At the beginning of the free agency signing period last March, the Miami Dolphins contacted the representatives for Teddy Bridgewater to show interest in signing the quarterback.
And, initially, the reaction from the Bridgewater camp was a positive one.
Bridgewater, born in Miami and once a star at Northwestern High School, was intrigued by the idea of playing for his hometown Dolphins, I’m told by multiple league sources. So there was mutual interest.
But that desire on both sides cooled when the Dolphins found out Bridgewater wanted $15 million for a one-year deal. And as that’s starting quarterback type money, even if it is on the low end of the scale, and as the Dolphins already had a starting quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, the talks didn’t go any further than this:
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The Dolphins told the Bridgewater camp they couldn’t pay that asking price. And both sides agreed if Bridgewater’s price dropped significantly to around what Miami was willing to pay -- which was backup quarterback money -- then the sides would talk again later in free agency.
But Bridgewater signed a one-year deal with the New York Jets instead. And that deal splits the baby between Bridgewater’s salary demands and what an NFL team would logically be willing to pay for a player such as the former Minnesota Vikings starter.
Bridgewater signed a one-year, $6 million deal that has only $500,000 guaranteed money in the form of a signing bonus. If he makes the team he gets a $5 million base salary from New York. But if Bridgewater wins the starting job and reaches any number of markers (starts, touchdown passes, yards, etc...) a typical starting quarterback can get to, incentives kick in and Bridgewater could conceivably make up to $15 million this season.
The Jets could afford such a deal because they had between $85-$90 million in cap space when free agency began. The Dolphins were nowhere in that ballpark because they had approximately $17 million in usable salary cap space when free agency began and that figure had dwindled to around $9 million by the time Bridgewater signed his deal with the Jets.
(The Dolphins got a $17 million cap windfall after June 1 when the savings from cutting Ndamukong Suh went on the books but that was not available at the start of free agency).
So what is the point?
Point 1: The Dolphins’ personnel department obviously recognized big talent and a possible opportunity with Bridgewater. It wasn’t like they were twiddling their thumbs while the Jets were working phones. Indeed, the Dolphins talked to Bridgewater before the Jets did.
Point 2: Even if Bridgewater had told the Dolphins he would agree to a one-year, $6 million deal, I’m not sure the Dolphins would have paid it because they had a budget for the backup quarterback spot and that was going to be around $3 million.
Point 3: Mark this down as the most obvious and painful fallout of how the Suh contract, signed in 2015, hurt the Dolphins’ ability to build a team. I’ve reported multiple times how the Suh deal kept the Dolphins from signing other players -- including players in 2015 and 2016 -- because that mega deal gobbled so much cap space as to prohibit the Dolphins from doing other things. And even on the way out, the Dolphins had to tightly budget themselves in free agency this year because the savings from cutting Suh did not manifest until after June 1 when the best part of free agency had come and gone.
Point 4: How would the Dolphins quarterback situation look today if they had been able to afford Bridgewater at about $6 million for one year? I’d say it would look way, way better. Bridgewater is a starting-caliber quarterback who is fighting to get back from a big knee injury. He’s played very well this preseason. The Dolphins backup quarterbacks? The Dolphins are generally content with both David Fales and Brock Osweiler. (Amazing to me, but that is true.) Regardless, let’s just agree neither Fales nor Osweiler have looked as sharp as Bridgewater has for the Jets.
Point 5: The fact the Dolphins wanted Bridgewater and tested the waters suggests they had no issues bringing in someone who might have given starter Ryan Tannehill an actual competition for the starting quarterback job. The team said Tannehill wouldn’t mind such a competition if it selected a quarterback in the first round of the NFL draft but this is proof the club is convinced Tannehill would embrace a competition.
Point 6: No, don’t even think of asking. The Dolphins are not going to be able to trade for Bridgewater now. Why? Because even if the Jets are willing to part with Bridgewater, I highly doubt they would make such a deal within the AFC East. Plus, the Jets would demand a premium draft pick and it would be bonkers to give that to a division rival for the luxury of renting Bridgewater for one year.
Point 7: Bridgewater is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after this season. He has shown this preseason he is on the road to being the player he was for Minnesota before he suffered that major knee injury in August 2016. If Bridgewater is not traded and not signed to a long-term extension by the Jets, he’ll be on the market again next spring. And we already know the Dolphins liked him a lot this year. File that fact for future reference. Just in case.
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