New national anthem policy a low point for free speech in the NFL

Dolphins players Kenny Stills, Michael Thomas and Julius Thomas wait in the tunnel during the anthem before an October 2017 game. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

How gracious of the NFL to allow its players the privilege of hanging on to their precious freedom of speech.

As long as they exercise it where no one can hear them.

Just when it seemed like Roger Goodell and the owners couldn’t botch the national anthem issue any worse, here comes this week’s so-called solution. Never underestimate this league’s capacity for debacles.

The new rule is essentially this: You will stand for the anthem and “show respect” or stay out of sight in the tunnel. That’s identical to what the Dolphins implemented last season with minimal explanation before rescinding it within weeks at the request of their players.

National anthem at Hard Rock Stadium. (Bill Ingram/The Post)

It’s bad that the new policy is full of holes, putting coaches in a spot where they’ll have to uphold something ambiguous and setting up what they’ll see as needless conflicts between them and their players.

It’s bad that the players had zero input, undercutting all the propaganda the NFL puts forth about this league being a partnership and how football is family.

It’s bad that this is framed as an issue of patriotism, when few actions are as patriotic as risking future employment prospects because you want this country to be better. The protesting players aren’t making an anti-American, anti-military statement, and Donald Trump doesn’t get the final word on how their demonstrations should be interpreted.

It’s even a little bad that the league wasn’t sophisticated enough to do its dirty work without tripping over itself. The new protocol passed in a slipshod process that sounded like a straw poll. It took mere minutes before some owners voiced dissent and less than a day before ESPN uncovered that there was never an official vote despite Goodell declaring there was unanimous support.

But the real problem isn’t the flaws in the policy. It’s the compulsion to form a policy at all.

While the league might technically have the legal right to limit how players express themselves in the workplace, why does it want to? Does a 10 percent drop in ratings — at least some of which is self-inflicted by how much the NFL has diluted its product — for what is still by far the nation’s most popular television program justify quieting the men who make it worth watching? Just because it can doesn’t mean it should.

Dolphins players kneel during their game at the Jets last season. (AP)

The protests have been twisted by talking heads and politicians, and the actual message has been grossly misrepresented. It’s not anti-police, anti-military, anti-Republican or anti-white. How many times do the players have to say that? It wasn’t even anti-Trump until he went on the offensive.

It constantly needs to be restated that their purpose is to call for racial equality, which still eludes our country. Shining a light on it is a positive for all of us.

It’s not a conversation that needs to be shut down. Even the players who disagree with the demonstrations ought to bristle at the league clamping down on their colleagues’ freedom.

The protests initially prompted the NFL to launch a campaign and a series of meetings aimed at coming alongside the protesting players, but the new anthem policy brings motives into question. Was it all just to get them to stop kneeling?

Two days before it handed down the anthem policy, the league worked with the Players Coalition to finalize a $90 million commitment to social justice programs. That money will help people regardless of the true intent behind it, but it’ll won’t feel so heartfelt if it eventually surfaces that it was meant to balance out what came next.

Zeroing in on South Florida, look at the potential mess this creates for the Miami Dolphins, who had a hard enough time navigating the situation the past two years.

The Dolphins and the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality have many meaningful efforts running locally and nationally, and a lot of them are geared toward social justice.

Stephen Ross has a track record of working toward racial equality. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

They do extensive work with Miami-Dade County schools in the 5,000 Role Models of Excellence Project, which uses mentors and educators to help minority students graduate and become men who will contribute to society. Ross personally funds the budget for R.I.S.E. The organization awarded grants to 11 community-driven groups this year, including several that focus on empowering young black people. They also facilitate various events that with youth programs and local police departments.

Ross’ passion is evident, but he doesn’t have the answer for this issue. He was the league’s most vocal owner backing players who protested in 2016. Last year he said he wants players to stand. He’s publicly agreed with some of Trump’s comments on it and denounced others. No doubt he’s not on board with the president’s most recent pronouncement that “maybe you shouldn’t be in the country” if you don’t stand for the anthem.

Ross was in the room when the NFL laid out its policy, and there’s been no indication of what he voiced in there. He hasn’t issued a statement.

The most prominent protestor on his team is receiver Kenny Stills, an exemplary employee in every way. Stills is what every company wants. He’s arguably the best skill player on the roster, an ideal leader in the locker room and winner of the team’s community service award the last two seasons.

The Dolphins aren’t really going to do battle with Kenny Stills, are they? The guy who does everything right?

Gase wants to devote all of his attention to what’s on the field, not the anthem issue. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

If he kneels, as he has the last two seasons, he’ll be in violation of league and team rules (the NFL left room for organizations to formulate their own policy as long as it’s compatible with the league’s). It’s unfathomable that Adam Gase would consider penalizing Stills over this with even so much as a light fine.

That might be the most complicated individual scenario in the league. It’ll be much simpler for teams when it’s the 53rd guy on the roster.

Gase, by the way, obviously wants no part of any of this. Every waking hour is devoted to scheming outside zone runs and bubble screens. Someone has to tell him when a holiday’s coming up or when hurricane preparations need to be made. For better or worse, he spends little time concerning himself with anything beyond the football field. He truly just wants to coach.

This feels like a dark hour for free speech, but there’s an upside to the fiasco. Trying to stifle a movement invariably makes it louder, and some players who have been wavering about whether to get involved will be compelled to join it.

It looks like players are still allowed to raise a fist or find some other way to express themselves as long as don’t drop to a knee, and the media will report vigilantly on players who stay in the locker room and continue enhance their platform.

Maybe fans will take up the cause and kneel. Goodell can’t fine them.

Best of all, this policy might very well crumble before the NFL ever gets a chance to enforce it. There are months to go before the first preseason game and longer until opening weekend, and this edict hardly looks sturdy enough to last that long.

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Column: Policy can’t make anthem controversy, protesters disappear for NFL, Miami Dolphins

Dolphins players kneel during the national anthem before a game against the Saints in London in 2017. (Photo by Henry Browne/Getty Images)

The NFL unanimously voted to approve a national anthem policy that didn’t involve a vote and wasn’t unanimous.

If anyone wondered how this new policy would fly in the 2018 season, they’re not wondering now. The season doesn’t begin for more than three months, yet this policy and the rush to implement it didn’t pass the smell test for 24 hours.

Right away, players who have sparked this national conversation showed they would not be silenced or told to go to their room, even as team owners stomped their feet, wagged a finger and ordered them to do just that.

“It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic,” the league wrote in announcing the policy. “This is not and was never the case.”

(So this isn’t about patriotism.)

“This season, all league and team personnel shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem,” the league wrote in the very next sentence of its press release.

(So this is about patriotism?)

Actually, it’s not. Let’s be honest here. This is, always has been and always will be about the multibillion industry that is the NFL, which is why the league wants everyone who is on the field to stand at attention during the anthem and anyone who wants to protest social injustice to be nowhere in sight, preferably in the locker room.

Fans hold up Stand Up signs for San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick as he kneels during the national anthem at Hard Rock Stadium on Nov. 27, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell took to the podium to declare that the policy was agreed upon by all 32 owners. “Unanimous,” he said. Too bad Jed York, owner of the San Francisco 49ers, said he abstained. Too bad Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis did, too. And too bad they never actually voted, but “knew” how everyone would vote, so they just trudged onward, ESPN reported.

One can only hope Goodell “knew” how Dolphins owner Stephen Ross would vote.

If this doesn’t sound like democracy in action, put yourself in the place of one of the protesting players, or the NFL Players Association, which was left out in the cold in the process and is investigating possible recourse. The first time Goodell fines a player for violating the policy, the NFLPA will be standing up, all right.

Thursday, a couple of Dolphins players were asked about the policy but declined to comment. Money talks — or in this case, it doesn’t talk. So leave it to Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr to show why he’s so missed as TNT analyst.

“It’s just typical of the NFL,” Kerr said. “They’re just playing to their fanbase. Basically just trying to use the anthem as fake patriotism, nationalism, scaring people. It’s idiotic. But that’s how the NFL has conducted their business. I’m proud to be in a league that understands patriotism in America is about free speech and peacefully protesting.”

Rather than put the issue to bed, the NFL rekindled the controversy, with arguments on either side understandable to varying degrees. One that fails: “What if I did that at my job?” The last time you arrived at the office and before dashing to the coffee maker heard “The Star-Spangled Banner” was … ? The last time TV cameras zeroed in on your cubicle was … ? Pro sports is a different animal, one that can bring communities together or, in this case, split them apart.

But if you’re going to embrace an athlete, such as the Dolphins’ Kenny Stills, when he stands up on behalf of children virtually every day off he gets, perhaps you can respect his decision to kneel — not to protest symbols of this country, but what ails it. What he thinks could make it better.

President Donald Trump, who once called protesting players SOBs, applauded the policy, suggesting on Fox News that those who don’t stand shouldn’t be in the NFL and “maybe” shouldn’t be in the country.

Again, democracy?

I stand every time I hear the anthem in the pressbox and can’t fathom doing anything else. The most chilling moment I’ve experienced in Hard Rock Stadium was standing by the Dolphins’ bench before the first game back after Sept. 11, 2001, and hearing the entire stadium singing along.

But in such divisive times, I’m not so blinded by the song and the flag that I can’t understand why the players are doing what they’re doing. And this isn’t quite the black-white issue some make it out to be.

Among those ripping the new policy is Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long. He’s white. Son of Hall of Famer Howie Long. And to those who say if players feel this strongly about improving their communities they should actually do something, I say Chris Long played the entire 2017 season without taking a single paycheck. He donated it all to education.

Controversy over? Just wait until the fall, when the first player standing at attention raises a fist, sports a Jim McMahon-like headband with a political statement or gets an “#ImWithKap” tattoo.

Just wait until the fall, when the first player standing at attention raises a fist — what then, Mr. Commissioner? Wait to see what happens if any team is bold enough to remain en masse in its locker room. What then, Mr. Commissioner? What if players wear Jim McMahon-like headbands with statements etched on them, or get an “#ImWithKap” tattoo for Colin Kaepernick, who launched this debate?

What if an owner, perhaps Jerry Jones of the Cowboys, takes the league up on the option to add more teeth to the policy by making it difficult or impossible for players to be away from the field when the anthem starts?

So no, this controversy didn’t end in an Atlanta meeting room.

It won’t end in September.

It may not end, ever.

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Miami Dolphins’ Kenny Stills among those pushing back on NFL’s anthem policy

Dolphins players Julius Thomas, Michael Thomas and Kenny Stills kneel for the national anthem in November. (Getty Images)

DAVIE — If you thought you’d heard the last of the NFL’s anthem controversy, think again.

The NFL issued a decree Wednesday saying players on the field had to stand for the anthem, which by Wednesday evening was triggering angry reaction from some players.

RELATED: NFL adopts policy banning players from kneeling on field

One of the more tame responses was from Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills, the lone holdover on the team who kneeled last season. Stills simply retweeted Shannon Sharpe, who wrote, “@NFL, this is why players are kneeling and raising fists. It’s never been about the flag, anthem or the military.” Attached to Sharpe’s tweet was a Sports Illustrated video showing the arrest video of Sterling Brown of the NBA’s Bucks. Milwaukee police used a taser on him.

Defensive lineman Chris Long of the Philadelphia Eagles lashed out at the NFL, saying via Twitter that the policy approved by owners was motivated by a “fear of a diminished bottom line.” Referring to President Donald Trump, Long called it “fear of a president turning his base against a corporation.”

“This is not patriotism,” wrote Long, who has participated in the protests. “Don’t get it confused. These owners don’t love America more than the players demonstrating and taking real action to improve it. It also lets you, the fan, know where our league stands.”

Signifying the fight is far from over, Long concluded “I will continue to be committed to affecting change with my platform. I’m someone who’s always looked at the anthem as a declaration of ideals, including the right to peaceful protest. Our league continues to fall short on this issue.”

Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins tweeted, “Everyone loses when voices get stifled. While I disagree with this decision, I will not let it silence me or stop me from fighting. The national conversation around race in America that NFL players forced over the past 2 years will persist as we continue to use our voices, our time and our money to create a more fair and just criminal justice system, end police brutality and foster better educational and economic opportunities for communities of color and those struggling in this country.

“For me, this has never been about taking a knee, raising a fist or anyone’s patriotism but doing what we can to effect real change for real people. #thefightcontinues”

Michael Thomas, the Dolphins’ former special teams captain who joined the New York Giants via free agency, sent two tweets Wednesday expressing his displeasure. Thomas, who also kneeled to protest social injustice, retweeted the NFL Players Association’s statement criticizing the policy and pointing out that the league did not consult with the union first. The NFLPA said it plans to review the policy “and challenge any aspect of it that is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement.”

Thomas also retweeted columnist Shaun King, who asked if the NFL will now “effectively ban” Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid “now that they have banned taking a knee … or will they allow these men to earn a living back in the league now that they’ve banned their chosen form of protest?” King concluded, “A grave injustice either way.”

Unrest has cropped up from within the NFL itself. The league originally said the policy was unanimously approved by the 32 owners, but the San Francisco 49ers abstained and a co-owner of the New York Jets said he would pay any fines accrued by his players under the rule.

The policy states that players and league personnel on the field during the anthem must stand and respect the flag and the anthem. Those who don’t want to stand for the anthem must remain in the locker room or away from the field. Teams have the option of crafting additional rules as long as they don’t conflict with the NFL’s overall policy.

Left unanswered:

1. Can clubs now ask potential signees what their anthem intentions are?

2. Can clubs force the issue with their own rules that make it difficult if not impossible for players to return to the locker room after warmups?

3. What if players raise a fist during the anthem?

In an analysis for, veteran pro football writer Judy Battista wrote, “In their desire to create a policy that would make clear that the NFL and players respect the flag and keep the league ahead of any future controversies — especially with midterm elections looming — the owners left so much gray area that everyone might be susceptible anyway.”

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Can new Miami Dolphins OC Dowell Loggains make WR DeVante Parker a star?

DeVante Parker has yet to live up to his draft slot. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — The Dolphins are still waiting for a breakout season from former first-round pick DeVante Parker, and his coaches and teammates are always quick to defend him by pointing out how much injuries have held him back.

While there’s not much Parker can do about getting hurt, and there’s good reason to believe that’s his biggest problem, there are some things he can do better on the field. New offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains is enamored by his talent and envisions him being an explosive threat this year, but he has a few aspects he wants to work on with him.

“Just consistency, just the fundamentals here and there that he hadn’t gotten to really master because he’s been limited,” Loggains said today. “It’s been impressive to see him fight through some of the stuff that he’s overcome — being banged up, being hurt and doing those things. Once he gets healthy and plays consistent with Ryan (Tannehill), I think that his production will go up and be the player we think he can be.”

This is a crucial year for Parker’s future with the organization. The Dolphins already exercised their $9.4 million option on him for the 2019 season, the last year of his rookie deal, but that can be rescinded as long as he’s not injured. He’ll have to prove he’s worth a raise that nearly triples what he’s going to make this year and possibly show he merits a long-term investment.

Miami took him No. 14 overall in the 2015 NFL Draft, and his rookie season was mostly a struggle. Parker played better in Year 2, his first with Adam Gase, and had 56 catches for 744 yards and four touchdowns.

After an overwhelming offseason and preseason, the already high expectations were heightened even more. However, the Dolphins lost Tannehill to a season-ending knee injury in training camp and Parker battled health issues of his own throughout the year.

His numbers dropped — 57 receptions, 670 yards and one touchdown — and he was the team’s No. 3 receiver behind Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills. There were only five games in which he managed more than five catches.

What Loggains loves, though, are the things he does that are hard to coach. Parker’s natural ability, plus some finer points of the position that he’s mastered, were evident when he sat down to study his film.

“The one thing that’s really impressive about DeVante is for a (tall) guy, he can get in and out of breaks,” Loggains said. “To run those comebacks and be able to drop his hips, a lot of long-cut guys struggle with that. DeVante has the ability to do that.

“I had the advantage of seeing some of the OTAs and training camp cut-ups that we go through and the first cut-up I turned on was Day 1 of training camp and he’s playing above the rim and catching a red-area touchdown. We’ve got to make sure that we max out his potential because it’s there.”

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Five new ideas from Dolphins offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains

Dowell Loggains is here to save the day. (The Post)

DAVIE — The Dolphins’ offense has been one of the worst in the NFL the last two years, which is maddening for coach Adam Gase since that’s his specialty.

After two choppy seasons and a significant reworking of the roster, he’s looking for a breakthrough this year. As part of that effort, he opted to bring in former colleague Dowell Loggains as offensive coordinator to help get this right.

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Loggains spoke to the media this morning for the first time since Gase hired him in January, and here are five notes about what he intends to do here:

1. His job is to coach Monday through Saturday.
Loggains was a curious hire because he’s got experience as an offensive coordinator, yet he comes into a situation where Gase calls the plays. He’s fine with that. Loggains sees his role as a deputy who helps Gase through “the process of getting to game day.” He said they have a common offensive philosophy and a great working relationship.

“Just the process of game day and getting through game day and going through the game-planning process,” he said, describing his role. “Help clean up and get to game day with some of those things and obviously helping the quarterback room as much as I can.”

2. He wants to run no-huddle, uptempo offense.
Gase has talked about it since he arrived here, but Loggains is determined to finally get this team running a fast-paced offense that includes some no-huddle. Ryan Tannehill’s return is essential to that plan, but it also helps that Loggains believes he has fast, smart, well-conditioned skill players like Albert Wilson, Kenny Stills and Kenyan Drake.

3. He likes the player leadership on offense.
The Dolphins already had Stills as a perfect example of how they want players to approach practice and they’ve kept Tannehill completely involved in everything they do despite him being out the last year-plus with a knee injury. They also brought in Danny Amendola, a 10th-year veteran, and Loggains has already noticed younger receivers trying to mimic some of the small things he does.

4. He sees a wealth of speed, which is exciting.
Not only has the Dolphins’ offense struggled, it’s been uninteresting. Loggains doesn’t see why that should be the case this year with weapons like DeVante Parker, Jakeem Grant, Kalen Ballage, Stills, Drake and Wilson. “The thing that showed up was speed,” he said of his initial assessment of the skill players. He also thinks he has a quarterback in Tannehill who is capable of maximizing those pieces.

“When I walked in … the thing that got me excited was the skill guys,” Loggains said. “All of a sudden you’ve got these skill guys that can run. They all have different traits and different qualities. I think they’re a fast group that, as their knowledge of the offense grows and going back to no huddle, they’ll play faster. Knowledge builds confidence, confidence allows you to play fast.”

5. New left guard Josh Sitton is running the offensive line.
Loggains coached Sitton for two years in Chicago and loves him. “He’s surly, he speaks his mind and he’s really intelligent,” he said. “You guys are going to have a lot of fun with him.” He’s the new leader of the line, replacing Mike Pouncey. Loggains is energized by seeing talented young linemen like Laremy Tunsil and Ja’Wuan James learning from him already in the short time he’s been here.

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Dolphins go into 2018 with the roster Adam Gase wanted all along

Adam Gase has the roster he wants, but is it a winner? (AP)

DAVIE — Adam Gase probably wouldn’t call this the roster of his dreams, but the 2018 version of the Dolphins looks like the one he’s been wanting since he took the job two years ago.

For better or worse, and he absolutely believes it’s for the better, this is the group Gase wants. The team has unloaded players he found problematic in terms of attitude, inconsistency or disproportionate salary cap numbers, and he senses a change in the environment that he thinks will translate to on-field results.

“When I look at it — You kind of look at how does that group get along for that year?” he said. “How do they work together? Do they push each other? Are they all pulling in the same direction? Are guys going to quit on you? Are they going to push forward when things get hard?

“I feel like the way that we’re assembled right now and the way that our personnel department has put that locker room together, I like our makeup right now.”

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Clearly some of the answers Gase was getting to those questions over the last two seasons were unsatisfactory. Among other issues, he’s expressed that he thinks some players basically quit on him late last season when the Dolphins were scrapping for a playoff berth.

While the roster overhaul certainly had financial factors and helps the team smooth out its salary cap situation for 2019 and beyond, there’s no thought from Gase that this is a throwaway year. The Dolphins might very well end up picking high in the draft next spring, but that’s not their intention.

The biggest names gone are Jarvis Landry, Ndamukong Suh and franchise mainstay Mike Pouncey. Those three are now with the Browns, Rams and Chargers, respectively, and their collective 2018 cap hit is $35.8 million.

Gase has been raving about his new wide receiver room in particular. Kenny Stills, possibly his favorite player on the entire team, is the leader of that group. It also includes newly added 10th-year veteran Danny Amendola, who at 32 is the oldest, most experienced receiver the team has had during Gase’s run with Miami.

“I think when you’ve got a guy that’s been in a lot of big games, has won a lot of games, made plays in big games and the professionalism, you just see it,” Gase said. “The way he walks around, there’s just something about him that guys kind of gravitate to.

“I think between him and Kenny… those guys lead that group and have an effect on the other guys in the locker room in a positive way. That’s a big thing for us.”

The Dolphins did something similar at running back by bringing on Frank Gore, who will be a mentor to Kenyan Drake and rookie Kalen Ballage.

Overall, they almost certainly haven’t had a 1-to-1 replacement of the talent that’s exited, and that’s what will make this year so interesting.

While many point to the departures and call this offseason a net loss for the Dolphins, Gase is defiantly saying the opposite. He’s either going to crash and burn with a roster full of guys that are good in the locker room but just OK on the field, which could put his future in jeopardy, or he’ll look brilliant as he proves everyone wrong.

“I think we wanted to create the roster of what was the right fit for this locker room and for this team,” he said. “Sometimes you get put in a position where you have to make a decision, whether it be free agency or you feel like you’re in a situation where a number might be too high for you — or where you’ve got an opportunity to have a player that makes less money but you feel like the talent isn’t that big of a swing.

“That’s where we’re at right now. We like the makeup of our roster. I like our players. I like where our locker room is right now. I like watching these guys work. I’m excited to see these guys compete in OTAs and get this thing going in training camp and then see how we grow as the year goes on.”

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WR Kenny Stills is Miami Dolphins’ ‘homerun’ threat for 2018 season

Stills is the most accomplished receiver on the Dolphins’ roster. (AP)

DAVIE — Adam Gase won’t say it and he doesn’t have to. Everyone knows Kenny Stills is the Dolphins’ best receiver.

As the team progresses toward the upcoming season without Jarvis Landry and without certainty of what DeVante Parker will become, Stills is the offense’s best chance when it comes to big plays. And, fresh off his 26th birthday, it’s very possible he’s still on the rise as a player.

“I never get into the whole No. 1 receiver thing,” Gase said this afternoon. “I’m all for guys getting open and catching the ball and creating explosive plays and getting first downs.

“Do I think he’s the leader of that room? Yes. He’s one of those guys that guys look up to. They watch what he does and they watch how he goes about his business and they follow his lead. When he speaks in that room and tells guys what he thinks, and he’s very open and doesn’t sugarcoat anything, I think guys respect him and respect what he says.”

Stills and Gase have proven to be a perfect match with Miami, and as Gase designs his offense for 2018, Stills will factor into it prominently. He’s already made a habit of using him inside and outside — Gase believes Stills has been one of the best players out of the slot in the entire league the last two seasons — and has more impetus than ever to feature him.

After two seasons of not fitting in with the Saints and a rough first year here under the previous staff, everything clicked for Stills in 2016. In his first encounter with Gase, he expressed that all he cared about from that point forward was doing everything the right way. That’s a great thing for a new coach to hear.

That conversation stuck with Gase, who has described Stills as indispensable throughout his time coaching the Dolphins. When Stills was an unrestricted free agent last spring, Gase didn’t hesitate to openly campaign for the team to re-sign him.

By every account, Stills has been the ideal player. He’s been highly productive on the field, a steadying influence on a very young receiver corps, a model worker in the weight room and in practice and won the team’s community service award two years in a row.

He’s done all of that on an extremely reasonable contract, making him arguably the single best personnel move vice president Mike Tannenbaum has made. The Dolphins got him for a third-round pick and injured linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, then locked up what should be his prime seasons on a four-year deal worth $32 million through 2020.

In his first season with Gase, Stills had a respectable 42 catches for 726 yards (that averaged out to 17.3 per reception, third-best in the league that year) and a team-high nine touchdowns. Equally important, his playing time leaped from 58 percent of the snaps in 2015 to 84 percent.

Stills followed up by catching 58 balls for 847 yards and six touchdowns last year, which couldn’t have been easy considering Miami’s quarterback woes.

There’s good reason to think he might exceed that production this season, and Gase said he sees “plenty of room for improvement” in Stills’ game.

Landry leaves a void of 161 targets, and while some of that will be filled in by Albert Wilson and Danny Amendola, Stills is the most trustworthy receiver on this roster. And if Ryan Tannehill proves better than last year’s combination of Jay Cutler and Matt Moore, which shouldn’t be hard, there’s a big opportunity here.

“He’s a guy that creates explosive plays and he gets us touchdowns,” Gase said. “We hit the homerun when we throw the ball to him.”

[Miami Dolphins’ 2018 salary cap spending shows their priorities]

[Takeaways from the Yahoo! Sports scouting series on the Dolphins]

[Parkland-Douglas football team makes Miami Dolphins draft announcements]

Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook.

Miami Dolphins’ allocation of salary cap space shows plan for 2018

Kenny Stills needs to be worth his contract this season . (Andres Leiva/The Post)

The most exasperating misfortune the architect of a football roster can experience is not getting his money’s worth. The Dolphins are painfully familiar with that frustration.

They’ve poured a ton of resources — money and draft picks — into both sides of the line of scrimmage the last few years, and the results have been underwhelming. The power trio of Mike Tannenbaum, Chris Grier and Adam Gase has tried, but there’s been little payoff for the effort.

Last year, for example, Miami was one of four teams (all of them bad) that were top-10 spenders on the defensive line and bottom-10 in sacks. The Dolphins spent 21 percent of their salary cap space on the defensive line, according to Spotrac, and that was the fifth-largest chunk in the league. When that doesn’t work out, it’s usually crippling.

As the Dolphins look to balance out their spending, a process that will take more than a year because of dead-cap ramifications from cutting players like Ndamukong Suh, there are signs that their philosophy is shifting.

The main positions on which they’re spending big this season are defensive end and wide receiver, with mid-range commitments at defensive tackle, safety and on the offensive line. The groups that ought to be under the most scrutiny are the receivers and defensive ends.

Those figures don’t take into account signing the eight new draft picks, who will come in on relatively cheap contracts. They’re also adjusted to count Robert Quinn as a defensive end, rather than a linebacker like Spotrac has him.

Miami’s receivers are set to eat up $28.2 million in salary cap space, which is the second-highest in the league this year and the most the organization has spent at the position since 2014. It’s about 16 percent of the total payroll.

Kenny Stills, rightfully, is the most expensive man in the room at a cap hit of $9.8 million. He’s the best receiver on the roster and he’s in the middle of what looks like one of Tannenbaum’s smartest moves as vice president.

The Dolphins got him from New Orleans for Dannell Ellerbe and a third-round pick in the 2015 offseason and he’s turned in two highly productive years as a deep threat in addition to being a valuable leader. They re-signed him to a deal that was cheap last year and pays an average of $9.4 million over the upcoming three seasons.

They’re counting on him to lead a group that features DeVante Parker, Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson. This is the last cheap year for Parker, who has a cap hit of $3.5 million and an upcoming team option for $9.4 million in 2019. Miami exercised Parker’s option, but can revoke it next spring unless he’s injured.

On the offensive line, Miami is near the middle at 19th in the NFL after shedding Mike Pouncey and giving right tackle Ja’Wuan James a massive raise by exercising an option on him. The total number stays level, though, because left tackle Laremy Tunsil is still on his rookie deal and guards Ted Larsen and Jesse Davis have small cap numbers this season.

The team is near the bottom of the league in spending at quarterback, running back and tight end. Miami restructured with Ryan Tannehill to save space this season, and the other two positions are chock full of players who are young and cheap, but promising.

The Dolphins currently have the second-most expensive defensive line in Spotrac’s calculations, but that figure will drop when Suh comes off the books in June. Instead of a $26.1 million cap hit for 2018, they incur a $22.2 million cap hit that can be spread over the next two years.

Once that happens, Miami should be around 10th at defensive tackle and third in total defensive line spending.

The reason the d-line expense remains high is because the Dolphins have loaded up on pass rushers and are on target to have the biggest salary cap number at the position. Quinn ($11.4 million cap hit) and Andre Branch ($10 million) are the two most costly players on the entire team this year. Ultimately, the line is likely to take up around 30 percent of the total cap space.

Quinn came over from the Rams in exchange for a fourth-round pick, and the Dolphins love the idea of pairing him with Cameron Wake as edge rushers. They also have Branch trying to work back from an injury-wrecked season and 2017 first-round pick Charles Harris, plus veteran William Hayes playing end and tackle.

Wake and Quinn are both former all-pros and enjoyed a run as elite defensive ends.

Quinn, who turns 28 this month, racked up 40 sacks over the 2012-14 seasons, but managed just 17.5 the last three years. He said he was “suffocating” with Los Angeles and feels rejuvenated now that he’s with the Dolphins. If that plays out on the field, Miami will be glad it has him under contract for 2019 at $12.9 million.

Wake, 36, will count $9.6 million against the salary cap this year and is scheduled to be a free agent at the end of the season. Despite his age and a ruptured Achilles injury in 2015, he’s had 22 sacks over the last two years.

The Dolphins hope their arsenal of pass rushers will make life easier for a linebacker corps that ranks 27th in cap dollars and a cornerback crew that ranks 30th.

Just as expensive doesn’t always equal good, cheap doesn’t necessarily mean bad. The best teams in the league have players exceeding their rookie deals, and the Dolphins need that to happen with Tunsil, Parker, running back Kenyan Drake, linebacker Raekwon McMillan and this year’s draftees.

If that happens and their heftiest expenses prove to be money well spent, the Dolphins have a chance to be one of the league’s biggest surprises this season.

[Dolphins’ NFL Draft week a success with smart picks, restraint on trade calls]

[Minkah Fitzpatrick in Round 1 is a homerun for the Dolphins]

[Parkland-Douglas football team makes Miami Dolphins draft announcements]

Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook.

NFL national anthem protest: Dolphins owner Stephen Ross says no kneeling

Stephen Ross is against the players kneeling in 2018. (Getty Images)

[Update, March 6, 11:25 a.m.: Ross said this morning he does not intend to require players to stand for the national anthem.]

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has gone back and forth on the issue of NFL players protesting racial inequality over the past two years by kneeling during the national anthem. He was once one of the most outspoken owners in support of those players, but now is firmly against those demonstrations.

Ross told the New York Daily News on Monday that “all of our players will be standing” when Miami begins the 2018 season.

Several Dolphins players have kneed during the anthem during the last two seasons. Wide receiver Kenny Stills, who won the team’s award for community service each year, has been kneeling since the 2016 opener. Julius Thomas, Michael Thomas, Arian Foster, Laremy Tunsil, Jay Ajayi, Maurice Smith, Jelani Jenkins and Jordan Phillips have also protested during the anthem, and a few of those players are expected to still be on the team this year.

The organization did not immediately return a request to clarify or elaborate on Ross’ comments.

Stills has not directly responded to Ross’ comments, but tweeted out a video this morning of comedian Dave Chappelle talking about white people’s outrage over the protests.

As he did last fall, when the team briefly banned kneeling, Ross is siding with Donald Trump’s position. Trump has ripped anthem protests repeatedly, and Ross believes he turned the issue into one of patriotism and supporting the military.

“When that message changed, and everybody was interpreting it as that was the reason, then I was against kneeling,” Ross said. “I like Donald. I don’t support everything he says. Overall, I think he was trying to make a point, and his message became what kneeling was all about. From that standpoint, that is the way the public is interpreting it. So I think that’s really incumbent upon us to adopt that. That’s how, I think, the country now is interpreting the kneeling issue.”

Ross added that he remains in communication with Trump. He made those comments after being honored in New York by the Jackie Robinson Foundation for championing equality.

Last week, in an appearance on CNBC with defensive end Cameron Wake at his side, Ross praised Trump for the thriving stock market. When asked to give him a grade as president, he said it was too early to tell.

“Things are going well,” Ross said. “You can’t agree with some of the things, but Donald is really getting people to think differently.”

In the immediate aftermath of Trump’s comments last September, Ross answered with a statement calling for “unifying leadership… not more divisiveness.” He defended kneeling players as “smart, young men of character who want to make our world a better place for everyone.”

Just two weeks later, Ross called for players to stop kneeling, and coach Adam Gase implemented a policy requiring that them to either stand for the anthem or remain in the tunnel.

“Whenever you’re dealing with the flag, you’re dealing with something different,” Ross said then. “(Trump) has changed that whole paradigm of what protest is. I think it’s incumbent upon the players today, because of how the public is looking at it, is to stand and salute the flag.”

Publicly and privately, players around the NFL have argued that Trump doesn’t get to determine the purpose of their protest or dictate the conversation around it.

Gase, had mostly avoided the topic since it surfaced in the summer of 2016 and said it wasn’t his place to limit players’ freedom of expression. When he banned kneeling, he refused to explain why he was doing so.

“I don’t need a reason,” he said. “That’s what I wanted to do.”

Within a month, he reversed course. When Stills, Thomas and Thomas confronted Gase about the rule and said it was interfering with their pre-game routine, he rescinded it. He gave minimal explanation for that, too.

Gase said last week he would not be averse to drafting any players who want to protest during the national anthem.

“My biggest thing I’m looking for is–everything’s football related to me,” he said. “We support our guys when they do anything outside our building to try to help our community. In Kenny’s case, he’s really branched out to not only South Florida, outside of there. We’re very supportive of trying to help as many people as our players can try to reach. I feel like our guys do a really good job of that.”

Separately, Ross said he’s been in touch with former Yankees star Derek Jeter, who recently took over the Marlins and discussed some of the obstacles for a team succeeding in South Florida.

“Miami is a great city. It’s not a great sports town,” Ross told the Daily News. “They haven’t been winning. He has to start all over again. I think you have to be patient and give him the time it’s going to take to build a winner. He’s a very smart, capable guy. He was a great baseball player. Hopefully he’ll be a great executive. The best way to get a fan base is to win.”

[The Dolphins claim they want Jarvis Landry back, but do they really?]

[The latest on where the Dolphins stand with RT Ja’Wuan James]

[Miami Dolphins DE Charles Harris gets a chance at a starting job in 2018]

Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook

2018 NFL Draft: Are Miami Dolphins averse to players who protest?

The Dolphins have had multiple players protest during the national anthem the last two years. (Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS—It’s been a tense couple of years for the NFL when it comes to players kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial inequality in the United States, and the Dolphins have been right in the middle of it.

Owner Stephen Ross went back and forth on whether the players should kneel, and coach Adam Gase did the same. Gase instituted a policy requiring those players to remain in the locker room during the anthem, then rescinded it after a meeting initiated by Kenny Stills, Michael Thomas and Julius Thomas.

Gase reiterated throughout the last two seasons that anthem protests weren’t much of a concern to him overall and said today at the NFL Combine that it won’t factor into draft evaluations.

“My biggest thing I’m looking for is—everything’s football related to me,” he said. “We support our guys when they do anything outside our building to try to help our community. In Kenny’s case, he’s really branched out to not only South Florida, outside of there. We’re very supportive of trying to help as many people as our players can try to reach. I feel like our guys do a really good job of that.”

The Dolphins had several players kneel before last season’s game at the Jets, which came shortly after Donald Trump made derogatory comments about Colin Kaepernick and others who protest. One of those players was undrafted rookie Maurice Smith, and his choice did not jeopardize his standing on the roster in any way.

[The Dolphins claim they want Jarvis Landry back, but do they really?]

[The latest on where the Dolphins stand with RT Ja’Wuan James]

[Miami Dolphins DE Charles Harris gets a chance at a starting job in 2018]

Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook