Posted: 9:41 am Tuesday, March 5th, 2013
By Post Staff
A trio of Talking Points to jumpstart your Tuesday:
1. Dolphins don’t have as much salary cap space as you think.
It’s hardly a secret that the Dolphins are flush with cash this offseason. At the start of business on Monday morning, they had almost $45 million in salary cap space, and many around the NFL expect them to throw big money at free agents as they look to upgrade Ryan Tannehill’s weapons and make a big splash after four straight losing seasons.
But Dolphins fans may want to temper their expectations, because as we saw yesterday with Randy Starks and the franchise tag, that money can and will go quickly.
Their salary cap space is now at about $36.5 million after Starks’ franchise tag took $8.45 million off the books. The Browns, Bengals and Colts all have more cap space, and the Bucs and Eagles are in the neighborhood, as well. But that $36.5 million is misleading, because the Dolphins still have several significant holes on the roster, and are still trying to bring their own free agents back.
They’re willing to let Jake Long, Reggie Bush, Brian Hartline, Sean Smith, Anthony Fasano, Chris Clemons and Matt Moore test the market, but they want most of those players back, as well – at the Dolphins’ price, of course. Some of those players may walk, but continuity is the best way to build a winner in the NFL, and the Dolphins know they need to bring a majority of their free agents back. The 2012 season would have been a complete waste of time if the Dolphins let most of those players leave.
The Dolphins have prepared for a lot of contingencies, but are prepared to spend money on their own players. So let’s see what the salary cap situation would look like if the Dolphins bring back them back. We’ll use ultra conservative estimates here, using Joe Flacco as our prime example – he got $120 million over six years, but his 2013 salary cap number is still a very reasonable $6.8 million.
* Jake Long: The Dolphins still want him back, at a discount. But even a discount could give him a salary cap number of $5-6 million in 2013 (it was $12.8 million in 2012).
* Brian Hartline: Same as Long, but his cap number would most likely be in the $3 million range.
* Reggie Bush: Don’t close the door on him coming back to Miami yet. They would take him back if he settles on their price – likely in the $2-3 million range.
* Sean Smith: Probably the unlikeliest to return, but would have a cap number of $4-5 million.
* Anthony Fasano: The coaching staff loves him, and he’d be a perfect No. 2 tight end, with a cap number around $1.5-2 million.
* Chris Clemons: Played the most snaps on defense last year and was a key special teams contributor as well. A cap number around $1.5-2 million seems reasonable.
* Matt Moore: The Dolphins still badly want Moore back, as well. They’d set aside $3-4 million in cap dollars to bring him back as Tannehill’s understudy.
And those are all bargains. If the Dolphins opt to replace those guys in free agency, they’ll be paying a lot more than the salary cap estimates listed above.
Now, not every player will return. But the Dolphins could be spending anywhere from $18-25 million in cap dollars on their own guys. Then $2-3 million needs to be saved for the rookie class (for an explanation, read THIS).
In reality, the Dolphins will have approximately $10-15 million to spend on other free agents – still plenty to sign someone like Mike Wallace, Greg Jennings, Jared Cook, Derek Cox, Keenan Lewis, Cary Williams or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Realistically, they should be looking at receivers, offensive linemen, pass rushers and cornerbacks in free agency.
But don’t expect the Dolphins to open their wallets and sign a bunch of players from other teams. Much of that cap space will be used on their own guys.
2. Jake Long gained some leverage this week.
Long has made it clear that he’s not too keen on giving the Dolphins a hometown discount this offseason – Long likely knows that injuries are starting to catch up to him, and he wants one more big payday before his NFL career comes to an end. And this past week couldn’t have played out much better for Long.
Free agency was supposed to be well stocked with solid veteran left tackles, but three of them came off the market this week. Denver franchise tagged Ryan Clady, Kansas City franchised Branden Albert and the Giants signed Will Beatty to a five-year contract extension.
The NFL Draft still has several elite prospects – perhaps six first-round left tackles, including Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson as top 10 picks – but teams looking to fill that void in free agency now have fewer options: Cincinnati’s Andre Smith, New Orleans’ Jermon Bushrod, New England’s Sebastian Vollmer and Long.
Long still may find it tough to approach his previous contract, which paid him $57.5 million over five years, but his stock certainly took a boost this week.
3. Don’t hold your breath on Sean Smith returning.
A source close to Smith told us at the NFL Combine that there was a zero percent chance of him returning, and this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The worst-known secret in South Florida is that Smith wants to get paid, and is willing to follow the money, wherever it takes him. And of course there was the Keystone Cops routine by Smith and Vontae Davis last week, in which Davis spilled the beans that Smith has been talking to the Chiefs, then both players clumsily backtracked on the claim.
The “zero percent” talk was probably a bit of an overstatement, but the Dolphins and Smith have different ideas about the player’s value. Smith is a tall, rangy cornerback (6-3, 220) who plays well in press-man coverage, but the Dolphins play a lot of zone under new defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, and Smith can be pretty average in that scheme.
It probably doesn’t make sense to pay Smith $7-8 million a year – which he very well could get in free agency – to play in a scheme that doesn’t best suit his talents.