Years ago an NFL scout whom I’ve trusted for years told me the best teams are proactive instead of reactive. And he cited examples.
He talked of how former Green Bay general manager Ron Wolf often drafted quarterbacks though he had a good starting quarterback in Brett Favre. Wolf drafted a quarterback in seven of eight drafts from 1992 to 1999.
(The investment in picks such as Mark Brunell, Matt Hasselbeck and Aaron Brooks later were traded for higher draft picks).
The scout talked about how you don’t sign a Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker because the Steelers have historically been great at evaluating their linebacker corps, and when they’re done with a linebacker you probably shouldn’t want him, either.
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“They get rid of their linebackers a year early rather than a year too late,” he often said.
(The Dolphins learned this truth with their Joey Porter and Lawrence Timmons experiences).
And here’s another way to be proactive: Get out ahead of things on the contract front.
“Sometimes it’s better to cut bait because you’re more than likely not going to land that whopper,” the veteran scout would say.
The New England Patriots do this. They did it Tuesday.
It would be good if the Dolphins learned to do this.
So what happened Tuesday?
The Patriots traded wide receiver Brandin Cooks for a first-round draft pick.
On the surface this is a stunning move by the Patriots because only last year they gave the New Orleans Saints a first-round pick (32nd overall) and a third-round pick (103 overall) for Cooks and a fourth-rounder (118 overall).
Cooks was very good for the Patriots last season. He caught 65 passes for 1,082 yards and seven touchdowns. Averaging a career high 16.6 yards per catch, Cooks led his team in that category.
Cooks was also a solid locker room presence. He was everything the Patriots would want. Except …
The Patriots reportedly engaged Cooks in contract talks after the season. And Cooks, not surprisingly, is asking for a lot of money — more money than New England is willing to pay.
So the Pats jettisoned Cooks to the Rams for a first-round pick (23rd overall).
This is not new to the Patriots. In years past they traded Richard Seymour, Jamie Collins, and Chandler Jones — all excellent and productive players — a year before they hit their contract year. Why?
They decided the price of paying the players was too rich for their salary cap. So they got draft capital in return for players they would otherwise lose in free agency for nothing.
And that brings me to the Miami Dolphins …
The Dolphins last month traded receiver Jarvis Landry to Cleveland and got a fourth-round pick in return. And no, this isn’t going to be a complaint that the Dolphins didn’t get enough in this transaction.
I actually respect that the Dolphins got anything at all for Landry this offseason because they had a player about to hit free agency they didn’t want. So they put the franchise tag on him and got somebody to pay them something in return.
My point, however, is about last year.
After 2016, the Dolphins already had serious doubts about paying Landry. They weren’t sure they wanted to do it. They wanted him to jump through hoops like reporting to the offseason program and minicamp. They wanted to see how he fit.
They wanted to let the thing play out.
It wasn’t until early December that the Dolphins engaged Landry’s agent to get a feel for his serious asking price. And that price was too steep for the team, especially since Landry was not endearing himself to coaches behind the scenes.
So why not make up your mind after 2016 rather than after 2017?
Yes, it was a fine effort to get that fourth-rounder for Landry once he was tagged. But it would have been a wiser choice to make the decision to move on from him last offseason or even at the 2017 October trade deadline when his value might have (I think would have) been higher.
I think his value would have been higher because after 2016 Landry was still a Pro Bowl player and had one year left on his rookie contract. So instead of trading a player with a $15.98 million one-year deal, the Dolphins would have been dealing a player with an $893,000 one-year deal.
The huge contract Landry carried this offseason is a chief reason he wasn’t as valuable as Cooks on the trade market. But the rookie deal he was carrying last year is the reason he would have been way more valuable in trade back then.
The Dolphins were reactive in trading Landry this year.
The smart thing to do would have been to be proactive last year.
This issue has shown itself for a long time over the span of multiple management structures the Dolphins have hired and often fired. And, yes, this issue has been a thing for current management.
The Dolphins released Mike Pouncey last month. The decision was made very quickly, as explained in this piece. Why the big rush?
Why didn’t the Dolphins take a breath and trade Pouncey? Would they have gotten a high-round draft pick for him? No.
But maybe they could have gotten a fifth-, sixth-, or seventh-rounder for him. They could have gotten something.
After all, the Los Angeles Chargers were so interested in Pouncey, they scooped him up within days of his release.
And why not try to trade Ndamukong Suh? No, not this year. Last year.
I have reported the Dolphins were unhappy with his contract as early as 2016. And I get it, it was a toxic contract. That toxicity, by the way, is an example of how poorly that deal was conceived by the team.
Usually the top players at a position get more expensive as years go on. The defensive tackle market today is led by Fletcher Cox who is averaging $17 million per year as its highest-paid player.
Suh, signed a year before Cox, was averaging $19 million per season. And now Suh is signed for $14 million on the cap when the Dolphins were scheduled to carry him for $26 million.
So either the Dolphins were not proactive in trading Suh after 2016 — or during last season, amid a losing campaign. Or they weren’t proactive trading Suh before releasing him last month. Or they weren’t proactive in rewarding him with that cap-busting contract back in 2015.
More lack of vision? Not signing Olivier Vernon during the 2014 season for a relative bargain, and then not trading him before 2015, which led the team to lose him in the spring of 2016 — for nothing.
Not addressing the quarterback situation last offseason with a solid succession plan if Ryan Tannehill, coming off an ACL tear with an unorthodox recovery program, lacked vision. The Dolphins stuck with Matt Moore as the backup knowing he couldn’t play 16 games if Tannehill went down.
So when Tannehill went down in August, everybody freaked. The team had to turn to Jay Cutler — who then cost $10 million even though no other NFL team had wanted him enough to sign him all offseason.
And I know what I will hear from the team next time they want to rip me for what I write:
They were proactive with the Kiko Alonso extension last year.
They were proactive in extending Reshad Jones.
They were proactive in extending T.J. McDonald.
Look, say what you will about the success of those moves — even as some don’t look great right now — but I give the Dolphins credit for showing foresight there. Credit to them for trying to get ahead of the curve.
But why such inconsistency when the team Miami’s trying to catch, New England, shows over and over how consistent it is in being proactive?
(By the way, the proactive thing doesn’t always work in New England, either. But they keep doing it anyway because it’s smart).
So why such a lack of vision on important matters such as the quarterback position and the team’s most productive offensive player?
Here’s one reason: Owner Stephen Ross.
I appreciate Ross for his attributes as an owner. He gives the Dolphins free reign over his wallet. Anything they need, they get. He rebuilt a stadium in South Florida on his own dime instead of holding the community hostage with a threat to relocate. He has brought multiple big-time events to South Florida, including a Super Bowl in 2020.
Tomorrow there’s a big announcement of a coming soccer matchup at Hard Rock between this hemisphere’s biggest powers!
Stephen Ross is responsible for all this great stuff.
But he’s also responsible for putting a lot of pressure on the Dolphins to win now.
Now, now, now.
And while that approach works for teams such as Pittsburgh and New England and others, the Dolphins are constantly striving to stay afloat in a sea of mediocrity when, in truth, sometimes you have to sink to great depths to then rise to great heights.
As Jimmy Johnson once said, “The enemy of great is good.”
So what to do next? That’s a pertinent question because I don’t want to be the chucklehead always pointing out people’s mistakes after the fact. Indeed, I want to be the chucklehead making mistakes ahead of time!
I trade Andre Branch. During the draft. After the draft. Before the season begins because I don’t want that $10 million cap hit on the books this year, and worse, failing to make carryover space for next year. If the Dolphins trade Branch, they save $6 million this year, which means a $13-million savings on next year’s cap (the carryover plus his scheduled savings of $7 million).
I find out what Jordan Phillips’ asking price is for an extension. Now. Before the season begins and before the final year of his contract, which is this upcoming season. If his price is too high, I trade him.
(Does that create a hole at defensive tackle? Sure, especially since the Dolphins dug themselves one already with Suh. But if you’re in a hole, stop digging. Get something for Phillips now if you’re not going to pay him next year).
I’m asking Cameron Wake to sign a one-year extension for about half the $8 million in base salary he’s making this season. If he goes for it because Miami is awesome and we love you, and no taxes, and lots of sun, and you have been here forever, then awesome!
If he doesn’t, I’m trading him. Now. This year. Somebody will give up a fifth-round pick for Cam freaking Wake.
I’m getting something for him because he’s in the final year of his contract and he’s 36 years old and fake GM Mando’s team isn’t having a 37-year-old pass rusher play 20 snaps a game for $10 million in 2019.
DeVante Parker? I exercise the fifth-year option on him. It can be rescinded if necessary so this is a free move at the moment. But if he doesn’t light it up the first month of the season, I’m trading him, too, before the trade deadline. Getting a fifth- or sixth-round pick for a player that may never play to his potential is fair.
You know why? Because what the Dolphins are likely to do is hold on to Parker and kick the can down the road — waiting for something to happen.
And Parker will either show himself to be a bust or he’ll ball, which will make him too expensive to re-sign, with neither being a good ending.
That’s not proactive.
That’s not what the New England Patriots or Pittsburgh Steelers would do.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero