The easiest place to start is money, because the Miami Dolphins clearly projected the production of a 32-year old Branden Albert against a 23-year old Laremy Tunsil at left tackle, and then weighed it against their salaries.
Albert is a former Pro Bowler who struggled with injuries and performance at times last season.
And Albert is scheduled to make $10.6 million in 2017.
Tunsil should play in many future Pro Bowls and is fully capable of protecting Miami’s blindside for a decade or more.
And Tunsil is scheduled to make $2.8 million in 2017.
So by trading or cutting Albert, Miami frees up $8.9 million it can use toward a badly-needed free agent defensive end or linebacker.
Yes, Miami will need to find another guard. But as Dolphins fans knows, guards are easy to find.
OK, so maybe that part’s not true.
But when Miami evaluated if one season at guard was enough for Tunsil, and how to fully maximize the remarkably fortunate draft value of Tunsil, who somehow fell to them after they traded down to 13, the move had to happen this offseason.
And Miami makes this move, despite Albert’s great leadership and natural skills, with ease of mind.
In fact, comfort.
Dolphins Executive Vice President Mike Tannenbaum used the word “comfort” when asked at the recent Senior Bowl about the Tunsil-Albert dilemma that’s really wasn’t a dilemma at all.
“The fact that Laremy had so many plays – so many games – all under his belt is great,” Tannenbaum said in Mobile, Alabama. “Obviously, he played in the SEC at a high level at left tackle, so the fact that he has that ability gives us a lot of comfort.”
There were many clues throughout the season that led you to believe Miami was headed in this direction. Here are five things we learned about Tunsil last season by listening to his coaches:
- Tunsil is a freaky combination of agility and power. For years, 12 NFL general managers (or former general managers) may be slapping themselves for passing on Tunsil. “The guy is a physical freak and an unbelievable athlete,” Dolphins offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said in November. “He’s been unbelievable as far as the way he’s changed as a puller. When we’ve run some of these gap schemes, he looks really smooth going through there.” What separates Tunsil from almost any tackle drafted in the last 20 years is how incredibly he slides and redirects with ease. Tunsil’s combination of footwork, balance, length and strength is extraordinarily unique.
- Tunsil had a great attitude about playing guard. At one point last season, Tunsil admitted he felt it was “kind of easier” for him to deal with speed rushers at left tackle then the bull rushers he dealt with at left guard. But never did Tunsil complain about the assignment, when perhaps 80 percent of NFL teams might have immediately used him at left tackle. “He’s a professional guy,” Christensen said in October. “I’ve said it all along, I love the way he’s approached this thing from Day 1. It means a lot to him.”
- Tunsil learned quickly from his mistakes. Tunsil wasn’t perfect as a rookie. But once he got the hang of an assignment, he rarely repeated his mistakes. And for all the adulation he’s received throughout his fledgling athletic career, Tunsil showed humility. “The good thing is he learns quick,” Christensen said in November. “He makes a mistake one time and he doesn’t make it again.”
- Tunsil showed he can play left tackle in preseason and two regular-season starts. During the season, Tunsil’s college coach, Hugh Freeze, told me he had never, ever considered that Tunsil may be a guard. “You want your best protector at left tackle and he is the most talented I have ever seen at that,” Freeze said. Well, when called into action at left tackle due to injuries to Albert, Tunsil didn’t skip a beat. “I know when he bumps out to left tackle, that’s like riding a bike for him,” coach Adam Gase said in November. Tunsil didn’t necessarily agree with the phrasing. But knowing that he’s a left tackle and can focus exclusively on left tackle this offseason and next preseason is a great bonus for Tunsil and the Dolphins.
- Tunsil will benefit at tackle by having played NFL guard. This is something that Hall of Fame offensive tackle Jackie Slater brought up to me in a conversation before Miami’s game at the Rams last season. He noted that other very good NFL tackles had played one season at guard and seen benefits. Miami’s coaches agree. “(Laremy) Tunsil is going to end up being a really good run blocker,” Christensen said in September. “Is he going to be a talented left tackle? Sure. He’s very agile and all of those things. And he’ll probably benefit from having played left guard because all of a sudden, he’ll take that aggressiveness and tight quarters blocking and carry it on. It may benefit him that way.”
Throughout last season, a continuous storyline was how Albert was faithfully mentoring Tunsil. And it was clear. Tunsil looked to Albert every step of the way, including for guidance on how to react and what to say after Tunsil fell getting out of a shower and had to miss a game.
Miami should have Tunsil as its left tackle for at least the next four years (Miami holds a fifth-year option.) Tunsil, a Florida native, is thrilled to be playing in Miami. And the Dolphins could not possibly view his upside as any higher.
Tunsil was always going to be Miami’s left tackle of the future.
It just became to obvious for the Dolphins the future needed to start in 2017.
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