Dolphins 2016 Offseason Preview

Current Estimated 2016 Cap Space: -$2.7 million


Expected 2016 Cap Space: $25.7 million


Estimated Rookie Cap: $6.976 million


Roster Overview


Players Under Contract: 55
Pro Bowlers: 1
Unrestricted Free Agents: 10(5 with 50%+ playtime)
Draft Selection: 8

Salary Cap Breakdown

Dolphins Salary Cap

Dolphins Offensive Spending

Dolphins Defensive Spending

Free Agents to Re-sign

Olivier Vernon can be maddening at times with penalties and plays where he seems just a step late getting to the QB, but teams rarely let 26 year old pass rushers leave unless the costs are astronomical. Vernon plays over 80% of the defensive snaps and is a much more impactful player than Derrick Shelby, the other free agent defensive end who would likely be their other option.

Free Agents to Let Walk

I like Lamar Miller and I like the idea of keeping him, but with some of the investments the team has made, a veteran running back becomes more of a luxury than a necessity. Miller will be the 2nd most sought after running back this year so if the price goes over $4.5 million the Dolphins probably should look for a younger player or a lower cost back like Alfred Morris…If the team keeps Olivier Vernon it would not be likely to keep Derrick Shelby as well…Rishard Mathews is a nice player but Miami has other players they should be looking to develop now…I’d look for a different veteran backup than Matt Moore. Moore may be one of the better backups in the league but I doubt they will be inserting him in the lineup and maybe the team needs a different voice in the ear of Ryan Tannehill to help him see things differently on the field.


Contracts to Modify

Miami has already said they will consider restructuring the contract of Ndamukong Suh, which I discussed in detail here. They can create over $18 million in cap space by doing it but it would be a mistake…Two years ago when Brent Grimes earned his contract he played fantastic, but those days seem like an eternity ago. He has a $9.5 million cap number and salary of $8 million. They should be able to reduce those numbers by $3 or 4 million…Cameron Wake has a $9.8 million cap figure and is coming off an Achilles injury, which of course makes any new contract tricky. If there was no injury I would have said to sign him to something similar to the Julius Peppers contract in Green Bay, but with the injury I think you have to work out a pay cut where some of the money could be earned back in incentives. They should be able to save a few million since his options in free agency would be limited.

Players to Consider Releasing

There are a few players that should be released as soon as the Super Bowl concludes. Cutting Quinton Coples, who was a pickup from the Jets, saves $7.75 million. Is salary becomes guaranteed the first day of the league year so he’ll be cut sooner rather than later…Signing Greg Jennings had to be nothing more than throwing a bone to Joe Philbin who was fired after just a few weeks. They probably wanted to fire Jennings with him. Cutting Jennings saves $4 million…Miami hoped to catch lighting with Jordan Cameron, but he proved to be no more than a one year wonder. Miami was smart not to sign him long term making it easy to realize $7.5 million in cap savings…If Grimes and Wake were not agreeable to new contracts cutting them would save $6.5 million and $8.4 million respectively.

Salary Cap Analytics by Bryce Johnston

There is nothing inherently wrong with a team increasing its collectively salary cap commitment by investing in large contracts and placing itself in a disadvantageous salary cap position relative to the other teams in the league, but one would hope that doing so would result in more than 6 wins.  As a result of last year’s spending spree, the Dolphins currently rank 4th in Commitment Index and have the 27th most True Cap Space.  Fortunately, a decent amount of that True Cap Space can be preserved by releasing players who contributed little in 2015 – and who have low Expected Outcomes – such as Jordan Cameron (35.9%), Greg Jennings (7.0%) and Cameron Wake (6.1%).  The Dolphins have a larger spread between Realizable Cap Space and True Cap Space than most teams due to the large base salary guarantee of Ndamukong Suh, which could be converted to a bonus and prorated.  However, doing so will only increase his Expected Outcomes later in the contract.  The team would be better off executing similar restructures with Mike Pouncey and Ryan Tannehill, who each possess relatively team-friendly contracts to begin with.

Bryce Johnston, @NFL Cap Analytics

Expected Contract OutcomesExpected Contract Value 2.0 utilizes an algorithm based on a player’s contract characteristics, age, position and 2015 performance to forecast probabilities as to the outcomes of contract termination decisions.   The lower the Expected Outcome, the more likely the player’s contract will be terminated in 2016.  A pay cut is treated as a termination.  We have applied ECV 2.0 to all contracts scheduled to count $2 million or more against the 2016 salary cap with the exception of exercised 5th year rookie options.  Expected Savings is the calculated by multiplying the probability a player will be released by the cap savings realized by the team upon such release.

PlayerPositionExpected OutcomeExpected Savings
DeVante ParkerREC99.9%($5,142)
Ndamukong SuhDT99.5%($136,458)
Ryan TannehillQB98.7%($86,940)
Ja’Wuan JamesOL96.4%($95,471)
Mike PounceyOL95.5%$274,138
Reshad JonesDB82.9%$1,074,279
Branden AlbertOL71.3%$1,449,350
Koa MisiLB71.1%$1,074,914
Dion JordanDE69.0%$998,839
Earl MitchellDB66.6%$834,000
Jordan CameronREC35.9%$4,806,000
Brent GrimesDB27.6%$4,708,600
Brice McCainDB23.2%$1,919,250
Greg JenningsREC7.0%$3,721,600
Cameron WakeDE6.1%$7,889,280
Expected Change in Cap Room+$28,426,239


True Cap SpaceRealizable Cap Space depicts the total amount of salary cap space potentially at the team’s disposal in 2016, and True Cap Space makes further adjustments to take into consideration amounts that are accounted for in practical terms.  Most True Cap Space will be used on players currently under contract as a result of the team choosing to not release them.

True Cap Space (2016)
Adjusted Salary Cap$159,137,544
Prorated Signing Bonus Amounts($31,398,288)
Realizable Cap Space$127,739,256
Fully Guaranteed Salary($35,573,920)
Minimum Salary Cap Holds($21,600,000)
True Cap Space$70,565,336
League Rank27th

Commitment Index – Commitment Index identifies the degree to which a team has “mortgaged its future” by measuring its net future salary cap commitments  as a percentage of the average net future salary cap commitments of all teams.  A Commitment Index Score of 100% is average, and a negative Commitment Index Score indicates that the team has more current salary cap space than future salary cap commitments.  The Commitment Index Score of every team in the league changes to at least some degree with every transaction executed by any team in the league, so Commitment Index Score is measured as of a specific point in time (in this case, January 11, 2016). 

Commitment Index (2017+)
Prorated Signing Bonus Amounts$38,142,227
Fully Guaranteed Salary$14,896,267
Current Cap Space$2,385,569
Net Commitment$55,424,063
Commitment Index Score321%
League Rank (1st = Most Committed)4th

Offseason Plan

While the Dolphins salary cap outlook doesn’t look promising at first glance, once you sort through some of those logical cuts it is not in that bad of a shape. They should easily make their way to the $25 million range which would put them in the middle of the pack and, as long as they don’t redo Suh’s contract, they should project to stay in that middle of the pack moving forward unless they have a flashy free agent period.

Miami has better talent than their record indicated last season. They were done in by the decisions made by Tannenbaum not so much regarding players but front office personnel. It was clear from the outset that Tannenbaum was not exactly on the same page as Philbin or his staff nor was he in love with Dennis Hickey who had the paper GM title. You can’t have that kind of in season turmoil and rumors and expect success. Why he didn’t fire them all when he got the job is something probably only a few people know but with at least a group now in place that isn’t always looking over their shoulder the Dolphins should get much more out of their players on the field.

Because of the uncertainty of Ryan Tannehill’s abilities as a QB I do believe Miami would be better off holding off opening of the vaults in free agency until next season, especially if there was even a chance Drew Brees would leave New Orleans, but that also has never been in the nature of Tannebaum outside of one season with the Jets where there seemed to more of an emphasis on the big picture. That was back in 2007 so it was a long time ago.

Upgrading at cornerback should be high on the Dolphins priority list and there are a number of potential good players in free agency. Josh Norman is probably out of the price range but Janoris Jenkins, Prince Amukamara, Casey Heyward, and Trumaine Johnson are all going to be out there. I doubt they would revisit Sean Smith but its new people in charge so you never know.

Safety will be another spot where they could look, but only if they find a home run at free safety which would be the Eric Berry, Eric Weddle or Tashaun Gipson. I guess they could consider Reggie Nelson as well but I don’t know if that hits the same way the other names would.

Offensively I would expect them to make a push for guards to shore up the interior line. A very interesting name would be Kelechi Osemele of the Ravens. Osemele would look for big money but would fill two needs as he would be the starting guard and the backup tackle in the event Branden Albert is hurt again. If there was one player who I think they should overspend for it would be him.

If Miller walks in free agency the team could look for a lower cost player to slot in or pair with another player. I do think there could be a great deal of value in Alfred Morris who had a poor run into free agency but was very good earlier in his career. He won’t be that expensive especially since most wont see him as a back to be used on passing downs.

If there was one splashy move the team could make it would be trading for Jimmy Graham of the Seahawks. That’s pure fantasy booking on my part but if the price is right it would not shock me at all if they considered the trade. As GM of the Jets Tannenbaum did swing “buy low” trades for Santonio Holmes, Antonio Cromartie, and Tim Tebow.

Other needs like younger defensive linemen, inside linebacker, and cornerback depth should all come in the draft.

If Tannehill plays efficiently next season there is no reason for the team to be under 0.500 again. But they need more from him if they are going to get over that hump. I don’t think there are any free agents other than the offensive linemen who can have enough impact to improve Tannehill’s performance and get the team to the playoffs.

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