Mere hours into the NFL’s new league year on Wednesday, the Miami Dolphins seemed to already be struggling.
The Dolphins are looking for a starting quarterback. And they are the only NFL team currently searching for a starter in free agency.
Put another way, the Dolphins are the NFL’s only team that can offer any veteran a chance to be the starting quarterback because the 31 other starting jobs are filled.
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But despite being able to offer this unique opportunity, Miami was initially unable to find a taker.
The team on Wednesday night finished a visit with New Orleans Saints backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The Dolphins want the Miami native and former Northwestern High standout to be their starter.
And I assume Bridgewater’s visit included all the requisite niceties of a meet-and-greet with coaches, a meal, and a tour of the team’s Davie facility.
The Dolphins, by the way, are traditionally really good at this stuff because they typically take their prospective players to a swanky Fort Lauderdale restaurant that they have visited for decades. And they say all the right things, as they have for decades.
They can also trot out Dan Marino for swag purposes.
The Dolphins have always been a hit with players doing this.
But after the courting ends, the process must invariably transition to a contract negotiation. And in that, the Dolphins are royally and utterly, um, in trouble.
Because Bridgewater and his camp have the team by the, um, negotiating advantage.
These are the reasons:
The Dolphins are in the strange position of needing a starting quarterback but not wanting to pay full freight for one in free agency because veteran starting quarterbacks — even the unremarkable ones — cost $16 million annually and up.
The reason the Dolphins don’t want to pay that much is partly because they’re going to carry at minimum some $7 million in dead money on the Ryan Tannehill contract and mostly because what they intend is to eventually draft their real starting quarterback of the future — either this draft or the next.
The team is hoping to win on several fronts. Miami wants to find a veteran starter, pay him below NFL market value, draft Rookie Franchise QB Guy, and let the situation between those two players develop however it may over the next year or two.
The problem is no available veteran quarterback has been seeing things like the Dolphins were seeing things before Wednesday. No one has cooperated.
The Dolphins apparently approached Bridgewater days ago, and whatever happened in those talks only convinced Bridgewater’s camp to leak to the NFL Network that Bridgewater was going back to New Orleans as the backup and heir to Drew Brees.
The Dolphins, I’m told, had another starter option in Tyrod Taylor. Except Taylor has experience with the idea of signing to be a team’s starter and then being summarily replaced by a prized rookie. It happened to him last year in Cleveland with Baker Mayfield.
Taylor didn’t want to do that again, especially at a below-market salary for a starter.
So rather than become the Miami Dolphins’ bridge starter, Taylor signed with the Los Angeles Chargers to be the backup to Philip Rivers.
Well, the Dolphins still had channels of conversation open with Bridgewater. And this is where it’s going to get interesting.
Last year when Bridgewater was searching for a team, the Dolphins were the first team to reach out to him. The full details of that exchange were in this space last August. But the key element was that Bridgewater’s agent wanted a one-year deal for $15 million.
That’s what Bridgewater wanted when the idea was for him to merely compete for a starting job or be the backup.
If that was the asking price in that situation, what do you think the price is going to be now that Bridgewater would be coming to Miami as the unquestioned starter?
Yeah, not less.
And you know what? He has a point.
Bridgewater could easily expect a contract that guarantees he will get $16 million per year each of the next two years. And, yes, I said guarantees, not empty numbers that sound big but never get paid out.
Because any starting quarterback whom a team has a conviction about usually gets a longer-term deal — typically four years — which guarantees the player will be around at least two years before the team can vacate the agreement without a huge salary-cap backlash.
So Bridgewater’s agent obviously wants to make sure his client doesn’t find himself next year in the situation that Taylor found himself in after his Cleveland experience.
The Dolphins were probably hoping to sign their veteran starting quarterback for maybe half the $16 million annual number and perhaps throw in a ton of incentives that inflated the maximum value of a contract to look like it paid $16 million to $18 million per season.
I don’t think that’s going to work for Bridgewater.
Oh, he will want the incentives, too. He will want incentives for hitting a certain number of starts, touchdown passes, and other performance markers. But he’s going to want that atop the guaranteed money because if he comes to Miami this might be his best and only chance to get such a deal.
If Bridgewater can’t get that deal from the Dolphins he can always go back to New Orleans and wait out the 40-year-old Brees or try to hit the market again next year and find a better situation.
The Dolphins, meanwhile, can accept Bridgewater’s demands or hold the line and move on to another name in the bridge-quarterback pool.
So we’re going to have an interesting negotiation play out.
Be interesting to see who blinks.