The Miami Dolphins training facility, normally abuzz with activity, has been mostly quiet this week. Players packed their lockers over a week ago and cleared out. Assistant coaches are off this week and only a couple have wandered in and out.
Call it the calm before the storm.
And this offseason will indeed be a storm of activity and big decisions and important moves for a team that desperately wants to take another step forward in its development.
Simply stated, there are more than half a dozen moves the Dolphins must make or decide upon that will help determine the amount of success they have during the 2017 regular season.
In that regard the old adage is true: September and October games are won in March, April and May.
So I’m going to outline for you here some of the necessary work that must be done. Before I give you the agenda for the offseason, allow me to share some facts:
Fact One: The Dolphins are carrying over $8,363,708 in unused 2016 salary cap dollars to their 2017 cap, per the National Football League Players Association. No, they do not have to carry it over. They can elect to carry it over and they will because that is the way the Dolphins have operated forever and certainly under executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum. So this amount will be added to the salary cap amount at the start of the league year -- expected to be approximately $170 million. That means the Dolphins will be able to spend up to $178 million more or less to fill their roster in 2017.
This carryover of $8.3 million is great work by Tannenbaum and his team. The Dolphins are carrying over the most money of any team in the AFC East. The Dolphins are No. 7 in the NFL in most carryover. The Cleveland Browns will lead the NFL in carryover with $50.1 million.
Fact Two: Obviously the Dolphins already have salary cap obligations from previous years. The Dolphins are currently estimated to have approximately $146 million in cap liabilities for 2017 before any roster actions are taken. What this means is that without cutting anyone, without renegotiating any contracts, before signing anyone, the Dolphins are expected to have approximately $32 million in cap space for 2017.
Fact Three: That $32 million is not wholly accurate. How’s that for honesty? Look, the fact of the matter is the Dolphins will be cutting players, signing players, extending players, and doing other things. They will do things all NFL teams do to set themselves up for the best possible offseason. Most of those moves will be outlined below.
Now on to the Miami Dolphins offseason agenda:
Item One: Ryan Tannehill surgery -- Hello, it has been over a week since the Dolphins told the world they are not certain whether or not their starting quarterback needs left knee surgery. And, I get it, the chances he actually needs surgery are much smaller than those that he does. And even if he needs surgery, it might not be total reconstruction (replacement) of the ACL, which Tannehill partially tore along with his MCL.
But what if that is precisely what is necessary? If reconstruction is necessary, it should have been done weeks ago because rehabilitating from such surgery typically requires between seven and 10 months. Some guys take a year. And that’s simply to get back on the field. So on the remote chance Tannehill needs this surgery, why are we still waiting?
Again, Ryan Tannehill probably does not need surgery of this type. But the team doctors still have not made that call conclusively as of the last update from the team. And so until they do, this is a concern.
One more thing: If Tannehill does need reconstructive knee surgery, there is no possible or acceptable excuse for waiting this long. Waiting this long will have allowed an injury to the starting quarterback to bleed from one season to the next. And that is a fireable offense. Heads should roll if this happens.
It better not happen.
Item Two: Create more cap room -- This will happen prior to the beginning of the league year. Mario Williams will be cut as I reported Jan. 3. And that will save $8.5 million in cap space. The Dolphins will also be getting rid of Dion Jordan sometime before the 2017 season, as I reported Jan. 8. That move will not be a cap savings but rather a kind of what’s best for all parties involved to give everyone a chance to move forward.
Item Three: Get about the business of keeping their own -- If the Dolphins are going to be a team that builds on their culture rather than one that must rebuild it every season, they have to identify players they absolutely do not wish to lose and get about the business of keeping those guys. That must come before they start adding other players from the outside. So, in my opinion, they should probably extend safety Reshad Jones with a modest deal that makes him feel like he’s valued. That extension will also get Jones working in the offseason programs rather than skipping them as he did last year. Jarvis Landry also falls into this category as he’s signed through 2017 but has obviously outperformed his rookie contract and is a player the team absolutely wants to keep and absolutely should keep.
Item Four: Decide if Kenny Stills should be included in Item Three -- Stills is a pending unrestricted free agent. And he’s going to want to get paid. We’re talking $10 million per year or so, folks, by my estimates. The Dolphins are not in love with this price tag because, remember, they have to extend Landry and DeVante Parker will be coming up in a couple of years. So how much money do you want to invest in the wide receiver room? One should also consider that there will be outstanding wide receiver talent on the market this offseason so it’s not like the Dolphins won’t have options if Stills is too expensive.
But ... The guy earned his payday. He worked. He improved. He caught nine touchdown passes and was the team’s effective deep threat. The offense had more swag when Stills was on the field. It felt more dangerous. That has value. Coach Adam Gase wants Stills back. Stills wants to return. That is no secret. It is up to the front office and the Stills representation to get creative to make it happen.
And if not the Dolphins will get about the business of signing another deep threat receiver.
Item Five: Hire a linebacker coach -- Yeah, this one will happen before the first four and it is very important. The next Dolphins linebacker coach will have a young, new group of players that must be taught the team’s defensive scheme. The Dolphins want to add two new starting linebackers. They’re not coming from the 2016 roster so everything will be new to them. That means their coach must be outstanding. By the way, Joe Vitt was relieved of his duties as the New Orleans Saints linebacker coach a few weeks ago. He is Adam Gase’s father-in-law. But I’m told he will not be the one filling this vacancy.
Item Six: Make a decision on Branden Albert -- I cannot tell you how many times I heard from fans saying 2016 was Albert’s final season on the team. The thinking is Albert is going to be 33 years old and he’s going to cost $10.6 million against the cap and the team already has his replacement in Laremy Tunsil. I get all that. I also get that Albert turned in a bad playoff performance against Pittsburgh. It was as if he was an inexperienced player that day, whiffing on assignments and letting rushers run free at the quarterback. Really bad. But, in my opinion, Branden Albert is not a liability. He is a good NFL left tackle. And you don’t just discard those at a whim. I would keep him and see what shakes out. If another team needs a left tackle and is willing to pay a premium for Albert, then I consider the trading him. If not, he’s got to win that job in camp -- beating out Tunsil. And if he doesn’t, he might have to move inside to left guard. But simply cutting Branden Albert and creating another hole on the offensive line at left guard seems unwise. The Dolphins have enough holes to fill already.
Item Seven: Make a decision on Jermon Bushrod -- He has said he wants to return but he’s also going to be 33 years old and is unsigned for 2017. I would expect the Dolphins to try to upgrade at this position because Bushrod, smart and hard-working, is simply not the athlete he used to be. No disrespect. He must know it. I suppose the Dolphins will try to upgrade and if they cannot, they’ll offer Bushrod another one-year deal to serve as a stopgap. Indeed, they might offer him a one-year deal anyway and let him compete with whoever they add to the position as an upgrade. And may the better player win.
Item eight: Make a decision on Koa Misi: Yeah, this feels like a redundancy measure at best. He’s often hurt. He’s coming off a neck surgery. Yes, he’s a thumper and adds a certain toughness to the defense. But did I mention he’s always hurt? It’s hard to add toughness from the injured reserve list. If at any point this offseason the Miami Dolphins are telling you they added two new starting linebackers and one of those is Koa Misi in a return role, that will be a failure.
Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero