The Miami Dolphins are hopeful but not necessarily optimistic they will be able to trade offensive tackle Branden Albert in the coming weeks because making the deal involves a lot of moving parts somehow synchronizing to everyone’s satisfaction.
One of the teams, and perhaps the only team, currently interested in Albert is the Jacksonville Jaguars, according to multiple sources.
The Jaguars need a starting left tackle because they recently decided not to pick up a club option on Kelvin Beachum, effectively sending him into free agency on March 9 -- one year after they signed him to a five-year contract.
So if no other team gets involved, a trade between the Dolphins and Jaguars would require the two teams agreeing on compensation for Albert. And it would also require Albert agreeing to play in Jacksonville -- which tests his willingness to go to a team with little chance of competing for a championship while also perhaps seeking greater financial security if he goes up I-95 a few hundred miles.
Here’s how it works:
The trade agreement between the teams is usually the least complex issue in matters such as this.
The Dolphins are said to value draft choice compensation even if that won’t necessarily come in the form of an early-round pick. And because this deal would hit at the start of the new league year on March 9 -- nearly two months before the April 27-29 draft -- the Dolphins might want the pick in the coming draft rather than settle on a conditional pick for 2018.
A conditional pick, which probably would be Jacksonville’s preference, would grant the Dolphins a pick based on Albert’s performance and amount of contribution with the Jaguars in 2017.
If the teams cannot decide on draft pick compensation, which remains the most likely vehicle for getting a deal between the teams, the teams might explore player compensation.
And that deal would have to include a player the Jaguars are not eager to keep.
Tight end Julius Thomas is one obvious possibility.
The Jaguars signed Thomas to a five-year, $46 million contract in 2015 that made Thomas the fourth-highest paid tight end in the NFL. But after catching 24 touchdowns passes the previous two seasons in Denver, Thomas hasn’t produced at that level for the Jaguars.
He only played nine games and caught 30 passes, including four touchdowns last season.
Because of this, rumors persisted the Jaguars would release Thomas this offseason. Those subsided when the team kept Thomas through the Super Bowl because that meant $3 million of the player’s 2017 base salary became guaranteed. And teams do not typically release players once they guarantee significant portions of their base salary.
Except that doesn’t apply to a trade.
The Jaguars can trade Thomas and his new team would be on the hook for the base salary, including the guarantee. Indeed, if Thomas is traded to the Dolphins, they would take on the remaining three years of his deal. The Dolphins have shown a willingness to do this in the past as they took on cornerback Byron Maxwell’s contract after trading for him last season.
So why would the Dolphin be interested in Thomas?
Well, he’s a versatile tight end and they have a need at the position. And those 12-touchdown seasons Thomas delivered before arriving in Jacksonville happened in Denver.
Denver’s offensive coordinator at the time was Adam Gase.
Adam Gase, to make things crystal clear, is the Dolphins’ head coach now.
(Call me Sherlock Salguero).
So if the two teams can get past all those possibilities and agree to a deal, then Albert would have to agree to actually play for the Jaguars.
That might be the toughest part of the whole affair.
The Jaguars, you see, are rebuilding. Again.
The team has a new coach in Doug Marrone after a 3-13 season in 2016.
They were 5-11 the year before. And 3-13 the year before that. And 4-12 the year before that.
The Jaguars aren’t exactly high on the list of places for a veteran to go if he wants to win immediately.
And at age 32, and realizing he’s got more games behind him than ahead of him, Albert wants to win as quickly as possible. So Jacksonville would be an odd place for him to want to be.
(This, by the way, is the reason the Jaguars would want to trade for him. They realize that in an open free agency market where left tackles are at a premium, Albert would have multiple suitors and they probably wouldn’t be his first choice. So trading for Albert is perhaps the only way Jacksonville can get him).
This means the Jaguars are going to have to convince Albert to want to be in Jacksonville. They have the advantage of being in the same state as Miami, which means Albert would continue not paying a state income tax because that’s in Florida’s constitution, and he’d be close to his current home. The weather, something Albert has said he enjoys in South Florida, is cooler but still pleasant in North Florida.
And then there’s money.
Albert is signed for two more years with cap hits of $10.6 million in 2017 and $11.3 million in 2018. None of that money is guaranteed.
It is a near certainty that Albert would not agree to go to Jacksonville unless that team commits guaranteed money to his deal and perhaps even extends it by a year or two.
That requires negotiation which requires time.
All this -- talks between the two teams and the next team and Albert -- must play out by March 9 when the NFL trade period begins. That’s the first day Albert can be traded to Jacksonville.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter @ArmandoSalguero