Never forget this about Mike Tannenbaum: He swings for the fences.
Mario Williams was in town for a visit Saturday, suggesting that once again, the Miami Dolphins’ football czar is pursuing some of the biggest fish in free agency. Williams arrived at team headquarters around 3 p.m., according to a source.
But that was just the beginning of the news on a busy Saturday.
The Dolphins also cut veteran receiver Greg Jennings and restructured the contracts of Ndamukong Suh and Koa Misi — a series of moves that freed up as much as $23 million in salary-cap space.
None of these moves came as a surprise. Jennings was in line to make $3.9 million in base salary, which was too much for a player who caught just 19 passes last year. Suh’s contract restructure was a fait accompli, and Misi was working towards a new deal last week.
But the biggest story of the day was the Dolphins courting Williams, a four-time Pro Bowler. He is available after the Buffalo Bills cut him on Tuesday. The former No. 1 overall pick had two years left on a $100 million contract.
Williams teamed with Suh on the Dolphins defensive line would be frightening. He has 96 sacks in 10 NFL seasons, although just five last season in Rex Ryan’s new system.
How could Williams fit financially if the Dolphins needed to shed salary Saturday simply to get under the salary cap?
The simple answer is this: They rescind the transition tag placed on pass-rusher Olivier Vernon just days ago. That alone would give them $11.7 million in cap space.
It could also be a message to Cameron Wake that, if he doesn’t agree to a contract extension that lowers his $9.8 million cap figure in 2016, he also could be on his way out the door.
League insiders don’t think the Dolphins would have to break the bank to land Williams. He’s 31, and coming off the worst statistical season of his career. He will likely command a contract with an annual salary of around $6 million, according to one league source.
So swapping Williams for Vernon would have huge financial benefits for the Dolphins. In theory, they could use the savings to re-sign Lamar Miller, which the team wants to do, and then add a safety such as George Iloka, who played for new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph in Cincinnati.
Granted, the move wouldn’t come without risk. Vernon is just 25 years old and entering his prime.
Williams is clearly past his. How far past remains to be seen.
His five sacks last season were his fewest since his rookie season, and he famously took plays off. No doubt, part of that was because of his unhappiness in Ryan’s new system in Buffalo. The year before, Williams recorded a career-high 14 1/2 sacks and earned first-team All-Pro honors.
And perhaps the best argument for the Dolphins signing Williams is that it would prevent him from destroying them yet again. He has 8 1/2 sacks in his career against Miami and has singlehandedly ruined games.
Plus the prospect of teaming Williams, Suh and Wake is a nightmare for opposing coaches. Assuming Wake recovers fully from his torn Achilles’ tendon, the Dolphins could have one of the best pass rushes in football.