At the close of business Thursday, Mike Wallace remained a member of the Miami Dolphins.
And there’s a chance, however slight, that he will stay one for the foreseeable future.
The Dolphins are considering all options when it comes to their highest-paid, yet malcontented employee ‒ keeping him, cutting him or trading him ‒ but as of Thursday, had not made a final determination on any of them. That means it’s possible that Wallace, he of the $9.9 million salary in 2015 and locker room disharmony, could return to the team.
NFL Network first reported that the team might try to trade Wallace in the coming days, but given the crippling terms of his contract ‒ he’s owed roughly $33 million over the next three years ‒ they’ll be hard-pressed to find a suitor.
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Team executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum appeared on SiriusXM NFL Radio on Thursday morning, and was asked about the report.
“Mike’s on our team,” said Tannenbaum, who added: “We don’t comment to rumors.”
Tannenbaum did go on record about two other players whose days in Miami might also be numbered: tight end Charles Clay and defensive tackle Jared Odrick. Both are set to become free agents March 10.
“Those are two of the guys that we would like to keep,” Tannenbaum said, confirming previous Miami Herald reports. “Charles is a homegrown talent. He checks every box. ... [Odrick] can really play in any system. He will play in this league for a long time.”
Both are expected to command in the neighborhood of $6 million annually. The Dolphins probably can’t afford to pay both, short of significant cuts.
League insiders say that if the Dolphins can strike a deal with Clay in the coming weeks, it probably decreases the likelihood Wallace remains.
What the Dolphins decide to do with Wallace has a ripple effect on the rest of the roster ‒ with Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson the most to lose or gain. It’s next to impossible to envision a scenario in which all three return in 2015, but as of Thursday, the team had not yet made its intentions known to those players.
If Wallace stays, the Dolphins will likely either cut Hartline or Gibson or work to restructure their deals. There’s a possibility that both will be gone if he stays.
Tannenbaum said on SiriusXM that, in three weeks, “I think our team will look different. Our plans aren’t finalized. I like to say our plan is firmly etched in pencil.”
Assuming as many do that the Dolphins cut Wallace with the June 1 designation or somehow trade him (each move would will free up more than $5 million in cap space), they have an array of options.
Here is one of the more likely:
Keep Hartline and Gibson (who would cost a combined $11.7 million against the cap in 2015) and either sign a wideout in free agency or take one early in a receiver-rich draft.
At first blush, free agency appears to be a potential gold mine. In the coming weeks, contracts are set to expire for the Cowboys’ Dez Bryant, the Broncos’ Demaryius Thomas, Green Bay’s Randall Cobb, Philadelphia’s Jeremy Maclin and Baltimore’s Torrey Smith.
How many actually make it to the open market remains to be seen. The fewer that do means the higher the cost ‒ which would be bad news for the Dolphins, who currently have the fifth-worst salary cap situation in the league. Moving on from Wallace and other high-priced veterans would bring relief, but league power brokers don’t expect the type of first-day free agency bonanza that we’ve seen out of Miami in the past two seasons.
Instead, a more realistic scenario is for the Dolphins to target a player from the second or third tier, such as Eddie Royal, Nate Washington ‒ or even former Dolphin Ted Ginn Jr.
None of those players are Mike Wallace, however.
That’s why many believe the team would instead take a speedy receiver in the first two rounds of the draft. The Dolphins have plenty of possession receivers; they’d need to bring in a true deep threat or risk a repeat of 2012, when the speed-deficient Dolphins couldn’t stretch the field.
As many as 13 receivers could go in the first two rounds, with five earning clear-cut first-round grades from NFLDraftScout.com: Alabama’s Amari Cooper (who attended Miami Northwestern High), West Virginia’s Kevin White, Louisville’s DeVante Parker, Arizona State’s Jaelen Strong and Oklahoma’s Dorial Green-Beckham.
The Dolphins own the 14th pick, and would likely need to trade into top 10 to land either Cooper or White (who ran a 4.35-second 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine). But considering how widespread their needs are, they could be more apt to stand pat.
That’s why some draft forecasters think they’ll target Parker, who ran a 4.45-second 40 at the Combine.
“Produces explosive plays without top-end speed,” wrote Lance Zierlein, a draft analyst for NFL.com.
If the Dolphins wait until Round 2 to grab a wideout, there might be no better deep option than Phillip Dorsett, the University of Miami alum who ran the third-fastest 40 (4.33 seconds) in Indianapolis.