Every team in the AFC East except the Dolphins late Tuesday was chasing the opportunity to sign free agent cornerback Darrelle Revis.
The New England Patriots wanted to bring him back to make another Super Bowl run.
The New York Jets wanted to bring him back because they admittedly made a mistake letting him go way back when, and they have tons of salary-cap space to correct the error.
And the Buffalo Bills wanted to sign him because they also have a boon of salary-cap space, Rex Ryan is their new coach, and he loved Revis when the cornerback helped the Jets reach two consecutive AFC Championship games years ago.
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The NFL’s best cornerback would have been a huge upgrade for the cornerback needy Dolphins, too, and there was a connection here because executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum wisely drafted Revis to the Jets years ago.
But the Dolphins weren’t in it, and Revis picked the Jets.
The Dolphins weren’t a factor because they would have needed salary-cap savants to fit Revis under the cap with Ndamukong Suh’s pending signing hanging over their heads.
Wait ... Maybe “hanging over their heads” is not the right phrase because it suggests gloom and dread. And getting the best free agent on the market is not a gloomy or dreadful act for the Dolphins.
Getting the NFL’s signature unrestricted free agent is an audacious act. It takes moxy. It makes the Dolphins relevant, which owner Stephen Ross likes.
But the act nonetheless has consequences.
Signing Suh comes at a steep, steep cost.
And soon into the start of free agency Tuesday we started to see the mere tip of that cost.
Minutes after 4 p.m. we learned the Bills (yeah, them again) had booked a flight and were expecting tight end Charles Clay to visit. It’s not a social call.
The Bills are hosting Clay, the Miami transition tag player, because they want to sign him to an offer sheet. And they plan to author that offer sheet in such a way as to make it prohibitive for the Dolphins to be able to match it because of the salary-cap consequences.
So a division rival with cap space is trying to poach Miami talent the way other teams try to poach New England talent — because Miami and New England have tight cap constraints.
The problem is the Dolphins have these tight constraints without benefit of any of New England’s recent success. The Dolphins have these constraints without benefit of an elite, Super Bowl-winning, MVP-award-winning quarterback on the roster.
The Bills are trying to outflank the Dolphins en route to Clay because the team wanted to keep him enough to offer him a $7 million tender but not enough to either do a long-term deal or use the more expensive franchise tag — either of which would have secured Clay for the Dolphins.
I get not using the franchise tag. I don’t understand not agreeing on a multiyear deal that could actually count less than the tender price of $7 million against the cap.
So the Dolphins either badly misjudged the market for Clay. Or they were constrained by, you guessed it, the whopping cost of Suh’s $114 million deal.
If you doubt how much Suh is getting consider that he will be the highest-paid NFL defensive player and fifth-highest paid player overall on a yearly average. The four players ahead of Suh are all quarterbacks. Three of those guys have won Super Bowls and did their deals after those title victories.
Then there is this: Suh will make more than Peyton Manning or Tom Brady this season.
And, hey, it’s not my money. Whatever Ross wants to do with his billions is his prerogative. But in a league with a hard cap, the Suh cost leaves potential for problems.
“Suh robbed the bank,” NFL Network analyst and former Dolphins fullback Heath Evans said on air. “And Joe Philbin is going to get framed for this bank robbery. The trickle-down effect of this will be devastating to this franchise, mark my words.
“We’re going to look back here in history and say this is dumb.”
This is not dumb. Not now. The Dolphins got better on the defensive line.
Signing Suh while letting Jared Odrick and probably Randy Starks walk is an upgrade for the defensive line and definitely the run defense.
But gone are the days of free agency being Miami’s open season for multiple big signings.
Tannenbaum, general manager Dennis Hickey and executive vice-president Dawn Aponte are going to earn every penny of their checks when they have to figure out how to get quarterback Ryan Tannehill signed to his coming huge deal, how to keep defensive end Olivier Vernon signed after 2015 when he wants $10 million a year and how to make it work for Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey when he also wants $10 million a year later this summer.
And did I mention the Dolphins still have holes at middle linebacker, guard, safety and cornerback to fill?
It’s going to be interesting to see how the Dolphins address those needs.
One thing is certain: Revis isn’t coming to Miami.