Sometimes a team knows exactly what it’s doing and executes it exactly right. Other times, it’s just about catching a break.
In the case of the Dolphins’ one year with tight end Julius Thomas and linebacker Lawrence Timmons, it was some of each. They cut Timmons today and will let Thomas go shortly, saving around $10 million in salary cap space for the upcoming season. That’s important with free agency starting this week.
Both underachieved, but with Thomas the Dolphins were well-prepared for it. Jacksonville was prepared to cut him a year ago, when Miami was simultaneously about to do the same with left tackle Branden Albert, so the teams came up with the brilliant idea of trading them for each other. It’s worth keeping in mind that they gave up next to nothing to bring him aboard.
Thomas restructured his contract in a way that allowed the Dolphins to let him go after one year if things didn’t work out. Both sides hoped he’d rekindle the prolific production he had with Adam Gase in Denver. He never came close to the numbers he posted as a back-to-back Pro Bowler in 2013 and ’14: 152 catches, 1,277 yards and 24 touchdowns.
He went almost the whole first half of last season without catching more than three passes in a game, and Gase constantly lamented that he wasn’t getting favorable coverages. That explanation was an obvious tip that Thomas wasn’t what he’d hoped Miami was getting. Dynamic pass-catching tight ends don’t care about favorable coverages.
His best day was against Oakland when he had six catches for 84 yards and a touchdown. He failed to top 60 yards in any other game.
Thomas had a good second half of the season and finished with 41 catches (out of 62 targets) for 388 yards and three touchdowns. On the plus side, that’s more production than Miami got out of any tight end the previous year. The position remains major issue that needs to be addressed in free agency or the draft.
Thomas, 29, will be a free agent now after averaging 39 receptions, 374.7 yards and four touchdowns per season since leaving Denver. It’s possible he could return to the Dolphins if he’s willing to come back for significantly less than what he would’ve made, but quite frankly, the team badly needs someone better and younger.
With regard to Timmons, one of the weirdest, most frustrating things to happen to the Dolphins in their recent history turned out to be one of their luckiest breaks.
Remember when Timmons shockingly went AWOL the night before the season opener against the Chargers? Not only did he desert, he did it at a point in time that prevented the Dolphins from adding a practice squad player to replace him.
That seemed like one of the dirtiest things a player could do to his team, but the truth is Timmons did them an incredible favor. As part of his reinstatement to the Dolphins, they were able to make the second season of his contract nonguaranteed, a league source confirmed.
He’d almost certainly still be on the team this season if it wasn’t for that, and a 32-year-old linebacker who ran out of gas late last year is something Miami decidedly doesn’t need.
His original two-year, $12 million deal was guaranteed for all but $1 million and almost certainly would’ve forced the Dolphins to keep him this year at an $8.2 million cap hit. That contract was a mistake in hindsight, but Timmons let them off the hook.
Did he do much else for them? Yes. Timmons wasn’t nearly the letdown Thomas was. He put up 84 tackles and three pass breakups in his lone season with the Dolphins after a decade in Pittsburgh. Pro Football Focus ranked him the No. 67 linebacker in the NFL last year. Considering some of the alternatives, Miami could’ve done worse than Timmons.
Going forward, the team is counting on a resurgent season by Kiko Alonso and an impressive talent in Raekwon McMillan, the 2017 second-round draft pick who would’ve been a starter last year had he not torn his ACL in the first preseason game.
Miami still has other cost-cutting moves to consider. The next big question is whether to rescind right tackle Ja’Wuan James’ $9.3 million team option, followed by navigating the complexities of free agency.
Regardless of those decisions, the Dolphins are better off without Timmons and Thomas on the field, and markedly better off financially. Some of it was savvy and some of it was silver lining, but both exits clear the way for them to fix two highly problematic spots on their roster.
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