Barry Jackson

Here’s one edge that could help Dolphins expedite rebuilding program

Brian Flores: ‘It’s about getting 11 guys on the same page’

Brian Flores, the newly announced head coach for the Miami Dolphins, talks to the media about how he plans to make his team work together during a press conference in Davie, Florida on Monday, February 4, 2019.
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Brian Flores, the newly announced head coach for the Miami Dolphins, talks to the media about how he plans to make his team work together during a press conference in Davie, Florida on Monday, February 4, 2019.

One of the perks of shedding veterans and rebuilding, as the Dolphins are doing, is the likelihood of high draft picks.

But here’s the other: the inevitability of considerable cap space, which should raise hopes that Miami’s rebuilding project doesn’t need to go on for many years if Miami nails clearly more draft picks than it flubs.

The Dolphins might not be good until 2021 or 2022 or who knows when. But the flexibility is there to field a competitive team in 2020 if Miami makes sound personnel moves.

The Dolphins are positioned to have more than $120 million in 2020 cap space in one scenario. And carryover space from this offseason could push that total even higher. The cap is projected to be around $198 million in 2020.

Before signing tight end Dwayne Allen to a two-year, $7 million deal on Saturday, the Dolphins were projected to have $91 million in space in 2020 even with a bunch of at-risk veterans on their books, according to overthecap.com.

That figure will now drop by $4 million or so, and you can realistically shave $15 million or a bit more off that $91 million to factor in 2020 salaries for 2019 draft picks and undrafted players and rookie waiver claims who make the team (or practice squad) and are kept under contract for 2020.

But by taking the full $18 million cap hit on cutting Ryan Tannehill this offseason, Miami saves $25 million off its cap in 2020. By moving on from Kenny Stills after next season, that’s another $7 million in savings.

By moving on from Reshad Jones after next season, that saves another $7.5 million. Kiko Alonso’s possible departure after 2020 saves another $6.4 million in space.

T.J. McDonald’s departure after next season –and like any of these players, it could happen sooner – would save $5.6 million.

So even when factoring in 2020 salaries for the 2019 draft class and undrafted 2019 players, Miami’s 2020 cap space grows to around $122 million in this scenario, with any carryover space pushing that total even higher.

Now the real number would be less than that because the 2020 draft class will cost more than $7 million. Laremy Tunsil’s fifth-year option would shave more than $10 million off that figure. Re-signing Xavien Howard – or using the franchise tag on him – would also reduce that figure. Any veteran free agent signed beyond 2019 would diminish cap space, unless the contract protects Miami from a dead money cap hit if the player is cut.

There’s also the matter of re-signing potential spring 2020 free agents such as Kenyan Drake and Jakeem Grant.

But here’s the bottom line: If the Dolphins land a franchise quarterback in 2020, they will have the financial flexibility to augment the roster with select impact free agents in 13 months. This rebuilding plan doesn’t need to take three years, folks.

One official who spoke to the Dolphins said the team indicated it would take a more measured approach to free agency.

“It’s going to be much more about value and fit than making a splash,” that official said.

NFL draft analyst Tony Pauline has reported the Dolphins are a top contender for Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers. But he would be very costly (potentially $15 million a year or more) and pursuing him would run counter to word conveyed earlier this offseason by the team that Miami won’t be big spenders in free agency. We’ll see.

A cheaper free-agent target would be Patriots free agent defensive tackle Malcom Brown, who would fill another high priority position.

Though owner Stephen Ross has suggested a willingness to accept short-term pain in the interest of longterm gain, one NFL official in touch with the Dolphins said he envisions internal struggling with that, because of new coach Brian Flores’ competitive spirit to win now and Miami’s desire to sign some players (such as Ja’Wuan James) who could keep them from being awful.

And by struggling, we don’t mean Flores and general manager Grier butting heads. They have an excellent relationship. We mean that even though the team knows short-term pain might work to the franchise’s benefit longterm, actually accepting it is another thing entirely. The Allen signing suggests there’s still a desire to fill certain immediate needs with veterans who aren’t necessarily going to be here well into the next decade.

Though a case could be made for David Fales as a one-year bridge quarterback, that doesn’t appear the way the Dolphins are going at this point. The Dolphins are expected to show interest in free agent Tyrod Taylor and potentially one or two others. Jake Rudock and Luke Falk will provide depth behind the bridge starting QB.

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