Armando Salguero

How much do the Dolphins like T.J. McDonald? Enough to give him a contract extension

Miami Dolphins defensive backs T.J. McDonald (22) and A.J. Hendy run a drill during training camp at the Miami Dolphins training facility in Davie in August.
Miami Dolphins defensive backs T.J. McDonald (22) and A.J. Hendy run a drill during training camp at the Miami Dolphins training facility in Davie in August. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

The Miami Dolphins have been so impressed by what they’ve seen from T.J. McDonald the past few months that they’re negotiating a contract extension with his agent to keep the safety in South Florida for several years, according to NFL sources.

McDonald, 26, signed a one-year, $1,344,445 contract with the Dolphins in late March in what was basically a get-to-know-you deal for both sides.

The Dolphins got a talented player at a baragain price because he was off the so-called free agent board for some teams because he needed to serve an NFL mandated eight-game suspension at the beginning of this season for violating the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse. That suspension begins next week.

For McDonald, coming to Miami was a chance at a new beginning. He is far from the University of Southern California campus he roamed while playing for the Trojans. He is far from Rams that drafted him in 2013. It was a new start far from an environment that had at times led him astray off the field.

This was a trial for both team and player.

And out of that arrangement something of a love affair has blossomed, which is why both sides are tying to turn it into a longterm relationship.

The Dolphins want to get an extension completed as early as this weekend and certainly before McDonald returns to the field following his eight-game suspension so they can feel they’ve addressed a need at the back end of their secondary -- finding a big, playmaking safety to team with Reshad Jones for years to come.

Nate Allen, who signed a one-year deal with Miami, will fill that role the first half of the season but he is something of a stopgap measure at the position.

McDonald, meanwhile, is interested in an extension because it would help make him financially whole after his free agent market sank following his suspension. An extension would significantly raise McDonald’s ‘17 pay in the form of a signing bonus or guarantee of some sort.

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That’s important to McDonald because his current 2017 contract actually pays about $300,000 less than he made in 2016 while he was still on his rookie deal.

None of this would be a consideration were it not that McDonald has been a model citizen while with the Dolphins. He works hard. He is respected within the building and, yes, he’s played very well. Coaches have marveled at how a 6-2 and 222-pound player can move and cover like a safety while also hit like a linebacker.

The top 5 highest paid safeties in the NFL average from $10.25 million per year up to $13 million per year for Kansas City’s Eric Berry. McDonald is not in that company.

And the Dolphins are expecting something of a bargain because they are stepping out and paying McDonald now rather than making him wait until free agency next spring. The team would basically be helping McDonald avoid the risk of getting injured before getting paid.

But it would not surprise if McDonald can get a deal that averages between $6-$9 million per season. The total guaranteed money for those second tier contracts range from $9 to $19 million.

It’s likely the Dolphins will try to protect themselves in the contract extension’s language in case McDonald were to have future incidents like the one that led to his suspension.

During his suspension that begins next week, McDonald is allowed to attend meetings and be around teammates. But he is not allowed to practice and he will not be getting paid.

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