A lot has been made about the Miami Dolphins bringing in big-name (meaning recognizable) middle linebacker options in recent days to fill the vacancy created by rookie Raekwon McMillan’s season-ending knee injury.
Rey Maualuga and Kelvin Sheppard were brought in for workouts. Sheppard signed with the Chicago Bears Friday so he’s out, but a couple of others whose names I have not confirmed are also in the workout pipeline.
But none of have been signed. And, although Dolphins probably don’t share this opinion, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to sign any before the start of the regular season.
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First is for financial and cap reasons. With no exception, the players named above carry an NFL minimum salary of $900,000. And if the Dolphins were to sign any of these veterans now and keep them on the roster going into Week 1 of the regular-season, the team would have to guarantee that money for the entire season.
After Week 1, the team can sign any vested veteran to a minimum salary contract but if the club eventually decides to get rid of the player for whatever reason -- poor performance, rise of another player, change in strategy -- it is not on the hook for the entire salary of the one-year deal or the cap hit from that deal. In this case, the deal is basically a pay-as-you-go affair.
Now, you must know that when the Dolphins add a veteran linebacker, they’ll likely invoke the Minimum Salary Benefit (MSB) Rule. That rule was put in place to allow veteran players to be signed to cap-friendly deals instead of being replaced by cheaper, younger players. The MSB allows veteran players to be signed to one-year contracts with the applicable minimum salary (based on service time). The team must also pay an $80,000 signing bonus.
And for that deal the team counts $695,000 against the cap rather than, in the case of the above vets, $980,000.
So why don’t the Dolphins simply pull the trigger now, then?
Again, if they do that now, every penny of that contract would become guaranteed. That means the budget owner Stephen Ross set for the team suffers a minimum $980,000 hit and the $695,000 cap hit remains for the whole season and subtracts from the carryover the team can use for next year.
If the Dolphins wait until after the first game, they pay week to week for the service they actually use.
Again ... If, say, Maualuga is signed after Week 1 but cut in November, the Dolphins save the money that would have been due in December from their bottom line and salary cap as well.
So for this reason alone, the Dolphins would be smart to wait on signing a veteran linebacker until after Week 1.
The second reason the team can afford to wait is Mike Hull’s performance. The Dolphins are not unhappy with Hull.
Did he play like a latter day Mike Singletary Thursday night against the Baltimore Ravens?
He had hiccups. He over-ran one run play. He guessed wrong on another play, filling a hole while the running back cut outside.
But he was solid in coverage -- including against running back Danny Woodhead.
The Dolphins also think Hull can be better because the people around him now are better than the folks last year when he played in a pinch.
“Yes, he’s always going to be active,” coach Adam Gase said. “That’s what he does. It was a different scenario for this year. Last year he was filling in for Kiko (Alonso) and we were playing with other guys who were our second-string type guys. This year he’s got (Lawrence Timmons) and Kiko next to him. That makes it a little different.”
So basically, the Dolphins believe Timmons and Alonso can “protect” Hull.
The third reason the Dolphins have held back from signing someone is because we’re seeing a steady decrease in value for players who are primarily run stoppers.
Because the NFL is so pass-happy, putting three wide receivers on the field, often emptying the backfield, defenses respond with more defensive backs on the field. Late last season, the New England Patriots went to their nickel, with only two linebackers in the game, as their base defense.
The Patriots, by the way, won the Super Bowl.
Anyway, most teams go with two linebackers -- tops -- in the nickel. Some teams with the right personnel are using one linebacker and a freight-train defensive back like T.J. McDonald at LB.
That means the run-stopping linebacker plays only 25-30 plays a game.
If the Dolphins sign Rey Maualuga tomorrow (possible) he’s only going to play 25-30 plays a game. The value does not equal the cost, in my opinion.
All these combined factors strongly suggest one conclusion: The Dolphins aren’t adding a veteran LB such as Rey Maualuga right now.
Obviously, this is only my opinion. I don’t get a vote. The Dolphins can look at all the logic I just laid out and say, “To heck with it, let’s sign Rey Maualuga right now!”
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero