Armando Salguero

How the Miami Dolphins set pass rusher roles could leave expensive odd man out

Miami Dolphins Andre Branch and Cameron Wake celebrate after sacking Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in 2017.
Miami Dolphins Andre Branch and Cameron Wake celebrate after sacking Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in 2017. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

About all those Miami Dolphins defensive ends ...

The stable is as large and expensive as any in Kentucky that challenges for Triple Crowns every year.

The Dolphins have Cameron Wake.

The Dolphins have Charles Harris.

The Dolphins have Andre Branch.

The Dolphins are about to add Robert Quinn in a trade with the Los Angeles Rams.

And when the Dolphins get around to acknowledging this riches of pass rushers, I’m certain they will be asked what they’re going to do with all these defensive ends. Like, you know, on the field.

And the answer will be something along the lines of, “We’ll figure it out,” or “This is a great problem to have.”

But that doesn’t change the fact this group at first blush seems, well, strange.

Firstly, understand any good NFL team wants three really good pass rushers -- two on the outside and at least one in the middle providing pressure in the interior.

The Dolphins have been working toward that with Wake and Harris and Branch on the outside and Ndamukong Suh on the interior. And, the plan last season was to play those four in sub packages on passing downs.

The Dolphins lined up Wake and Harris on the outside and Branch and Suh on the interior.

This year if the personnel remains the same, the Dolphins add Quinn and he seems best suited to rush from the outside along with Wake. Suh would likely continue to get interior rush opportunities.

And that will leave Branch and Harris as candidates to rush from a defensive tackle spot -- even if they run a stunt and end up coming from the outside.

That means someone is going to be on the bench.

Last year that often meant William Hayes was on the bench on pass rush downs.

This year that may be Branch. Or Harris. Or somebody else.

But here’s the thing: Unlike past years, the guy on the bench this year is going to be making a lot of money. He’s going to be someone the Dolphins at some point valued very highly.

Is that Branch? He’s scheduled to cost $10 million on the cap this season. That would be a lot of money on the bench.

Is it Wake? Well, aside from the fact he’s been the team’s best pass rusher for years, he’s costing $8.6 million on the cap this year. That would be a lot of money on the bench.

Is it Harris? His cap value is only $2.65 million so having him on the bench in pass rushing situation would not be an obvious misuse of cap resources. But the guy was a first-round draft pick in 2017!

You’re going to have your first-round pick from last year on the bench in situations you told us he was picked in the first round to play? Really?

So Quinn? Yeah, same issue. He’s scheduled to be the Dolphins fifth-highest paid player in 2018. His cap cost will be $11.44 million. You just traded for him. And he’s on the bench in obvious passing situations?

You see where this is going?

At the end of the 2017 season, I wrote about how the Dolphins were seemingly not constructed that well. Something just wasn’t right about that team. Something was off. It didn’t fall together correctly.

Rather than being a team the Dolphins were an assembly of talent that lacked cohesion.

And I’m looking at what’s going on with the defensive end spot now and I see the possibility for continued weirdness.

Simply, unless someone is traded or cut or is injured, the Dolphins are going to have a very highly paid or highly drafted resource sitting on the bench on obvious passing downs in 2018. And while that creates the possibility of having great depth, it also makes room for some high-priced or highly drafted player to be quite unhappy.

Did the Dolphins consider this when they made the trade for Quinn? I don’t know.

Do they have some really interesting trick up their jersey sleeve like, say, trading Branch? I don’t know.

I do know most teams don’t use $8-$11 million of cap space or a first-round draft pick on their fourth defensive end. Most teams slot where they spend money and the fourth DE is not high on the list.

They also don’t spend a combined $33 million on their defensive ends knowing they can play only three of them at most in obvious passing situations.

This is moreso the case when all of them are lean, smallish defensive ends you can’t line up four across the line.

And even moreso when you’re paying another $22 million in cap space value for Suh to be the interior rusher -- and a guy you cannot have on the bench.

I’m not being critical of the Quinn trade. Of defensive ends expected to be on Miami’s 2018 roster, he has the best combination of youth and productivity.

Wake is productive but he’s 36 years old.

Harris is 24 years old but has yet to be productive.

Branch is 28 years old and so he’s neither exceedingly young nor exceedingly productive. He is, however, very well paid.

It isn’t quite perfect with any of them. And all of them together don’t seem to fit into what promises to be a backup role because of their high salaries or draft status. That seems like an apparent issue for the team architects.

But I’m sure the Dolphins have a really good plan nobody else sees. They’ll know how to make this round peg in a square hole thing fit just fine.

And no one will complain. Everyone will be happy.

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

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