Armando Salguero

Miami Dolphins set free agency priority: Re-sign Stills, Branch

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills (10) is one of two immediate priorities for the Dolphins as they prepare for unrestricted free agency.
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills (10) is one of two immediate priorities for the Dolphins as they prepare for unrestricted free agency. adiaz@miamiherald.com

The Miami Dolphins are scheduled to meet with the agents for Kenny Stills and Andre Branch while they are in Mobile, Ala., for Senior Bowl practices, according to league sources, with the hopes of setting a baseline starting point in negotiations in order to retain both players.

Stills, a wide receiver, and Branch, a defensive end, are the Dolphins’ free agent priorities, according to sources. Both become free agents able to sign with any team this offseason if they remain unsigned. And so it is important these meetings are productive so that talks can proceed to the point neither player actually hits free agency when it begins.

Kenny Stills, Miami Dolphins WR, had a big catch in the fourth quarter for a touchdown but also didn't win the competition with a Buffalo Bill's defender for a long pass to him in the third quarter.

The Dolphins, of course, are not fretting publicly they might lose Stills or Branch. But there are reasons each player individually is important to the team and as a duo represent a message the team might send to other players on the roster.

With Stills, the Dolphins obviously don’t want to lose a receiver who led the team with nine touchdown catches and became one of coach Adam Gase’s favorite players.

“It’s important for us to bring him back,” general manager Chris Grier said. “We’d like to have him back. It’s his right to test the market and see what he can get, but we’d like to have him back.”

There is no doubt the Dolphins would rather their meeting with Relativity Sports, the representation for Stills, be so productive that they can get a deal done and the player never tests free agency. That will depend, not surprisingly, on money.

If the Stills camp comes to the meeting with a price that is so beyond what the Dolphins are willing to pay their deep threat, then the team will likely wait for free agency to begin and hope the price they’ve set for the player is close to what the market dictates.

If, however, the two sides are in the same zip code, then negotiations can move forward.

The case is similar with Branch, who is represented by Jimmy Sexton. Sexton also represents Ndamukong Suh and Gase among others.

Andre Branch, Miami Dolphins DE, says they failed to stop the Baltimore Ravens in their victory over the Fins on Dec. 4, 2016.

And there is some mild pressure on the team to make these deals because the Dolphins have enough needs to address this offseason without adding a couple of more. The team also doesn’t want to promulgate the idea that it pays players that come from the outside while declining to do so for players already on the roster.

“We want to keep our own,” executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum said. “We’re never going to bat a thousand. The system just is not set up for it. We’ve been able to extend some players before I started -- some like Mike Pouncey or Ryan Tannehill we were able to do -- but candidly, you can’t keep them all. We understand that and acknowledge that.

“We’ve studied it hard and we try to come up with offers that are fair, but knowing that, as Chris just said these guys earned the right (to be free agents) and some are going to do extremely well in free agency and we totally understand that. Sometimes they don’t. That doesn’t nearly get the attention as the ones that do. We’re going to prioritize them. We’re going to try to keep our own the best we can. “

Stills and Branch are the priority right now, before free agency, because the team wants to know to what extent it will have to draft or chase free agents at the position both play to find replacements if they leave.

Tight end Dion Sims is also a priority although not on the scale of Stills or Branch. It was unclear Wednesday evening if the team is meeting with agent Jason Chayut of SportsStars in Mobile.

And speaking of priorities ... the extension of receiver Jarvis Landry and safety Reshad Jones fall behind the immediate work of getting clarity on Stills and Branch.

The reason for that is simple: Both Landry and Jones are signed for 2017 so there is no sense they might go elsewhere. The Dolphins have no intention of letting either player leave. Both will get their extensions. But those extensions are not the first order of business.

The Dolphins have not begun talking extension with Landry’s agent and while there were some passing references to talks with Jones during the season, that is not getting done in the next five minutes, either.

“Again, just making sure we evaluate our roster right and then we’ll worry about the guys right now with the immediate free agents and then we’ll start working towards the guys that are still under contract,” Grier said.

What is happening in Mobile this week comes after the Dolphins have set an internal price tag for Branch and Stills. Call it a budget they do not wish to blow because the team realizes there are other players to sign and add down the road.

“...Hopefully if we’re sitting here in August, not only have we kept some of our own but hopefully we’re also talking about two or three meaningful extensions of guys that are prospective free agents heading into 2018 because that’s something that again is going to be really important to us,” Tannenbaum said.

Adam Gase, Miami Dolphins coach, talks about his post-game speech after their loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. He told the players to enjoy this moment, some of the players would not be on the team next year, "that's the fact of the NFL".

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Last year, some important and yet under-rated work of the offseason was to find depth along the offensive line.

Jason Fox, Dallas Thomas and others had been something of a disappointment when they were asked to play in multiple games and Tannenbaum and Grier were aggressive in finding players such as Kraig Urbik and Sam Young to replace them.

And both Urbik and Young were called upon in 2016 and while they obviously were not as good as the starters ahead of them, they both performed well considering their backup status.

This offseason there will be very important and yet under-rated work done to find depth at the linebacker position.

(Right now you’re saying the Dolphins better find starters there first. And that’s true. But also reserves).

Why?

Because the reserves are likely going to play and no one wants to have to sign a player off the street in September and thrust him into a starting role -- something the Dolphins did with Donald Butler last season.

“Philosophically, we have to keep improving the depth of our team and when you have guys on your roster, you have to assume they’re going to play,” Tannenbaum said. “You can look at the four teams that played this weekend, they did a great job. Those teams, all four of them, had players that were playing that maybe were somewhat unexpected, be it from injuries or team players that were traded off of other teams.

“I think depth is critical. I think we’ve gotten better and we still have a ways to go and every team, every year, the 2017 team is going to be different than 2016 team, but depth is an area that we’re constantly talking about.”

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The Dolphins were not too thrilled about the NFL letter they received Wednesday in which the league chastised the team for lack of strict compliance with the concussion protocol during their playoff loss to Pittsburgh weeks ago.

And, I must say, the whole issue seems like something of a public relations ploy by the league to make it seem as if their investigation turned something up that, indeed, they didn’t turn up.

The league basically called the Dolphins out for “not strictly” following the concussion protocol because Matt Moore was not taken to the locker room to have bleeding from his mouth examined. Bleeding from the mouth is considered a “documented symptom” of a concussion.

Yeah, well, Moore was bleeding because he bit his tongue.

Here’s the bottom line of this: The NFL acknowledged Moore did not present concussion symptom on the sideline and did not present concussion symptoms anytime thereafter. The league acknowledged the two doctors who examined Moore -- both Miami’s doctor and the Unaffiliated Neuro-trauma Consultant (UNC) -- got involved immediately in evaluating Moore and the video review.

The two doctors jointly cleared Moore to return to the game. And they were right in their diagnosis.

But the league still found fault.

Did Ted Wells conduct this investigation?

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