.4 million in cap dollars and Patterson the full $4.6. That money can go towards a legit extension for SmithÖ. Releasing K Dan Carpenter creates an additional $2.7 million in cap room and cash money. He cost the Dolphins at least two games last year. Probably more in line for a pay cut than a release, but there is no reason to pay him that money next yearÖ Iíve also already mentioned the possibility of moving Bess if they can get WRs here.
The Dolphins will save $6.25 million in cash and $3.925 million in cap by cutting Karlos Dansby. Dansby is way overpaid but with all the cap room the team has I donít think they will cut him. He is under contract until 2014 and I think a smart move is to try to get him to take about $2 million off his cap number and meet them in the middle. They can throw that $2 million into his 2014 cap year as a roster bonus to ensure that he is released prior to free agency. Right now all his money in 2013 and 2014 is base salary which means he could be stuck on the Dolphins through August if they are not concerned about cap figures and then released. To a player like Dansby that is a death sentence because teams donít have the cap room to pay much anything to players released at that time, so the paycut can potentially benefit his future.
So in wrapping this up the Dolphins have significant cap room to basically steal any player they want from their division rivals or other teams in the league. They will have financial muscle if they choose to use it that cant be matched. Will they? Who knows. As for spending limits beyond the reports, Miami does have 3 players- Nolan Carroll, Reshad Jones, and John Jerry with moderate salary escalators that should increase their salary by $678,000 each. That brings the cap down to $42.527. With the roster at 47, Miami needs to concern itself with allocations for the first four draft picks which I have estimated at a cost of $3,964,721 so that can be pulled from the current estimate bringing the team to $38.56 million in effective cap space before trimming the fat from the roster. I think conservatively they should be able to create another $10 million in cap room via some of the cuts and restructures I suggested and you would replace them with rookies who at the most would take up $1 million in cap next year.
So the team could get as high as $47.6 million in effective spending room. I think most teams would like to go into the season with between $8 and $10 million of yearly spending room to deal with late cuts, injured reserve concerns, or room for future extensions so Miami should be able to actually spend between $37.6 and $39.6 million in cap and still have a comfortable operating budget once the season rolls around. Thatís a gigantic number and one that gives them the chance to really invest in a team and finally change the fortunes of the franchise around by bringing in some real quality talent to fill in some of the gaps they have.