The Miami Dolphins will officially inform the agents for linebacker Lawrence Timmons and tight end Julius Thomas of their release in the next five days, and coaches will reach out to the players to say their good-byes. This is not news anymore.
It was news weeks ago, but not anymore.
What is important about these looming moves is that free agency steps to the line for a fast start next Wednesday, and there are lessons the Dolphins should have learned from the two acquisitions that can be used going forward.
We will see if the Dolphins learned those lessons, so missteps in acquiring veterans the next few weeks can be avoided.
1. Don’t sign players older than 30 to big money contracts: The Dolphins gave Timmons a two-year deal worth $12 million with $11 million fully guaranteed. Timmons was 31 at the time. He had played 10 seasons and 172 games for the Pittsburgh Steelers when the Dolphins enlisted him to be their bridge to a younger strong side linebacker in the future.
Except Timmons didn’t last two seasons. He didn’t last one season.
The bridge collapsed within months.
Although Timmons played hard and prepared well enough, the Dolphins’ coaching staff noticed in late October that Timmons was starting to slow down. And by late November he looked spent. So a team that paid Timmons to be a three-down linebacker started resting him on passing downs. And then even on some early downs.
I was told by one team source Timmons had “slowed down” significantly.
What a shock! Older with tons of snaps throughout his career, and he slowed down!
Look, free agency is when players go searching for their first big contract after their rookie deals expire. Those players are typically between 25 and 27 years old. Those guys should get whatever big money a team wants to pay. But players older than 30?
They’re on the market for a reason. There’s nothing wrong with signing one of them to a one-year deal with relatively little exposure. But a multi-year deal? With significant guaranteed money?
2. You are not smarter than everyone else: The Dolphins looked at what happened with Timmons during his latter days in Pittsburgh and they looked at what happened with Julius Thomas in Jacksonville and they ignored it.
They believed they could make whatever went wrong elsewhere go right in Miami.
They believed they were smarter than those other teams.
Specifically, Thomas showed in Jacksonville that he no longer was the dynamic mismatch, particularly in the red zone, he had been in Denver years earlier. He was suddenly more a plodding player who didn’t often win 1-on-1 matchups. The Dolphins saw this and believed the problem was with the Jaguars and not Thomas.
And, I get it, the Jags have made a lot of mistakes in the past before Tom Coughlin arrived. But, the tape.
The Dolphins ignored the tape and thought they could remake Jacksonville Thomas into Denver Thomas. The Dolphins thought they were smarter than the Jaguars. They weren’t. They got Jacksonville Thomas. They need to learn from that.
Just like they need to learn from the fact Timmons struggled on passing downs for the Steelers the past couple of seasons, but more so in 2016. In one game, the New England Patriots lit him up, with Julian Edelman catching something like 14 passes against him.
The Dolphins saw this. And they were fine with it because they figured they were smarter than the Steelers and would put Timmons in a position to make those plays in coverage.
At least that’s what I was told and bought before the 2017 season. As you’ve read from me before, after a playoff appearance in 2016, the Dolphins got deference in this space last offseason. That’s what winning the year before earned them.
The problem is 2017 earned them something else. So the deference has evaporated. We’re back to questioning and probing and not blindly accepting what the team says.
Anyway, Timmons went out there in 2017 and struggled in coverage. The Dolphins weren’t smarter than the Steelers.
3. Adam Gase’s guys don’t always play well for him: The Dolphins should understand this lesson based on multiple examples from the past couple of seasons.
Gase signed running back Daniel Thomas before 2016 and everyone in South Florida cringed because he had been a Dolphins draft bust before Gase ever coached him. But because Thomas was good for Gase in Chicago’s training camp the year before, Thomas was back in Miami.
Except he wasn’t. He was the same old Daniel Thomas and he was cut at the end of camp.
Julius Thomas was a stud for Gase in Denver, catching 24 touchdown passes in two seasons — which is what got him paid in Jacksonville. Gase, the offensive coordinator in Denver when Thomas was ballin’, believed he could revive the good old days.
Jay Cutler? Gase turned to Cutler when Ryan Tannehill went down last August.
It could be argued the Dolphins coach didn’t really have a choice because there was no one else available — including the circus surrounding Colin Kaepernick, whom no one wanted — to rescue a really bad situation.
So did Cutler reward Gase’s confidence in him? Did he turn the reunion into a win-win?
No, he played like a guy whom no other team had signed and had already accepted a job as a TV analyst.
(Cutler, 34, also violated the 30-year-old lesson.)
This is not to say every former Gase player comes back to Gase and plays poorly.
Jermon Bushrod got signed in part because he had played for Gase in Chicago in 2015. And he was solid as a right guard in 2016. But, again, the 30-year-old rule. …
The Dolphins expected to move on from 31-year-old Bushrod after 2016. Then guards got really expensive in free agency so the Dolphins went back to the now 32-year-old Bushrod for 2017. And he was diminished from his solid play the year before. And he got hurt.
So the biggest success story of former Gase players returning to Gase in Miami still wasn’t a home run. It was more like a single to right field. All the others?
This lesson will be tested when the Denver Broncos release running back C.J. Anderson in the next few days. The Dolphins signed Anderson to a restricted free agent contract in the 2016 offseason. The Broncos kept him by matching the deal.
But he’s expected to become available again.
Adam Gase needs to really check himself on this one.
And is Mike Tannenbaum smarter than John Elway?
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero