Cap Conundrum: Evaluating the Miami Dolphins’ Salary-Cap Situation Ahead of the 2017 Season
If there’s one thing in the NFL that isn’t guaranteed, it’s sustained success. Front office moves that may seem inconsequential at the time can prove to be the difference between a winning or losing season. While Adam Gase and his staff are some of the best in the business, the front office has yielded the team mixed results. While the draft remains the most important avenue in building a team, an area in which the team has fared quite well in the last three years, free agency is also incredibly important. Teams like the 2015 Denver Broncos and 2016 New York Giants turned middling defensive units into nightmares for opposing offenses due in large part to free agency splashes. By contrast, teams like the 2013 San Francisco 49ers and 2014 Indianapolis Colts went from Super Bowl contenders to absolute jokes almost entirely due to poor front office decisions. If the Miami Dolphins want to take the next step, they need to improve their abundant weaknesses without sinking too much capital into busts, be they acquired in free agency or by other means. But can Miami even afford to roll the dice on potential impact players? Well, Greg, I’m going to do my best to figure out an answer to that question.
How much money is there?
In order to figure out if Miami can afford to accrue significant talent in free agency, first we need to know where they are as far as cap space is concerned. While exact figures won’t be known until the new league year starts in March, the estimates should tell us enough. According to Spotrac.com, the Dolphins will have about $43 million to spend. Overthecap.com pencils the Dolphins cap space at just over $30 million. In any event, this is a fairly average number among NFL teams in regard to predicted cap space. Neither number accounts for the cuts that Miami will be making before free agency begins, which is significant considering reports show that the team will move on from Mario Williams and his $10.5 million paycheck (only $2.5 million of which will be “dead money”). In essence, the team has some money to spend but probably not enough to lure the biggest names to South Beach on salary alone.
How much money can the Dolphins actually afford to spend?
The issue this year regarding the Miami Dolphins’ salary cap is not necessarily the absence of funds. Instead, it is re-signing or extending contracts of home-grown talents without sacrificing the team’s ability to accrue better depth. The proverbial elephant in the room at this point is Kenny Stills. The former New Orleans Saint is coming off a breakout season in which he had more touchdowns than Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker and Jay Ajayi. He re-established himself as one of the most potent deep threats in the NFL and showed marked improvement in every major facet of his game. Needless to say, his contributions to Adam Gase’s offense were substantial, and the team needs to do their best to keep him in Miami. Unfortunately, Kenny Stills is one of the best receivers that will hit the open market in March. The Miami Dolphins simply don’t have the resources to enter a bidding war with a desperate team with money to spend like the Cleveland Browns or Tennessee Titans. If last year’s market is any indication, Stills could receive anywhere between $6 and $9 million per year depending on which teams try to lock him up long term. At any rate he’ll be receiving considerably more than his current $600,000 yearly salary.
Stills is not the only player that needs to be re-signed this year either. More than half of the team’s secondary and linebacker corps will become unrestricted free agents and, while many don’t figure to be brought back, Tannenbaum and Grier would be wise to sign many of them in order to prevent a potential depth crisis. Jermon Bushrod and Dion Sims will also have to be paid considerably more in order to be retained as the team’s starting right guard and tight end respectively. If that weren’t a big enough predicament, the front office is going to have to figure out a way to extend the contracts of their superstars, Jarvis Landry and Reshad Jones, in order to ensure that the cap situation is “team friendly” down the line.
How should Miami spend their money?
The way I see it, the number one priority needs to be extending the contracts of Reshad Jones and Jarvis Landry. Doing so would allow the Dolphins’ future front office decisions to be made with less urgency and with a significantly wider margin of error. Locking up stars like Jones and Landry for the next 4-5 years would alleviate financial pressure when trying to re-sign impending free agents like Kenny Stills this season and guys like Jay Ajayi a few years down the line. After that, the Dolphins should look to re-sign homegrown talent so that there are fewer needs to address when the free agency period officially begins in March. Only then can the team look to make improvements from the free agency talent pool. Kenny Stills is undoubtedly the biggest wildcard in the situation, because if he walks in search of greener pastures the team would in turn have much more money to accrue new talent. If the team manages to retain Stills, there will definitely be fewer opportunities to improve other areas of concern like the linebacker corps, secondary depth, and the O-line among them. For a more in-depth look at the Miami Dolphins’ free agency to-do list, you can view last week’s article. Whether the Miami Dolphins stick to this crude plan or not is anyone’s guess, but one thing is for sure: this offseason could turn the Dolphins into a Super Bowl contender… or damn them to irrelevance.