The Dolphins still need to accomplish the most difficult part of rebuilding: procuring really good players, starting with a quarterback.
But they have made great progress on the initial stage: Giving themselves salary cap flexibility, which was further achieved with Friday’s trade of Ryan Tannehill to the Tennessee Titans.
From a pure cash standpoint, the Dolphins will pay $5 million of the $7 million in guaranteed money that the Titans will pay him in 2019. That $5 million goes on the Dolphins’ cap.
But that’s less than the nonguaranteed $39 million he would have been owed, combined, during the next two seasons had he remained a Dolphin under terms of the contract the sides struck a couple of years ago.
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From a cap standpoint, the trade saves $8.2 million on Miami’s cap in 2019 and $25 million off Miami’s cap in 2020.
And that gives the Dolphins $38.3 million in cap space at this moment — more than what they probably need this offseason.
Miami needs to allocate $6.9 million to sign its draft class and another $5 million or so to sign a practice squad and keep as a safety net to sign players during the season.
Miami got to the $38.3 million mark in available space without even releasing Robert Quinn, whose release would carve more than $12 million off the Dolphins’ cap.
What’s more, even though the Dolphins will carry an $18.4 dead money cap charge on Tannehill for 2019, they will have no dead money Tannehill charge on the Dolphins’ cap in 2020.
That puts Miami in position to carve out more than $125 million in cap space in 2020 if they release several veterans, as we explained could happen in this recent piece. And whatever cap space is not used this offseason will carry over to Miami’s available cap space in 2020.
So the Dolphins will have plenty of flexibility as this rebuild moves along.
TANNEHILL’S HISTORICAL RANK
While it’s odd to think of Tannehill in historical context — because of his disappointing tenure — here’s where he ranks all time on NFL lists as he ends his Dolphins career:
He’s 28th all time in NFL passer rating at 87.0, which is more of a reflection of the era he’s playing in than anything else. What’s laughable about the passer rating system is that the players directly behind Tannehill on the all-time passer rating list are Otto Graham, Dan Marino, Cam Newton and Brett Favre.
He’s 110th all time in passing touchdowns with 123.
He’s 104th all time among quarterbacks in passing yards at 20,434 — just behind Kirk Cousins and Billy Kilmer — and ahead of Jim McMahon, Chad Pennington and others.
As far as the Dolphins record book, Tannehill is second all time in passer rating (87) and completion percentage (62.8), behind Chad Pennington in both.
In passing yards, he finishes with 20,434, which is third all time in Dolphins history, behind Dan Marino and Bob Griese.
He’s also third all time in touchdown passes (123), behind Marino and Griese.
His 88 starts rank him third all time among Dolphins QBs, behind Marino (240) and Griese (151).
The change in coaching staffs could prompt the Dolphins to add a position they haven’t utilized in recent years: a fullback.
Miami has poked around on fullbacks in free agency, including conveying preliminary interest in Michael Burton, who played only 49 snaps for the Bears last season but was graded out as the second-best fullback by Pro Football Focus.
Detroit drafted Burton, 27, in the fifth round out of Rutgers in 2015 and he played for new Dolphins quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell with the Lions. He has appeared in 55 NFL games for the Bears and Lions, starting 11 of them, and has done his best work blocking. He has 8 carries for 11 yards in his career and nine receptions for 53 yards.
New coach Brian Flores’ former team, the Patriots, used a fullback. Last season, Patriots fullback James Devlin played 35.8 percent of New England’s offensive snaps.
According to Sharp Football, New England last season used a formation with two backs, two tight ends and one receiver 36 times of the time, compared to zero percent for the Dolphins. (Eleven percent was the NFL average.)
If the Dolphins add a fullback through the draft process, keep in mind that Wisconsin’s Alec Ingold was the only fullback prospect at the 2019 NFL Combine.
There’s also a chance the Dolphins could bypass a fullback and keep four of the five tight ends under contract.