Dolphins items on the eve of free agency:
• One key with tight end Julius Thomas, who the Dolphins plan to acquire for a seventh-round draft pick:
Can the Dolphins make him the downfield threat that he was when Peyton Manning was his quarterback and Adam Gase his coordinator in Denver?
Consider these metrics, most courtesy of ESPN’s KC Joyner, who was kind enough to run the numbers:
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With the Broncos in 2013, he caught 16 passes that were thrown at least 11 yards in the air, for 311 yards.
He caught four passes thrown at least 20 yards for 94 yards.
With the Broncos in 2014, he caught 12 passes thrown in the air at least 11 yards, for 258 yards.
He caught three passes thrown at least 20 yards, for 86 yards.
With the Jaguars in 2015, he caught 12 passes thrown in the air at least 11 yards, for 235 yards, but just one pass thrown over 20, for 29 yards.
And last year, he did virtually nothing as a downfield threat, in part because of lack of opportunity, in part because of quarterback Blake Bortles’ struggles.
Among balls thrown at least 11 yards, he caught only six for a measly 85 yards. He caught only one ball thrown over 20, for 22 yards.
So to recap: In Denver with Gase as his coordinator and Manning his QB,Thomas had 28 catches thrown at least 11 yards, 7 of at least 20. In two years in Jacksonville, only 18 and 2 in those categories.
And that dovetails into this: The Dolphins’ need (and desire) to re-sign Dion Sims (or sign another skilled blocking tight end) will be even more critical if receiver Kenny Stills flees in free agency.
Here’s why: Even though the Dolphins will add another receiver if Stills leaves - perhaps, as we noted last month, a speedster such as Buffalo’s Marquise Goodwin, Tampa’s Russell Sheppard or Dallas’ Terrance Williams – Miami’s best option, on some plays, would be using two receivers (Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker) and two tight end sets with Thomas and Sims, with Parker serving as the primary deep threat.
Thomas, in such formations, could serve as a pseudo third receiver at times. No, he doesn’t have blazing speed, but he can catch vertical passes thrown in rhythm, and Miami must maximize that skill.
The Florida Times Union’s Ryan O’Halloran wrote an interesting piece here on why Thomas didn’t work out in Jacksonville. Notice the part about his blocking --- one more reason why we’re told the Dolphins want to keep Sims.
“[Sims] did exactly what we needed him to do,” Gase said. “I think we held him back a little bit and didn't let him do some of the things that he probably could have done more of.”
FREE AGENT TALK
Teams can begin speaking with agents of free agents from other teams at noon Tuesday, with no signings permitted until Thursday. Here’s a look at some names available at Dolphins areas of need, with Miami’s cap space topping $43 million:
• Defensive end: The Dolphins will try to re-sign Andre Branch, but if they cannot, there are fewer than a dozen starting-caliber ends available, a group led by Arizona’s Calais Campbell, the Patriots’ Jabaal Sheard and Carolina’s Charles Johnson.
But Gase says they don’t want to be big spenders and that group – especially Campbell and Sheard – should be paid handsomely because of high demand and limited supply.
This could be as simple as re-signing Branch, who hired Jimmy Sexton as his agent, and drafting an end or two in the first three rounds (from a strong draft class), plus signing a lower-budget veteran such as New England’s Chris Long, Detroit’s Devin Taylor, Dallas’ Jack Crawford or Houston’s John Simon. With the Dolphins not counting on Dion Jordan, their only NFL ends under contract are Cam Wake and backups Terrence Fede and Julius Warmsley.
• Defensive tackle: Though the Dolphins are prepared to significantly increase Jordan Phillips’ snaps, they need a quality No.
3 tackle. Gase’s comments about finances suggest Miami won’t make enormous bids for the top free agent tackles (Baltimore’s Brandon Williams, the Saints’ Nick Fairley, the Chiefs’ Dontari Poe).
Less pricey starting caliber options include Cincinnati’s Domata Peko, New England’s Alan Branch, Baltimore’s Lawrence Guy, Dallas’ Terrell McClain and Philadelphia’s Benny Logan. Among others available: Ziggy Hood, Kendall Reyes, Tyson Alualu, Jarvis Jenkins, Jonathan Babineaux, Sylvester Williams, Corbin Bryant, Stacy McGee and former Dolphins Paul Soliai and Tony McDaniel.
• Linebacker: The Dolphins reportedly have interest in New England’s Dont’a Hightower, but bidding might go beyond Miami’s liking. Beyond Hightower, it’s a mediocre group of linebackers, with Buffalo’s Zach Brown, Arizona’s Kevin Minter, San Francisco’s Gerald Hodges, Oakland’s Malcolm Smith and Carolina’s AJ Klein the best of the rest.
That lack of free agent talent is one reason Koa Misi, off neck surgery, remains on the roster. As we reported recently, the Dolphins are waiting to size up the situation when Misi’s healthy. His representation expects him to be cleared for football around May 1.
• Secondary: The Dolphins have three serviceable corners (Byron Maxwell, Xavien Howard and Tony Lippett) and a still-improving slot corner (Bobby McCain) but want another corner.
And safety has now become a priority because Isa Abdul Quddus’ neck/shoulder injury might sideline him all of 2017.
Safety is a deep position in free agency, a group including Jacksonville’s John Cyprien, Dallas’ Barry Church, Indianapolis’ Mike Adams, San Diego’s Jahleel Addae, Arizona’s Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger and Houston’s Quintin Demps.
“The more corners we can get, the better,” Gase said. “I like the guys we have right now. I love the way they’ve been tryingto get better, but we just need more bodies.”
• Receiver: The Dolphins remain very much in the running to keep Kenny Stills, but if they cannot, they will sign a veteran free agent because they aren’t convinced Leonte Carroo is ready to be a third receiver at this point.
Alshon Jeffery, Kenny Britt, DeSean Jackson would appear too pricey if Stills moves on, but there are a half dozen or so cheaper speedsters available: Carolina’s Ted Ginn, Buffalo’s Marquise Goodwin, Tampa’s Russell Shepard, Dallas’ Terrance Williams and Atlanta’s Aldrick Robinson.
• Guard: The Dolphins know the Patriots spent less than $1 million combined on their two starters and aren’t inclined to spend big money here. They believe they can get two guards for no more than the $8.8 million they would have paid Branden Albert if they hadn’t moved on from him.
But if you want the top guards - Kevin Zeitler, TJ Lang, Ron Leary and Larry Warford - here’s the big problem from Miami’s perspective: All are expected to make at least $8 million per year, with Zeitler and Lang well above that, according to a report by NFL writer Charles Robinson.
Other options included Luke Joekel, Chance Warmack, Tim Lelito, Jahri Evans, Chris Scott, Patrick Omameh (played for Gase in Chicago), Brandon Fusco, Hugh Thornton and Tom Compton.
Another option: Former Jets center Nick Mangold, who played for New York when Dolphins executive Mike Tannenbaum was there. According to a report today, several teams have talked to Mangold, 33, about moving to guard.