The Dolphins have been busy the past week or so. Most of their roster decisions generally have been made with only a few tweaks likely before Saturday’s grand unveiling of the 53-man roster.
And some of those decisions led the Dolphins to explore possible trade talks involving:
Wide receiver Kenny Stills.
Linebacker Kiko Alonso.
Safety T.J. McDonald.
Safety Reshad Jones.
And some others that could not be confirmed with multiple sources.
The problem with those trade conversations is that most are ultimately unproductive. Actually, so far, all have been unproductive. Because other teams understand the Dolphins aren’t offering up their best prospects such as Xavien Howard, Laremy Tunsil or some others.
And the Dolphins should be starting to understand the players they’ve valued in the past simply aren’t quite so valued around the NFL.
The Dolphins are offering up players they’re willing to live without. They’re offering players who likely would be playing their final season in Miami even if they survive the final roster cut this year.
The Dolphins are offering up players the club’s brain trust believes don’t fit somehow.
”Any decision we make, it goes through a certain process,” head coach Brian Flores said Monday. “It’s well thought out. A lot of time goes into it. All of those variables that we’re talking about – production on the field, age, salary cap – they all play into it.”
No one was interested in dealing for Jones, a source said, primarily because other teams consider his contract too onerous. So despite efforts to find a suitor, the Dolphins are keeping the safety for 2020, barring late and unexpected interest by some unknown team.
No one was interested in dealing for McDonald because he is a box safety with limited coverage skills in a league that puts a premium on passing the football and defending the pass. So McDonald was simply cut late Sunday and Flores declined to offer specifics as to why on Monday.
Flores also declined Monday to give assurances that either Stills or Alonso -- productive under the Adam Gase-Mike Tannenbaum-Chris Grier administration -- would remain with the team under the Grier-Flores administration.
The issues other teams have with those two players?
Stills, 27, came to the Dolphins in trade from New Orleans under a rookie contract and at age 23 and has averaged six touchdowns per season in his four seasons with Miami.
But his 2019 salary cap number is $9.75 million. If the Dolphins can find a trade partner they would save $8 million of that. So that and getting a decent draft pick in 2020 (maybe a fifth-rounder?) is tempting.
Except sources say teams are wary Stills is a good speed receiver -- but not big, not great in space, and not a physical threat across the middle.
So Stills does one thing very well and that so far hasn’t been enough to draw trade interest to Miami’s liking this late before the start of a season.
Alonso has been injured most of this training camp. When camp opened, he was one of the team’s two starting linebackers, along with Jerome Baker. But then the injury set Alonso back for weeks and Sam Eguavoen caught the coaching staff’s attention.
Alonso, 29, would cost the Dolphins $8.272 million against the salary cap if he’s on the team this year. And Eguavoen will cost $495,000. And it’s unclear if Miami coaches see Alonso as a huge upgrade over the younger player.
So the Dolphins have explored their options.
And while this exploring is going on, the team either says nothing to the players or tells them there are no plans to move them. But the players understand they must wait for the final roster cuts to have certainty.
“I mean, the business side of this game is all of us – any of us – could potentially be somewhere else,” Stills said Monday.
Alonso merrily walked into the Dolphins locker room while media was present on Monday and as reporters approached to speak to him, he smiled and signaled he didn’t wish to speak to them.
But the message for everyone is clear:
The Dolphins are weighing options. And those are not always as simple as keeping a better player over an inferior player.
The Dolphins are weighing salary cap, roster and scheme fit, age, chemistry, leadership, versatility. And this year -- as always, but perhaps more so than in the past -- the team is weighing the future.
The future is a big deal with these Dolphins now. It was important in the past also, but the mandate in the past was to “win now.”
“Make the playoffs this year.”
That’s not the mandate from owner Stephen Ross for the 2019 Miami Dolphins. His newly stated (and sometimes mangled) directive is to build for the future with young players that can give winning some sustainability in the years ahead. And if that means losing now, and it will, then so be it.
So the Dolphins are putting extra value on players they believe can remain with the team two or three years into the future. And they’re putting much less value on players that won’t be here when the rebuild is complete.
“I think every team is always looking – this year obviously is at the forefront; but every team in this league is looking into the future – future years. And we’re no different,” Flores said. “I think we keep that in mind as well as today and this year’s team. We’ve got all of that and you have to balance all of those things as an organization.”
So where does that leave the Dolphins?
If there isn’t a trade or two in the next few days it should send a signal to Miami’s brass that players they have valued highly in the past, and even valued at the start of this training camp, are not quite so valuable in the eyes of other teams.
We’re talking about players who have started a lot of games and been paid millions of dollars by the organization in recent years.
And no one has so far raced to snatch any of them away from Miami.