The Dolphins are operating in two realities right now.
The players and coaches are still fully invested in 2015.
The front office is already focused on 2016.
Executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum has made the latter clear with a series of recent moves that don’t help the team much in the present but could in the future.
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He claimed flawed pass rushers Quinton Coples and Damontre Moore off waivers. He used $125,000 of owner Stephen Ross’ money as a sweetener to keep quarterback Logan Thomas from bolting to Cincinnati.
Current players, however, can’t think that way. At least not publicly.
In separate interviews with the Miami Herald, the three veterans most at risk in the coming salary-cap purge — cornerback Brent Grimes, wide receiver Greg Jennings and tight end Jordan Cameron — had no interest in even discussing the future.
“I don’t know,” Grimes said with a hint of agitation. “I’m worried about the next game.”
Said Cameron: “I don’t [think about it] that because it’s so out of my control and such a far ways down the line. I’m just playing this week.”
Added Jennings: “I’ve put no thought into tomorrow. I live for today.”
Their agents, however, have surely thought plenty about tomorrow. Their clients are all due a good chunk of money in 2016. All three likely won’t see most — if any — of it, unless their seasons vastly improve in the final three games.
That’s why Sunday’s otherwise irrelevant matchup with the Chargers in San Diego has a bit of relevance. Grimes, Cameron and Jennings are auditioning — not just for the Dolphins but also for the other 31 teams around the league.
Cameron signed a two-year, $15 million contract in the spring. Like many deals, it has a back-loaded salary-cap impact. He is due $7.5 million in 2016, with a cap figure of $9.5 million.
That number is steep, but almost justifiable if Cameron was putting up Pro Bowl numbers. Instead, he has just 29 catches for 341 yards and two touchdowns this season — due in part to factors beyond his control.
The Dolphins can walk away from Cameron’s deal with minimal pain. If they cut him this offseason, he would cost just $2 million against the cap, a savings of $7.5 million.
Cameron, a Southern California native who has four-dozen friends and family members coming to Sunday’s game, is a good player still in the prime of his career. And the Dolphins don’t have anyone ready to replace him, so they might ask him to restructure his deal and take a pay cut.
When asked about that possibility, Cameron responded: “That’s a conversation I would have in March. Right now, it’s not in my thought process.”
Although Cameron’s best football might still be ahead of him, the same can’t be said for Grimes, who turns 33 next summer. His drop-off after two Pro Bowl years in Miami has been stark.
Sammy Watkins, Brandon Marshall and Odell Beckham Jr. have all roasted him in recent weeks.
Grimes said he wants to return to Miami next season. If he does, it will be at a greatly discounted price.
Grimes is in line to make $8 million in 2016, but even his outspoken wife, Miko, suggested earlier this year that he probably won’t ever see it. The Dolphins would save $6.5 million against the cap by cutting him.
Then there’s Jennings, who doesn’t even know if he will play at all in 2016.
When his career began, Jennings’ goal was to play eight seasons. He’s finishing up his 10th. But the Dolphins are loaded at the receiver position, and his production — 15 catches for 134 yards — doesn’t come close to justifying his $3.9 million salary in 2016.
So if Jennings does return next year, it will be at a greatly discounted price.
“Nothing’s guaranteed,” said Jennings, who seems to be OK if this season is his last. “You know when it’s time. I feel like I’ll know when it’s time.”
Would he be content with his career if it ends in three weeks?
“Content? That’s a strong word. I wouldn’t say content,” Jennings said. “I definitely have embraced my body of work.
“Content? You can always do more. Do I feel like I have something else to prove? No. But, like I said, I’m living in today and today, I’m in this locker room, playing ball, loving the game. And that’s where I’m at.”