The Dolphins traded more than their most prolific receiver to the Browns.
They also sent their punt-return safety blanket to Cleveland.
While Jakeem Grant was Miami's primary returner in 2017, Jarvis Landry was often the guy Darren Rizzi turned to when the Dolphins needed a spark or a set of sure hands near the goal line.
He's gone now, so the Dolphins are in search of Plan B (or Plan A, if Grant's worrisome drops from his rookie season return in Year 3).
The good news: They have a bunch of guys who have done the job in the past.
"Obviously we all know [Danny] Amendola did it with New England," Rizzi said last week. "Albert Wilson is a guy that did it in Kansas City. He just got buried behind a couple of really good returners; but he’s got returner experience. Obviously he had De’Anthony Thomas and Tyreek Hill in front of him; but he’s a guy that’s done it before.
"Then Kalen Ballage was a kick returner at Arizona State," Rizzi continued. "He’s a big body that can run really well. He had some really productive kick returns. We’ve kind of added a couple of pieces there, as well."
Expect them all, and probably more, to get a shot when spring practices begin in earnest next week.
Amendola seems the most likely candidate to slide into the Landry role, both on offense and on special teams. He actually had more punt returns (27 to 25), punt-return yards (231 to 190) and a better average (8.6 to 7.6) than Grant last year, although obviously does not have the same game-breaking ability.
"We’re definitely going to look at all of them here in the preseason," Rizzi said. "You know how we’ve done it. You just kind of look at everybody and see what the best … At the end of the day, when we get to September, kind of feel what our best competitive advantage is moving forward; but all of those guys will be part of the equation, for sure."
Rizzi was one of nine special teams coaches asked to participate in an NFL committee tasked with making the kickoff safer, and believes the recommendations the group has offered will do that.
The league is alarmed with the high number of injuries, particularly concussions, that occur on kickoffs, prompting some to wonder if the play should go away altogether.
Rizzi does not believe it will come to that — but knows changes are needed.
Recommendations from the committee: Cutting the five-yard running start on coverages to one yard, banning wedges (and wedge-busting), bringing more players on the return team close to the restraining line and more.
"We all know the NFL is trying to make this play a safer play," Rizzi said. "At the same time, we want to keep the play competitive. We want to keep it exciting. We want to keep the fans tuned in. We don’t want to make a ton of wholesale changes."
Hanging with Haack
Matt Haack should like his chances to make this team.
While the Dolphins have an open competition at kicker between Jason Sanders and Greg Joseph and even brought in rookie Lucas Gravelle to compete with the ageless John Denney, Haack is the only punter on Miami's roster.
Rizzi explained why the Dolphins felt comfortable sticking with Haack, who ranked 22nd in gross (44.5 yards per) and 15th in net (40.7) a year ago.
"I just think Matt’s best football is ahead of him," Rizzi said. "The one thing you’ve got to remember with rookie kickers and punters is when they come in, if they make a team and go all the way through, they end up punting or kicking for 18 months in a row. ‘What do you mean?’ Well, they just finished their college season, then they train for the NFL the entire time and get right into the NFL season, and the NFL season is a long year.
"So Matt Haack was on an 18-month punting streak, if you will, so he hit a little bit of a wall at the end of the year," Rizzi continued. "But he’s got tremendous upside. I really feel like his best football is ahead of him. Really high ceiling. He’s a very talented guy. I really like where he’s at. I only think he’s going to get better, so I didn’t feel at this point … I felt like he needed the reps in camp and really didn’t feel like we needed to split time with him and anybody."