If the Dolphins are truly committed to rewarding their own who, in Mike Tannenbaum’s words, work hard and respond when pushed by coaches, then Jordan Phillips deserves a raise this off-season.
Because he did precisely that in 2017.
Phillips, a former second-round pick, was a disappointment his first two seasons. His talent? Undeniable. His effort? Unreliable. “Hot and cold” is how he put it.
Phillips knew Year 3 was critical for him, and insisted last spring that “I’ve grown up a lot. I’m ready for the new opportunity. I’m ready to help the team the way I need to. ... I’m ready for the challenge.”
He meant it.
Phillips was clearly improved in 2017, even if his stats — which are unreliable in evaluating a defensive tackle — don’t reflect it.
Phillips had two sacks, 16 tackles and three pass breakups.
But he graded out 22nd in pass rush among the NFL’s 106 qualifying interior defenders, according to Pro Football Focus, and got better as the season progressed. From Week 11 on, he had all of his sacks, three of his four quarterback hits, 10 of his 18 hurries, all of his batted passes and seven of his nine defensive stops.
But the most important number? Eleven — as in starts. After a training camp battle with rookie Davon Godchaux, Phillips started 11 of the 13 games in which he appeared.
“I felt like I accomplished what I was trying to do,” Phillips said. “I had a better year, still wasn’t where I wanted it to be, but showed improvement and that’s all you can ask for.
“It’s just disappointing the way that I came into the league,” Phillips continued. “I’m just trying to change the views from you guys’ perspective to everybody around. I want to be a great player. I want to be an elite player. I’m gonna keep doing what I’ve gotta do to get there.”
Phillips is exactly the type of player the Dolphins need to take the next step if 2018 is going to be better than 2017. Dolphins general manager Chris Grier praised Miami’s young and developing core, which might soon need to take the team’s reins with Miami’s stars aging.
Ndamukong Suh is on the wrong side of 30 now, and while we marvel at his durability (Suh was on the field for every defensive snap in Miami’s home win over New England), at some point, that will change.
Phillips could be his heir, particularly if he proves 2017 was not a one-year blip.
Phillips is entering the final year of his rookie deal, and is in line to earn $1 million in 2018. He outplayed his contract this past season but would not break the bank to extend now. That buy-low value could vanish in 12 months if his trajectory continues on its current path.
“I’m gonna let them decide that,” Phillips said of having a long-term future in Miami. “Whatever happens, happens, but I put what I could on film regardless. We’ll see.”
So does he want a new contract this off-season?
“That’s something we’ll get into when the time comes. Right now I’m just playing ball.”