The first full week of NFL free agency gets under way Monday and you’re excited because you’re seeing speculative lists of potential additions. And you’re seeing reports of the Dolphins getting into a bidding war for defensive tackle Dontari Poe. And you see Dont’a Hightower isn’t signed yet so the Dolphins must still have a shot at him.
Did you hear any of this from me?
I don’t think so, because while those reports and lists and possibilities are out there, your trusty uncle Mando is hearing a different story.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
So let me make this plainly clear: The Dolphins are not done, per se, in free agency. They continue to look around for bargains. They continue to remain alert for opportunities -- such as the William Hayes trade that unexpectedly manifested itself last week even as Jabaal Sheard was visiting the team. More on that in a minute.
So free agency isn’t over for the Miami Dolphins.
But the next big signing out of this team may well be a Kiko Alonso deal that reportedly is still being negotiated.
It’s not going to be a big-name guy signing a deal for mega-bucks. It’s not going to be Dontari Poe if he’s got three other teams engaged in a bidding war for him, because the Dolphins aren’t going to get into a bidding war for him or any other defensive tackle.
(Poe on a bargain one-year, prove-it deal for, say, $2.5 million is another story. That would be good.)
And it most definitely will not be Dont’a Hightower (sad Mando face) because he is expensive and, the overall point here in case you didn’t catch it is, the Dolphins aren’t wading into the expensive deep end of what remains in the free agency talent pool.
Think being opportunistic.
Think draft, folks.
And now you’re thinking this cannot be true because the Dolphins still need a defensive tackle to help out Ndamukong Suh and Jordan Phillips. Poe makes perfect sense.
Except that, to use real estate parlance, the Dolphins are upside down financially at defensive tackle. The team, you know, is paying Suh billions of pennies this season to the extent that he accounts for a whopping 10.9 percent of the team’s overall cap. Only quarterback Ryan Tannehill accounts for more.
Add that Phillips, at a $1.19 million cap charge, accounts for another .70 percent of the team’s overall cap space and you have 11.6 percent of the team’s overall cap space tied up in two players at a position that neither scores touchdowns, nor takes over games (typically), nor touches the football (typically).
The way to address a need at such a position is not then to get into a bidding war for another player who wants to get paid.
And that is exactly what Poe wants to do because, well, money.
Maybe if the market dries up ... Or maybe a much less expensive veteran option.
The Dolphins also need a strongside linebacker because Lawrence Timmons will probably play the middle, Kiko Alonso will probably play weakside and Fill-In-The-Blank is not a good tackler or good in coverage as the strongside linebacker.
You need an actual player there.
Koa Misi is still on the roster but I’m told that could change in the next couple of months and even if it doesn’t, he’s not the guy the Dolphins want to be banking on going into the season. If he’s on the roster, he’ll be there as insurance and at a lower number (pay cut coming) than his current $4.778 million scheduled cap charge.
So, yes, I’m reporting the Dolphins will either cut Misi or ask him to take a pay cut. (I got a little overzealous a couple of weeks ago wondering why Misi was still on the roster at $4.778 million. It happens. I’m Cuban so I don’t do relaxed very well. The Dolphins, meanwhile, have it handled).
The Dolphins also need another starting guard.
Point of information: The Dolphins are hoping free agent addition Ted Larsen can win a starting job but they didn’t exactly pay a lot for the hope. He signed a three-year deal worth $5.65 million. His signing bonus was $1.25 million. His base salary for 2017 is $975,000 of which $500,000 is guaranteed. His 2018 base salary is $1.5 million and its $1.85 million in 2019. Larsen also gets a $25,000 workout bonus each of his three seasons -- assuming the guy works out.
So Larsen’s cap number in 2017 is $1.416 million. That’s a great cap number for a starting guard.
The Dolphins are looking for similar with the other guard spot if possible -- either by adding a vet or drafting someone.
Veteran Jermon Bushrod, who started 17 games at left guard in 2016, wants to return but the team considers him a fallback position in case nothing else works out.
About Hayes, as promised:
I love this addition. The scouting report I get on him is he’s a very solid run stopper, which was a major problem for the Dolphins in 2016 as they were 30th in the NFL against the run. Re-signing Andre Branch did not improve the run defense because he struggled holding the edge against the run during significant portions of last season.
Hayes is different in that regard. Now, Hayes is not an elite pass rusher. (Neither is Branch, come to think of it). But he’s not terrible. He had five sacks last season and that’s right at his annual average the past four seasons.
Hayes also is a solid expenditure. The Dolphins assume the final two years of his contract and that means on paper they’re on the hook for $10.5 million. But this is really a one-year deal. The Dolphins have guaranteed $3 million of Hayes’s $3.5 million base salary this year and have also paid him a $2 million roster bonus. So he’s on the team this year and he counts $5.5 million against the cap.
Next year, he counts $5 million against the cap but it all comes in the form of his base salary. That means if Hayes is terrible this year, the team can cut him next season and save the entire $5 million cap charge with no dead money on its books.
We don’t know what will happen but I like the idea of adding a productive veteran who is not expensive. The Dolphins saw an opportunity here and took it.
I’m told that is, for the most part, how it is going to be the rest of free agency.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter @ArmandoSalguero