It almost always comes to money. This time it didn’t.
Kenny Stills likely could’ve gotten something close to $12 million per year had he stoked a bidding war, but he’ll re-sign with the Dolphins for significantly less. He vowed at the end of the year he would do “whatever we can” to stay with Miami and backed that up by agreeing to a four-year, $32 million deal.
That resolution, which could be finalized by the end of the night, ends a grueling wait for coach Adam Gase, who less than a week ago wondered if the bond he established with Stills was worth more than the millions of dollars that might entice Stills to leave.
“Kenny and myself have a very close relationship,” Gase said. “The worst thing about the NFL is sometimes that doesn’t matter. Sometimes the money is what guys are looking for. Kenny, obviously, he’d love to stay here, but he’s going to stay for the right price and what’s comfortable for him. I don’t think anybody would blame him for that.”
The agreement with Stills is a multi-faceted victory for the Dolphins.
Most of all, they keep a young player they believe is on the rise. Stills turns 25 next month and is coming off one of his best seasons. He led the team with a career-high nine touchdown catches and was third in the NFL at 17.3 yards per reception. Gase loves his trio of receivers in large part because Stills is an ideal fit with Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker.
Then there’s the matter of Stills’ price. While it’s a major jump from the $1.7 million he made last year, it’s a reasonable number for both sides. Chicago’s Alshon Jeffery is expected to go for at least double what the Dolphins are paying Stills, Pierre Garcon just agreed with San Francisco at $16 million per year and Stills likely could’ve come close to $12 million if he was willing to restart in Philadelphia.
When players are taking less to be part of this franchise, that’s a strong sign that it’s doing something right.
“I just think it’s about being able to take advantage of the opportunities that come,” general manager Chris Grier said. “We’re fortunate to live in Miami. Now we have a little bit of buzz. We have a head coach that a lot of players around the league like and have heard about.”
Stills certainly would agree with that. Why didn’t he grab all the cash he could? Likely because he loves playing for Gase and loves the current locker room, where he emerged last year as an unlikely leader.
“I knew and understood how young our room was, and in order for us to go where we’re capable of going, somebody had to really lead by example every day in every situation in everything that we did,” Stills said late in the season. “I was lucky enough to be with a group of veteran receivers in New Orleans, and they showed me the right way to do things. I’ve tried to emulate that and show that to this young group of receivers and get them to follow suit.”
His loyalty to Gase runs deeper than simply a good relationship. Stills was a player Joe Philbin and Dan Campbell didn’t understand how to use, but Gase figured something out with him. So did Ryan Tannehill, who has never looked better throwing deep balls than he did last season with Stills.
Stills was on the field for just 58 percent of the offensive snaps in his first year with the Dolphins, then played 84 percent of the snaps under Gase. He eclipsed all of his 2015 stats by going for 726 yards and nine touchdowns on 42 catches last season.
“He’s the ultimate team player,” Gase said. “I’ve got a lot of love and respect for that guy because he did everything he was asked to do. It’s hard to replace a guy like that.”
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