New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft fired an eye-popping opening volley at the NFL’s annual meetings when he said his 39-year-old quarterback, Tom Brady, is willing to play “six or seven more years and at the level he’s performed.” That has to be a bone-chilling possibility for the rest of the AFC East because it suggests many more years of Patriots dominance.
But amid the buzz from Kraft’s announcement Dolphins coach Adam Gase had something of an announcement of his own.
Gase didn’t get the national play that Kraft did. But the Miami coach’s words also could be chilling for AFC East rivals. And they come with the added bonus that they’re more likely to happen than an NFL quarterback playing until he’s 45 or 46.
Speaking of his quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, and three starting receivers, Kenny Stills, Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker, Gase said “to be able to keep that group together” is something the team hopes to do, wants to do and is working to do to “develop that continuity between those guys.”
The Dolphins are working toward keeping that group together at least through the 2020 season. That’s four more years for the Dolphins’ quarterback and his top three receivers to grow and learn and develop together.
What makes that more probable than Brady staying in New England another five or six years is that all three Miami receivers are 24 years old and Tannehill is 28.
“Our goal is to make sure that these three guys (Landry, Stills and Parker) stay together for a long period of time and to make sure they stay with the quarterback to develop a great continuity between those guys,” Gase said.
Part of the work is already complete. Tannehill signed a contract extension in 2015 that keeps him in Miami through the 2020 season. Check.
Kenny Stills signed a four-year contract three weeks ago that keeps him in Miami through the 2020 season. Check.
DeVante Parker is about to begin the third year of his rookie contract that spans four years, so he is locked up through 2018. But because he was a first-round pick, the Dolphins can exercise an option year that will hold him over through the 2019 season. And if Parker doesn’t sign a new deal at that point, the team can place a franchise tag on him, assuming he’s played at heights worthy of that tag.
That means even if he does not sign a new deal, DeVante Parker is effectively under team control through the 2020 season. So, yeah, check.
That leaves Jarvis Landry.
The Dolphins don’t intend to ever let Landry reach that opening of free agency in 2018. The team wants to sign him to an extension this year and, although the exact timing is unclear — before training camp in July is my guess — the intent is undeniable.
“I think we’re always going to do the right thing and work to keep our guys within our organization,” said Gase, speaking of Landry. “There is a big picture that not everybody really looks at sometimes, and we have to do a good job of making sure that we do what we need to do in the right order, the right way. We have a good plan moving forward. We know what we need to do and how we need to structure everything to make sure that we can work all this out.”
No one within the Dolphins organization is saying exactly what situations have to come up, or what the right timing is, or what the right order is. But everyone is agreed, as executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum noted, that a player who has caught 288 passes in his first three years with the team will be rewarded.
And the reward will keep Landry through the 2020 season and make him the highest-paid wide receiver on the team.
This all assumes, of course, Landry doesn’t embarrass the Dolphins.
The team has rewarded every player who has done as the organization has wanted. Stills became a coach’s favorite because of his approach and work ethic and attention to details — including in his route running. He practiced hard and worked hard. And he was rewarded.
The message from the Dolphins to players, including Landry, is clear: do right by the team and the team will do right by you.
And the Dolphins expect Landry to do right. He is already an asset on the field. So the only way he could derail all the grand plans is to sit out this offseason’s program or refuse to work out with Tannehill and the other receivers or somehow complain that a deal isn’t already done.
Gase is certain at least one of those potential problems won’t happen. Asked if he was concerned about the possibility Landry might show displeasure and sit out the offseason, the coach dismissed the idea.
“I’m not because he’s a football player that loves being part of our program,” Gase said. “He’ll be there, trust me.”
If Landry does what the team expects, he’ll get his extension before the 2017 season begins.
And the group the Dolphins want locked up through the 2020 season will be complete.
So the Patriots might have Tom Brady at 45. But Miami will have its three starting receivers from ages 24 to 28 and its quarterback from age 28 to 32.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter @ArmandoSalguero