The Miami Dolphins cleared an important hurdle in their efforts to add Julius Thomas in trade Tuesday when the tight end passed his team physical, according to a source close to Thomas.
Thomas was told by the team he got the thumbs up on the physical and all is on schedule for a trade between the Dolphins and Jaguars -- sending Thomas to Miami for a seventh-round pick in the coming draft -- to be consummated March 9. That’s the day the NFL begins its new league year and the trade period begins.
Thomas visited the Dolphins’ facility and met a couple of coaches but it was not an unfamiliar experience, the source said. Thomas had visited the Dolphins facility in the spring of 2011 when he came on a visit prior to the draft. Obviously, the Dolphins didn’t draft Thomas out of Portland State that year but Thomas clearly knew where he was going much of the day Tuesday.
Although the Dolphins are not allowed to talk football with Thomas, it is widely understood he will be able to quickly find a comfort zone in the team’s offense because he played in the same system in Denver for years earlier in his career. In that regard, Thomas will be the most experienced offensive player in the Dolphins system when the trade is finally made because the rest of Miami’s offensive players have been in coach Adam Gase’s system only one year.
Thomas passing his physical is noteworthy because he had struggled with injuries throughout his career and that was especially true in 2016. Thomas, who has never played a full 16-game schedule in his six-year career, was limited to nine games and six starts last season because he was nursing a fractured tailbone, back issues, an ankle and elbow injuries.
He is nonetheless expected to be 100 percent ready for the start of training camp once he is traded to Miami.
The Thomas visit is scheduled to end Wednesday, according to a league source.
It will be a busy day at Dolphins camp as the team is welcoming several alumni players to its facility to celebrate their careers with the team.
As many as a dozen former players will go to Davie and sign ceremonial contracts with the Dolphins before they officially retire from the NFL. All have been retired from the NFL for years but didn’t necessarily fill out the requisite retirement papers with the league.
They will do this after they “rejoin” the Dolphins upon signing their contracts and then they can retire as Miami Dolphins.
Yes, Dan Marino will be among the players signing a ceremonial contract so for one day on Wednesday, Marino will once again be a Miami Dolphin.
(Marino’s been working for the team as a special advisors to President and CEO Tom Garfinkel for several years).
The ceremony, which will be held in front of team staff and on the team’s social media accounts, is intended as a morale building exercise for the organization.
It will highlight players, who mostly dedicated their careers to the Dolphins. That’s important for the organization now because it touches on the theme of this offseason.
The Dolphins, you see, are focusing this offseason on players that really, really want to play for Miami. They are also focusing on re-signing their own pending free agents.
And what those together mean is that the Dolphins are telling their players to stay with the team, but also prove they want to be here by perhaps taking less money than they could on the open market.
That helps the team in its ability to retain and add more players while managing its cap. That affects the locker room in that players can get a sense the team isn’t more focused on adding high-priced outsiders.
For several years, and hitting its height with the signing of Ndamukong Suh in 2015, the Dolphins got something of a reputation within their own locker room that the organizational focus was rewarding players joining the team as free agents -- rather than re-signing players who had already been part of the organization.
It was a complicated issue because oftentimes the players the Dolphins had a chance to re-sign had been drafted by previous personnel departments or coaches, which explains a change in direction. Also, those players didn’t exactly lead the Dolphins to any meaningful success. So there’s that to consider.
But with the team making the playoffs in 2016, a first since 2008, and with the same personnel department and Gase still in charge, the Dolphins want to retain and reward their players ...
...As long as those players agree that playing in Miami is so important to them that they might pass up bigger contracts from other free agency suitors.
This primarily affects receiver Kenny Stills and perhaps defensive end Andre Branch. Both have made it clear to the team they want to return to Miami.
But both are likely to get big offers in free agency -- perhaps bigger offers than the Dolphins are willing to make.
The question will be whether Stills and Branch chase the cash elsewhere or stick with a team and system where they’ve had proven success.
The two most significant contracts the Dolphins have so far agreed to this offseason -- an extension for Cameron Wake and the restructuring of Julius Thomas’s contract -- have fallen into line with that new team approach.
Although the Wake extension was reportedly worth $19 million, it is actually worth $15 million, with $11 million of that guaranteed. So Wake averages $7.5 million per season the next two seasons. He’ll be a free agent in 2019 at age 37.
Just over seven million dollars per year for a double-digit sack player is not expensive.
Thomas, who signed a $46 million deal for five years with Jacksonville in 2015, agreed to take a pay cut to come to Miami. The actual numbers are not yet known because the trade has not been made, but it is believed Thomas, who was scheduled to cost Jacksonville $8.3 million against the cap in 2017, will now cost the Dolphins around $7 million against the cap.
Armando Salguero on Twitter @ArmandoSalguero