In the end, Charles Clay was simply too expensive.
But J.D. Walton? The price was right.
On the day the Dolphins elected not to match the Bills’ five-year, $38 million contract offer for Clay, they signed Walton, a reserve lineman who started all 16 games for the Giants last year, to a one-year deal.
Walton was one of three free agents to visit the team’s Davie headquarters Thursday. The others: receiver Michael Crabtree and quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. As of late Thursday, neither had agreed to terms with the team.
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But the major news of the day was the loss of Clay, the Dolphins’ top tight end from the last two years, to a division rival.
A team source indicated the Dolphins harbor no ill-will toward Clay, but added the organization is excited about the pairing of Jordan Cameron and Dion Sims moving forward.
Clay was operating under the transition tag, a one-year, $7.1 million tender that allowed him to sign a long-term deal anywhere else, with no compensation owed the Dolphins.
Miami elected to give Clay the transition designation instead of making him its franchise player, which would have cost just $1.2 million more and made it all but impossible for another team to poach him.
It became clear that the organization was in danger of losing Clay at the start of free agency, when the Bills made him a top priority. It took a week for Clay to eventually agree to the Bills’ terms, which includes $20 million in guaranteed money. The Dolphins had until Sunday to match but decided to move forward and recoup the $7.1 million in cap space to sign other players.
Enter Walton, a sixth-year veteran who probably replaces Samson Satele as the team’s first lineman off the bench. He was a center for the Giants last year but struggled at times. Pro Football Focus ranked him the No. 38 center in football, even though he allowed just 16 hurries on the season.
The broader question: How to replace Clay’s production in the passing game. If signed, Crabtree would add a veteran presence to the locker room.
Jackson, meanwhile, would be a backup to Ryan Tannehill. The eight-year veteran spent three seasons with the Seahawks, where he was a starter in 2011. He has completed 59.6 percent of his career passes for 39 touchdowns and 35 interceptions ‒ a 78.5 passer rating.
Signing Jackson would surely mark the end of Matt Moore’s time in Miami. The former team MVP had hoped earlier this week of returning to team, but money appeared to be a holdup.