From purely a production standpoint, Andre Branch did not live up to his contract in 2017.
Only 10 4-3 defensive ends earn more than he does after Branch signed a three-year, $24 million contract in March.
Yet Branch has just four sacks this year, tied for 78th in the league.
Those stats have been used as a weapon against the Dolphins in recent days, one of several personnel decisions that don’t look great nine months removed.
But there’s more to the story.
Branch has not been right physically since injuring his knee two months ago.
He hasn’t complained. He hasn’t missed a ton of games.
But his performance has been affected by it.
Branch did not rule out offseason surgery on his knee, when asked by the Miami Herald, but has no doubt he will play in Sunday’s season finale.
He feels like he owes it to his teammates.
“I missed two and a half games, and for those two and a half games, I felt like I let my brothers down,” Branch said. “They’ll tell you I could never let them down, but for me, if I’m not out there or if I’m not being myself, I let my brothers down. This is a family. It’s rough, man. You want to be out there, but you let go and you let God take hold. You never question his plan, so for me, it’s to always bust my tail and make sure I’m the best me that I can be, and be able to do whatever I’m able to do on Sundays.”
Here’s the crazy thing, though. It’s unlikely, but not impossible, that Branch could still set a career high in sacks in Sunday’s finale game. He only needs 2 1/2.
And perhaps then, his critics will pipe down.
“Not everybody in the outside world gets it,” Branch said. “That’s part of the game, but I’ve fought my tail off to get back and be able to play this whole season, finish it out. As long as the guys in the locker room and my coaches and everybody else understands that, then that’s all that matters to me. I don’t get caught up in what other people say or what other people would think about me. I still have the respect of my teammates. They all understand how hard we have fought. I want to be at 100, but it’s unrealistic. I wasn’t at 100 this year, but it’s a part of it.”
▪ The Dolphins on Friday shut down safety Michael Thomas for the season. Thomas, who played through a damaged knee ligament, has been placed on injured reserve.
Taking his place on the roster: safety Trae Elston, whom the Dolphins claimed off the Bills’ practice squad.
Elston, a first-year player out of Mississippi, appeared in 13 games with the Bills this year, starting one. He has also spent time with the Eagles, Browns, Buccaneers and Saints.
▪ Tackle Laremy Tunsil (ankle), running back Damien Williams (shoulder) and quarterback Matt Moore (foot) are all expected to miss Sunday’s game against the Bills.
Zach Sterup would start at left tackle in place of Tunsil because, as Adam Gase put it, “I think that’s the only guy we’ve got left.”
When Gase was asked what he likes about Sterup, whom the Dolphins claimed off the Browns’ practice squad last month, he responded:
“I think his length. I don’t think I’ve been around a guy that tall and long. Just talking to some of the defensive linemen, especially when we first got him, I remember William Hayes coming up to me and telling me, ‘He’s got a really good punch. He’s hard to get around.’ We felt good, especially early, and he has kept learning about everything that’s going on. When he has been up, we’ve had those bigger packages to try to get him involved slowly. He has just been working, taking quite a few reps in practice.”
Eight Dolphins are questionable to play: tight end MarQueis Gray (hip), defensive end Charles Harris (thigh), linebacker Neville Hewitt (hamstring), safety T.J. McDonald, receiver DeVante Parker (ankle), cornerback Alterraun Verner (hamstring) and defensive end Cameron Wake (illness).