Estimated 2015 Cap Space: -$300k ($140M cap limit)
Players Under Contract: 58
Pro Bowlers: 2
Unrestricted Free Agents: 12(6 with 50%+ playtime)
Draft Selection: 14
Salary Cap Breakdown
Free Agents to Re-sign
Jared Odrick has developed into a solid, all around talent and should be able to give Miami a solid presence for the next few seasons. They should do what they can to bring him back, though he may prefer looking elsewhere as he and the team seem to be at odds. I would imagine he will be looked at as a $5.5 to $6.5 million a year player…Backup QB Matt Moore may arguably be the second best QB available this offseason, which says little for the position. He should receive top backup money around $4-$5 million a season if Miami wants to retain him. I could see that being difficult with their salary cap position but I think its too impotant to have a decent backup in the event of injury….Charles Clay is one of those players with potential that the Dolphins should hold on to, but my guess is he might be considering a one year deal in the hopes of improving his value.
Free Agents to Let Walk
Knowshon Moreno was worth the one year risk, but he couldn’t remain healthy and with the emergence of Lamar Miller probably is not needed anyway…Daniel Thomas never developed for the team and would not seem to have a place going forward…Pro Football Focus graded Daryn Colledge as one of the worst lineman in the entire NFL so bringing him back should not be in the plans for the team next year. Samson Satele was a late signing to fill for injury, but the Dolphins will be better moving Mike Pouncey back to center and finding another guard rather than retaining Satele.
Contracts to Modify
The decision made to pay Mike Wallace well above his performance level led to high expectations by the fans, media, team and player himself. Not surprisingly, things haven’t worked out and now they are stuck with a $12.1 million cap charge and $3 million salary guarantee. The best situation for all is to bring his salary down to a fair level in 2015. At this point he is a $6-$7 million player, which means a $3-4 million pay reduction. Because the guarantees have offsets the Dolphins don’t really need to consider that number as a sunk cost and can renegotiate just as if it is a new contract… Signing Cortland Finnegan to a $5.5 million contract was definitely on the high side and seemed to indicate desperation to find another cornerback. They still need corners so they probably should keep him but his contract needs to be brought down to $2.5 to $3 million in 2015…Randy Starks could be in danger of being cut, but the team should consider it a better option to bring his salary down from $5 million and keeping him for one last season.
Players to Consider Releasing
Signing linebacker Dannell Ellerbe to a big contract in 2013 was a head scratcher and they can finally get out from the contract in 2014. His cap charge is $9.85M and they will save $5.65M by cutting him. He earns more cash salary than any other inside linebacker in 2015, so there is no logical reason to keep him…It’s hard to understand what has happened to Brian Hartline, but he has become the third target on the team and his role looks ready to decrease further in the future. A $7.35 million cap charge for a 3rd target is far too expensive. They will save $3.15 million by cutting him…Nate Garner was barely used in 2014 and landed on the NFI list late in the season. With $1.65M in savings with his release, it seems a guarantee that he will not be back in 2015.
Miami needs to question if they have gotten as far as they can with this group and if they need to begin revamping the team, especially on defense where they completely fell apart late last season. Miami has 4 starters on defense over the age of 30 and 10 players in total that were at least 28 last season. That’s essentially half of the team they need to turn over within the next two years and it includes some of their best players in Cameron Wake, Brandon Albert, Brent Grimes, and Randy Starks. Do they make moves to try to extend the window with this group one more time and perhaps sacrifice the future or do they begin a transition strategy?
If the Dolphins opt for the former it could move their upcoming cap situation into one of the worst in the NFL when you consider than Ryan Tannehill will likely end up with a $14-$15 million per year contract in 2016. The only way they can actively upgrade the roster is with big free agent acquisitions and they are only going to be able to do that by pushing more money into 2016 and 2017 with this current group. Given that the team has shown to be little better than a 0.500 team and doesn’t show a dominant trait this would be a highly risky strategy.
Instead they should consider the process of piecing things together for this season while building up cap space for a splash in the future when Tannehill may be more of a finished product. That will likely mean focusing on the draft to fill major needs at corner, linebacker, and the interior line as well as hoping to find a young pass rusher. The organization is now being run by Mike Tannenbaum, who is not afraid of making a splash, and it wouldn’t surprise me if one of those big veterans is moved to build for the future, Wake being the most logical.
My guess is Miami is working hard on identifying possible player cuts and coming up with ways to entice those players on a low cost one or two year contract. Trades for disappointing first and second round picks would also be something that they could be open to. Actual free agency should just pick and choose some younger players with upside that maybe just need a change of scenery.
I would also expect the Dolphins to get a more defined contract strategy in the future. Recently their contracts have been somewhat haphazard, playing hardball with many of their own players and receiving good terms for players like Hartline and Grimes, but signing outlandish deals for players like Wallace, Ellerbe, and Wheeler. That may be an example of Miami picking their battles or simply going all in when they feel that there can be an open competition. Because Miami had no long term contracts in place when they began their spending spree they were also at a possible negotiating disadvantage since it was obvious they had money to spend. By staying tight on the cap they will have a different perception around the NFL and force players to choose the Dolphins sales pitch rather than just the dollar signs.
While this strategy is probably not what people expect from Tannenbaum he did go through something similar to this with the Jets in 2006. Those Jets were in a worse place than the Dolphins but it was a two year plan with a focus on remaining competitive, finding bargains, and preparing for a big free agent frenzy down the line. I see this as a similar job with a transition being needed to bridge the gap from a veteran group to a younger one.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.