Former first-round pick Stephone Anthony: ‘I have to become starter’ for Dolphins

Stephone Anthony is trying to get his career back on track. (Getty Images)

DAVIE — Stephone Anthony was a first-round pick just three years ago and he’s only 25, but there’s a sense that he’s already running out of time.

The NFL is turbulent, and things change quickly. Anthony was one of the most promising rookies in the league for the Saints, then found himself shipped to the Dolphins for a fifth-round pick last year and is fighting for a job this offseason. He’s battling a rookie, among others, for one of Miami’s starting linebacker spots and he knows it’s a critical point in his career.

“Before I can do anything else,” Anthony said, “I have to become a starter.”

That’s a key step toward righting his career, and he’s in a good position to do it.

While Kiko Alonso and Raekwon McMillan can be marked down as certain starters, the rest of the Dolphins’ linebacker corps is wide open. Third-round pick Jerome Baker is likely to be in the mix, as well as undrafted scrappers Cayson Collins and Mike McCray and returning players Mike Hull and Chase Allen.

Anthony said he’s been taking snaps with the first- and second-team defense during Organized Team Activities.

He’s slightly leaner than last year, checking in at 6-foot-3 and somewhere between 235 and 240 pounds (as opposed to 245), but the most important thing is he’s far more familiar the Dolphins’ scheme than when he arrived.

Miami needed a linebacker when Lawrence Timmons deserted the team early last season and found an eager trading partner in the Saints, who had lost interest in Anthony when he wasn’t producing in their new defensive scheme. After opening with 112 tackles, two defensive scores and an all-rookie selection, he started three games in 2016 and was inactive last year while New Orleans looked to deal him.

Anthony played eight games off the bench for the Dolphins and totaled 15 tackles, plus some special teams work. He showed promise at times, but not nearly enough for the organization to exercise a 2019 option on him last month that would have paid him around $9 million.

General manager Chris Grier and vice president Mike Tannenbaum didn’t explain that decision to Anthony, but they didn’t need to.

“It was kind of what I expected,” he said. “I needed more snaps and there’s a lot that goes into it. But that’s not my job to worry about. My job is going to be to put my best foot forward.”

He’ll be an unrestricted free agent next spring, which heightens the importance of the upcoming season. A good year will put him in position for a long-term deal with Miami or somewhere else. Otherwise, he’ll probably be looking at single-year, prove-it contracts until he shows he’s worth more than that.

One factor working in his favor this season is stability. Having done his best to catch up on the Dolphins’ defense last year, he’s now had a full nine months with the team. He’s been around for all of OTAs and minicamp, plus he’ll work through training camp and the preseason. He had none of those benefits last year.

“The biggest difference is the amount of time I have and the time I’ve spent trying to learn the system and getting myself comfortable with it,” Anthony said.

Defensive coordinator Matt Burke sees that as the only barrier to Anthony being a significant contributor. He said last week, “It’s always difficult to come in the middle of the season, come from a different scheme and pick things up… But he works really hard. He works really, really hard.”

Everything’s more routine for Anthony now, including his living situation. He took up residence in a local hotel for almost a month after being traded to the Dolphins last season, but now he’s settled. That makes life easier.

It helps to have perspective, too. Going from first-round pick to castoff and now trying to climb his way back to the top hasn’t been fun, but he’s learned throughout that journey.

“I think it’s just growth, honestly,” Anthony said. “I think it’s just being in the league, going into my fourth year, understanding the game, how this game is played from the college game and just honing in and packing that information in.”

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Dolphins ‘thought it was a joke’ when presented with chance to trade for Robert Quinn

The Dolphins got defensive end Robert Quinn (94) for a fourth-round pick. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — The sequence in which the Dolphins landed former all-pro defensive end Robert Quinn literally unbelievable to the people at the center of it.

This was not a possibility the team had thought much about and it came as quite a surprise in February when the Rams offered him for the mere price of a fourth-round pick. Miami defensive coordinator Matt Burke, who has enjoyed a fortuitous offseason, thought Adam Gase must have been messing with him when he called and said, “Take a look at Robert Quinn and let me know.”

Robert Quinn? Really?

Take a look at his film? Really?

“Yes, I’m good,” Burke replied. “Absolutely, 100 percent. I’m on board.”

Still, Gase insisted they do their due diligence anyway, so Burke went to freshly hired defensive line coach Kris Kocurek and told him they needed to watch Quinn’s film from last season to make sure there weren’t any red flags. It’d have to be a quick review because Mike Tannenbaum, Gase and Chris Grier didn’t want this opportunity to get away from them.

Much like his boss, Kocurek was slightly suspicious that this was some kind of prank. Not having worked there long, perhaps this was some kind of hazing. Maybe the next request would be for him to look over J.J. Watt’s film just for a laugh. The first words out of his mouth were, “Come on, now.”

“(Burke) came into my office and … he thought it was a joke to begin with,” Kocurek said. “I kind of said the same thing when Coach Burke said he wanted to watch Robert on film.

“And then I figured out we were possibly going to get him. Obviously, I got excited about it. He’s been a guy that going all the way back to North Carolina that I’ve had my eye on. I liked him coming out of the draft.”

Kocurek and Burke went through five or six Rams games, and everything they saw validated their initial thoughts on Quinn.

It’s been three years since he was a Pro Bowler, but his overwhelming talent was still evident. Los Angeles was using him as more of an outside linebacker, and when Kocurek and Burke envisioned him moving back to a traditional defensive end role opposite Cameron Wake, they believed the perfect fix to their defensive line issues had landed in their laps.

Burke called Gase back and said, “Hey, my answer is still the same: 100 percent, yes.”

The deal got done during the NFL Combine — it couldn’t officially be processed until the start of the new league year mid-March — and everything fit perfectly on Miami’s end. The team had an extra fourth-round pick (No. 130) from trading Jay Ajayi to Philadelphia, so parting with this one (No. 111) wasn’t devastating.

It also set them up to revamp a defensive line that needed a fundamental change. After shelling out for the fourth-most expensive d-line in the NFL and finishing 26th in sacks, as well as 28th in opponent passer rating, the new plan is to go all-in on guys who make quarterbacks nervous. Quinn was the type of guy they hoped to get but didn’t think would be realistic.

With Quinn and Wake as the top two defensive ends, and two of the five costliest players on the roster, the Dolphins accepted an NFL-record $22.1 million dead money salary cap hit in order to release star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and eventually free up $17 million in space for this season.

Now they have Quinn and Wake, plus $10 million man Andre Branch and 2017 first-round pick Charles Harris at defensive end and they’re putting far less of an investment into the tackle position.

The Dolphins weren’t the only ones stunned to see the Quinn trade materialize.

Quinn, who sounds like he had been hoping to get out of Los Angeles, had the bad luck of being without his phone when this all went down. He was searching all over for it when his brother pulled up the news on his own device.

Miami? Really?

“Well, let me go finish finding my phone and I’ll figure the rest of life out from there,” Quinn told his brother. “I was pretty much shocked, honestly.”

Once he got to Davie and got a taste of what his new team was like, he felt rejuvenated almost immediately. That’s a good thing for the Dolphins considering he’s still in what should be the prime of his career at age 28.

“You don’t realize you’re suffocating until you can’t breathe no more,” Quinn said. “I’m glad I can have a new breath of fresh air down here in Miami. It’s allowing me to clear my mind and have a fresh start.

“It’s a new beginning and new possibilities. I’m excited for this new start. Honestly, I think it was best for me and my family, and sometimes things work out funny, but they always work out for the best.”

Whether this really works out for the best depends on whether Quinn still has the talent to be one of the most fearsome edge rushers in football and whether Burke and Kocurek can facilitate this comeback.

After starting with two promising seasons, Quinn caught fire in 2013 with 19 sacks, seven forced fumbles, 57 tackles and a touchdown. He and Watt were the all-pro defensive ends that year.

Quinn followed with 10.5 sacks the next season, but declined after that. Thanks to injuries and other issues, he managed 17.5 sacks in 32 games over the next three years.

Kocurek believes he’s still the Quinn of 2013 and ’14, and the first step toward getting him back there is to reestablish him at his natural position.

“It’s just scheme,” he said. “He was asked to do something differently than he had done in the past, going from strictly a 4-3 type guy to being more of a stand-up, outside-linebacker-type. It’s not an easy transition sometimes.”

Then he added, “It’s not like he played bad.”

That’s true. It wasn’t perfect, but Quinn made the best his situation last season and stayed mostly healthy. He played all but one game, was on the field for 59 percent of the Rams’ defensive snaps and had 8.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.

Even that level of production, which Quinn likely felt could’ve been better, would be welcomed. Other than Wake, no Dolphins player has had that many sacks in a season since Olivier Vernon in 2013.

The regular season is still well off in the distance, but the first few months of Quinn’s arrival have made the Dolphins even more optimistic than when his name first surfaced in their building. He could be the key to transforming their pass rush, and the early phase of this relationship has heightened that expectation.

“He’s been a good worker,” Burke said. “He doesn’t say much. He’s kind of a quiet guy. He just comes to work every day with a smile on his face and gets after it.

“I think he feels comfortable being in, hopefully, a scheme that fits his skillset. I’m really excited to see what he can do for us. I think that position is going to be an area of strength for us.”

[Kenny Stills is exactly what the NFL needs, so why is it alienating him?]

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Miami Dolphins execs who convinced Stephen Ross that Minkah Fitzpatrick was right pick now on hot seat

Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick reacts to being the first-round pick of the Dolphins. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Two sentences about the Dolphins, buried deep in an NFL notes column in The Boston Globe, have caused all kinds of ripples around the league and South Florida, but nowhere should those ripples be actual waves more than in Davie.

“A well-placed league source tells us that the Dolphins had the pick of Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick all ready to go at No. 11 when owner Stephen Ross stepped in and implored his team to trade back, both to acquire more picks and to save money on the first-rounder,” The Globe reported over the weekend. “Ross’ football people talked him out of it, and the Dolphins went ahead with the Fitzpatrick pick.”

The report came courtesy of Ben Volin. It carries weight because Volin is a respected pro football writer and formerly covered the Dolphins for The Post, so to him, this isn’t a faceless organization among the 31 rivals of the New England Patriots. Ben knows people here.

Did Ross merely question the selection of Fitzpatrick or argue against it — “implore” his people not to do it? There’s huge difference. The only way to know for certain would be to be in the room, to know the context of the discussions, the volume of the discussions and the amount of push-back by the participants.

The rest of us, however, need to file away this knowledge in a handy section of our noggins, ready to pull that file out on a moment’s notice for further review. Because there are three members of the organization directly affected. And no, coach Adam Gase isn’t one of them. Not now.

Minkah Fitzpatrick: Put yourself in his shoes. You’re a 21-year-old rookie, haven’t even had your first NFL practice, and a report comes out indicating that the owner of your new team didn’t want you.

Talk about your “Unwelcome to the NFL” moment.

The good news is, once Fitzpatrick gets over that initial “What?” reflex, there’s every indication this brouhaha will have little or no effect on him. This is a guy who saw a hurricane turn his family’s home into a swamp and he reacted by rolling up his sleeves. A guy who treats the end of practice as a signal his workday is half done, if that. A guy who played under Nick Saban and not only lived to tell about it, but actually made Saban smile with his work ethic.

You think someone questioning his ability — even if it is the club owner — is going to derail his career?

General Manager Chris Grier and Executive Vice President of Football Operations Mike Tannenbaum: The Dolphins maintain that Grier runs the draft, but Tannenbaum is Grier’s boss, so who’s ultimately making the call is in the eye of the beholder.

Tannenbaum is in his 24th year in the NFL and fourth as the head of the team’s football ops. Grier has been in the league 22 years, including 19 with the Dolphins, and is entering his third year as GM.

While we don’t know how steadfast Ross may have been against Fitzpatrick, it’s clear that Grier or Tannenbaum or more likely both signed off on the choice.

And that’s the crux of this.

Ross remains convinced he scored a coup when he hired Gase. In Ross’ eyes, Gase paid dividends with a playoff berth in 2016, was dealt a lousy hand in 2017 and probably in 2018. (At least that’s according to oddsmakers, who are fooled by teams every year but get it right far more often than they get it wrong.)

Word around the league is Fitzpatrick is one of the safest first-rounders and was the right move for the Dolphins in that situation. If Ross was hoping for a sexier pick, a spark plug for the offense who could help fill seats — and, let’s be honest, a quarterback for the future — it’s understandable.

The part about saving money? Much tougher to buy. Yes, the Dolphins parted with several big names this offseason, but I look at that more as cap management than reluctance on Ross’ part to sign a check. He has maintained, for good reason, that he would never let pure dollars stand in the way of improving the roster. That’s consistent with the choice of Fitzpatrick.

Example: According to the handy-dandy chart NFL people use to put a value on picks, the No. 11 overall slot used for Fitzpatrick is worth 1,250 points. If the Dolphins had traded down to save a buck, a potential partner might have been Green Bay, which could have sent Miami the Nos. 18 and 45 choices (worth 1,350 points). Whether it would have saved money is debatable.

Fitzpatrick is slotted to receive a $16.6 million package, including an $11 million signing bonus. The two picks from the Packers would have cost $18.4 million over the full four years and $9.6 million up front.

Years from now, this will be wildly amusing if Fitzpatrick turns out to be the next Troy Polamalu or Ed Reed. It’ll be a tale the guys tweeting on Freezing Cold Takes will be glad they stashed in their own filing system.

But if not — if a Dolphins owner already casting a skeptical eye isn’t among the happily converted — you won’t want to be one of the guys who twisted his arm in that draft room.

[Laremy Tunsil among those Dolphins swapping jersey numbers]

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

Miami Dolphins make Ryan Tannehill risk even bigger with no safety net

Everything’s riding on Ryan Tannehill this year. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

The Dolphins are making a sizable gamble on Ryan Tannehill with the hope that he not only produces a nice comeback story after a major knee injury, but also immediately start playing the best football of his life at 30.

And while that’s living a little more dangerously than some might be able to stomach, their logic is reasonable given how well he played last time he was on the field.

What doesn’t make sense, though, is that they’ve heightened the risk by going forward with the smallest possible safety net. With no addition in the draft and no proven free agent coming aboard, they’ve made this as difficult on themselves as possible.

The lesson they said they learned from last season’s debacle — David Fales, Matt Moore and $10 million man Jay Cutler combined for some of the worst quarterback play in the NFL — doesn’t seem to have stuck.

“Last year didn’t go, obviously, the way we hoped,” vice president Mike Tannenbaum said in January. “It gave us a chance to reflect on some things we could do better. Part of that is making sure that we have good depth at as many positions as possible, knowing that over the course of a 16-game season, they’re going to play. That’s what history shows us.”

Similarly, coach Adam Gase said it’s not prudent to go without contingency at quarterback, and owner Stephen Ross was so fed up by how poorly Tannehill’s fill-ins did last year that he dropped an f-bomb when assessing the season after the finale.

Yet here the Dolphins are, about two weeks away from the start of Organized Team Activities, and the fallbacks in case something goes wrong with Tannehill are Fales, Brock Osweiler and Bryce Petty. If Gase felt shaky proceeding with Moore as his starter last summer, imagine how unsettling it’ll be to march on with one of those three.

It’s hard to pick a frontrunner for the backup job, and that’s not good. The Miami secondary looks like it’ll be in for a fun spring of OTAs and minicamp as these guys try to separate themselves.

It’s very possible none of them would make an NFL roster other than the Dolphins’ this season.

Fales probably — maybe — has the inside track after performing well enough last year (mostly in practice) that he had Gase touting his potential this offseason and got re-signed. The Dolphins cut him at the end of the preseason last year, and he was out of the league until they called again when Cutler got hurt in October.

He’s played in three games since being drafted four years ago and in two appearances for the Dolphins last year, he completed 29 of 43 passes for a total of 265 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

Likewise, Osweiler hasn’t been flush with suitors over the past year. In fact, teams have worked noticeably hard to get rid of him.

Houston gave up a second-round pick last March just to get Cleveland to take his contract in a trade. On the hook for the rest of his guaranteed money either way, the Browns decided they were better off paying him $16 million to leave than to stay.

His best season, the one that landed him a four-year, $72 million contract, was in 2015. He stepped in for Peyton Manning in Denver and completed 61.8 percent of his passes for 1,967 yards and 10 touchdowns against six interceptions while posting a passer rating of 86.4.

That came after three years of being coached by Gase, who was with the Broncos when they drafted Osweiler at No. 57 overall in 2012 and left for Chicago in the 2015 offseason.

Petty, who was acquired on a waiver claim Friday, is the only one who has no history with Gase and he’s the least formed of the three. At 26, he’s a year younger than Fales and Osweiler.

The Jets drafted him in the fourth round in 2015, and he never broke through as a full-time starter. He stayed on the bench his entire first year, then appeared in 10 games over the next two. He completed 53.1 percent of his attempts, had four touchdown passes, threw 10 interceptions and mustered a 57.1 passer rating.

The best thing to be said of that trio is it’ll barely cost the Dolphins anything. The three of them combined — Miami will keep two, at most — are set to count $2.1 million against the salary cap this season. The rosiest view is that perhaps Gase, hired by this team in large part because of his reputation as a quarterback whisperer, can work his magic to turn at least one of them into a viable backup.

As good as Gase might be, that doesn’t look like a great hedge in case Tannehill can’t make it through the next seven months without interruption.

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

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

Grading Miami Dolphins drafts under Adam Gase, Chris Grier, Mike Tannenbaum

Minkah Fitzpatrick will look like a great pick if he’s a starter this year, and if the Dolphins can figure out a good role for T.J. McDonald. (Getty Images)

The Dolphins have had three runs through the NFL Draft with Adam Gase, Mike Tannenbaum and Chris Grier in charge, and it’s already reasonably clear they’ve got some hits and misses.

Of the 20 players those three have selected, led by Grier as the team’s draft czar, eight have a good shot at being in the starting lineup this season. That includes this year’s No. 11 pick, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, who will have to beat out T.J. McDonald for a spot.

Whether that’s good or bad depends on how those players play. Seeing the draft picks materialize into starters isn’t inherently a positive unless those guys help the Dolphins win.

They’ve selected 10 in the first three rounds, highlighted by top picks Fitzpatrick, defensive end Charles Harris and left tackle Laremy Tunsil. Harris and Tunsil are off to promising starts, though both are under pressure to show big improvement this season.

Tunsil began at left guard because the team had Branden Albert, then shifted into his natural position last season. He was up and down, and inconsistency at left tackle can unravel the whole offense. With 29 career starts and a full season of playing left tackle in the NFL behind him, this is the year for Tunsil to prove he was worth the No. 13 pick.

Harris seemed like a pick for the future when Miami, coming off a 10-6 playoff season, chose him No. 22 overall a year ago.

He was obviously going to sit behind Cameron Wake and Andre Branch as a rookie, and his prospects for playing in the upcoming season aren’t much better given that Wake is still a force and the team traded for Robert Quinn. It also won’t be easy to beat out Branch, whose 2017 dropoff was attributable largely to injury trouble.

Harris played every game last year and graded out well internally, but managed just two sacks despite being on the field for almost 500 snaps.

Xavien Howard (second round, 2016) and Cordrea Tankersley (third, 2017) are viable starters at cornerback and could be an excellent tandem for Miami if play at the top end of what they’ve shown so far.

Raekwon McMillan, the second-round pick last year, earned the starting middle linebacker job last summer before tearing his ACL in the first preseason game. He’ll resume that spot this season, and the Dolphins are already counting on him to anchor their defense.

Then there’s Kenyan Drake, who already looks like a jackpot find by Grier at pick No. 73 overall in the third round in 2016. Drake, an Alabama product who is one of 17 Miami picks from Power 5 schools, could prove to be the team’s biggest value of draftee in this three-year span.

He’s got the opportunity this year to become the focal point of the offense, and there’s good cause to be optimistic. He led the NFL in rushing over the final five games of last season with 444 (88.8 per game and 4.9 per carry), plus two touchdowns and 150 yards receiving.

The Dolphins are hoping current fourth-rounder Kalen Ballage will develop into a similar threat and form a dynamic long-term backfield with Drake.

This year’s Day 2 picks, tight end Mike Gesicki out of the second round and linebacker Jerome Baker from the third, are also expected to vie for starting role. Gesicki already is the clear favorite to take over at tight end, where the roster is light on proven production.

The only big letdown for Miami out of players chosen in the first three rounds is receiver Leonte Carroo, who goes into his third season with 10 catches, 98 yards and one touchdown in 28 games. That’s not exactly “a much faster Anquan Boldin,” as he described himself on draft day in 2016.

If Carroo was a draft error by the Dolphins, it’s compounded by the fact that they packaged three picks in a deal with Minnesota to be able to take him. He has two years left on his rookie contract, and the Dolphins can afford to be patient since his salary cap hit is under $1 million both seasons.

Of their Day 3 picks, the biggest hit by far out of the 2016 and ’17 classes was LSU defensive tackle Davon Godchaux. He might be the best at his position on this team now that Ndamukong Suh is gone.

Jakeem Grant (sixth round, 2016) has also been a good find, particularly in the return game, and the team might have its new kicker in recent seventh-rounder Jason Sanders.

The only one of the 20 draft picks that’s no longer on the team is 2016 seventh-rounder Brandon Doughty, who was unable to break onto the depth chart at quarterback and was granted his release last month.

Free agency has monumental implications, and certainly Gase is responsible to work with the roster holdovers from the previous regime, but smart drafting is the route to competing regularly. If the Dolphins can keep finding two or three quality starters in every draft, they’ll keep getting better.

[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.

2018 NFL Draft: Going against own philosophy puts pressure on Dolphins

Roquan Smith could be a Miami Dolphin by the end of the night. (Getty Images)

The Dolphins try to be as guarded as possible about their intentions in the NFL Draft, which starts with Round 1 tonight. The trio that runs football operations for the organization does all it can to avoid tipping its hand.

The only morsel of insight vice president Mike Tannenbaum has been willing to divulge over the past few years is a core philosophy of not relying on the draft to fill holes in the lineup. Miami’s intention is to already have a game-ready starting 22 and enjoy the flexibility of choosing the best available talent.

That didn’t happen this year.

The Dolphins enter draft weekend with only two clear starters at linebacker and without an established tight end. If they’re serious about competing for a playoff spot this season, they’ll try to find those answers in the draft.

Their best shot at that will be in the first two nights, when they select No. 11 overall, No. 42 in the second around and No. 73 in the third. On Saturday, they have two fourth-rounders, a sixth and two sevenths.

Unless they get lucky and have a top quarterback slide to them in the first round, they’re well-positioned address linebacker at No. 11. They need someone who can be a starter this season and a fixture beyond it.

Georgia’s Roquan Smith and Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds are thought to be the best two at the position. Smith’s a little more pro-ready, but Edmunds is a tremendously talented prospect who’s only 19.

The Dolphins currently have Kiko Alonso and Raekwon McMillan in place, and there’s good cause to be optimistic about both of them.

McMillan was a second-rounder last year who was so impressive that he claimed the starting middle linebacker job before tearing his ACL in the preseason. Alonso had some issues last season, but he was good enough the year before to earn a three-year, $29 million contract extension.

The trouble is the Dolphins don’t have proven depth behind them. While a third linebacker often isn’t necessary for their defense, it is a need and they’d also like to have contingencies set up in case they run into snags like last year. Plus, they need to be prepared for Alonso’s contract running out after the 2020 season.

The other four linebackers currently on the roster are Chase Allen (four starts last year), Terence Garvin (three), Mike Hull (three) and Stephone Anthony (none).

As thin as the Dolphins appear at linebacker, their tight end situation is even more concerning. They’re currently proceeding with A.J. Derby as the logical starter, and he has 37 catches for three teams since being drafted in the sixth round of the 2015 draft.

The other options are MarQueis Gray (one catch last season), Gavin Escobar (none) and Thomas Duarte (none).

In the draft, top prospects Hayden Hurst of South Carolina and Dallas Goedert from South Dakota State are projected to go in the 20s at the earliest. The Dolphins probably wouldn’t be getting ideal value for such a high pick by taking one of them at 11th. If they really want Goedert or Hurst, the route would be trading back and acquiring extra picks or exploring a move up from No. 42 into the late first round.

Trading up in general seems highly unlikely for Miami in the first two rounds because it needs its full stock of picks as it tries to reshape a roster that went 16-16 over the last two regular seasons.

If the Dolphins can’t get Hurst or Goedert, or if they go for a quarterback in the second round, they can target someone in the next tier of tight ends in the third.

Penn State’s Mike Gesicki and Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews could go in the second or third round. Indiana’s Ian Thomas, Central Florida’s Jordan Akins, University of Miami’s Chris Herndon and Washington’s Will Dissly are later possibilities.

The roster holes put a ton of pressure on the Dolphins to get it right tonight and Friday. Hitting on the perfect combination of picks in the first three rounds is extremely difficult, and that’s without taking into account what the other 31 teams will do. It’s smart that they typically strategize their offseason in a way that avoids this situation, but this year they’ll have to make it work.

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

[What the Dolphins think of skill players in this year’s NFL Draft]

[Frank Gore’s on a mission with Miami Dolphins]

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

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]

[What the Dolphins think of skill players in this year’s NFL Draft]

[Frank Gore’s on a mission with Miami Dolphins]

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

2018 NFL Draft: How does Jets-Colts trade affect Dolphins’ thinking at No. 11?

The Jets gave up a huge haul in their trade with Indianapolis. (Getty Images)

DAVIE—This is the simplest thing in the world: The Dolphins’ three choices with the No. 11 pick are stay there, trade up or trade down.

One factor that could complicate that decision, though, is the massive Jets-Colts trade that took place a month ago. New York gave up three second-round picks, two of which are this year, in order to move up from sixth to third. That’s a drastic spike from what the traditional Jimmy Johnson trade chart says is equal value, but Miami vice president Mike Tannenbaum doesn’t believe it will inflate the market for trading picks.

“Obviously, three (second-round picks) for three spots, it looks like one team is targeting something,” said Tannenbaum, who surely is aware of the widespread assumption that the Jets are angling for one of the top four quarterbacks. “That doesn’t necessarily affect the rest of the trades. Sometimes trades before the draft have one set of criteria, whereas once you’re in the heat of the moment…

“My view with that is the trade chart is a great guideline, but at the end of the day, if two teams want to get something done, they’re going to get something done.”

Johnson’s chart, which uses a point system to assign values to every pick, says one high second-round pick would be almost enough to pay for the jump from No. 6 to No. 3.

The Dolphins rely heavily on Brandon Shore, the senior director of football administration, and Director of Analytics Dennis Lock to track those trades and establish what the team should expect to give up or receive if it explores making moves with its draft picks.

Tannenbaum remains open to moving up or down and has been taking calls from teams this week. Given the Dolphins’ situation, it seems ideal to do one or the other rather than stay at No. 11.

In that spot, Miami is unlikely to get one of the four prized quarterbacks. Moving into the top five, however, would cost the team an enormous amount of assets that it probably can’t afford to surrender considering how many holes are on the roster.

One major position of need is tight end, and No. 11 is too much of a reach for Dallas Goedert or Hayden Hurst, the top two prospects this year. If the Dolphins could move back into the 20s and get some extra picks in return, they’d be in a good spot to grab one of those two.

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

[What the Dolphins think of skill players in this year’s NFL Draft]

[Frank Gore’s on a mission with Miami Dolphins]

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

Something went wrong for the Dolphins with Ndamukong Suh’s contract

The $22 million dead money cap hit for Suh couldn’t have been part of the plan. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

ORLANDO—Putting a league-record $22.2 million in dead salary cap money on the books eventually would never be part of a team’s long-term plan. Considering the Dolphins just absorbed that hit by cutting Ndamukong Suh three seasons into a six-year deal, it’s clear something went sideways.

Miami originally signed Suh to $114 million deal with $60 million guaranteed in the 2015 offseason, marking the largest contract ever for a defensive player. That deal was restructured the following year, though, because Suh was set for an untenable $28.6 million cap hit that season.

One of those two moves must be a regret for the Dolphins, but vice president Mike Tannenbaum didn’t want to discuss that this morning at the NFL’s annual meeting.

“Ndamukong gave us three years, and obviously we wish we won more games with him,” said Tannenbaum, who took his current post in February 2015. “Our charge is to try to put a competitive team on the field each year and try to create as much flexibility as possible. I’m comfortable with where we are with our long-term plan.

“We put ourselves in position to go out and get somebody like Robert Quinn, which was an unexpected opportunity. We’ve planned for cap charges appropriately over the next couple of years. We try to maintain as much flexibility as possible.”

When pressed a second time on whether he mishandled Suh’s contract situation, Tannenbaum said, “I wish we had won more games with him. He was a good player. We just made the decision that it was time to move on.”

Suh put up 181 tackles, 15.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in three years with the Dolphins. He made the Pro Bowl in 2016 and was voted team MVP last year.

He signed a one-year deal with the Rams this week to join Aaron Donald to form decisively the best defensive tackle combination in the NFL.

The upside in cutting Suh was that it frees up $17.1 million of the $26.1 million cap number he was scheduled to cost the Dolphins. That space becomes available to them in June.

The big-name free agents have already been signed this month, but Miami is prepared to go after anyone who becomes available at that point.

“We still have some pieces to add,” coach Adam Gase said. “We’re looking really to kind of see how it plays out. We’ll see what goes on after talking with other teams in the league. You just never know who else is going to shake free from now until the start of the season.”

[Dolphins coach Adam Gase says offseason moves are a net positive]

[Ryan Tannehill will be back for the Dolphins in time for OTAs]

[What exactly is Mike Tannenbaum’s building plan for the Miami Dolphins?]

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