The Dolphins on Wednesday stood by their 2017 plan to reward their own instead of spending big money on free agents, but acknowledged that their evaluation of some players might have been off.
In the past 12 months, the Dolphins have doled $169 million in new contracts to receiver Kenny Stills, defensive end Andre Branch, linebacker Kiko Alonso, and safeties Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald. Of the five, only Jones made the Pro Bowl.
“We were 6-10,” Dolphins executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum said. “We’ve got to look at everything. In a perfect world, we want to keep as many of our young guys as possible. We’ll look at that. The decisions we made, did they live up to the value that they were paid? Why or why not?
“As we sat a year ago and talked about the guys we want to keep — the Kenny Stills and the Branches and the Kikos — we all felt that was the right message to send to the locker room, coming off the season we did, how hard they worked, how much they were pushed by the coaches, how much they responded. Building a long-term program, that was a key building block for us, to try to reward our own as much as possible and then move forward from there.
“With that said, not every decision worked out perfectly, and we’re going to look at that. But we’re always going to try to lean towards taking care of our own before we look outward. We’ll continue to be opportunistic, but the more we can draft, develop our own, get coached, have the standard that Adam [Gase] sets for the players, that’s really important to us.”
Combined, these five players will eat up $43.6 million in cap space in 2018 — and all would cost more to cut than to keep. Two contracts in particular did not age well: those given to Alonso (four years, $29 million) and Branch (three years, $24 million). Alonso was a liability in coverage and Branch limped through an injury-plagued season.
Neither would command nearly the salary this year that they did last. But both will be on the roster in 2018, unless the Dolphins are willing to pay a steep salary cap price.
▪ After what can only be described as an undisciplined season by Dolphins players, Gase said “we need our veteran leaders to step up and really take control of this locker room next year.”
On the field, the team was 31st in accepted penalties, with nearly nine per game. Off the field, they had a number of embarrassments, including the night-club arrest of Rey Maualuga the morning of a team walk-through.
“I’ve talked to a lot of guys, especially after the season, about it’s never going to be the way we really want it, and the way we keep talking about it until guys really take control of this thing,” Gase said.
▪ Gase is so driven that “he would kill his own dog if he had to to go to a Super Bowl,” general manager Chris Grier joked. (For the record, Gase does not own a dog.)
So everything is on the table to get it fixed, including changes to his coaching staff. The team has already interviewed past Gase associate Dowell Loggains, who would help out on offense, but Gase said “we’re in no rush” to make a hire.
Gase will also take a close look at himself in the coming weeks.
“That’s going to be on the front-burner for me. I’ve spent a lot of time with [Tannenbaum and Grier] and they’re not shy about telling me when I screw up. I’m sure I [don’t] handle it well at first but I usually come around.”