There was some celebrating at the Miami Dolphins’ team facility on Thursday.
When the team landed free agent guard Josh Sitton and traded for center Daniel Kilgore, coaches, including head man Adam Gase, were seen bouncing around in great moods. They were celebrating the moves and what they mean to the team’s new offensive line.
The coaches are convinced the changes made this offseason are an upgrade.
It’s an upgrade in run-blocking. It’s an upgrade in toughness. It’s an upgrade in leadership.
They believe you’re about to witness enough improvement on enough fronts that it was worthy patting each other on the back.
And that might be fair because looking at the Sitton addition specifically, I think the Dolphins have done good work in not just improving the left guard spot but making the left tackle spot better, too.
Sitton, a veteran who knows all the tricks, should be great for left tackle Laremy Tunsil as the third-year player tries to learn the game better so he can live up to the expectations of being a first-round draft pick at one of the team’s most important positions.
Club executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum was also pleased Thursday. He did some aggressive wheeling and dealing in signing Sitton, trading for Kilgore, giving up relatively nothing in that trade, and then releasing veteran Mike Pouncey.
If you look at the dynamics of these moves from a strictly financial viewpoint, the work has to be applauded.
Pouncey was going to cost the Dolphins $9 million. So the Dolphins cut him, saving $7 million, then used $5.3 million of that savings to pay for Kilgore and still have $1.7 million left over. That extra bit lightened the cost of adding Sitton, who signed a two-year, $15 million deal.
The Dolphins basically could have had Pouncey and Sitton for $14.3 million in salary cap space this year.
Now they’ll have Kilgore and Sitton for $11.8 million in cap space.
And, of course, the reason the Dolphins don’t have Pouncey is their concern about his hips, both of which have undergone surgeries, required extensive rehabilitation and also had stem cell treatments.
The Dolphins intended to keep Pouncey for 2018. They told him as much. As recently as Monday they told me he was their center for 2018.
But even in making concrete plans to have Pouncey at center, the team recognized the underlying hip issue wasn’t going to disappear.
Pouncey was going to have to play in pain this year. There had to be a smart plan for working Pouncey in practice to keep him healthy throughout the year and the team had already crafted that.
Keeping Pouncey meant that, regardless of what everyone believed could be done, one helmet to a hip could knock the offensive line’s anchor out for the year — or longer.
Mike Pouncey, elite NFL center, was a gamble.
The Dolphins were willing to take that gamble until the San Francisco 49ers signed free agent center Weston Richburg, which immediately made Kilgore a luxury.
Kilgore, you should know, signed a three-year contract extension with the 49ers in February. General manager John Lynch spoke in glowing terms about Kilgore at the time.
“He is very much a leader on this team, and his hard work and commitment to our success provide a great example for our young team,” Lynch said. “When you come across players who love the game like Dan, you do your best to keep them in your building.”
That was less than a month ago. And now he’s traded, just as Pouncey was cut less than 48 hours after the Dolphins were saying he was their guy.
The NFL comes at you hard and fast.
I’m told Kilgore is excited about the trade. I’m told Sitton is thrilled about joining the Dolphins, a team within his home state. I’m told everything is super cool on the offensive line front.
Obviously losing Pouncey’s nastiness is going to hurt. Losing his athletic prowess is going to hurt.
But the Dolphins believe what they’re losing in sheer athleticism they can make up in grittiness and technique and all those football things coaches drone on about all the time.
So that’s how the Dolphins are seeing this.
But I must warn you, the Dolphins are obviously seeing things optimistically. I’m more a realist and can tell you without hesitation this could indeed work out great.
But there are reasons to be cautious in the face of all this Dolphins glee.
The Dolphins offensive line got older Thursday. Kilgore is going to be 31 when the season begins. Sitton is already 32.
Let’s call Sitton what he is: A stopgap until the Dolphins can find their forever Pro Bowl left guard in the draft.
Sitton is much like Daryn Colledge, who came to the Dolphins from Green Bay in the same role years ago. Colledge was also 32 then and was a really good player for Miami — for about half a season until he got hurt.
Because that’s what interior offensive linemen that age often do.
The difference is the Dolphins committed only $2 million to Colledge back then. The commitment for Sitton now is bigger.
What I’m saying is these moves are typical of free agency in that they can help erase roster flaws and past draft mistakes, such as missing on multiple interior linemen over the past decade.
But they come with a short shelf life and risk.
Maybe everyone stays healthy and the offensive line plays as scripted and there’s another party at the Dolphins’ training facility after the season.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero