Dolphins McCain gets friendly with former Patriot and Fins receiver Danny Amendola
Three of the seven highest-paid players on the Miami Dolphins roster now are safeties.
Reshad Jones, who is skipping most of the team’s OTA sessions this offseason, is the highest-paid player on the team for 2019. Strong safety T.J. McDonald is scheduled to be the seventh-highest-paid player on the team. And Bobby McCain, who is working as a free safety this offseason, is the sixth-highest paid player on the team for 2019.
So, yeah, the Dolphins have a lot of resources sunk into the safety positions. And that doesn’t include 2018 first round pick Minkah Fitzpatrick, who last year played nickel, cornerback, and safety, and is again being asked to learn all three positions, plus linebacker, in coach Brian Flores’s new defense.
That logjam among all that high-priced talent at safety suggests some intrigue is coming before the regular season begins because, obviously, the Dolphins are unlikely to be the first NFL team to use four safeties in their base defense.
Some of that intrigue became a bit more clear Wednesday when two things happened:
1. Flores, speaking in the context that Jones has been absent for all of the OTA sessions open to the media the past three weeks, said the veteran has to earn his starting job when he returns to working out with the team.
That’s interesting because Jones has been a starter since 2011, has been named to two Pro Bowls, and again, his $17.1 million cap number is highest on the team.
“There’s no sacred cows,” Flores said. “You got to earn what you get. That’s the case for everyone on the team.”
And 2. McCain, who a year ago signed a deal that made him one of the NFL’s highest-paid nickel (slot) cornerbacks, talked about his new role playing free safety during these OTAs.
“Being in the middle of the field is definitely a different challenge,” McCain said. “But I can get it done.”
McCain has played some at safety in the past. The team experimented with him on the back end a couple of years ago and last year he played nine snaps at safety -- although only at strong safety, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
This is what the Dolphins expect McCain to do in that new spot: “Being able to be a master communicator and be that vocal leader that I am,” McCain said, “being that guy that guys will listen to and get lined up and they know I’m going to be on my Ps and Qs, they know I’m not going have any mental errors, and know I’m not going be lined up wrong and be able to do the right thing all the time.”
McCain is embracing the change. He’s always been a confident player but he talks of the safety position as if he’s played it all his life -- which he has not.
“I played it a little bit a couple of years back,” McCain said. “Being a nickel you have to drop back and be responsible for some half coverages but this is my first time.”
It could be argued McCain, who is between 5-10 and 5-11, doesn’t have prototype safety size. But he is bigger than Tyrann Mathieu, for example, who plays both at safety and can cover in the slot.
“Free safety you have to be able to do it all, man,” McCain said. “You have to be able to play in the slot, cover down, cover the field, it’s a guy who can tackle and get the ball down, You have to cover a lot of ground at the end of the day. Once that ball breaks out, there’s a lot of guys depending on you to get that ball down.”
McCain said he’s calling the back end of the defense on some plays. That’s one reason he says the position requires a master communicator, which he seems to be good doing.
About that: There were times last season that communication in the back end was, shall we say, lacking for the Dolphins.
It’s impossible to know if McCain’s work at safety is a result of Jones being absent from OTAs and the team simply needing a player to fill the void until Jones returns.
If that’s the case, the absence has hurt the Dolphins because it has forced both McCain and McDonald, who typically played free safety last year, to move to a different spot this offseason.
But there’s a chance McDonald, who seems more natural at strong safety anyway, might remain there and then he and Jones would compete for that job once Jones returns to the team.
But if the the Jones absence is not the reason for all the moving parts, it is understandable if the Dolphins may be preparing for a future without Jones. If the Dolphins intend on trading Jones after June 1, the current setup is the one the team could continue into training camp.
The Dolphins are unsurprisingly not saying which of these scenarios is most likely. All they’re saying is basically that everyone -- including McCain -- has to be ready to play practically everywhere.
“I think Bobby can do a lot of things well from a communication standpoint, from a tackling standpoint, from a playmaking standpoint,” Flores said. “He’s been very good so far. I think he’s smart enough definitely to move around. He can play corner, he can play safety, he can play nickel. He can play a variety of positions.”