Miami Dolphins defensive end Andre Branch played through some injuries in 2017.
Branch announced Wednesday on Twitter that he was having surgery, and then later said it was “successful.”
Branch missed time last season with a knee injury, and when he did play, his explosiveness was limited. He tried to play through some pain and discomfort, even as he struggled to deliver the type of positive energy to his teammates that he did when his insertion into the starting lineup help change the course of Miami’s 2016 season.
Before last season, Branch agreed to a 3-year, $24 million contract. But Branch had 4.5 sacks and 23 tackles, one season after earning a big pay day with 5.5 sacks and 49 tackles.
Near the end of last season, Miami defensive coordinator Matt Burke said: “He has been battling some stuff, ‘Dre has. He has been … I think it’s kind of one of the less talked about things that he has been battling through a lot of things and tried to tough some things out, so I don’t think he has been feeling 100 percent physically. That has probably affected a little bit of his production and those sort of things. He has kind of been right where we want him to be.”
For Branch, 28, 2018 is a critical season. If the Dolphins were to part ways after next season, they would sustain only a $2 million cap hit.
As last season was winding down, Branch told the Daily Dolphin: ““It’s tough because you’re limited, and people don’t see that. They just want things to be done and they have no clue what you’re going through. But at the end of the day, it’s a part of football. It’s a very brutal sport, and you’ve gotta battle through injuries.”
Cam Wake turned 36 on Tuesday and we can pretty much guarantee he did not celebrate with a birthday shot or even a slice of cake.
Wake is a aberration, because of how he takes care of himself and his body.
“He’s a physical freak, just the way he takes care of his body, the way he eats, the way he sleeps,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said during the 2017 season. “Everything he does is all about this, and anything else is irrelevant to him. He sells out 100 percent. He’s put himself in position to do what he’s doing and that’s why age is really irrelevant to him right now.”
But for how long can it remain irrelevant?
Wake is in the final season of his contract, scheduled to count $8.6 million against the cap. That Wake is the ninth-highest cap hit as of now for the 2018 Dolphins is extremely reasonable.
Consider that Ndamukong Suh is scheduled to count $26.1 million against the cap next season. And defensive end Andre Branch is scheduled to count $10 million against the cap, a reward for a strong 2016 season.
Wake notched more than 10 sacks in consecutive seasons for the first time in 2016-17. And in an ideal situation, he would yield some of the work load to Charles Harris in 2018. Not that he’ll do so willingly.
“He’s extremely important,” Gase said. “One, being a guy that’s been around for a long time, he has a veteran presence. Obviously he’s really the heart and soul of what we’re about as an organization. He’s a guy that we want to basically retire here. He shows up every day and comes to work and does his job at the highest level, whether it be out at practice or on game day, whether it’s a meeting or walk through. You wish you had a whole bunch of guys like him. He’s a rare guy.”
Is Cam Wake a future Hall of Famer?
Here’s a infographic for him, that includes some of the most interesting stats I found on him.
During last season, Suh said he believes Wake can make an impact for a few more seasons.
“I definitely think so,” Suh said. “I think definitely Cam can play at a high level for the next two, three years or however long he chooses to continue to play. I think he got a little bit of a late start due to some circumstances that were out of his control, and the way he takes care of his body, the way he’s mentally focused in the game, I think he definitely can play as long he wants to.”
But how realistic is it for Wake to dominate at 36?
Well, let’s look at the NFL’s Top 10 career sack leaders to get a sense.
Among those men, in their age 36 season, the average was 8 sacks.
Is 8 sacks feasible for Wake next season? Sure, why not. He’s averaged 8 over the past 4 seasons.
Among those men, the average final NFL season was age 37.
Are 2 more seasons feasible for Wake? Sure, why not. We’d say maybe even 3 more seasons, if he felt like it.
If you’re wondering, Wake is 42nd on the all-time sack leader list, even though he didn’t begin his NFL career until age 27.
If Wake were to average 8 sacks over 3 more seasons, he’d end up with 116, good for 22nd in league history.
Here’s what the best sackers in NFL history did in their age 36 seasons: Bruce Smith (7), Reggie White (11), Kevin Greene (15), Julius Peppers (7.5), Chris Doleman (12), Michael Strahan (9), Jason Taylor (5), DeMarcus Ware (4), Richard Dent (6.5), John Randle (5.5).
Wake has talked repeatedly about how taking care of his body puts him at an advantage.
“I know what this game takes away from you, physically,” Wake said near the end of last season. “When you sign up, you kind of have to write some body parts off knowing that they’re going to the cause. You look around and you see a lot of these young pups, they really don’t know what they’re getting themselves into probably; but the older guys who do and they’re still doing it and still doing it well, my hat’s off to them.”
ORLANDO — Miami Dolphins Hall of Fame defensive end Jason Taylor has worked closely with Charles Harris.
In fact, Harris considers Taylor a mentor. And the Dolphins defensive end, who just completed his rookie season, should know that Taylor believes in his potential.
As in, really, really believes.
“There’s a lot in there,” Taylor said after Sunday’s Pro Bowl. “That light bulb is going to go off at some point in this league. And it’s different for everybody. Some guys have to find their way through and feel their way through. And he’s going to get it. And when it goes off, he’s going to be up here in Orlando, or wherever they hold the game. He’s going to be up here, too.”
Taylor was a six-time Pro Bowler but didn’t make the game until his fourth NFL season.
Taylor had 5, 9 and 2.5 sacks in each of his first three seasons, before exploding with 14.5 in 2000.
Harris was frustrated to record only 2 sacks as a rookie, but the organization has not soured on him.
“(Harris) spent a lot of time with Jason Taylor early in the year and Jason kind of told him, ‘I had (five) sacks my first year,’” Dolphins general manager Chris Grier said at the Senior Bowl. “He told him, ‘As the year goes on, your body gets used to the long season.’ To kind of figure it out. And he played really well in those last three or four weeks of the season. So we’re excited about his future. The guy loves football. He doesn’t say much. The guy just comes in and is a grinder. And so we’re very excited for him in the future.”
Taylor was a the Pro Bowl, and around the AFC squad all week, as a legendary captain.
“That’s what happens when you get old, they start to call you a legend,” Taylor joked. “No, it’s all part of this thing. This whole NFL experience. And being one of those 310 guys (in the Hall of Fame). You know, to me, it goes in one ear and out the other. I really don’t’ look at myself like that. But I appreciate that people do.”
ORLANDO — Casey Hayward of the Rams intercepted Russell Wilson of the Seahawks, and the Pro Bowl fun began.
Hayward tossed a lateral to Reshad Jones of the Dolphins, who ran for 13 yards and flipped the ball to Jalen Ramsey of the Jaguars, who ran down the left sideline for 23 more.
A little playground football at Camping World Stadium .
“We said the first person to get a pick, we were going to form a relay,” Jones said after the game. “I saw Jalen in my rear and pitched it to him. And the rest was history. It was cool. It was fun. It worked for us. We said whoever got the first pick was going to make it happen. It was amazing.”
Jones has a lot of respect for Ramsey, the former Florida State star.
“He’s a big corner,” Jones said. “He’s long. He loves to press. He can play. He’s a good one. He’s going to be in this league for a while.”
Dolphins Hall of Famer Jason Taylor was saying after the game how impressed he was with Jacksonville’s talented young defensive players.
“Some of the young guys from Jacksonville are really, really cool kids to watch play,” Taylor said. “You realize how athletic they are, watching them practice, and run around in the game. Jalen Ramsey and Yannick (Ngakoue) and (Telvin) Smith and all those guys. Tremendous athletes. Tremendous young defense.”
Jones knows Miami’s defense needs to create more turnovers next season.
“We have to make make the opponent one-dimensional,” he said. “We have to stop the run and make them put it in the air. I think we have one of the best front sevens in football. And we have to handle our end on the back end.”
Miami’s representatives at the Pro Bowl were Jones and wide receiver Jarvis Landry. The two palled around all week. But does Jones think he’ll ever play a game with Landry again?
“The future will tell,” Jones said. “I hope so, man. He’s been with me for a few years now, so hopefully the Dolphins sign him back.”
ORLANDO — Jarvis Landry would love to go down as an all-time Miami Dolphins great.
Who knows if Landry will ever have a shot at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, like Jason Taylor, but he certainly — if he stays — would have a chance to be one of the best players in franchise history.
Well, how about Jason Taylor.
“If he could be in Miami for a long haul, he could be one of those legendary guys,” Taylor said Sunday night, after the Pro Bowl. “He really has the talent. He has the commitment. He loves the game of football. That’s the biggest thing. It’s the love of the game. And he loves this game.”
Taylor was a legendary captain for the AFC during Pro Bowl week.
“This is what I miss,” Taylor said. “This is what I miss about the game. I’d give my left arm, almost, for a chance to do this again. So to be in the locker, the pregame locker room with coach Tomlin talking, with guys laughing and joking and getting a chance to come compete, you know, you still get that itch.”
The AFC won and Taylor said he was yelling from the sideline at Denver’s Von Miller to end the game with a sack, which Miller did.
Landry had five catches for 78 yards, including a 49-yard bomb from Kansas City’s Alex Smith.
Does Taylor believe Landry is going to stay with the Dolphins?
“We hope,” Taylor said. “I mean, in this day of free agency, you never know what happens. But listen, guys might get one bite at this apple. So I don’t begrudge a guy at all if they go and take care of themselves financially, if it doesn’t work out with the team, or whatever. There is very little loyalty in this league. I played for Miami for a long time but had to go to New York and had to go to Washington. It is what it is. It’s a business. And anybody that thinks otherwise if fooling themselves. Any fan that thinks otherwise is fooling themselves. This game, as good as it is, will chew you up and spit you out when it’s done with you. I want those guys to get as much as they can while they can get it.”
LAKE BUENA VISTA — The Miami Dolphins may be considering drafting a quarterback as high as the 11th overall pick in the next NFL draft, but Broncos pass rusher Von Miller believes the team has the quarterback it needs.
Miller was conversing with a reporter about if Ryan Tannehill has it in him to take the next step to the Pro Bowl level of say, Alex Smith of the Chiefs or Matt Ryan of the Falcons.
“I think he has it in him,” Miller said after a Pro Bowl practice on Saturday. “But he’s shown it before. He’s shown that he is a franchise quarterback. He’s just got to stay healthy. That’s the name of the game for everybody.”
Miller and Tannehill were teammates at Texas A&M.
Tannehill missed Miami’s defeat of Denver this season. In his only start against the Broncos, Tannehill passed for 228 yards and 3 touchdowns, but lost in a shootout, 39-36, in 2014.
Miller said he had a good relationship with Miami coach Adam Gase when the Miami coach was in Denver.
“I love Gase,” Miller said. “He is one of my guys. I wanted him to let me play wide receiver. But he’s one of my guys.”
Miller also advocated for the return of Broncos coach Vance Joseph, who was Miami’s defensive coordinator in 2016.
“I just think he has got that ‘It Factor’ about him,” Miller said of Joseph. “That special thing you need to be a great coach, he’s got it.”
LAKE BUENA VISTA — Mike Pouncey is here, to support his twin brother Maurkice and to spend time with family.
Maurkice, a Steelers center, is a member of the AFC Pro Bowl squad that Mike has made in the past. Maurkice says for Mike, playing all 16 games for the Miami Dolphins and staying healthy was most important.
“It was amazing man,” Maurkice said after practice. “We talked about that so much. People don’t really understand what Mike went through. It was at the point where football was almost over for him. So for him to go out there and play all 16, that was his Super Bowl and his Pro Bowl and I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Maurkice indicated that Mike’s post-season medical checkup revealed an encouraging report. Mike Pouncey has dealt with very serious hip issues he managed to navigate through last season.
“He went and got great news from the doctor and he’s really, really motivated about it,” Maurkice said.
The brothers played together in a previous Pro Bowl in Arizona. Does Maurkice believe Mike will be back?
“Absolutely,” Maurkice said. “Trust me. That’s on his mind now. We’ve had the enjoyment of playing on the same NFL team together. It wasn’t a real NFL team, it was the All-Star team, but it was a great time together and we’ll always remember it.”
Maurkice noted how difficult it was for Mike to miss Miami’s playoff game at Pittburgh after the 2016 season. Maurkice also indicated how badly Mike wants to win in Miami.
“It crushed him, man, because he worked so hard for it,” Maurkice said. “Mike never really had a winning, winning team (in the NFL). And you know Mike, his whole career he’s been a winner, so it eats him up a lot. But he’s so committed to that organization and loves everybody there. So it’s good for him.”
LAKE BUENA VISTA — If you ever had a chance to speak with Dolphins safety Reshad Jones, you’d be able to sense the emotion and energy that channels through him at almost every moment.
And if you ever want to see Jones’ face light up and even seem a little sappy, ask him how his daughter is doing.
Many players post Instagram photos or videos of themselves working out or lip-syncing to rap music, but very often, Jones posts photos of himself with his daughter, a 4-year-old who made the trip to Disney World for the Pro Bowl.
“She means everything man,” Jones said, after Friday’s practice. “She just gives me something to work for. Just having her around it’s a cool atmosphere for the family to enjoy everything that they have set up. She’s everything to me. My only daughter. My first one. It’s special.”
On one Instagram post with his daughter, Jones wrote: “It’s you that helps me become a better me.”
In another post, Jones writes: “You have been a blessing from the start.”
Jones had 122 tackles this season and if that seems like a lot, well, it is.
But it wasn’t all easy. As Jones worked his way back from a season-ending injury this season, there were a few rough spots early.
“I played like myself,” Jones said. “I went out and made plays. I feel like a left a couple plays out there this year. But coming off an injury I think I did pretty good. I’m in my prime. I’m still going up. I’m getting better as I grow. The injury I’m over. I’m back to 100 percent. So the sky is the limit.”
Jones should be even better in 2018. He was arguably Miami’s most impactful defensive player when on the field in 2015 and ’16. Jones is also, still, one of the most underrated players in the league.
LAKE BUENA VISTA — It was dodgeball, so yeah you can insert all the ESPN8 jokes you want and talk about how, no, this really does not prove Jarvis Landry deserves $14 million a season.
I mean, we think he does. And we actually think it wasn’t just that Landry was the NFL dodgeball champion during Pro Bowl week but that he seriously wanted to win so badly that is relevant here.
No, the jerks from Globo Gym (the Patriots) aren’t represented here this week. But Landry represented.
If there is one memorable photo from this week, it was one which showed Landry with an intense, determined scowl as he closed in on the Dodgeball championship. Jalen Ramsey can be seen hooting and hollering. And other AFC Pro Bowlers were laughing.
But to Landry, this was no laughing matter. To Landry, winning is everything. In everything.
“Money was on the line so we had to go get it,” Landry said after a Pro Bowl practice Friday. “That goes to show you just as much passion and energy as I have for that, that’s how I play Connect Four. Tic-Tac-Toe. Think about that, and how much amplified it is on a Sunday. That’s just how I am.”
Landry ended the game by taking out the NFC’s kicker. And then he went to social media to talk about how we couldn’t possibly have thought he was going to get taken out by a kicker.
Landry wears his heart on his sleeve. At times he can appear to be an emotional basket case. But at the root of it all, is how much he cares. He truly cares about winning. He wants so badly to win.
“I just want to play football with an organization of guys that want me to be there, that love that I’m there, that love what I bring to the table, embrace my personality and win games,” Landry said. “I want to win. Now.”
If Miami lets Landry walk, perhaps it will be a reflection on their decision to not embrace his personality.
And that may very well be a costly mistake.
Landry competed this week. During a series of Pro Bowl practices in which, really, guys don’t compete all that much.
He practices hard. He practices when he’s hurt. He battles in the spring. (He showed up in the spring, when he didn’t have to.)
He even competed hard in a Pro Bowl contest in which for some reason a drone dropped a football from the sky this week.
Of course, he won that too, beating out Patrick Peterson.
Last year, Miami paid Reshad Jones. They paid him in part because of his intense desire to win, his emotional connection to the game.
Miami has two Pro Bowlers here and it’s Landry and Jones and the common denominators are not lost on Landry.
“I think we are both Alpha Males,” Landry said. “I think not only that. I think we both play hard. We both have a lot of leadership qualities and leadership abilities. We’re playmakers. And you can’t go wrong with that. And that’s just a short list, a condensed list.”
Miami needs to add Alpha Males. And they need to keep the ones they have, too.