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The 1st week of Free Agency has come and gone, and to say it has been very active and eventful for the Dolphins would be an understatement. The Dolphins started off the week by signing the #1 free agent this year, DT Ndamukong Suh. A few days later, the Dolphins add nickel/slot CB Brice McCain and then add talented TE Jordan Cameron. At this moment, the Dolphins are working to bring back TE Charles Clay, who they put the Transition Tag on. They are in a battle with the Buffalo Bills to retain Clay, and hopefully we should know something in the next day or so.
Miami was also very busy making moves via the trade route. Miami was able to get LB Darnell Ellerbe and his contract off the books by trading him to the New Orleans Saints along with a 3rd round pick for WR Kenny Stills. Stills is a very talented young wide receiver with great speed and play making ability. He had supposedly fell out of favor in New Orleans with one Drew Brees, but then again, the Saints have said EVERYBODY is available on their roster with the exception of QB Drew Brees and WR Brandin Cooks. And the Saints proved that by trading away All-Pro TE Jimmy Graham to Seattle, in one of the bigger trades stunners on Wednesday.
On Friday, the Dolphins traded away WR Mike Wallace and a 7th round pick to the Minnesota Vikings for a 5th round pick. It had been known that the Dolphins were not happy with what happened at the end of the season with Wallace pulling himself out of the game against the Jets. Apparently, there were some additional issues with the coaching staff, and it became apparent by mid week that Wallace future with the Dolphins was up in the air for the 2015 season. The trade for Stills made the move to trade Wallace a more realistic matter, and it came together on Friday with the Vikings.
The moves made by the Dolphins in regards to cutting players and trading players has allowed the Dolphins to open up 20.8 million dollars in salary cap space according to Omar Kelly of the Sun-Sentinel. If the Dolphins were not to re-sign TE Charles Clay, that number goes up to 27.8 million. We know Miami is not finished in free agency yet, and we are about to get to the 2nd phase of free agency.
The Dolphins still need to look to add a cornerback, an offensive guard, a safety and perhaps a veteran wide receiver and depth at OT via free agency, or perhaps the Dolphins may look to address some of these needs via the draft. There was some talk that the Dolphins had been in talks with Phialdelphia about their veteran OG, Evan Mathis, coming off of 2 very solid years for the Eagles. The concerns are that Mathis will soon be 34 years old, and he missed 7 games in 2014. He is ROCK SOLID though, and adding a veteran OG to this young group would really solidify this offensive line and bring veteran leadership. A possible veteran WR to look at is Greg Jennings, formerly of the Minnesota Vikings. Once the Vikings traded for Wallace, the decided to part ways with Jennings. He does not have that speed he once had, but he is a solid route runner, still good after the catch and HC Joe Philbin is familar with Jennings from his days with Green Bay.
My thoughts are that the Dolphins will look to add a WR via the draft, regardless of bring in a veteran WR or not. I also believe the Dolphins will look to bring in a LB via the draft, and a couple of names to keep in mind is ILB Eric Kendricks of UCLA, ILB Denzel Perryman of Miami and ILB Stephone Anthony of Clemson. Kendricks could possibly sneak into the 1st round and would be a consideration if Miami were to look to trade down. Perryman and Anthony are 2nd round consideration, and the Dolphins have spoke with both recently, as they had both Anthony and Clemson teammate Vic Beasley at the Davie complex.
Some names to look at for Miami in the 1st round at WR are WR DeVante Parker of Louisville, a young man that the Dolphins have had at the Davie complex. WR Armani Cooper of Alabama is high on Miami list as well as WR Jaelen Strong of Arizona State. The big thing the Dolphins are looking for in their wide receivers are guys that are good after the catch, the YAC guys. The 3 receivers mentioned fit the bill of what the Dolphins want. Matthew Cannata of Phinmaniacs.com believes the Dolphins are interested in trading up to get Cooper. Time will tell, but I do feel comfortable in saying I think the Dolphins will look to go wide receiver EARLY.
A couple of wildcard names to consider in the 1st round would be SS Landon Collins of Alabama. Some question if he can play FS, but he is by FAR the best safety in this group. One thing that is a concern is the fact that I have read that DC Kevin Coyle's defensive schemes are VERY complex. They can be very difficult for a 1st year player to pick up. Another name to look at is OT La'el Collins of LSU. Some may not be happy to see the possiblity of another OL taken in the 1st round, but Miami has got to solidify the OG position. Collins had a very good combine and has the ability to be an OLT or ORT, but he has also play at OLG as well, and Miami could look to do what Dallas did with Notre Dame All-American ORT Zach Martin, moved him inside to OG.
We still have plenty of time in free agency for the Dolphins to look to fill holes. As they do, the draft falls more and more into focus.
As I stated earlier this week, I understand where people are coming from in regards to concerns with the cap, not to mention some of our previous big signings in free agency by the Dolphins.
However, I think Suh needs to be looked at differently as it isn't every free agency period that we see a player like him become available. In fact, it has been a while since a top 3 player at his position and in his prime becomes available. Most of them get franchised before the free agency period ever begins.
I also think, looking at future cap years and the amount of money we can shed quickly by dumping some previous bad signings, that his cap number is manageable. Also, depending on the structure of the signing bonus and base salaries, it sounds like this is really a 3 year, $60 million contract, not a 6 year, $114 million contract. At worst, we're on the hook for this contract at most for 5 years since signing bonuses can only amortize up to 5 years.
Lastly, the primary reason we missed the playoffs was the decline of our defense, specifically our run defense, during the last 6 weeks of the season. We already had a lot of money tied up at the tackle position and to retain Odrick we would have had to invest more. But we would have been investing it in a decent player and a significantly diminished player rather than a game changing top 3 player at his position, maybe the best player at his position, maybe top 3 on his side of the ball period. A player that teams have to make the primary focus of their gameplan as the Patriots did by completely abandoning the run and relying on dump offs, screens and short quick passes for 3 quarters.
And as you correctly pointed out, the cap will go up again. Right now, the Dolphins are projected $40 million under the cap in 2016 if the cap stays flat. As I said elsewhere, that number can easily go up to $60 million by getting rid of a few more contracts. It's not going to stay flat. In fact, it is projected to spike up to as high as $150 million by 2016. The cap was supposed to stay flat from 2014 to 2015 and it still went up.
This is not just an opportunity to spend big money on a player like a Mike Wallace or Karlos Dansby. This is an opportunity to completely transform your defense. This is as sure a thing as it gets. Is there risk? Absolutely. Suh may suffer a serious injury and never fully recover, he may get struck by lightning, etc etc. But the options are to sit there and play it safe or move mountains. This team has missed the playoffs now almost every single year for over a decade. It's time to change the game. And Suh does that.
Congratulations, Miami fans! You have landed the preeminent free agent of the century thus far in Ndamukong Suh. From a Lions scribe who has watched every snap the fantastic defensive tackle has ever played–most several times–here is a little breakdown on what exactly you are getting for the reported six years and $114M, at least $60M of which is guaranteed.
You are getting an interior dynamo. Ndamukong Suh will be the primary focus of the opposing blocking scheme on every snap he’s on the field. Offenses have to account for his alignment, and he’s always been good in Detroit at making subtle pre-snap adjustments to change the angle or alter the OL coordination. Very few teams have ever successfully handled Suh with just one blocker for more than a handful of snaps.
You are getting a legit pass-rushing threat up the gut from the line. Suh can destroy pass protection with rare power. He’s a strongman amongst strongmen, blessed with violent muscle throughout his body. His jolting hands and how forcefully he follows it with coordinated leg drive and core strength is something no other defensive lineman has, not even J.J. Watt.
Yet he can also win with quickness. Suh has learned to set up moves better and to use his foot positioning to improve his football geometry. At heart he still wants to win every battle with a vulgar display of power, but he’s got the ability to do more.
You are getting a player who stays on the field. He’s never had anything more than an annoying injury, hardly ever missing any practice time let alone games. In that aspect he’s quite different from the other former Lion on the defense, Louis Delmas. Suh can play 6 snaps in a row on a drive and remain effective too. Stamina and conditioning will never be an issue.
You are getting a player who has developed into an outstanding run defender. It wasn’t always that way, but he has learned how to better locate the ball and to take better angles when he’s chasing it. Some Lions fans would argue with me about this point, but I also believe his overall football IQ has improved significantly in his 5 years.
You are getting a player who will “only” bag between 6 and 10 sacks, which on the surface seems like a terribly poor return on investment. Judge Suh not by his own numbers but by the sack productivity of the entire defense. In Detroit he was very good at tying up two blockers and clearing a blitzing lane for the MLB or a safety. He is great on stunts and twists, springing George Johnson or Ziggy Ansah for clean shots at the QB.
Because you already have an elite pass rusher in Cameron Wake, it might be hard to gauge Suh’s corollary impact on the pass rush. You will want to look at sack and QB Hurry stats from the lesser and role players…
…and here is where the story changes. The massive financial commitment means much of the rest of the defense is going to consist of lesser and role players. It is absolutely imperative for your front office to hit on schematic fits in days two and three of the draft, and to get lucky with an undrafted free agent or low-cost veteran or two every year. That’s not impossible–Detroit did it the last two years–but it creates a very thin margin for error.
Thin will also characterize the depth. When you sign a player to that kind of deal, there is less room for middle class on the roster. And that’s not just on defense, either. The front office will have to be sharp, and the coaching staff must excel at player development and recognizing what the assets on hand can and cannot do. These are the primary differences between the 4-12 Jim Schwartz Lions and the 11-5 Jim Caldwell Lions.
One thing you are not getting is a leader. He has tried hard to build up his reputation in this area, but it’s always been hollow noise. Delmas is a leader. Suh is an extremely talented individual who others can emulate, but he’s not going to lead the charge into battle or galvanize a locker room around him. There won’t be any problems with Suh in the locker room, but it can be awkward when the highest-paid player isn’t the definite leader. Detroit knows this with Calvin Johnson.
You are getting a divisive persona. Some would call Suh a pariah for his on-field controversies. It’s always been a delicate balance for Detroit fans, who see the attempted decapitation of Andy Dalton, the unnecessary cut block on John Sullivan, the grazing blow with his foot to Matt Schaub’s man region, the stomps (yes, plural), and to try and weigh how vociferously to defend the acts while at the same time being honest.
My take? He’s not a dirty player, but he is a victim of his own inability to control his aggression in the heat of the moment. Lions fans know dirty. Dom Raiola was our center for over a decade. Raiola was dirty. Suh is more prone to temporary insanity than “dirty” play in and play out. Unfortunately that makes his incidents more unpredictable and frustrating. It is going to happen, and his history has escalated the stakes to where Suh will get suspended for at least a game with any future incidents, even the fuzzy ones like his late-season stomp.
Many Lions fans are going to be cross about losing him, and some will go out of their way to dog their former hero. That’s natural. I know this a little too well as a die-hard Cleveland Cavaliers fan who watched “The Decision” on my father’s 65th birthday and made the cake taste like literal crap. It’s not like that with Suh, not for me anyway. Ndamukong always made it quite clear this was all business, almost coolly so. It’s frustrating to lose him but he never vacillated from his business plan and that’s part of who you are getting too. The man is quite smart, but he’s loyal to himself over all else.
Good luck with Suh. Sincerely. He was a treat to watch over the last five seasons (covering him professionally, not so much but that’s the local media’s problem) and he can make a good defense great.