Matt Burke sinking teeth into ways Minkah Fitzpatrick can sharpen Miami Dolphins’ D

Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke talks about the newcomers he’ll incorporate into his unit in 2018.

DAVIE — Noted world traveler and thrill seeker Matt Burke hasn’t settled on this summer’s excursion yet, but he did recently take a swim with hammerhead sharks. Much to Adam Gase’s relief, Burke, the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator, reported that his swimming buddies are more gentle than you’d think — if you were inclined to equate “hammerhead” with “gentle” in the first place.

That Burke returned with all limbs intact, though, might not be the first thing he mentions if you ask what has gone swimmingly for him lately.

At this time of year, a lot of what football coaches can do surrounds talking, plotting and dreaming about what the new “pieces” afforded to them can offer come fall.

And Burke has more new toys than he had a right to expect.

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Burke thought someone was joking when he was awoken from his spring slumber by a call from Dolphins HQ asking what he thought of Rams defensive end Robert Quinn, a guy with three consecutive double-digit sack seasons on his resume who turns 28 next week. At first he gave a “yeah, fine.” When he realized it wasn’t a joke, he watched film, then basically said it was much better than fine with him.

Then, the offensively challenged Dolphins determined that the best available player with the No. 11 overall pick was a defensive guy, Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Toss in linebacker Raekwon McMillan, last year’s second-round pick who’s returning after missing his entire rookie season with a knee injury.

That makes three solid reasons Burke, a Dartmouth guy, has plenty of noodling to do about the options at his disposal to vastly improve a defense that ranked 16th overall and 29th in scoring in his first year as a coordinator.

“It’s always good to have different weapons for me,” Burke said. “ … We’re going to put this best 11 players on the field — maybe play to play, week to week, game to game — in terms of our matchups.”

In other words, Burke wants the defense to play the same kind of matchup chess match that Gase has wanted to do on offense but often has not had the means to pull it off. It’s already evident that three of Burke’s best players are safeties Fitzpatrick, Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald. Rather than try to divide three players into two slots, Burke confirmed that he may (read: will) use some three-safety alignments this year. Why wouldn’t he?

“To me, it’s all about matchups,” Burke said. “So if we feel that those body types or those players, whether it’s Minkah, T.J., Reshad at our safety spot are better matchups, whether it’s on tight ends or backs or whether it’s having a bigger body as a nickel on. … I just think the more players you get, again, that are multi-dimensional and have different skillsets, the more you can play around with how you’re utilizing them on the field on defense.”

Compared to what lies ahead, rookie camp is little more than a get-to-know you, here’s-your-playbook type thing, but even that has been enough for Burke to recognize Fitzpatrick isn’t your everyday rookie. When Fitzpatrick addressed the media Friday, he was almost incredulous when asked about all the extra work he famously puts in: Doesn’t everybody?, he all but asked.

Incredulous may have been an apt word to describe Burke on draft night. He had to know there was a great chance the Dolphins would go for offense in Round 1, especially if the right quarterback fell to them. Instead, Fitzpatrick, whom Nick Saban used in a variety of roles at Alabama, was the one who fell.

Of Fitzpatrick’s contributions as a rookie, Burke said, “That’s going to be up to him and how much he absorbs and takes on. Again, it’s been 48 hours or whatever it is (he has been in Davie). In the limited interaction I’ve had with him, he’s shown the ability to be sort of a big-picture thinker and he understands football and he’s a student of the game from that sense. So, I think he, again, my initial impression is that he’s got the ability to absorb a lot.”

Absorbing is about all McMillan could do after blowing out a knee on the opening kickoff of the first preseason game. Adding him is almost like getting an extra second-round pick to the Dolphins.

“If it works out the way we think it can and hope it does, that’s a huge acquisition for us,” Burke said. After watching tape of McMillan’s practices last summer, coaches were reminded that he looked ready to take that step as a starter before the injury. Burke added that McMillan has “worked his ass off” to get back to that state.

The biggest loss on defense, naturally, was Ndamukong Suh, but Burke thinks he’s covered there, too. He plans to roll in four tackles, with three jobs a virtual lock: Jordan Phillips, Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor.

All Burke has to do now is stay in one piece.

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Who are the most expensive Miami Dolphins players in 2018?

Ryan Tannehill is seventh on the Dolphins in salary cap hit this year. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

The Dolphins have their roster mostly in place for the offseason, though they will explore some options after June 1, and it’s clear which positions they’re prioritizing based on the money they’re spending.

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.

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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.

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New Dolphins DE Robert Quinn rejuvenated after ‘suffocating’ with Rams

Robert Quinn was unhappy with the Rams. (Getty Images)

The last two seasons with the Rams were brutal for defensive end Robert Quinn, who feels rejuvenated after his first month with the Dolphins.

Miami traded a fourth-round pick for Quinn at the beginning of March, and his experience so far has been tremendous. He was thrilled to get out of Los Angeles and has embraced the chance to restart his career in South Florida.

“Honestly, you don’t realize you’re suffocating until you can’t breathe no more, so I was just glad I could have a new breath of fresh air down here in Miami,” he said. “It’s allowed me to clear my mind and have a fresh start and a new beginning and new possibilities. I’m excited for the new start. I think this was best for me and my family. Sometimes things work out funny, but they always work out for the best.”

Suffocating?

“Well, how about this: I’m not a West Coast guy,” said Quinn, who grew up in South Carolina and played at North Carolina. “I’ll just put it that way.”

When pressed on whether he was miserable with Los Angeles or energized by his experience thus far with the Dolphins, he said it was a combination of the two.

Quinn, 27, spent his first seven seasons with the Rams, who drafted him 14th overall in 2011. He grew into one of the most ferocious pass rushers in the NFL and had a staggering 19 sacks in 2013, including three in a game three times, was selected as an all-pro defensive end.

He had 10.5 for the Rams the next season, giving him 40 in a three-year span, but hasn’t been anywhere close to that level since because of injuries and, it appears, some frustrations with the organization.

“You commit yourself to someone and then you have a family member turn their back on you,” he said. “Then you realize they appreciate you around here and you commit yourself to them. All it takes is for someone to rub you the wrong way one time and you keep moving. I’ve got a new family down here in Miami, and that’s all I’m concerned about.”

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4-12: That’s the territory national media are placing the Miami Dolphins now

Danny Amendola, formerly of the Patriots, can’t hang onto this pass as Michael Thomas defends. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

We in South Florida track every move the Dolphins make — Ndamukong Suh is gone! Josh Sitton arrives! — so sometimes it’s interesting to take a step back and look at the big picture of this team, especially from a national perspective.

It’s interesting, but ugly.

NFL.com’s Elliot Harrrison, for example, does not think the Dolphins are the worst team in the league, which is about the best thing he says about them. Harrison pegs the Dolphins as No. 30 in the NFL, just ahead of Jarvis Landry’s Cleveland Browns and the Indianapolis Colts.

Harrison points out that only “remnants” remain from the Dolphins team that made the playoffs in 2016 and that Jay Ajayi, Mike Pouncey, Suh and Landry are history and that a big unknown is QB Ryan Tannehill.

“While no one misses Jay Cutler, what to anticipate from Tannehill is another matter,” he wrote. “He hasn’t played meaningful football since two Decembers ago. That, as much as the team makeover, accounts for this placeholder not too far from the bottom.”

As you’re about to see, his take on the Dolphins is not an anomaly.

Matt Lombardo, stacking up teams for NJ.com, also plops Miami in at No. 30, ahead of the Bengals and, in an apparent attempt to offer Miami a sliver of good news, the Jets.

“Signing Danny Amendola gives Tannehill a slight upgrade at the slot receiver position, but there’s little reason to think that 2018 will be much more than a transition year for the Dolphins,” he wrote.

In ranking each team’s offseason, SBNation.com did not slot the Dolphins at No. 30. They’re 31st, ahead of only the Cardinals.

SBNation focused on moves at receiver, where Albert Wilson and Amendola were added and Landry subtracted.

“Does one Wilson and one Amendola equal one Landry? Probably not,” the site’s authors said.

The Sporting News’ Vinnie Iyer, meanwhile, issued grades for individual moves, and he’s not wild about what Miami has done, either.

Robert Quinn celebrates a sack against the Dolphins in 2016. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Iyer gives the Dolphins a C for each of three transactions: signing Wilson and Amendola and trading for Rams end Robert Quinn.

On Wilson’s three-year, $24 million deal: “He’s getting paid quite a bit for limited production and, contrary to popular belief, he isn’t a ‘cheaper version of Landry.’ ”

Iyer says Quinn’s best years “are in the rearview mirror” and the Dolphins are “taking a big chance and hoping he can find his way in its defense.” Quinn last had double-digit sacks in 2014 and averaged 5.8 sacks the past three seasons.

Finally, Iyer says Amendola “won’t do the same things in Miami” that he did in New England.

Ouch.

Then there’s Bleacher Report, where Sean Tomlinson stacked up each division. As you may have guessed, he has it Patriots-Bills-Jets-Dolphins. He questioned the moves of Quinn (soon to be 28) and Amendola (32), saying, “They’re building a great team for 2013, not 2018, and the results won’t be pretty.”

Random points:

* Question regarding Lombardo’s take: Amendola is a “slight upgrade” over Landry?

* At the opposite end of the spectrum, SBNation ranks the Browns’ moves thus far as the best in the league. Harrison’s top three teams are the Eagles, Patriots and Jaguars. I lean more toward Lombardo’s trio of Eagles-Rams-Jaguars based in part on the talent departing New England and definitely if Suh chooses the Rams, where he’d team with Aaron Donald.

* Wiseguy retort to Tomlinson’s assertion that the Dolphins are building a team for 2013: They might wish for 2013. They were 8-8 then, which might look spectacular come this December.

* Better buckle your seatbelts if Harrison is correct. Last year’s team to finish No. 30 was the Colts, who were an ugly 4-12, which led to an uglier offseason. Coach Chuck Pagano was fired, Josh McDaniels was hired, Josh McDaniels woke up and asked himself, “What was I thinking?” and returned to New England, and now it’s up to Frank Reich to clean up on aisle 30.

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Cutting Ndamukong Suh hurts, but Dolphins never should’ve signed him

The Dolphins are done with Ndamukong Suh. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

Splashy free agent signings are fun. Really fun. But they aren’t always prudent.

The Dolphins got what they wanted out of Ndamukong Suh, who continued to be among the absolute elite defensive tackles in the NFL during his three seasons with the team, but from the start he was a luxury they couldn’t afford. They finally see that, and ESPN reported this morning they’ve made the painful decision to cut him.

It’s not as simple as letting him go and erasing the $76 million they would’ve been paying him over the next three seasons. Miami gets out of some of that, but it’s still going to cost about $9 million in salary cap space this season to send Suh packing.

That stings, but it’s worth it.

Not because Suh is any kind of problem, but because this isn’t how good teams typically allocate their money. One defensive tackle taking up a little over 14 percent of the total payroll forces a team to cut too many corners at other positions.

No single player on the Patriots last season, for example, ate up more than 8.6 percent of their cap space. For the champion Eagles, the high was 6.2 percent.

Think of the positions where the Dolphins struggled last year. Offensive line, linebacker and tight end immediately come to mind. They were in the bottom 11 in spending at each of those positions. Even with the brutal dead money left on Suh’s contract, there’s a newfound ability to address those deficiencies.

And as well as Suh played the last three years, he wasn’t enough to give the Dolphins the ferocious defensive line they imagined when they signed him for a staggering $114 million over six years in 2015.

They’ll try it a different way with cheaper defensive tackles in Davon Godchaux, Jordan Phillips and Vincent Taylor and high-priced ends in Cameron Wake, Robert Quinn and Andre Branch. They also have 2017 first-round pick Charles Harris.

The Dolphins had the third-most expensive defensive line in the league last season and finished 26th in sacks. The year before, they were No. 1 in price tag and 19th in sacks. Even with Suh mauling people in the middle and constantly drawing double- and triple-teams, the plan wasn’t working.

Nobody was afraid to stand in the pocket against Miami’s d-line last year. It’s the reason so many quarterbacks had their best performances of the season when they faced the Dolphins.

Miami averaged one sack every 19 dropbacks, which equates to once or twice a game. That backfield was cozy compared to what quarterbacks encountered against Jacksonville, which spent its d-line money far more effectively. The Jaguars had the second-priciest unit in the league, but delivered a sack every once every 10 opportunities.

The Dolphins’ inability to infiltrate the pocket was a huge reason they ranked near the bottom of the league in opponent passer rating (94.8) and completion percentage (64.2).

The Dolphins were also 28th, 30th and 14th in run defense in his three seasons.

It’s hard to say that’s Suh’s fault when every indication was that he’s been playing some of the best football of his career.

He had 4.5 sacks, 48 tackles, two forced fumbles and Pro Football Focus ranked him No. 4 at his position. He did everything he could for Miami, playing all 48 games and staying on the field for 88.2 percent of the defensive snaps over three years. He totaled 15.5 sacks and 181 tackles.

It just didn’t matter.

Regardless of how cool it is to have a marquee name like Suh or how excellent he’s been individually, it’s impossible to justify paying that much money for someone who isn’t making an overwhelming difference in the defense. It was an unwise signing at the time, and it would’ve been even more foolish to keep proceeding down this path.

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

Does Dolphins’ trade for Rams DE Robert Quinn mean somebody’s gone?

There’s no certainty Cameron Wake is back in 2018. (Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS—The Dolphins are in the market for several positions this offseason, but defensive end wasn’t thought to be one of them.

That’s what made today’s trade for longtime Rams defensive end Robert Quinn in a deal that involves an exchange of draft picks a major surprise. The Dolphins aren’t giving up much, sending this year’s fourth-round pick to the Rams and swapping spots in the sixth-round.

Quinn, 27, will join a defensive line that’s already one of the highest-priced in the NFL, and Miami didn’t get its money’s worth out of that unit last season.

While there’s a strong possibility the trade will be contingent on Quinn renegotiating his contract, he’s currently due $12.4 million this year and $12.9 million in 2019.

Add that to the $8.6 million Miami owes Cameron Wake this season and the two years and $19 million remaining on Andre Branch’s deal, and it suggests the Dolphins are planning to move on from somebody. Obviously Charles Harris, last year’s No. 22 overall pick, isn’t going anywhere.

Quinn, a two-time Pro Bowler and a 2013 all-pro, had 8.5 sacks in 15 games for Los Angeles last year. That’s not amazing, but it’s more than any Dolphin other than Wake has had in a season over the last four years.

If Miami can afford to keep Quinn and it’s other three top defensive ends, that’s a solid group. It’s also an expensive one. Prior to the Quinn acquisition, the Dolphins had $51.6 million in defensive line commitments for the upcoming season. More than half of that is for Ndamukong Suh, who is a candidate for restructuring this offseason.

If someone needs to go for the Dolphins to bring Quinn on board, there’s no guarantee Wake will be back. He’s coming off two straight double-digit sack seasons following his ruptured Achilles tendon in 2015, but he just turned 36.

He played 58.3 percent of the snaps last year, most among Miami’s defensive ends, and had 10.5 sacks. Over the final 10 games of the season, he had 4.5. His 92 sacks are second in franchise history only to Jason Taylor’s 131.

According to Spotrac, the team can get out of Wake’s deal for $3.5 million this offseason.

That’s less than it would cost the Dolphins to move on from Branch, who would cost them nearly $12 million in dead salary cap money if they cut him. If Miami can afford this crew for a year, Branch is much more vulnerable next spring when the team can let him go for a $2 million hit rather than pay him $9 million.

This almost certainly signals the end for 32-year-old William Hayes, who was an effective defensive end off the bench last season before going on Injured Reserve in November.

The idea of Quinn turning around a pass rush that was 26th in the league in sacks last year has some merit, but it’s no sure thing. He battled injuries in 2015 and ’16, when he totaled nine sacks in 17 games.

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