When the Miami Dolphins claimed 26-year-old tight end A.J. Derby off waivers from the Denver Broncos on Wednesday, it was hopefully more than just the team taking a flyer on a player that has shown some NFL promise.
Derby, with 35 career catches in three NFL seasons, is still a young, relatively raw player. But he’s a young, relatively raw player at a position the Dolphins are going to be clearing out veterans after this season.
Tight end Anthony Fasano, 33 and on a one-year contract, may retire after this season. Tight end Julius Thomas, scheduled to cost $6.6 million against the 2018 salary cap if he’s on the team and $0 if he’s not, is headed for an offseason release because he simply is not the player he was four seasons ago when he caught 12 touchdown passes for Adam Gase’s offense in Denver.
So the Dolphins are going to be searching for bodies to play tight end and why not start the search now with Derby to see if he fits -- even if he’s trying to recover from a shoulder injury.
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The hope here is the Dolphins, who are constantly talking about winning the next game, will let that thinking pervade in the locker room while also understanding there work for 2018 that can begin now.
So what can be done to get some of that work done early?
Play Derby if he’s healthy enough. Let’s see what he’s got. Indeed, play more young players the final five weeks. Let’s see what they’ve got.
No, I’m not saying start David Fales. Or Brandon Doughty. No disrespect to either but, no.
Just ... no.
But there are players on the Miami roster that we need to know more about. There are players that the Dolphins could benefit from knowing whether they can factor or not.
Let’s stay in the tight end room to start: Thomas Duarte was a seventh-round draft pick in 2016 and has spent most of the past two seasons on the Miami practice squad. He needed to be on the practice squad because he wasn’t fast enough to be a receiver so he needed to bulk up a bit to play tight end.
Now he’s 6-2 and 245 pounds. And that’s still not tight end size.
Well, with all respect to Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker, I’d like to see if this guy can be a physical, big receiver. On the roster. In a game.
If he is, great. If not, time to move on, folks.
Malcolm Lewis is a 5-10, 196-pound former University of Miami receiver who wasn’t drafted but I’m told the Dolphins like. Well, do they like him enough to see him compete? Or not?
One of the reasons the Dolphins have kept rookie receiver Drew Morgan around is because they see the distinct possibility that one day he’ll develop into a Chris Hogan or Danny Amendola or someone like that. Well, what’s wrong with moving that timetable forward a little bit by giving him a chance to play?
The next five weeks is the time to find out.
The Dolphins drafted Isaac Asiata in the fifth round last April. And pretty soon the team figured out the rookie who will be 25 in December needed a redshirt year.
Asiata is going to be 26 years old next year. And that’s when we’re going to see if he can compete?
Here’s a clue: If Asiata gets no game reps by the end of this season -- as in none -- while playing a position of significant need at a time players are injured, the team is merely peddling hope something changes for 2018.
Asiata has been in the building six months. If you can’t get strong enough in six months to play some downs, something is amiss.
Defensive end William Hayes was placed on injured reserve this week. And Terrence Fede, in his fourth season, should be getting a chance to show he’s either going to be worth re-signing in the offseason (cheap) or not. Time to step up or both the team and the player should be moving on next year.
I cannot say anything about what the Dolphins are doing at cornerback because they’re starting a rookie in Cordrea Tankersley and a second-year player in Xavien Howard.
But -- again, with respect to a veteran -- I saw Alterraun Verner getting snaps on defense last week. Verner is in his eighth season. Is Verner more the future than rookie Torry McTyer?
Let me help: No.
So why isn’t McTyer getting some game experience?
Dolphins coaches reading this would think me a fool. I think Adam Gase’s head just exploded. I get that. The coaching mindset is put the best guy in the game to give the team the best chance to win now. Coaches also don’t want veterans to give up because they see a mass influx of young players getting snaps.
Except that maybe everyone should notice the Dolphins are not winning now. They’ve lost five consecutive games. And that slide has Miami drafting in the Top 10 next April. That means you have a bad team.
So all this win-now stuff is bogus because this team isn’t going to win the division or get into the postseason. This team and it’s win-now approach is losing. And losing. And losing. And losing. And losing.
And it must stop losing next year or fans, already quite peeved about losing, are going to abandon ship at greater numbers than they already are.
So the future is now.
I’m also not saying have a mass benching of veterans for youngsters. I’m saying give youngsters some snaps. Maybe a series. See what happens.
I’m not saying throw young players undeserving of playing time to the wolves, either. I assume if these kids are on the team and they practice, they make plays in practice -- otherwise they shouldn’t be on the team at all.
Well, let’s so see if that carries over to real games.
Real games, by the way, that Miami’s been losing with the veterans coaches are so worried about offending.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero