DAVIE—One of the biggest reasons Dolphins rookie Cordrea Tankersley rose to a starting cornerback job was the help he got from veteran Byron Maxwell.
Ultimately, Tankerlsey’s emergence factored heavily in Maxwell’s release today. While there’s cutthroat competition throughout the locker room, that was a tough blow to Tankersley. Both of them are South Carolina natives who went on to play at Clemson, and Tankersley looked up to Maxwell as a high school player.
“Of course we’re going to always miss a great teammate, somebody like him who’s been in this league for a while,” Tankersley said after practice today. “It’s definitely going to be a weird feeling, but you have to move on.
“He definitely encouraged me, kept me going, kept me up on a lot of things, telling me things about what happened in this league, game-plan-wise. He was a mentor for me.”
Maxwell and Tankersley did not have an opportunity to speak before Maxwell left. For Tankersley, it was a jarring first experience with the reality that the NFL is a business.
Beyond moving past Maxwell’s departure, Tankersley is looking to get over a rough game Sunday in which the Jets burned him for two touchdowns. One of those was a miscommunication in which he thought he had backup from the safety—“He was playing it like he had help, but he never talked about it beforehand so no one else knew he was expecting help,” defensive coordinator Matt Burke explained—and he was straight up beaten on the other one.
“After that I kinda clicked in,” he said of the shaky first quarter. “I picked it back up and I think I finished better than ever the rest of the game. The coaches and players encourage you if you get down, but I’m not the kind of player that’s gonna get down on myself. You’re gonna have those types of things. You just get over it and go on to the next play, because they see that.”
DAVIE–The Miami Dolphins are done with veteran cornerback Byron Maxwell, their best player at that position last year.
Maxwell fell out of favor with the coaching staff early in the season, and he’s been released today according to a league source. That frees up a roster spot for Miami to sign backup quarterback David Fales, who will be behind Matt Moore for Thursday’s game at Baltimore.
Maxwell, 29, was likely on his way out no later than the end of the season anyway because he had fallen behind Xavien Howard and was due $29.8 million over the upcoming three years, a commitment the Dolphins now escape with no salary cap penalty. Miami also drafted cornerback Cordrea Tankersley in the third round this year, and it looks like he’s ready for the job now.
The Dolphins were frustrated with Maxwell late in the preseason and lost patience with him after the first two games. He was benched in favor of Tankersley for the game in London, then made in active from there forward. He has not appeared in a game for Miami since struggling against the Jets on Sept. 24.
While the team has been vague about Maxwell’s injury status, it was clear from the onset he was demoted for performance. Nonetheless, coach Adam Gase said last week he wouldn’t rule out Maxwell earning his way back on the field this season.
“He always finds a way to get back in the mix,” Gase said. “I know sometimes it’s frustrating when you’re a veteran player and you’ve got a younger guy starting in front of you right now, but the good thing is he’s a pro. He studies hard; he works hard. He goes out there (and) gives us everything he has day in and day out when he’s out there.”
The Dolphins have been going with Howard and Tankersley as their starters outside and Bobby McCain as a slot corner. Free agent pickup Alterraun Verner, who was in contention with Maxwell for a starting spot going into Week 1, has been next in line off the bench.
Because Maxwell doesn’t have a role on special teams, there’s been little reason to have him on the active roster the last four games.
Maxwell’s career has been on a turbulent course since his days with Seattle’s Legion of Boom. After helping the Seahawks win the Super Bowl in the 2013 season, he stayed one more year before signing a six-year, $63 million contract with the Eagles in the 2015 offseason.
His one season in Philadelphia didn’t go well, and the Dolphins acquired him and Kiko Alonso in a trade to swap first-round picks with the Eagles. Miami moved down and took Laremy Tunsil at No. 13, while Philadelphia packaged the No. 8 pick to move up to No. 2 and take Carson Wentz. Alonso is still a starter and just signed an extension through 2020.
Maxwell was benched in the fourth game last year, but immediately got his spot back because of an injury and played well the rest of the way until an ankle injury knocked him out in December. He missed the final two regular-season games and Miami’s playoff game against Pittsburgh.
DAVIE—Good luck trying to figure out what the Dolphins are doing with veteran cornerback Byron Maxwell. He’s been demoted behind rookie Cordrea Tankersley and Alterraun Verner, and it’s unclear what part of that downfall is a result of performance and what’s attributable to injury.
Maxwell has been listed on the injury report with a foot issue, but Miami’s been vague about the severity. Maxwell was originally benched for the Saints game, then made in active after supposedly hurting his hamstring in warmups. Since then, it’s been an unspecified foot injury.
When asked today whether Maxwell would be active if healthy, coach Adam Gase said, “I don’t know. We’ll see.”
That sounds like a no, and it undercuts the notion that Maxwell still factors into the Dolphins’ plans for the near future.
They went through a similar situation with him last season, benching him in Week 4, but he got back on the field quickly because of an injury to Tony Lippett. From then on, Maxwell played at a Pro Bowl level.
This year, the door’s not nearly as open for a return. Tankersley has played well enough to keep the job, and the team is content with Verner behind him.
Barring an injury to one of those two, there’s no route to the field for Maxwell.
“I think he just needs to keep working, just keep doing really what he was doing before he’s kinda been banged up a little bit,” Gase said. “Once we get him back out there, we’ll keep working through just some little injuries he’s had—he always finds a way to get back in the mix.
“I know sometimes it’s frustrating when you’re a veteran player and you’ve got a younger guy starting in front of you right now, but the good thing is he’s a pro, he studies hard, he works hard and get goes out there and gives us everything he has day in and day out when he’s out there. That’s really all you can do, and then when your number’s called, just be ready to perform.”
Maxwell, who turns 30 in February, is unlikely to be with the team much longer either way. It’s possible the Dolphins will turn to him again this season, but there’s almost no chance they bring him back next year.
Miami traded for him last year knowing there was an easy out in his contract coming up in the 2018 offseason. Maxwell still has three years and $29.8 million left on his deal after this season, but the Dolphins are off the hook for all of that if they let him go this spring.
LONDON–It’s deja vu for the Dolphins as Byron Maxwell’s early-season benching comes right on schedule.
Miami will debut third-round pick Cordrea Tanklersley and start him over Maxwell against the Saints today at Wembley Stadium. Tankersley was inactive the first two games.
Not only has Maxwell lost his starting job, he’s on the inactive list for this game. Fellow veteran Alterraun Verner, who was supposedly battling Maxwell for the starting job going into the original opener against Tampa Bay, will be available off the bench.
Maxwell had no known injury, meaning him losing his starting spot was performance-related. He would’ve been active off the bench, but tweaked his hamstring in warmups.
Second-year cornerback Xavien Howard had already passed Maxwell as the teams top corner in the preseason.
The Dolphins benched Maxwell in Week 4 last year as well, sitting him altogether against the Bengals. Whether that had a direct impact, it marked the turning point in his season. After struggling the first three games, he played at a Pro Bowl level the rest of the way.
The shift from Maxwell to Tankersley comes much earlier than anticipated, but did appear to be a long-term plan for Miami either way. In addition to investing a high draft pick in Tankersley, the Dolphins have the option to release Maxwell after this season with no salary cap impact.
LONDON–This is a critical game for the Dolphins, regardless of the arduous circumstances leading up to it, and they have plenty of questions to answer when they face the Saints at Wembley Stadium on Sunday. The wave of uncertainty stems from a jarring performance in last week’s loss to the Jets.
Plenty went wrong against New York. Here are three position groups that must play better to defeat the Saints:
Jay Cutler wasn’t a total mess last week against the Jets, but he was consistently off and that was a big factor in the offense being so choppy. He completed just 59 percent of his passes and averaged five yards per attempt. That led to his team managing just one third-down conversion in 12 tries. Against a Saints defense that’s one of the most vulnerable in the league, Miami can’t afford to have him miss prime opportunities. Cutler must be sharp and hit some deep balls to get this offense rolling.
The Dolphins’ secondary has had issues the past two weeks, and that’s one reason Philip Rivers and Josh McCown combined for a X passer rating the first two weeks. Drew Brees is much more accurate than either one of them and he makes Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn (plus backfield receiving threats Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara) even better than they’d normally be. If Byron Maxwell, Xavier Howard, Bobby McCain or Alterraun Verner allow even a small window in coverage, Brees has the precision to nail them. Brees cruises in with a staggering 109.7 passer rating and already has six touchdown passes. He hasn’t thrown an interception in 111 pass attempts. In the entire history of the NFL, this is one of the last quarterbacks any corner wants to face.
Supposedly a strength for the Dolphins, this group looks a little less certain than usual. It’s no small concern that Kenny Stills has a hand injury and didn’t catch passes in practice all week. If it continues to bother him, look for Jakeem Grant or Leonte Carroo to get some snaps. Grant should get a chance anyway, given how much this offense could use a kickstart. There’s definitely an opening for DeVante Parker to get vertical, and if the weather ends up being a mess, Jarvis Landry becomes the focal point of the passing game. Not only can this group make life easier for Cutler, it could loosen up the loaded defensive fronts Ajayi’s been facing as well.
DAVIE — Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke timed it.
Going over film of the Dolphins’ 19-17 victory over the Chargers, he saw how quarterback Philip Rivers averaged a shade over two seconds before releasing passes.
And that, Burke figured, it a compliment to Miami’s defensive front.
But Rivers also completed 31-of-39 passes for 331 yards, with a quarterback rating of 110.6.
And that, Burke figured, has to change.
“Opposing offenses are not going to want to deal with our pass rush,” Burke said. “I think the message to the back-end guys, that’s linebackers and DB’s, is that we have to challenge throws better on the outside part of the field and match up our underneath progressions just a little bit tighter. I think it was pretty clear.”
It was only the opening game, and just as coaches had to tinker with cornerback Byron Maxwell last year to get that aggression out of him, they’re issuing the same message to the secondary this time.
“Just being more physical,” Maxwell said. “We’ve got a good rush, so it’s on us now. Put our hands on these guys and make them hold the ball until they get to the quarterback.”
Maxwell said the Chargers game culminated a strange stretch for the team because of Hurricane Irma and having to practice last week in California.
“The week before that, we had to worry about our houses and everything,” Maxwell said. “So it was different. It wasn’t a regular football schedule. I was like 10 pounds heavier.”
While most players enjoyed a week in the crisp, dry air of California, Maxwell said he could do without it.
“During the week, I tried to get it (the weight) off if I could, but I couldn’t sweat out there,” Maxwell said. “It was hard to sweat in practice.”
So Maxwell actually missed humidity?
“I did,” he said. “I think I’m the only person, but I love it here. This is the lightest I’ve ever played and the best I’ve ever felt.”
Maxwell said he’s back to his normal playing weight of about 195.
Many of his teammates in the secondary welcomed Burke’s challenge, especially if it means more press coverage.
“In college, that’s all I did,” cornerback Xavien Howard said. “Going into the league, that’s what I want to do and that’s what I’m good at.”
Howard estimated he pressed about 75 percent of the time last weekend.
Cornerback Bobby McCain said he wouldn’t mind pressing all the time but said it’s different for corners playing on the boundary.
“Everybody can be tighter,” McCain said. “When we press more, the advantage is in our favor.”
CARSON, Calif.—Don’t get bogged down in the sloppiness or the fact that the Dolphins came within one kick of this not happening.
Enjoy South Florida catching a break and take heart in knowing the Dolphins are better. They’re better than last year, and they’re even better than the barely-enough performance that pulled out a 19-17 win over the Chargers on Sunday.
That would’ve been true regardless of what happened at the end, but Cody Parkey’s 54-yard field goal put an emphatic stamp on a badly needed win. There surely would’ve been forgiveness for a group that was forced to relocate to the West Coast as Hurricane Irma swirled toward their homes, but now there doesn’t have to be.
“We’ve been here before,” Andre Branch said. “We’re a team that fights to the very end.”
They did. And they had to.
Hardly anyone is pristine in their season opener, and the Dolphins played through their hiccups well enough to beat a Chargers squad that had the benefit of working out such issues a week earlier. After going up 3-0 on the opening drive, Miami never had the lead again until Parkey’s game-winner.
Dicey, certainly, but this team is clearly better than the version that went to the playoffs last season. Maybe not by a ton, as in sufficiently improved to supplant the Patriots atop the AFC East, but it’s an upgrade over some of the patchwork lineups the Dolphins used a year ago.
There weren’t glaring signs of that Sunday, but give it time. Most of the starters hadn’t played in more than three weeks, and even then key players like Jay Cutler checked out before halftime. It’s not surprising that there a few creaks and stutters against the Chargers, including Cutler’s timing being a hair off with his new receivers.
“Jay’s an amazing quarterback,” Jarvis Landry told The Post. “He’s a smart man. He knows if any guy’s one-on-one, the matchup’s in our favor so he’s just gonna throw it up and allow us to make plays. The timing part of it, that’s something we can work on. But he’s smart enough to know to take the matchups and go.”
That’s one big plus for Cutler over the man he replaced, Ryan Tannehill. Cutler’s not as safe, but Miami’s receivers are too explosive for a conservative approach. They need a gunslinger.
Cutler’s always been that, and the more he learns how to operate these weapons the better he’ll get. No one needs to tell him to let it fly for DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills—he connected with both, including two spectacular plays with Parker—and he looked like he’s been reading the user’s manual for Landry.
No matter how much quarterbacks like chucking it deep, they like what works even better—and Landry always works. Regardless of who’s taking snaps, Landry’s the guy who makes everyone’s job easier by always being open. Of Cutler’s 33 pass attempts, 13 went to him.
One of those was a classic Landry play in which Cutler fired it to him in traffic underneath, then Landry outran the crowd after the catch for an 18-yard gain.
Cutler worked effortlessly with the offensive line, too. They bought him time and he bought them some. When the line didn’t hold, he rolled out and reset.
“That front they’ve got is one of the best,” right guard Jermon Bushrod said. “They’ve got two premier pass rushers, good guys in the middle, tough linebackers. We knew it was gonna be up and down. We had to find a way and we did.”
Jay Ajayi, meanwhile, quietly ran for 122 yards on 28 carries. That’ll suffice every time.
It’s a little more difficult to pick out bright spots for the defense after Philip Rivers went for 331 yards on 31-of-39 passing, but they were there. The defensive line showed more quality depth than last season and rarely allowed Rivers to take his time.
The secondary was reliable with the game on the line, too. Byron Maxwell came through with a crucial stop in the final minutes, staying on top of Tyrell Williams on a slant to keep him from converting a third-and seven. That sent the ball back to Miami on a punt with 3:12 left, setting up the clinching field goal.
The run defense, which in 2016 was the worst in franchise history, tightened up to hold Los Angeles to 44 yards on 14 carries. That’s with a linebacker corps decimated by injuries and Lawrence Timmons’ sudden departure less than 24 hours before kickoff.
There was an abundance of excuses available, but the Dolphins didn’t need any of them. Get ready for a fun season.
OXNARD, Calif.–The Dolphins have had about two months to really get everything in place for their season opener against the Chargers. Are they set? Not necessarily.
Miami came into the week with a few positions still open for competition, which isn’t ideal. But those aren’t the only uncertainties. Here are three position groups worth keeping an eye on Sunday:
There have been some telling shifts in Miami’s depth chart lately. The most notable one is that newcomer Alterraun Verner has pulled even with Byron Maxwell. An offshoot of that: Xavien Howard’s starting spot remains unquestioned. That signals that he’s now considered the No. 1 corner. Maxwell and Verner’s competition has gone into overdrive, and coach Adam Gase said he won’t clarify who’s starting until Sunday. The best case outcome would’ve been Maxwell or Verner winning the job decisively weeks ago. Instead, things look a little shaky as the secondary gets ready to face Philip Rivers.
This group’s got a big challenge on its hands with Los Angeles’ Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. Left tackle Laremy Tunsil’s making his first since moving over from guard. The left guard spot was a decision between journeymen Anthony Steen and Jesse Davis. Mike Pouncey’s health is always a worry. Right guard Jermon Bushrod considered retirement in the offseason. Right tackle Ju’Wuan James was inconsistent last season. Those are the five guys Miami is counting on to protect Jay Cutler and clear the way for Jay Ajayi.
The Dolphins go into the season with a new punter and kicker; Cody Parkey replaces Andrew Franks, and Matt Haack steps in for Matt Darr. Haack is an undrafted rookie about to make his NFL debut. Then there’s Jakeem Grant, who is out to prove he’s past the hands issue that hurt him occasionally last season. He looked good in the preseason games and practices, but he’s gotta do it in the game to fully convince himself and the staff that he’s dependable.
Before everything got turned sideways by Hurricane Irma, the Dolphins were moving toward their season opener against Tampa Bay with their lineup mostly set.
While coach Adam Gase maintained some spots would stay up for grabs throughout the week, the Miami’s initial depth chart gave some indication of what the team is thinking as it prepares for this week’s game at Los Angeles.
Gase said last week he intended to go with a starting offensive line of left tackle Laremy Tunsil, left guard Anthony Steen, center Mike Pouncey, right guard Jermon Bushrod and right tackle Ja’Wuan James. Steen had been competing with Jesse Davis after the Dolphins lost Ted Larsen and Kraig Urbik to injuries.
Larsen is out with a torn biceps and is eligible to come off Injured Reserve for the Week 9 game against the Raiders.
At defensive tackle, next to Ndamukong Suh, the Dolphins have been watching Jordan Phillips compete with fifth-round pick Davon Godchaux. Godchaux seemed to have the upper hand most of the preseason, but Phillips was listed as the starter last week.
At linebacker, the Dolphins had Mike Hull in with Kiko Alonso and Lawrence Timmons. Newcomer Rey Maualuga was listed as Hull’s backup, but one consideration with Maualuga is that he’s now had an extra week to get himself in playing shape and possibly overtake Hull.
Any questions left at those spots will be settled over the next three days, when the team resumes practice in Oxnard, Calif. after a week off. Players were expected to report Monday, and there will be a team meeting today.
DAVIE—A little over six months ago, Alterraun Verner was deemed inadequate to play cornerback in the NFL. The Buccaneers released him, and no one pounced to pick him up in the initial wave of free agency.
Now he’s in contention to start for the Dolphins on opening day against his old team.
Among the uncertainties for Miami this week, including whether Hurricane Irma will force the game to be rescheduled, is who to start at corner between Verner and Byron Maxwell. Second-year player Xavien Howard seems to have the other spot cemented, but coach Adam Gase said he’s willing to leave the competition open all week.
“You just gotta prepare as if you’re gonna start and you’re gonna play the whole game,” Maxwell said. “That’s what I’m preparing for.”
Regardless of who starts, the Dolphins will need both of them against Jameis Winston and the Bucs. They averaged 245.4 passing yards per game last season, and Mike Evans was fourth in the league with 1,321 receiving yards.
Evans, in particularly, will be a major matchup problem at 6-foot-5, 231 pounds. Maxwell is Miami’s biggest corner at 6-foot-1, 198, and Howard is roughly the same size. Verner is 5-foot-10, 187 pounds.
As far as the Maxwell-Verner entanglement is concerned, it signifies two very different trajectories.
Maxwell rode out a rough start last year to put together a strong season and was having a good offseason until a few weeks ago. Verner, meanwhile, has resuscitated his career with consistently impressive work since Miami signed him in late July.
“I’m excited to be the new guy and for (Gase) to still consider me to be somebody that can go out there and help this team,” Verner said. “I take that as a huge compliment. I’ve gotta keep working so I can get this opportunity… I know what type of player I am. I knew if I got the opportunity, I’d be able to make something happen.”
Verner doesn’t think he’s played any better over the past month than he did with Tampa Bay. He just suspects he didn’t fit the Bucs’ plans financially.
Verner certainly looked like a contributor for the Dolphins, but there was no talk of him overtaking Maxwell until the last couple weeks.
Maxwell’s trouble seemed to start when the team went up to Philadelphia for joint practices against his former team. The entire defense struggled those two days, particularly the secondary, then Maxwell was at the center of a disastrous coverage error in the game that week.
He was lined up against Philadelphia receiver Torrey Smith on the outside and switched to cover another receiver, allowing smith to run free. Dolphins safety Reshad Jones was nowhere near close enough to pick up Smith, who coasted for a 50-yard touchdown, and he chewed out Maxwell as they headed toward the sideline.
When asked Monday what’s gone wrong for him the last two weeks, Maxwell said, “To be honest with you, I’m not totally sure.”
That puts Maxwell in the position of needing another big turnaround, especially considering he’s 29 and could be playing the final season of his contract. He has an $8.5 million salary cap hit this year, and Miami can get out of the remaining three years, $30.8 million by releasing him this offseason.
Verner has significant money at stake, too. He’s playing for under a million this year after making $19.3 million the previous three seasons, and a good showing for the Dolphins would reestablish him as a coveted corner in 2018 free agency.
That said, there’s no tension between the two as they compete for the starting job and sit two locker stalls away from each other.
“We’ve both been playing in this league too long, so we know it’s nothing personal,” Verner said. “We both want to help this team. If I play at a certain level, that should raise his game. If he’s playing at a certain level, I’ve gotta bring it more. I’ve been in competition almost every year in the NFL. I like it.”
Join our reporters for a special evening as they talk NFL with Dolphins Pro Bowl Guard Jermon Bushrod, two-time Super Bowl champion Bob Kuechenberg and former Dolphins Pro Bowl linebacker Kim Bokamper on Tuesday, Sept. 5 at 6:30 p.m. at Bokamper’s Fort Lauderdale. The event is free to the first 100 people and will include raffles, light bites and drinks.