No position has been more vexing or worrisome for the Dolphins in recent months than cornerback, with injuries and inexperience creating a level of uneasiness that sprung the front office into action this week.
Miami’s latest potential solution, Chris Culliver, arrives after missing 28 games over the past three seasons and is still recovering from major knee surgery that might keep him out until October.
But at the very least, he’s a veteran NFL starter, something the Dolphins lacked at the position beyond lead corner Byron Maxwell.
Culliver, who met with the Dolphins 10 days ago, on Wednesday signed a one-year deal that could pay him anywhere from $2.5 million to $5 million, depending on incentives. And neither he nor the Dolphins made any promises about when he will available after ACL and MCL tears sustained during a Thanksgiving practice ended his only season with Washington.
He begins his Dolphins tenure on the physically unable to perform list, and barring a change of heart, the Dolphins are inclined to leave him there to start the season, which would sideline him until the seventh game Oct. 23 against Buffalo.
But the Dolphins were aggressive in signing Culliver now because Chicago, Arizona and San Francisco expressed significant interest in adding him since Dr. James Andrews cleared him last week to resume physical activities.
“Right now, we’re in a day-to-day process,” Gase said. “We got a good feel for the kind of player we have. I’m excited to see him when we can get him out there and see what he can do in this defense. I like the fact we were aggressive and went out and got him. [We’re] adding depth at that position.”
Culliver, who said he’s doing some running and making “light” cuts, declined to say when he would be ready to play in a game. Asked when he might be on the field, he said: “Couple weeks. You will see me running around, doing a couple of things.” But he clarified that he doesn’t know when he will begin practicing.
“I’m taking my time and progressing,” he said. “They’ve got a good training staff here.”
Culliver, 27, missed all of 2013 with a torn ACL, then picked off four passes as a starter in 14 games for San Francisco in 2014 and parlayed that into a four-year, $32 million contract with Washington. But he played in only six games for the Redskins last year because of the knee and hamstring injuries and a one-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
That suspension stemmed from a 2014 arrest for misdemeanor hit and run, misdemeanor driving on a suspended license, and felony possession of brass knuckles after he allegedly hit a bicyclist with his car.
That wasn’t Culver’s only regrettable behavior.
During Media Day before the 2013 Super Bowl, Culliver — when asked by comedian Artie Lange if there were gay players on the 49ers — said: “No, we don’t got no gay people on the team. They gotta get up out of here if they do.... Can’t be with that sweet stuff. Nah…can’t be…in the locker room, man. Nah.”
He also said that any gay players should wait 10 years after retiring before coming out. He later apologized for his “ugly comments,” saying they were “not what I feel in my heart” and that he would welcome a gay teammate.
Three months after that incident, Culliver made offensive remarks about women on Instagram.
But the Dolphins weren’t deterred by comments made three years ago. And they decided they needed a veteran cornerback who could help them over at least the final 10 games.
“He wants to press, wants to be able to play man-to-man coverage,” Gase said. “That’s what we are. That’s what we’re looking for. We’re an attacking style defense and our corners have a lot of pressure on them to be able to cover. He’s a guy that can do that.”
Culliver, 6-0, said the Dolphins were “the best fit for me, how they do things. They’ve got a great defense, a great defensive line, a lot of great pieces. Glad to be here.”
He said defensive coordinator Vance Joseph’s attacking style appealed to him and the Dolphins’ pitch made clear he will have a chance to compete to start.
“You want to play,” he said. “You will see me out there soon. You will be surprised when I get out there and touch a couple people.”
In the meantime, Tony Lippett, a converted receiver, is expected to start Friday’s preseason opener at the Giants, and either Lippett or rookie Xavien Howard could start, opposite Maxwell, in the Sept. 11 opener at Seattle. Howard, recovering from knee surgery, has been working on the side and said he hopes to play late in preseason.
Miami Herald sports writer Armando Salguero contributed to this report