2018 NFL free agents: Latest on Dolphins’ possible pursuit of C.J. Anderson

C.J. Anderson is a free agent who could fit the Dolphins. (Getty Images)

DAVIE—It’s an open secret that the Dolphins like former Broncos running back C.J. Anderson. It’s really not a secret at all, actually, since they tried to sign him two years ago.

Anderson, who played for Adam Gase in Denver in 2013 and ’14, agreed to an offer sheet with Miami as a restricted free agent, but the Broncos matched the four-year, $18 million deal and kept him.

Given his history with Gase, who was offensive coordinator when he made the Pro Bowl in 2014, he’s an obvious candidate for the Dolphins.

“We’ll certainly see what happens once we get after the draft with any free agents, and we’ll see where we are,” vice president Mike Tannenbaum said. “We’ve got to get through the draft here first. That’s the next opportunity and then we’ll look at other things once we get through that.”

Miami currently has Kenyan Drake and Frank Gore in line as its top two running backs. Drake is expected to be the starter and primary back, which is a landmark opportunity for him heading into his third season. Gore averaged nearly 1,000 yards per season the last three years, but turns 35 next month.

The other two running backs on the roster, Senorise Perry and Brandon Radcliff, have minimal experience. Perry has eight career carries, and Radcliff has never appeared in an NFL game.

Miami has the fifth-cheapest running back room in the league at just under $3.7 million in salary cap, according to Spotrac.

Whether the Dolphins pursue Anderson depends on the draft and his market value. If they select someone like Derrius Guice next week, there probably isn’t room on the roster for Anderson, nor enough of a role to entice him. Miami is also extremely tight on cap space until some of Ndamukong Suh’s money comes off the books in June.

Anderson isn’t at a point where he’s likely to take much of a discount just to reunite with Gase. He’s 27 years old and coming off a season in which he rushed for a career-high 1,007 yards to go with three touchdowns, plus 224 yards receiving. He’s made an estimated $10.7 million over his first five years.

[A look inside the Dolphins’ process for making draft picks and who makes the final call]

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More with less? Here’s what Dolphins are thinking after Jay Ajayi trade

Damien Williams is about to get the biggest opportunity of his career. (Bill Ingram/The Post)

DAVIE—One thing Adam Gase made expressly clear this week is his belief in addition by subtraction. The rest of the NFL will be checking his math over the next two months.

Gase and the Dolphins dumped one of their most productive players when they traded running back Jay Ajayi to the Eagles for a fourth-round pick this week, and there were a variety of reasons for doing it. There’s certainly some long-term thinking behind the move, but not to the extent that Gase was ready to lower his expectations for this season.

There’s a belief that Miami can get as much or more output from the newly formed backfield tandem of Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake, both of whom will be featured Sunday night against the Raiders in a nationally televised showcase. They’re young, unproven and highly versatile.

“We’re going to be able to maximize what they do well,” Gase said.

It’s easy to see his logic as he tries to jump start an offense that ranks last in the league in yardage (252.4 yards per game) and scoring (13.1 points).

At his best, Ajayi is a bruising runner with the strength to plow his way to 200-yard games, but he wasn’t anything like that this season at 3.4 yards per carry and 66.4 per game. When he was playing at a truly special level, Gase was willing to adjust to his game, but if not, he’s looking for more multifaceted weapons.

The fact that Williams and Drake haven’t unleashed their full power yet could simply be a result of their playing time being capped behind Ajayi.

“We were all somewhere before here, being the main guy and having the bulk of (the carries),” said Williams, who was very productive at Oklahoma. “We’re all different, but we all bring excitement to the game.”

Calling plays for Williams (5-foot-11, 224 pounds) and Drake (6-1, 211) should come more naturally for Gase because they’re faster and have more potency in the passing game. They’re reminiscent of the running backs he’s had at previous stops, as well as ones he pursued shortly after he took the Dolphins job because he didn’t believe Ajayi was the answer.

Remember that prior to his 204-yard outburst against Pittsburgh last season, the NFL made a clear evaluation of his ability and future prospects.

He was the 149th player chosen (13th among running backs) in the 2015 draft despite monster numbers at Boise State. Joe Philbin’s staff gave him 49 carries as a rookie, and—after Gase came aboard—the Dolphins tried to keep Lamar Miller, pursued C.J. Anderson and Arian Foster in free agency last year and drafted Drake in the third round.

When Gase was Anderson’s offensive coordinator in Denver for 2014 season, he earned a Pro Bowl invitation by rushing for 849 yards, averaging 9.5 yards per catch and totaling 10 touchdowns.

While Foster ultimately wasn’t healthy enough to do much for Miami and he retired after four games, his skillset fit Gase’s template as well. From 2010 through ’14, he averaged 43.9 catches per season. That’s what Gase hoped to recapture. As spent as Foster was, Gase chose him as the opening day starter after a full preseason to compare him against Ajayi.

In his lone season running the offense in Chicago, Gase inherited Matt Forte. He owns the all-time record for catches by a running back (102) and caught 44 passes for 389 yards with Gase in 2015.

The Dolphins were trying to turn Ajayi into that type of back during the recent offseason, further underscoring how essential that tool is to the offense Gase ideally wants to operate. To his credit, Ajayi shared that vision. It never materialized, though. His best receiving games this season were three catches for 26 yards against the Jets, and four for 18 in Baltimore.

Gase doesn’t have to force Williams and Drake into that mold. That’s already how they think of themselves.

Drake had more catches as a senior at Alabama (29) than Ajayi had last season (27) and is intent on using his speed as a vertical threat. Despite Williams playing just 16.8 percent of the offseason snaps last year, compared to Ajayi’s 61.3, he finished fifth on the team in receiving yards (249) and third in total touchdowns (six).

“It’s no secret that they’re probably a little more natural of a receiver,” offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said. “But they also aren’t as violent. I do think there’s a versatility that comes with those guys… that they’re really, really good athletes.”

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C.J. Anderson: I would have made Pro Bowl under Gase with Dolphins

C.J. Anderson (Getty Images)
C.J. Anderson (Getty Images)

Running back C.J. Anderson, the almost-Dolphin-who-wasn’t, says if his deal with Miami had gone through, he would have made the Pro Bowl here.

Anderson made his remarks while speaking on Pro Football Talk’s PFT Live.

Anderson signed an offer sheet that was thought to be enough to dissuade the Denver Broncos from retaining him — four years, $18 million — but John Elway said not so fast to the Dolphins.

Anderson maintains he actually had a better offer on the table from Chicago but the attraction to the Dolphins was coach Adam Gase, for whom he played in Denver.

“It wasn’t about the money,” Anderson said. “If it was about money, I would have chose Chicago, because they offered more. But I put myself in the greatest position. Put myself in a situation where if I was in Miami with Adam Gase I would have been a Pro Bowler in his system. I know his system very well. It’s just fun style, I love the system, and I understand that I can perform in that (offense).”

Anderson isn’t complaining about returning to the Broncos.

“Last year, I got a chance to flourish and show out in (Gary) Kubiak’s system too,” Anderson said. “And with a second year in that system I know what I can do there, too. So I think I can be a Pro Bowler and do some high level things in his system, too.”

Still, Anderson tweeted thanks to the Dolphins after all was done, saying he’s sure Gase will “get it done” with the Dolphins and wishing him well.