Armando Salguero

Miami Dolphins rebuild? Here’s a plan for an aggressive tear-down to start

‘I wasn’t in a rush to become head coach’ says Brian Flores

Brian Flores, the newly announced head coach for the Miami Dolphins, talks to the media about his decision to join the team during a press conference in Davie, Florida on Monday, February 4, 2019.
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Brian Flores, the newly announced head coach for the Miami Dolphins, talks to the media about his decision to join the team during a press conference in Davie, Florida on Monday, February 4, 2019.

A quick glance at the 2019 NFL draft order suggests the Oakland Raiders are about to do some serious work in the first round.

The Raiders have three first-round picks -- the fourth overall selection, the 24th overall selection, and the 27th overall selection

They have the fourth pick because they authored a stinky 4-12 record in 2018. They’ve also got the 24th pick because they traded pass-rusher Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears. And they’ve got the 27th pick because they traded receiver Amari Cooper to the Dallas Cowboys.

People within the Raiders organization are excited about the opportunity they have to remake their team in this and future drafts because they also got a first-round pick for Mack in the 2020 draft.

But to stock these draft day hauls the Raiders endured some significant pain in 2018. There was a lot of losing. And criticism. And even some mocking.

Which brings me to the Miami Dolphins...

By now you know the Dolphins’ stated approach to 2019. Owner Stephen Ross announced a “new approach,” and in doing so talked about how he had to fire Adam Gase because, in part, the coach wanted to “win now.”

And Ross talked about doing things “the right way,” which he said could include a 3-13 record.

And then new coach Brian Flores, who got a five-year contract when other coaches this cycle mostly got four-year deals, made the point “there will be some pain” during his introductory press conference.

So the Dolphins just might be getting ready to experience something similar to what the Raiders lived through last season.

If that’s the direction, the Dolphins can do some significant work toward speeding up the looming rebuild.

But before we get into that, there is a question about how aggressive the Dolphins will truly be with this.

Because Miami can do what it has done for far too long and engage in half measures that may bring only partial results. Or general manager Chris Grier and Flores can take a sledgehammer to this thing and tear down the old quickly so as to more get ready for the new.

There has been no indication how Grier and Flores will approach it -- slow and steady, or with break-neck speed and aggression.

My hope is they approach it like an adhesive bandage on a wound that needs removing.

Rip that thing off quickly, fellas!

Yeah, it’s going to hurt. But this is going to be a painful process regardless of the speed you choose. So if it’s going to hurt no matter what, get it over with quickly.

That’s my advice. And based on that, I am going to share Fake GM Mando’s aggressive and admittedly traumatic approach to tearing it down in 2019:

Let’s begin with the players the Dolphins must decide whether to re-sign or not because they’re unrestricted free agents:

Cameron Wake is a free agent. And I respect the guy for his work ethic and production and longevity.

But I wouldn’t re-sign him considering the new approach.

He’s 37 years old and he’s a smallish 4-3 defensive end who probably wants between $8-$10 million to play the season.

That commitment makes zero sense for the Dolphins because they’re going to play a multiple front on defense and Wake doesn’t run like he did when he began his Miami career as an outside linebacker. Also, the idea is to save cap space rather than spend it on a player who isn’t going to be around on the other side of the rebuild.

(I told you this was going to hurt.)

Right tackle Ja’Wuan James is a free agent this offseason. He’s bright. He’s solid. And he’s going to get paid. But that money shouldn’t come from the Dolphins.

The goal here should not be to pay premium dollars to solid players. The goal should be to find and pay great players. Or otherwise pay as little as possible for solid players.

The Dolphins have to begin managing costs better, which is typically done by drafting better. James was a good value on his rookie contract. But on a long-term contract that beats offers from teams that want to win now?

That’s going to be too expensive. The Dolphins can draft a starting right tackle of James’s caliber and pay much less in the exchange.

I’m not re-signing anyone over 30 unless the cupboard is absolutely bare at the position, the player is awesome, and he’s willing to play for the minimum.

The cupboard is not bare at running back where Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage need the ball in 2019. So I am not re-signing Frank Gore.

There are players on the roster who have contracts and could be part of the solution on a team trying to win as many games as possible. But on a team that’s tearing it down to lay a foundation for 2021ish?

They’re a problem. And I’m cutting them.

All of them.

I’m cutting or trading (if possible) Ryan Tannehill. Look, if you need the reasons, you haven’t been following along.

I’m cutting or trading Reshad Jones. Yes, painful. And this has to happen with a post-June 1 designation to ease the burdensome cap impact.

That impact means Jones would cost the Dolphins over $15 million in dead money this year. But there would be a $2 million in cap savings this year, $11.5 million next year, and $10.5 million in 2021.

So why this apparent craziness? Because Jones is 30 years old and I have no idea how invested in rebuilding he’ll be. He brought that question on himself, by the way, when he walked off that field after only 10 plays that game last season.

Just as importantly, the Dolphins need to settle 2018 first-round pick Minkah Fitzpatrick into a safety spot and doing that alongside younger and cheaper T.J. McDonald makes sense.

I’d hope the Dolphins try to trade Jones but it would be difficult to find a team that would take the contract, which by they way, is the measure of whether good work was done on that curious extension in March 2017.

Look, if you want to measure how well the Dolphins balance contracts versus a player’s contribution, ask yourself if a majority of other teams would take the player off the Dolphins hands with his current contract intact. The answer in far too many cases is no way.

Robert Quinn is next. He’s also got to go and that will save the Dolphins $12.9 million in cap space. Again, the Dolphins are going to play a multiple front defense. Quinn showed during his time with the Rams, he’s not that guy.

He’s a 4-3 defensive end.

More cuts? You betcha.

I’m cutting Andre Branch ($7 million), Josh Sitton ($5 million), Akeem Spence ($2.5 million) and Danny Amendola ($6 million) and collecting the cap savings those numbers in parenthesis represent. I just got the Dolphins $20.5 million in cap savings in one paragraph.

Amendola, by the way, was friendly with Flores from their time in New England and that suggests he might survive the actual purge. But Fake GM Mando’s purge recognizes no friendships.

This is business.

DeVante Parker? Gone. The Dolphins will indeed rescind the receiver’s fifth-year option, let him walk into free agency and save $9 million in the process.

If you’re keeping a running total, the column just cut $56 million off the Dolphins’ cap for 2019. And it was easy.

This one won’t be:

If there is an NFL team that will give up a first-round pick for cornerback Xavien Howard, I’m taking it and trading perhaps Miami’s best defensive player.

Howard is a stud. He just went to his first Pro Bowl. He plays a cornerstone position.

So the Dolphins will give serious consideration to paying Howard what he wants, which happens to be the most expensive contract for any cornerback in the NFL. If they don’t do that, Howard might choose to hold out during the offseason and absolutely no one needs that for a rookie head coach.

But even if the two sides agree to make a deal and avoid the drama, what just happened?

The Dolphins kept a player that is more valuable to them on another team. Because on the Dolphins, he’ll make plays for the next two or three years at a very steep price while the Dolphins are actually trying to maximize their draft position by losing.

So the Dolphins would be paying premium dollars to someone working against the team’s stated goal.

The better approach is trade Howard -- again, only if someone pays a first-round pick for him -- and use that pick to possibly either move into position to pick a great quarterback or move back in the draft and pick up multiple early draft picks.

So, yes, you give up an outstanding starting cornerback. But you make the exchange for the security of getting in position to take a quarterback or drafting multiple good players early in future drafts.

The idea of all this is to dismiss the short view in favor of the long view. It’s not an easy exercise. But played correctly, the Dolphins could find themselves with multiple first-round picks this draft or in 2020.

And then all they’d have to do is, you know, not blow all that new cap space and added draft picks on the wrong players.

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Armando Salguero has covered the Miami Dolphins and the NFL since 1990, so longer than many players on the current roster have been alive and since many coaches on the team were in middle school. He was a 2016 APSE Top 3 columnist nationwide. He is one of 48 Pro Football Hall of Fame voters. He is an Associated Press All-Pro and awards voter. He’s covered Dolphins games in London, Berlin, Mexico City and Tokyo. He has covered 25 Super Bowls, the NBA Finals, and the Olympics.


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