Barry Jackson

Evaluator, cap expert assess Dolphins’ veteran pickups on eve of preseason opener

Miami Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler (6) with quarterback coach Bo Hardegree at Miami Dolphins training camp in Davie, Fl, Aug. 8, 2017.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler (6) with quarterback coach Bo Hardegree at Miami Dolphins training camp in Davie, Fl, Aug. 8, 2017. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

Dolphins fans will see many of the team’s veteran acquisitions for the first time against Atlanta at Hard Rock Stadium on Thursday, with the exception of at least Jay Cutler, injured Ted Larsen and injured Nate Allen.

So what exactly is Miami getting with its veteran pickups?

Here’s feedback from former ESPN analyst and ex-NFL scout Matt Williamson (whose evaluations have been spot-on for us in the past) and cap analysis from Jason Fitzgerald, founder for overthecap.com:

• Cutler (one year, $10 million, plus $3 million in incentives):

Williamson: “Much better [than Matt Moore]. Way underrated. A legit NFL starting quarterback. [Has] toughness, experience. Good at the line of scrimmage” and a superior arm.

Fitzgerald: “To me this is just a lateral move that is more psychological because of the name. $5 million is fine for him, but once you are going over $10 million it’s just wasted money for the same result” as Moore.

View here: A clear upgrade over Moore, and his arm strength and velocity were impressive, and as advertised, in his first practice Tuesday. He will have better weapons here than in Chicago (as Chicago radio personality Tom Waddle noted) and he thrived under Adam Gase --- two legitimate factors that justifiably should raise hope. But the career unevenness of performance and 68-71 career record (and only one playoff appearance) should at least somewhat temper any unreasonably high expectations.

Adam Gase, Miami Dolphins coach, explains why he likes quarterback Jay Cutler as a replacement for injured Ryan Tannehill but he understands they will take it slow at practice for now on Monday, Aug. 7, 2017.

• Linebacker Lawrence Timmons:

Williamson: “I'm from Pittsburgh and watch the Steelers a little closer. Last year, I thought he looked old and slow, especially in coverage but played pretty well in the second half of the year. He’s not a bad player but he's declining.

“But there is something left in the tank. He's considered a good leader. Considering what Miami had at the position, he's a good influence and a good addition. He’s a good blitzer. He’s an upgrade over Jelani Jenkins, more reliable. But he worries me in coverage and he’s not a longterm answer. If you get a year or two of average play, it's good.”

Fitzgerald, on Timmons’ two-year, $12 million deal ($11 million guaranteed): “I can see the guarantee being a little concern, but… I look at this more that Miami was just realistic on the amount of years they expect him to play at a $6M level.”

View here: Timmons seems to have adjusted well to playing outside linebacker after years inside. And he hasn’t complained about it. We’re eager to see this revamped Timmons, Kiko Alonso, Raekwon McMillan troika.

• Safety Allen (one year, fully guaranteed $3.4 million):

Williamson: “He would be a fine third guy, but probably a below average NFL starter at this point. Allen will be a deep center field type of player. Not super rangy. Free safety is a need for them.”

Fitzgerald: “Miami could have found cheaper, younger, and better players than Allen had they just been a bit more patient. It’s hard to also see how they could have given Allen a raise over what Oakland agreed to pay him last season.”

Matt Moore, Miami Dolphins quarterback, does not ask himself "why not me", he keeps working and plans to compete as a new quarterback arrives in training camp to replace the injured Ryan Tannehill on Monday, Aug. 7, 2017.

View here: Allen had been very competent during training camp practices, before sustaining a groin injury last week, but needs to play well or T.J. McDonald will replace him when he comes off suspension in game nine. The groin injury isn’t expected to be a longterm issue.

• McDonald (one-year, $1.3 million):

Williamson: “Better than Nate Allen for sure. Good complement to Reshad Jones. Good in space. More a free safety type.”

Fitzgerald: “A low risk move. They didn’t guarantee any of the contract and because he is suspended [for the first eight regular-season games] that means he won’t be eligible for a full years termination pay since he won’t be on the week 1 roster. Basically if the team doesn’t look good they can move on with no cost or if they see no need for another safety they can also move on. So it’s a pretty low risk signing that can be beneficial depending on the team situation.”

View here: McDonald made more flash plays than Allen early in camp, but whether McDonald plays a lot after suspension depends more on how effective Allen is during the first eight weeks.

• Defensive end William Hayes:

Williamson: “I was shocked he came so cheap [for a 2017 sixth-round pick]. He's a pure old school defensive end who is better against the run than the pass. In a perfect world, he's your third guy. That’s a pretty good group, with Hayes, Cam Wake and Andre Branch” and now Charles Harris, too.

Fitzgerald on Hayes’ one-year, $4.8 million deal, with all but $100,000 guaranteed: “Hayes is a better player and value than Branch. I’m not really sure I understood the contract restructure they did in which they deleted the 2018 year, which only cost $5 million, for just a $750,000 pay cut, especially in light of some of the veteran contracts they have handed out. I just think they could end up paying more if he has a good season, but maybe they considered this a motivational tactic.”

View here: Dolphins never should have eliminated the second year of his contract. His most value is on early downs, but he isn’t expected to start. He should play some first and second downs to give Wake and Branch a breather.

Adam Gase, Miami Dolphins coach, likes what he sees in his new quarterback Jay Cutler on his first day at practice.

• Tight end Julius Thomas:

Williamson: “Great pickup. Adam Gase’s history at the tight end position is fantastic. Even in Chicago, guys he had weren't great and he got a lot out of those guys. The system fits Thomas really well. Really good near the red zone, fluid athlete. When right, he can stretch the middle of the field.”

Fitzgerald, on Thomas’ two-year, $12 million deal, with $3 million guaranteed: “Miami effectively gave up nothing for Thomas and then renegotiated his contract to pay him $5.6 million this year. Thomas is an injury risk and has missed 11 games in the last two years so it’s surprising they did not try to protect themselves from that.”

View here: Thomas flashed in the offseason program – his speed and size are an intoxicating combination – but he and Cutler need to spend a lot of time developing chemistry.

• Tight end Anthony Fasano:

Williamson: “Pure blocker. Total opposite of Thomas. Rugged, professional, but cannot stretch the field at all or make anyone miss with the ball in his hands.”

Fitzgerald, on Fasano’s one-year, $2.75 million deal: “For what Miami is looking for, Fasano should be a good fit. He is still a very capable blocker and with the young players at [offensive] tackle he definitely should provide a benefit. Fasano can also be a safety outlet in a few situations if the Dolphins use him at all in the passing game. I would have liked to have seen some per game bonuses in this contract given the age, but he has been pretty reliable for most of his career.”

View here: Limited range as a receiver, but reliable, and will be an asset as a blocker, particularly in two tight end sets.

• Cornerback Alterraun Verner (one year, $900,000):

Fitzgerald: “Solid, no risk deal for a team that considers themselves a playoff contender. While I don’t think the Pro Bowl upside exists anymore, a change of scenery could help him. I don’t think it’s outrageous to think that the team could be getting $3M of value for $1M if he plays a good reserve role.”

• Guard Ted Larsen, who is out for a large chunk of the season with a torn biceps:

Williamson: “Saying a serviceable type guy might be a stretch. He’s a journeyman. Jermon Bushrod is probably a little better in protection than Larsen, who’s a tough guy and gets through on grit. Guard is a problem. Guard is their biggest need.”

View here: Larsen was the Dolphins’ most consistent lineman in the first week of camp. Kraig Urbik or Anthony Steen seems likely to replace him. Rookie Isaac Asiata hasn’t developed quickly.

Overall, Fitzgerald has concerns:

“It would seem that the Dolphins are setting up a pattern where they will over guarantee on contracts relative to the rest of the NFL to get the players they want. In the case of Kenny Stills that got them a reasonable contract, but for everyone else I haven’t seen the potential reward in up front cash flows or anything like that….

“Miami did not get worse in free agency but it is hard to see anything they did really making them much better, and for the long term I think they hurt themselves both from a negotiating standpoint and on the field. We saw this play out with Mike Tannenbaum at the end of his Jets tenure. He is generally very bullish on the players he wants and that can sink a team. I’d be worried about the long term set up in Miami.”

View here: I’m not as pessimistic as Fitzgerald about the future. The Dolphins have ways to clear cap space next spring, and Tannenbaum, Chris Grier and Gase have put together a pretty good roster - yes, there are some depth concerns- and deserve credit for last year’s playoff berth. We’ll know far more after 2018, with Ryan Tannehill expected back next season.

If you’re interested in football and the cap, we recommend Fitzgerald’s book, Crunching Numbers, co-written with Vijay Natarajan – See CrunchingNumbersBook.com.

Here’s my post today with lots of UM personnel nuggets. Here’s my post with my scoop on a Marlins group ending its bid for the team and where things stand in the never-ending sales process. Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

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