Six months ago, the agent for cornerback Sean Smith visited with the Dolphins and tried to convince them to sign his client. The pitch was about Smith wanting to return to the team that drafted him in 2009, wanting to again work at a facility that is seven minutes from his home and, oh by the way, offering help for the team’s obvious cornerback issues.
Agent David Canter’s meeting with football czar Mike Tannenbaum and executive vice president Dawn Aponte was professional, pleasant and not in any way acrimonious.
Despite the goodwill, however, the meeting did not yield fruit. The Dolphins quickly made it clear they weren’t interested in Smith.
They decided their need for a tall, long, accomplished press cornerback could be filled in other ways and done so more cheaply.
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And make no mistake, everyone knew Smith was not going to be a bargain signing. He ended up going to the Oakland Raiders for $38 million over four years with $20 million in guaranteed money.
But while the 29-year-old Smith found another team to fill his needs, the Dolphins’ need for a starting press cornerback opposite Byron Maxwell remains unmet. The search for that player is still under way.
The need remains obvious to me.
That need has become something of an open sore coach Adam Gase believes I’m picking at now.
That’s why Gase, known for trash-talking with his players, took a good-natured swipe when I asked how the current group of cornerbacks practicing through two days of training camp are doing so far.
“They’re doing better than how negative you want to be about it,” Gase said. “They’re doing good. They’re doing good.”
I like it. Swag from a Dolphins coach. Gase is sticking up for his corners in the face of critical thinking.
But if he thinks I’m picking on his guys or this topic, what’s he going to think when Russell Wilson starts doing it? Or Phillip Rivers? Or Ben Roethlisberger? Or Tom Brady?
What’s Gase going to do when Brandon Marshall or Sammy Watkins, Larry Fitzgerald or Antonio Brown are turning Miami’s inexperienced cornerbacks inside out and leaving them cross-eyed?
The Dolphins don’t believe that will happen to their cornerbacks this season. They don’t even believe it will happen to the ones not named Maxwell.
The team is exceedingly confident in what looks to be a strong defensive front that will turn quarterbacks to mush — and as everyone knows, mush doesn’t have a good completion percentage.
But the Dolphins also understand their cornerback situation is more question mark than exclamation point. That’s why defensive coordinator Vance Joseph finished practice Saturday and promptly went to a workout with three free agent cornerbacks as the team is already seeking to upgrade talent at the position.
After the tryout, the Dolphins signed Rashaan Melvin to a contract. Melvin’s most notable moment came with the Baltimore Ravens when allowed 14 completions for 210 yards and two touchdowns in 18 passes Tom Brady threw to receivers he was covering in the 2015 playoffs.
The truth is the club’s internal marching orders for its corners is “Hold on!”
Hold on for a mere three seconds during every pass play because the front seven is going to be at the opposing quarterback after that much time.
Hold on for rookie Xavien Howard, on the physically unable to perform list now, to get healthy, caught up and possibly in the lineup.
Hold on for the end of training camp when perhaps the personnel department can find a suitable trade partner to upgrade the position.
(A suitable trade partner is defined as another team willing to give up a viable cornerback in exchange for a player at a Dolphins position of strength, likely an offensive or defensive lineman.)
All of those possibilities address Miami’s cornerback issues. But none happen today. None come with certainty.
This much is certain: If the Dolphins had signed Smith, a 6-3 press cornerback, as a free agent, this looming issue would not exist.