DAVIE — Former Dolphins star Ndamukong Suh has a reputation for being surly and aloof, but multiple Miami players have said that wasn’t their experience with him.
Defensive tackle Vincent Taylor, who spent his rookie year in Suh’s corner of the locker room, called him an ideal mentor and an excellent teammate.
“I was learning from him,” Taylor said this week. “Last year I played some snaps when he came out, so this year hopefully I can bring those numbers up… Replacing him will be hard.
“It was good coming in my first year to be able to learn from a guy like Ndamukong Suh. What more could you ask for? People always ask me how was Suh in the locker room. Suh was a great teammate, a great guy. I think he’s like a big kid. He likes to joke. Suh is a great guy.”
Suh was with the Dolphins for three seasons before they released him in March to get out of a scheduled $26.1 million salary cap hit for this year.
The move was part of a philosophical overhaul of the defensive line. The Dolphins have now allocated the bulk of their money in defensive ends and will proceed with much cheaper defensive tackles in Davon Godchaux, Jordan Phillips, Akeem Spence and Taylor.
Taylor and Godchaux came in as late-round draft picks a year ago and quickly found Suh to be a willing teacher. Godchaux described him as a “great mentor” who spent lots of time working with him after practices, and Taylor echoed that.
“It’s hard losing a guy like Suh just knowing what he’s capable of doing, but at the end of the day, it’s a business decision,” he said. “All of the things when I was coming in, what he taught me — I learned some of the things that he taught me. Like I said, it’s hard losing a guy like him.”
Not that there was ever any uncertainty about this, but the Dolphins announced today they signed first-round pick Minkah Fitzpatrick to his rookie contract.
Fitzpatrick, a safety who went No. 11 overall, will get a four-year deal worth $16.4 million with $10 million guaranteed, according to NFL Network, ensuring the Dolphins will have his rights through at least the 2021 season. First-round picks are slotted into a salary range based on where they are selected.
The team also signed sixth-round cornerback Cornell Armstrong, sixth-round linebacker Quentin Poling and seventh-round kicker Jason Sanders.
Fitzpatrick and Miami’s other draft picks should be signed quickly now that it’s June 1 and roughly $17 million in cap space that would have gone to Ndamukong Suh officially becomes freed up for the Dolphins.
By designating Suh as a post-June-1 cut, the Dolphins were able to spread his $22.2 dead cap hit over this year and next rather than absorb it all at once. Suh was set to count $26.1 against this season’s cap if he stayed, but his dead money number will be $9.1 million. Next year it will be $13.1 million.
Draft picks practice whether they are signed or not because the collective bargaining agreement provides for them to be paid each day they’re working in the meantime. Teams also sign a participation agreement with players as a guarantee that even if they get hurt, they will still negotiate the same contract the player would’ve gotten if healthy.
Fitpatrick, from Alabama, has been practicing with the Dolphins during Organized Team Activities the past two weeks along with the rest of the rookies.
DAVIE — A big part of the Dolphins’ plan on the defensive line is that second-year defensive tackle Davon Godchaux will grow into a great player. He’s comfortable with those expectations.
“You have to take that and run with it,” he said. “Each and every day, you have to come out and get better. I want to restart my mindset each and every year. I don’t want to come in like last year and I’ve got the first six games and now I’m big time now. No, you don’t want to take that approach. That’s when you get complacent and guys pass you up each and every day.
“You want to have a new mindset each and every practice. It’s hard. It’s hard coming out there each and every day and try to reset your mindset and try to refocus and try to do the same thing over and over; but you have to do it in order to stay in this league.”
Godchaux had 40 tackles, one pass breakup and one forced fumble in 15 games last season while playing 48 percent of the defensive snaps. That was the most playing time out of any defensive tackle other than Suh.
Godchaux came out of LSU with serious question marks and slipped to the fifth round, but he’s clearly taken a mature approach as a pro. Coaches credited him for diligent work on and off the field this offseason, and he’s working to change his diet.
Of all the second-year players Miami is banking on this year, Godchaux might be the most important. The Dolphins cut Ndamukong Suh in part because of their confidence in Godchaux developing into a full-time starter.
He’ll miss Suh, who was a mentor to him, but he seems to grasp the gigantic opportunity in front of him now.
“We expect to make a major leap — me, as a player,” he said. “You always want to set high standards for yourself, whether that’s personal goals for me. I’m not going to tell them, but there’s personal goals for me. I want to reach those goals. If I don’t reach them this year, then I’ll come back next year next year and try to reach those goals, too.”
DAVIE — Davon Godchaux isn’t Ndamukong Suh, but he benefited from a one-year mentorship under the five-time Pro Bowler and gained a lot from watching him work on a daily basis.
The Dolphins let Suh go this offseason and will proceed with Godchaux as a likely starter at defensive tackle. He came in as a fifth-round pick and played well, which is partly a credit to Suh’s influence. He described him as a “great guy” who embraced the role of being a teacher.
“Great mentor,” Godchaux said today. “I think after practice everybody saw me and Suh getting together and working on pass-rush moves, run fits, things he learned… Just a lot of things he taught me off the field, whether that’s eating right (or) things like that.”
He added, “You finally get to be on the same side with him and play with him and see how nasty he really is in a game and how physical he really is. It’s a major part for me. I’m glad I got to play with him.”
Godchaux played 15 games, including five starts, last year and is among the young players Miami is counting on to have a breakthrough this season. He had 40 tackles, one pass breakup and a forced fumble last season. Pro Football Focus ranked him the No. 84 defensive tackle, which is a decent starting point as a rookie.
Suh ultimately signed a one-year deal with the Rams, who are not on Miami’s schedule this season. He reached out to Godchaux after he left to encourage him to keep improving on the things that served him well last season.
“I reached out to him and told him best of luck and things like that,” Godchaux said. “He sent me a message, ‘If you keep working hard, the sky is the limit for you.’ I’ll try to stay in touch with him.”
DAVIE — Star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh played an insane 84 percent of the Dolphins’ defensive snaps last season, and they don’t want to see anyone doing that this year.
The new template for the renovated defensive line is to send players in “waves,” as position coach Kris Kocurek put it today. Miami believes it has enough talent to do that, and the collection of defensive ends and tackles will theoretically be better in smaller doses.
“Right now we don’t really have any depth chart set, but all I know is we’re looking for 8-10 guys,” said Kocurek, who was hired in January to replace Terrell Williams. “We’re gonna roll guys through games. We want to keep our guys fresh throughout four quarters and keep our guys fresh through 16 games… and try to keep snap counts down as much as we can and go as fast as we can and as hard as we can.”
That’s a different approach than last year, but change should be a good thing in this case. The Dolphins didn’t get nearly the return they expected from the fourth-most expensive defensive line in the NFL.
Last season, at a cost of $36.1 million on the line, the team finished 26th in sacks at 30, with 25.5 of those coming from linemen. That works out to one every 19 pass plays, which is part of the reason the Dolphins were among the worst in the NFL in opponent passer rating and completion percentage.
They reallocated their spending to emphasize pass rushers and accepted a massive dead money hit to their salary cap in order to let Suh go and get out of some of what they owed him. The key pieces on this d-line are defensive ends Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn, each of whom has a 15-sack season on their résumé.
Wake is 36 and continues to make that number mostly irrelevant. He has 22 sacks over the last two seasons since coming back from a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Quinn is still considered to be in his prime at 28, but it’s been four years since he was considered elite at his position. He was an all-pro selection in 2013 with 19 sacks and followed up with 10.5 the next year, but managed a total of just 17.5 over the next three seasons in part due to injury. He had 8.5 last year to go with 32 tackles and two forced fumbles.
“It’s just scheme,” Kocurek 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. It’s not like he played bad.”
Behind those two are a pair of enigmas: Andre Branch and Charles Harris.
Harris was the team’s first-round pick last year and played well as a backup, but had only two sacks. He graded out well overall and was among the team’s most disruptive players in some nuanced statistics like passes batted down, quarterback hurries and penalties drawn.
“Very serious about his craft,” Kocurek said of Harris. “Works extremely, extremely hard. It’s hard to outwork Charles. Wants to get better (and) strives to get better every single day.
“As a rookie, it’s always hard. As a defensive end coming in as a rookie, I thought he played well. Now we need to take that next step.”
Branch impressed the Dolphins in 2016 and earned a three-year, $24 million extension in the ensuing offseason, but was limited by injuries last season and didn’t produce like he wanted. If he’s healthy this year, he’ll be a valuable part of the line.
The Dolphins also have veteran William Hayes, who is particularly excellent as a run stopper, on their bench.
The interior is less of a priority, as indicated by the Dolphins’ spending. With an emphasis on creating a crew of top-level edge rushers, the team is willing to go young and cheap at defensive tackle.
One reason they think that’ll work is second-year player Davon Godchaux, who performed well enough last year to be a part-time starter and is expected to take over that spot permanently this year. Miami also has veterans Jordan Phillips and Akeem Spence, as well as second-year man Vincent Taylor.
If Kocurek can find at least eight really good weapons from among that group, he feels good about the defensive line making a resurgence in 2018.
“So far, I like the talent, but the talent’s gotta work,” he said. “That’s the thing these guys have been doing. Since Day One, they’ve bought into the work ethic that we’re looking for. They show up every day prepared and just make sure we get better one day at a time and maximize the abilities the best we can.”
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.”
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.”
As the Dolphins try to stitch together their defensive line following the release of superstar Ndamukong Suh this offseason, they’re hosting a veteran defensive tackle at the team facility in Davie today.
Miami is in talks with Terrell McClain, a journeyman who was let go by Washington after the draft. McClain, 28, signed a four-year deal with the Redskins a little over a year ago, but slipped on the depth chart and fell out of their future plans for good when the they drafted Da’Ron Payne last week.
McClain, 6-foot-2, 302 pounds, is looking for his sixth team since entering the league as a third-round pick with the Panthers in 2011, and the Dolphins are on the lookout for a backup defensive tackle. That could be a match.
Last year, he played 12 games but started just twice. He registered 20 tackles, two sacks and a fumble recovery. Pro Football Focus ranked him the 120th-best player at his position.
The Dolphins are a little over two weeks away from Organized Team Activities and appear to be pushing forward with Davon Godchaux and Jordan Phillips as their starting defensive tackles. They also have Vincent Taylor and Gabe Wright as backups, plus they added former Lions defensive tackle Akeem Spence in a trade Wednesday.
For a look a which position groups have the biggest salary cap commitments, click here.
As far as individuals go, new defensive end Robert Quinn will be the most expensive player on the team this year. That honor would’ve gone to Ndamukong Suh if Miami had kept him and his scheduled $26.1 million cap hit.
Jarvis Landry would’ve been around $16 million after signing the franchise tag had Miami not shipped him to Cleveland for draft picks.
Quinn, who came over in a trade with the Rams, will carry a team-high cap hit of $11.4 million this season and $12.9 million next year according to Spotrac. His 2019 cap number is currently third behind Ryan Tannehill ($26.6 million) and safety Reshad Jones ($17.1 million).
Fellow defensive end Andre Branch is next at $10 million, which could put him in a precarious position as Miami proceeds with Quinn and Cameron Wake as its starting defensive ends. Branch was strong in 2016 and earned a three-year, $24 million extension, but had to fight through injuries for much of last year.
Kenny Stills will have the biggest cap number on offense at $9.8 million, and linebacker Kiko Alonso ($9.7 million) and Wake ($9.6 million) round out the top five.
Tannehill will be seventh at a dirt cheap (for quarterbacks) cap hit of $8.7 million. That’s 24th in the NFL at his position, and the team ranks 27th in quarterback spending with him, Brock Osweiler and David Fales.
Tannehill was originally set to get $60.4 million fairly evenly spread out over the 2018-20 seasons, but restructured this offseason for upcoming cap hits of $8.7 this year, $26.6 million next season and $25.1 in 2020.
Among the great values on this year’s roster are starting defensive tackle Davon Godchaux with a cap hit of about $605,484 and running back Kenyan Drake at $910,315.
AVENTURA — Davon Godchaux had just finished saying how he can’t be expected to “replace” Ndamukong Suh because, in his eyes, it’s impossible for any player to match what any other player has done.
But in the next breath, Godchaux couldn’t help but admit that with the Dolphins releasing Suh, who later joined the Los Angeles Rams, he knows how much the team will be counting on him in 2018.
No, Davon Godchaux no longer is just a fifth-round draft pick, a rookie with minimal expectations placed upon him.
There’s little chance the Dolphins would have released Suh had it not been for Godchaux’s emergence. Now, it’s up to Godchaux to build on that, and for fellow young defensive tackles Jordan Phillips and Vincent Taylor to make the Dolphins’ cost-cutting move look shrewd.
“Most definitely,” Godchaux said of the extra motivation. “Got to. To replace his shoes, got to. Got to pick up the game. What? Five-time Pro Bowler? Got to pick the game up.”
Cornerback Bobby McCain said he has confidence in the trio.
“It’s big shoes to fill, but we can get it done,” McCain said.
Godchaux appeared in 15 games, starting five. He finished with 40 tackles, a forced fumble and one pass defensed.
“Always can be better,” Godchaux said at the Dolphins Cancer Challenge annual golf tournament at Turnberry Isle to benefit the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. “I think this year you’ll see a lot of improvement each and every day.”
If so, a bit of credit goes to Suh. Godchaux said he learned plenty by observing Suh’s professionalism and getting his advice.
“Taking care of your body — I mean, the guy was a genius at that,” Godchaux said. “Eating the right things. Those things help a lot, especially when you’re in South Florida weather. Just preparing for film study. Picking up on tendencies on offensive linemen.”
Although the Dolphins didn’t consummate a trade with the Rams, they in effect swapped defensive linemen, picking up end Robert Quinn from L.A.
“A damn good pass rusher at that,” Godchaux said. “I watched him at the Rams a little bit. Didn’t really study his film a whole lot but I know he’s a damn good pass rusher.”
It’s one thing to criticize poor play in the NFL, quite another to rip a team for effort.
Thursday morning, coach Adam Gase went after effort, blasting some of his players for going through the motions in a 24-16 loss at Buffalo that essentially ended the slim hopes this team had of turning around its season.
The Dolphins were coming off a resounding 27-20 upset of New England when they traveled to upstate New York and were flattened by the Bills, triggering a three-game losing streak as a 6-10 season ground to a halt.
“That game at Buffalo just seemed like a 20-hour game,” Gase said on Joe Rose’s show on WQAM-560AM. “I was just waiting for us to turn the corner and really get going and nothing was working for us. There was no swagger, no attitude, and it was disappointing to see. It wasn’t everybody. You turn on that tape, there are guys that stand out noticeably as far as their effort and their play that was extremely high, and they were giving everything they had. We just did not have enough guys doing that.
“That’s why we felt like we needed to change some things around.”
It was a stinging swipe by Gase, the likes of which we hadn’t heard since he blasted players’ study habits following the 40-0 shellacking at Baltimore in October.
Since Gase did not mention names, it’s natural to wonder whom he was criticizing.
The ironic part? Several of the departed were the team’s statistical leaders that day.
‘There was no swagger, no attitude, and it was disappointing to see.’ — Adam Gase, on some of his players’ lack of effort in Buffalo last season
Jarvis Landry, for example, was targeted 13 times and made 10 catches for a season-high 99 yards. Cody Parkey kicked field goals of 28, 41 and 26 yards and accounted for 10 of the 16 points. Ndamukong Suh had seven total tackles, including three for loss.
Other performances of note: Jay Cutler was 28 of 49 for 274 yards, was sacked three times, threw three interceptions, fumbled four times and had a passer rating of 47.5.
Among players still on the Dolphins, Kenyan Drake had 16 carries for 78 yards and a touchdown, DeVante Parker was targeted 12 times and had six receptions for 89 yards and Kenny Stills was targeted six times, finishing with one catch for 8 yards. Jakeem Grant had a 16.5 average on two punt returns. The other top tacklers were Kiko Alonso (10) and Reshad Jones (seven).
The game got away from the Dolphins immediately, which ought to sound familiar. Buffalo drove 81 yards in 10 plays to open the game, ending with a 1-yard touchdown run by LeSean McCoy. By halftime, it was 21-6, Bills.
In the grades I issue after every game, I ripped quarterback play (Grade: F) and manufactured the phrase “confoundingly erratic” to describe Cutler. I also took it out on linebackers, giving them a D, which, coincidentally, was the same grade I gave the coaching staff, saying it was “short on answers” after Buffalo took the lead. I said coaches exercised poor clock management late.
Pro Football Focus gave highest marks to Dolphins scheduled to return: T Sam Young (85.3), T Laremy Tunsil (81.9), DE Charles Harris (78.5), Parker (77.7), Drake (76.6) and LB Chase Allen (75.9). All are 25 or younger except Young, who is 30.
For amateur sleuths trying to sort culprits from innocents, there are scores of players no longer with the Dolphins who can’t be blamed because they were out injured that day, including Damien Williams, Jermon Bushrod, Michael Thomas and Nate Allen.
Mike Pouncey and Julius Thomas (two catches, 15 yards) started the game, Terrence Fede (two tackles) saw limited duty and Neville Hewitt saw spot duty. Matt Moore was inactive. Lawrence Timmons was in on 44 plays, 70 percent of the time, and finished with four tackles.
“We had a lot of good guys in that locker room that gave it everything they had and no matter what happened they never wavered and they just kept plugging away and we feel like we added good pieces to that group,” Gase said.
Here’s the bottom line: Next year at this time, neither Gase nor GM Chris Grier nor football operations chief Mike Tannenbaum will have any excuses. No one will care about “yeah, but” narratives. They’ve reshaped the roster as they wish. They’ve jettisoned some, put stock in others. Ditto for Gase’s assistants.
No, nobody should expect miracles following a 6-10 season, given the amount of talent lost. But if there aren’t tangible reasons for optimism on April 5, 2019, that’s a problem.