In Friday’s piece we took a look at the cap situation, impending free agents and the roster. Today, we continue the discussion of the current state of the roster starting with the front seven:
Since Miami switched from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 unit under Kevin Coyle and Joe Philbin, the Dolphins have seen their run defense get progressively worse. With Miami having their two main run-plugging Defensive Tackles hitting free agency, the Dolphins have potential issues in the foundation of their D.
As I stated in Part I, Miami has to find a way to keep either Paul Soliai or Randy Starks; resigning Soliai means that you maintain a very solid group of interior players for the majority of your base 4-3 looks. With that said, the 2014 season will feature a 30-year-old Soliai, especially with a new contract coming, snaps need to start being counted more selectively. Miami also needs to acquire somebody to replace Starks’ production an interior pressure player on third down. Miami is lacking depth, and third down talent inside and you can bet that will be a priority this offseason.
If Miami switches back to a 3-4 defense, which seems highly unlikely, the need for talent inside becomes even more desperate.
At defensive end, the Dolphins have a nice rotation. Cameron Wake, Dion Jordan and
Olivier Vernon all bring something different to the table, but all should be fully integrated into Coyle’s defense next season. Depth behind them isn’t an issue for now either, with Derrick Shelby and even Koa Misi having the ability to line up outside and keep that trio of rushers fresh.
Where Miami has interesting decisions to make is at Linebacker. The Dolphins spent a lot of money last offseason on Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe, giving them $13 and $14 million guaranteed, respectively. Unfortunately, neither player produced the way they should have. Ellerbe is clearly a better fit in a 3-4, where he doesn’t have as much open field responsibility and where he can attack the line of scrimmage more aggressively, protected by three 300-pound lineman, rather than just two. Wheeler was horrendous in every phase of the game, even fading as a pass rusher more and more as the season went on.
Miami won’t be pondering Ellerbe’s dismissal, but, while it’s unlikely, they could look to move on from Wheeler. The move is not as unrealistic cap wise as some believe. Not to get into too much detail, but basically it breaks down like this:
Wheeler signed a 5-year deal with a $7 million signing bonus. While the cash was paid to Wheeler upfront, that $7 million is prorated throughout the length of the deal towards the salary cap. Wheeler had another $6 million in guaranteed base salaries, $1 million of which was paid in 2013. So, in terms of the cap, Wheeler will cost Miami a minimum of $10.6 million moving forward (roughly $5.6 remaining on the prorated bonus and $5 million in guaranteed base salaries). So, cutting Wheeler would cost roughly $10.6 million against the cap. However, like Miami did with Karlos Dansby, the cap hit can be spread out over two years. So, Miami could cut Wheeler this spring and elect to take $5.3 million of the cap hit this season, and $5.3 million in 2015. After that he would be completely off the books
If Miami elected to keep Wheeler, he would cost $6.4 million against the cap in 2014. In 2015 he would then cost $4.3 million to keep, or $4.2 million to cut. Again, a cap hit that could be taken, for example, at $2.1 million over two years if Miami wanted.
So the numbers are pretty similar. Logic dictates that since the cap ramifications are similar, you may as well have him on the roster in 2014. While it makes sense, having a player with his salary will command certain playing time, whether Dolphins fans like it or not. An argument could be made that it makes sense to release him now and move on. With that said, it’s unlikely Miami replaces any of their starting three at linebacker until 2015.
They do, however, need better coverage linebackers. Outside of Jelani Jenkins, a player who is still tough to project, the Dolphins don’t have linebackers who can cover the middle of the field or running backs out of the backfield.
Overall, the Dolphins have a solid defensive line, but one that could probably be more dangerous in a 3-4. The linebackers are also a much better fit for a 3-4, and create quite the handcuff for a new GM coming in. Miami needs to find a way to compliment their personnel to a 4-3 defense better than they did in 2013. More depth at defensive tackle and linebacker are both needed.