Miami’s run defense was awful last year, and upgrading the linebacker corps was a key objective this offseason. The challenge part for the Dolphins was finding a way to make major upgrades without wrecking themselves financially.
Problem solved: Former Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons agreed to a two-year, $12 million deal this afternoon.
Timmons, almost 31, most likely fits as a middle linebacker in Miami, where the team has already been talking about Kiko Alonso shifting to outside linebacker. That gives the Dolphins two rock solid starters for the upcoming season.
“We’ve got to make sure we do a good job with our linebackers,” general manager Chris Grier said last week when asked about Miami’s shaky run defense. “We’ve got to get some more guys to help Kiko out.”
While Dont’a Hightower had to be enticing for Miami, the team has vowed to take a new approach to free agency that does not include throwing massive offers at the top free agents like previous administrations did. Hightower could end up getting double what the Dolphins are paying Timmons.
Timmons, 6-foot-1, 234 pounds, fits much of the organization’s criteria at the position. He is an every-down linebacker who played 91 percent of the snaps last year, and shift outside if needed.
He spent 10 years with the Steelers after they drafted him 15th overall out of Florida State. He made the Pro Bowl in 2014 and posted 114 tackles, 2.5 sacks and two interceptions last year.
As for the other linebacker spots, Alonso is a near-lock to return after Miami placed a first-round tender on him Thursday. The two sides are continuing to negotiate a long-term deal. The tender maintains Alonso’s status as a restricted free agent and assures the Dolphins of being able to match any offer that comes his way.
Alonso was Miami’s top linebacker with 114 tackles, four fumble recoveries and two interceptions while playing 91 percent of the defensive snaps in his best season as a pro. He played middle linebacker most of the season, but the Dolphins have said all along he could play outside if they acquired a meaningful inside linebacker. Timmons certainly qualifies as that.
Miami opened last season with Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins as its starting outside linebackers, but neither made it through the season healthy. Misi has yet to be cleared for a return from his neck injury, and the Dolphins are likely to move on from Jenkins.
Mike Hull and Neville Hewitt, backups who played every game and combined for six starts, are the only linebackers Miami has under contract for the upcoming season. Alonso and Reilly can be brought back relatively easy as restricted free agents, and Jenkins, Donald Butler and Spencer Paysinger are unrestricted.
INDIANAPOLIS–Defensive end Andre Branch seems to be hitting his prime, and the Dolphins want in on that.
Branch had the best season of his career last year, teaming up with Cameron Wake, and had great timing for that breakout given that he’s about to become an unrestricted free agent. Branch, 27, started a career-high 11 games and was second on the team with 5.5 sacks. Pro Football Focus rated him the 70th-best defensive end in the league. Beyond his on-field contributions, Branch was a key figure in the Dolphins’ locker room. Continue reading “2017 NFL free agents: Dolphins working to keep Andre Branch”
INDIANAPOLIS–The Dolphins have two key players under consideration for contract extensions this offseason, and general manager Chris Grier is optimistic they’ll get a deal done smoothly with safety Reshad Jones.
“We’re working towards it right now,” Grier said this morning when asked if the team will reach a deal with Jones before the season starts. “We’re talking with his agent, and they’re going back and forth. Obviously with the Eric Berry deal getting done that may help speed things up, too.”
Jones, 29, made the Pro Bowl in 2015 but missed most of last season with a shoulder injury. He has fully recovered and is expected to participate in the full offseason program.
Berry, a three-time all-pro selection, agreed to the largest deal ever for safety Tuesday. He re-upped with the Chiefs for six years, $78 million with $40 million guaranteed.
Grier was also asked about an extension for Jarvis Landry and said he hopes it’s something they get done “in the future.”
That’s what the Dolphins should be thinking about this off-season despite the release of salary cap figures that show Miami has the most space rolled over to next season of any team in the AFC East. According to the NFL Players Association, the Dolphins have $8.36 million to carry over, compared to $5.29 million for New England.
The temptation is to think of this as an income tax refund triple what you expected. It’s not. For starters, the bottom line shows the Dolphins have $30.7 million in cap space for 2017, which ranks a more-sobering 20th in the NFL. In a twist sure to make Dolphins fans ill, the Patriots are third in the league with $67.8 million in cap space.
(Just to make everyone feel better, consider that the Cleveland Browns are $109.5M under the cap, proving you often do get what you pay for.)
The natural question is how, with a team many pick to win the Super Bowl, Bill Belichick can pull this off. Is his calculator is calibrated like his air-pressure gauge? Actually, Belichick knows how to stretch a buck, spreading the wealth across his 53-man roster for depth. That way, if Tom Brady is suspended, he’ll plug in Jimmy Garoppolo. If Jimmy Garoppolo is hurt, he’ll throw in Jacoby Brissett. Whatever. He still wins during the season, as opposed to the Dolphins, who often have won in the off-season.
The real test comes this spring, when we learn more about how today’s Dolphins conduct business. Head of football operations Mike Tannenbaum has talked about sustainability. Coach Adam Gase wants to build a program that can challenge the Patriots in the division year after year. Every sign says they’re on the same page as General Manager Chris Grier.
Together, they can take their $30.7M in cap space and quickly make it grow. Expectations are they’ll part with unproductive defensive linemen Mario Williams and Dion Jordan. Boom, there’s another $11.7 million in the bank. To be determined is whether the 2017 left tackle is Laremy Tunsil or Branden Albert. Parting with Albert would not be the most popular move but would save another $7.2M. If that’s not enough, hold injured linebacker Koa Misi upside down, shake, and watch $4.2M fall from his pockets.
But it’s one thing to have money to play with, another thing to actually play well with that money. Compare how the Dolphins and Patriots conduct business. The top two earners on the Patriots next season are scheduled to be Brady ($14M) and left tackle Nate Solder ($11.2M), which swallows just 14.9 percent of the cap. The Dolphins’ top two, Ryan Tannehill and Ndamukong Suh, guzzle 23.4 percent.
Devoting nearly a fourth of Miami’s resources to two players creates a puzzle at the back of the roster, where the Dolphins have 35 players scheduled to make less than $2 million. The Patriots have just 26 in that low-end tax bracket. So Belichick wins at both ends — he has arguably the best quarterback ever in Brady but also has more money to spend on the bottom 10 guys on his roster, who sooner or later over a 16-game season will make a difference in ballgames. And, of course, he has solid talent in-between.
The Dolphins have long loved sprees in the free-agent marketplace, where teams get sucked into deals like the $10.5 million in 2017 for Williams, who obviously will never see that money.
Each year, Pro Football Talk publishes a list of “Hot 100” free agents. If Belichick happens to stumble across it on, say, SnapFace, he skims from the bottom up. His big score last year was defensive end Chris Long, No. 84 on the list. The exception was 2014, when he landed the No. 1 player, cornerback Darrelle Revis, but that was for a one-year rental at a cut-rate $7 million against the cap and $12 million in actual salary.
In recent years, Belichick let cornerback Aqib Talib walk to Denver, linebacker Brandon Spikes pack for Buffalo and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork go to Houston with nary a tear in his eye.
Running backs hold a special place in Belichick’s frugal heart. He let running back Shane Vereen become a New York Giant. He said sayonara to LeGarrette Blount, who headed to Pittsburgh for $3.85 million over two years, wore out his welcome in the Steel City and was back wearing Patriots red, white and blue three days after hitting the waiver wire. Blount’s numbers for 2016: 1,161 yards, 18 touchdowns … and $1.025 million. Starting cornerback Malcolm Butler, an undrafted free agent, makes slightly more than half that: $600,000.
You’ve heard of a hometown discount? The Patriots often seem to get a ring discount. All things being close, the lure of a ring is one heck of a negotiating tool.
You win in this league with scouting, as the four teams still alive show. The Patriots have 37 “homegrown” players (drafted or signed as college free agents). The Packers’ roster is chocked with 34 draftees. The Dolphins have just 19 draftees and almost as many former free agents from other teams (17).
That’s not to say the Dolphins have hit on only 19 recent picks. They chose wisely when drafting defensive end Olivier Vernon, tight end Charles Clay and running back Lamar Miller, but they failed to secure them after their rookie deals expired, allowing them to hit the free-agent market, where they were priced out of Miami’s range. Dolphins fans are hoping the same doesn’t apply today to receiver Jarvis Landry and safety Reshad Jones, the team’s co-MVPs last season and who would become free agents next year.
Re-signing Landry and Jones has to be the top priority for Tannenbaum, Grier, Gase & Co. Especially with a roster that has so many holes, priority No. 2 should be spreading the wealth.
DAVIE—Whether they admit it publicly or not, the Dolphins are chasing New England. Ending the Patriots’ nearly 14-year stranglehold on the AFC East is the first step toward Miami establishing itself as a contender.
Moments after the season ended with a playoff loss to Pittsburgh, owner Stephen Ross stood in the visiting locker room at Heinz Field and made clear that merely reaching this point wasn’t enough. However ambitious this might sound for a team that hadn’t been to the postseason in eight years, only a championship will satisfy Ross’ demands.
Cornerback Xavien Howard: Super competitive. No, check that. Ultra competitive. Alpha.
Grier said receiver/return man Jakeem Grant is an alpha, leaving us to sort out how a guy who’s 5-feet-5 3/4 qualifies for that label within the NFL world.
Oh, and with third-rounder Kenyan Drake, Grier made sure to point out he makes tackles. Yes, a running back who makes tackles. At least it’s on special teams.
So clearly, Grier, football operations poobah Mike Tannenbaum and coach Adam Gase are doorbuster shoppers at Alphas R Us.
The dictionary defines an alpha as “being the most dominant, powerful or assertive person in a particular group.” Technically, that leaves room for only one at the top of the chain on a 53-man roster, but no matter. Maybe Grier’s idea of organized team activities this summer will be Over-The-Top-Rope Alpha Battle Royals.
Here is the thing, though: Grier has been in the organization for 16 years, endured that 6-10 season last year with everybody else, and his cure for what ails is an industrial-strength dose of alpha.
Meaning Grier & Co. analyzed the situation and evidently diagnosed alpha deficiency.
Were the Dolphins too nice?
Once you get past Ndamukong Suh and the departed Olivier Vernon, you have to think yes. The Dolphins talked a physical game, but when was the last time they walked off the field and you felt they smash-mouthed their way to victory? Sorry, but toughening up the dolphin in the logo — he’s no longer so cute and cuddly — doesn’t count.
A football alpha is, by definition, a leader. In the past, there was no question where the leadership was coming from. Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas ran the show, and without Chad Pennington, nobody would remember the last time this team was in the playoffs.
But the common thinking amid the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin affair was it never would have escalated had a responsible adult such as J.T. been in the locker room. (Even though Gase is new, given his relationship with the players, it’s inconceivable he would have been blindsided by the controversy the way the previous regime was.)
Interestingly, center Mike Pouncey was implicated in that affair, but he had an emotional awakening when the Dolphins gave him a five-year, $45 million contract extension last year, thanking the club for putting up with “stupid” things he’d done.
“You’re just going to see a better leader,” Pouncey said. “ I’m going to be the same football player. Just a better leader on and off the football field.”
Pouncey has delivered. Just listen to first-round pick Laremy Tunsil: “I’ve been talking to Mike Pouncey a lot about film work and how to work and field stuff. (He is) somebody to look up to, somebody that can show me how to lead the way.”
Pouncey can do that in the offensive linemen’s meeting room. Now, the Dolphins are committed to making sure every other room has someone who thinks the front seat belongs to him.
“When you say ‘alpha,’ it’s those guys that love football,” Grier said after the draft. “They’re mentally and physically tough, they’re not afraid of challenges, they love to compete. It was stuff that we talked about a lot through the process and you guys have been around coach Gase — he definitely has that mentality.
“We’ve tried to change the roster with the guys we’ve added, especially on the pro side too through free agency. We’ve been aggressively looking for players like that. I think that’s the only way you can win.”
It appears that the Miami Dolphins have already selected a replacement for fired general manager Dennis Hickey.
Chris Grier, who has been with the franchise for 15 seasons — the last eight as the team’s director of college scouting — is expected to be named the Fins’ new GM. The Palm Beach Post has been told Grier is expected to be hired, but not until Monday.
WalterFootball.com, a site well-known for NFL Draft profiles and information, calls Grier one of the top talent evaluators in the NFL. Many, including those who write for WalterFootball.com, believe that Grier should’ve been promoted to the general manager position when Jeff Ireland was fired.