Miami Dolphins

Dolphins want players to finish strong before diving into contract negotiations

Coach Adam Gase loves the big-play potential of receiver Kenny Stills. Stills could be one of the Dolphins players in line for a sizable contract bump in the offseason.
Coach Adam Gase loves the big-play potential of receiver Kenny Stills. Stills could be one of the Dolphins players in line for a sizable contract bump in the offseason. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

The Miami Dolphins have nearly a dozen important players whose contracts expire after this season and several others who want contract extensions despite being signed through next year. But NFL sources say the team is currently not in any active negotiations with anyone.

So that means the Dolphins have important decisions looming but have decided to wait.

And there are two reasons for that:

The Dolphins are avoiding upsetting the chemistry of the locker room. The team wants every player thinking about one thing and that is winning Saturday’s game at Buffalo. Nothing else, and that includes the paragraph 5 figures on a proposed deal. The Dolphins also don’t want one looming free agent who might be striking a new deal talking about it with another looming free agent who isn’t close to a new contract or isn’t being brought back — possibly creating hard feelings among players.

And then there’s the more important reason. The Dolphins aren’t going to reward anyone until after the season when all the questions about performance and production (or the lack of it) have been answered.

And while that might cost the team some salary-cap space in the long run because deals typically get more expensive once the season is over, it’s smart business right now because of, well, motivation.

Play good. Pay good.

That’s what the Dolphins want their players to do through the remainder of this season, particularly through the current playoff push.

That means receiver Kenny Stills, tight end Dion Sims, defensive end Andre Branch, defensive end Jason Jones, linebacker Jelani Jenkins, defensive back Michael Thomas, and offensive guard Jermon Bushrod should be on notice. The stronger these players finish this season, the better their chances of becoming offseason priorities and returning to the team next season.

And if somehow those soon-to-be unsigned players cannot find common ground with the Dolphins on new contracts, a strong finish improves their chances of getting more money with another team.

Play good. Pay good.

It’s a win for the player. It’s a win for the Dolphins if the good performances help the team win.

The list of players above is interesting because some will definitely not be with the Dolphins next season. Some will find more lucrative deals elsewhere and choose to leave. That happened last offseason when Rishard Matthews, Lamar Miller and Olivier Vernon all struck it rich in free agency, signing contracts with other teams the Dolphins could not or would not match.

So, as the Dolphins say internally, some players will “graduate.”

But with their efforts so far this season and the difficulty of finding young players at their positions, it’s hard to see the Dolphins allowing Branch and Sims to graduate.

The Dolphins want both back. Branch is second on the team with  5 1/2 sacks, is tied for second with five tackles for loss and is tied for third with 11 quarterback hits. Branch, 27, is nearing the age in which pass rushers reach their prime and the Dolphins apparently have little concern he’s playing well because he’s in a contract year.

Sims, coming off a two-touchdown game at the Jets, is not going to break the bank. The Dolphins love his blocking and think he is improving as a pass-catcher.

Stills, a favorite of coach Adam Gase and the team leader with seven TD catches, will be an interesting dilemma for the Dolphins. If he continues to roast secondaries as he has been, he’ll solidify his case for collecting a big payday in the offseason.

Already the floor for a Stills deal may be $10.5 million per year, which is what Tavon Austin got from the Rams in an extension he signed last August. The question then will be whether the Dolphins can afford such a deal — an issue the team dearly wants to have because it will mean Stills finished the year strong.

The Dolphins have players they definitely do not want to let go. Jarvis Landry, Reshad Jones and Kiko Alonso are three of those and, interestingly, all three are tied to the team in 2017.

Both Landry and Jones are signed through 2017, and Alonso will be a restricted free agent who will be tendered at the highest possible level, meaning teams would have to give up a first-round draft pick for him. So all three will be with the Dolphins next season.

The issue is all three want new contracts.

Jones and Landry want extensions. Alonso would prefer a long-term deal that means he will be staying with the Dolphins rather than a one-year restricted player tender that keeps him off the market but also in a state of long-range uncertainty.

And my understanding is the Dolphins intend to address all three issues. But the issues will be handled in the offseason.

And in the meantime, for Landry and Alonso who remain on the active roster, play good ... pay good.

Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

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