AFC East: Miami Dolphins
"I'm not going to comment on any contact or communication with representation," Hickey said. "But we do have an open line of communication with all of our players and their representation."
Would the Dolphins really be comfortable giving Tannehill that rich of a deal?
"We feel really good about Ryan," Hickey said Wednesday. "Obviously the market for quarterbacks in this era, the market is what it is. But we're really excited about the development that he made from Year 2 to Year 3 and that trajectory that he has.
"With learning the new offense and working through that, and the growth that he made throughout the season, we're excited about his future as our quarterback."
This offseason, Hickey is just one voice in a room that also includes executive vice presidents Mike Tannenbaum and Dawn Aponte, as well as coach Joe Philbin and owner Stephen Ross.
"The good thing is, we all have the same philosophy of we're about winning, and what does it take to get there?" Hickey said. "With our group, it's been a relationship of, hey, we all come from different experiences and we all bring something different to the table.
"So let's get in, let's collaborate, let's talk with the coaches, let's go back and watch the film. If we disagree on a certain aspect of a player, let's go back to the film, let's talk through this. It's worked well together."
Speaking Wednesday at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey offered little update to Wallace's situation.
"Again, we're further along in the process than we were a month ago as we talked at the Senior Bowl. But we're still working on it. We judge each decision, each player on an individual basis. The goal is to make the best decision for the Miami Dolphins."
The Miami Herald reported earlier this month that Hickey recently met with Wallace about the receiver's future.
"We had a good conversation," Hickey said Wednesday. "Again, we have an open line of communication. We always feel like we have an open door for all of our players -- whether it be from the coaching staff, myself, always keeping that open line of communication."
Hickey was also asked about Wallace's reported frustrations with his role last season.
"For all of us, as the season unfolded and late in the year, we were all frustrated about how the season ended," Hickey said. "That's what we're focused on now: addressing, confronting the reality of where we're at, and how do we get to where we want to be.
"That's what we spent the last five or six weeks looking at hard and talking through and working together in a collaborative fashion to try to work through that, because the goal is to be better."
Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey reportedly met with Wallace recently to discuss their options. Nothing is off limits for either party, including the possibility for a trade, which would help the Dolphins with cap space and to get something in return.
If Miami ultimately decides to go that route, here are three potential trade partners:
Analysis: We saw during the playoffs that Seattle's biggest weakness is wide receiver. It's the reason the two-time NFC champions acquired Percy Harvin in 2013, although that move didn't work. Wallace is a deep threat with elite speed. He would take the pressure off quarterback Russell Wilson, who throws a much better deep ball than Ryan Tannehill. Wallace also would prevent opponents from putting eight in the box against Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch. It's a great fit for both sides. Wallace fills one of Seattle's few holes and gets to compete for championships, which is what he did early in his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Fit rating (10 being the best): 9
Analysis: The Colts are on the cusp of being a championship contender. They need a little more talent, and Wallace could be one of those additions to help Indianapolis get over the hump. Wallace has had big games at Lucas Oil Stadium. He loves the fast track and can do a lot of damage playing in a dome with Colts quarterback Andrew Luck eight times a season. Indianapolis is not afraid to make bold trades. The Colts recently acquired former first-round picks Vontae Davis and Trent Richardson the past few seasons. Some will work out and some won't. But the Colts are usually aggressive in their pursuit of players.
Fit rating: 9
New Orleans Saints
Analysis: Wallace is a Louisiana native. He would have no issues playing for his home team, which also plays in a dome and has an elite quarterback in Drew Brees. New Orleans' offense would be a dynamic fit for a talent like Wallace. But the biggest issue is the Saints' salary-cap situation is not very good. It's tough to see New Orleans creating the type of room necessary to take on Wallace's $9.9 million salary in a trade. Wallace returning home is more feasible if he's released and free to negotiate a more cost-effective contract.
Fit rating: 7
The Dolphins have several options. But according to Andrew Healy of Football Outsiders , the team should trade Wallace to a receiver-needy team. Healy writes the Dolphins could get a mid-round draft pick and cites a title contender such as the Seattle Seahawks as a possible landing spot.
Is this the best course of action? The Dolphins could save a lot of cap room by trading Wallace, as opposed to releasing him. But a mid-round pick isn't close to the value of the player.
Wallace is arguably the most dangerous deep threat in the NFL. The problem is the Dolphins are not using him properly, partially due to scheme and partially due to quarterback Ryan Tannehill's inability to throw a consistent deep ball. Plus, it will be difficult for Miami to find another No. 1 receiver to replace Wallace's production. He led the team with 862 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.
Trading Wallace would simply be a move to get rid of salary. The Dolphins do need the cap room. But in a must-win year for both head coach Joe Philbin and Hickey, it is in the team's best interest not to dump talent while getting little in return.
With that said, let's do a periodic mock draft updating fans on the Miami Dolphins' top targets with the No. 14 overall pick.
Things will change periodically throughout the scouting process. But here is my latest Dolphins' mock:
No. 1: LB Shaq Thompson
Stats: 78 tackles, 4.5 sacks, four interceptions
Analysis: Thompson remains my leading candidate for Miami with the No. 14 pick. Significant changes are coming at linebacker, as the team is not expected to keep high-priced veterans Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler. Thompson would add youth and much-needed playmaking ability to Miami's linebacker corps. Thompson was so athletic that he also took carries at running back. Jelani Jenkins, who led Miami with 110 tackles, and Thompson would be a nice pair to build around.
No. 2: WR Kevin White
School: West Virginia
Stats: 109 receptions, 1,447 yards, 10 touchdowns
Analysis: The Dolphins were fine at wide receiver last season. However, changes could be coming over the next several weeks where this becomes a position of need. The immediate futures of starters Brian Hartline and Mike Wallace both remain up in the air. Hartline, who under-produced in Miami's new offense, is due $5.95 million. Wallace, who was benched in the second half of Week 17 following a verbal altercation, is due $9.9 million in 2015. Expensive backup Brandon Gibson ($3.26 million) also could be on the chopping block this offseason. These potential moves could push a young receiver like White at the top of the list in the first round. The Dolphins need playmakers around budding quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who is still developing. White has good size and his production was off the charts. He could be a complement to Jarvis Landry, who does most of his damage underneath.
No. 3: WR Devante Parker
Stats: 43 receptions, 855 yards, five touchdowns
Analysis: Choosing between White and Parker at this stage is really a matter of preference. Both are projected top-15 picks. Currently, I have White slightly ahead due to the difference in college production, which is something the Dolphins often value. But Parker has most of the tools that would fit in Bill Lazor's offense. He's big, tough and has good ball skills. However, Parker lacks the elite, top-end speed on tape. His 40-yard dash will be important at the NFL combine later this month.
No. 4: DT Danny Shelton
Stats: 88 tackles, 9.0 sacks
Analysis: Shelton was No. 2 on my mock draft list a month ago. The main reason why he's falling is because Shelton was so impressive at the Senior Bowl that there's doubt he falls to No. 14. In fact, Shelton has a good chance to go in the top 10. There aren't many players like Shelton in this draft. He's a natural run stuffer who is hard to move. Shelton also has surprisingly nimble feet. If Shelton happens to be available at No. 14 -- and that's a big if -- the Dolphins should not hesitate with this pick.
Hyde also reports the contract would be guaranteed for two years and the team would have an out clause before the third season. This layout is similar to what the Cincinnati Bengals did last season with Andy Dalton, who signed a six-year, $115 million contract.
Here is the big question: Is Tannehill a $100-plus million quarterback? There are two ways to answer this question, and a strong case can be made either way.
Tannehill’s critics say absolutely not. He is 23-25 as a starter and has yet to lead the Dolphins to the playoffs or have a winning season. Football is a team sport, so it’s not all on him. However, elite franchise quarterbacks elevate the play of those around them, and Tannehill has not yet proven he can do that. Tannehill also struggles mightily to throw the deep ball, which is a weakness that may not be fixable. With a long-term contract, the Dolphins are essentially committing to a short and intermediate passing game that doesn’t attack opponents deep.
In contrast, Tannehill supporters make a case that he is worth $100-plus million simply because that is what the market dictates. Quarterbacks play the glamour position and get paid handsomely for it. Tannehill also is coming off a career year where he threw for 4,045 yards, 27 touchdowns and had a 92.8 passer rating. If quarterbacks such as Dalton (83.5 rating), Jay Cutler (88.6), Colin Kaepernick (86.4) and Matthew Stafford (85.7) all recently signed $100-plus million extensions, why not Tannehill?
Is Tannehill a top-10 quarterback? No. But neither are these aforementioned $100-million quarterbacks in his peer group. The market may be overblown, but that is something the Dolphins can’t control.
What the Dolphins can control is their options and, ultimately, their decision. The team can work out an extension, use its fifth-year option for $15 million in 2016, or roll the dice and let Tannehill play out the final year of his rookie contract.
If I’m the Dolphins, I would take advantage of the fifth-year option. It would keep Tannehill in the fold for two more years for approximately $17 million. After that point, the Dolphins should definitely know if Tannehill is a franchise quarterback.
The Dolphins must get this quarterback decision right for the long-term health of the franchise.
Soon after the signing became official, I took to Twitter to see how Dolphins fans feel about Incognito joining the Bills. The reaction was mixed.
Here is a sample:
@JamesWalkerNFL the circus has moved to buffalo! Hopefully we have a quiet productive off season/draft and get to 10-11 wins!— Mike Fikaris (@fikaris) February 8, 2015
@JamesWalkerNFL Glad he's playing again but doesn't worry me.He was average at best.Ppl that wanted him back in Mia don't understand schemes— Joey Philbs (@TheDolphinJoe) February 8, 2015
@JamesWalkerNFL Hate that he is now on a rival, but glad to see him back in the NFL— Bobby Krause (@SportsFan_13) February 7, 2015
@JamesWalkerNFL I thought we should have brought him back last season. Whole thing was way over blown— joe grauso (@warriorboss2) February 8, 2015
@JamesWalkerNFL He should still be a Phin if not for our horrific 2013 front office. Best of luck to him he was screwed by our team.— Sgt.FinzFan (@FinsFanIn813) February 7, 2015
@JamesWalkerNFL Ryan will get the "Probowl" Ritchie. He's going to love playing for Rex.— Jerry Bracco (@JerryBracco) February 8, 2015
That also means it’s officially mock draft season where dozens of projections will be made over the next several months. This week ESPN draft expert Todd McShay provided his second offering, and he has an interesting selection for the Miami Dolphins at No. 14.
McShay's Dolphins pick: CB Trae Waynes
School: Michigan State
2014 stats: 43 tackles, three interceptions, one sack
Analysis: I am a bit surprised by McShay's projection for Miami. This is not a knock on Waynes, who is the No. 2-rated cornerback in the draft by Scouts Inc. However, corner is not nearly as big a need as positions such as linebacker, defensive tackle, guard and safety. The Dolphins have one Pro Bowler at cornerback in Brent Grimes. The opposite cornerback position is open. But Miami has decent in-house candidates such as Jamar Taylor, a 2013 second-round pick, and Will Davis, a 2013 third-round pick. Taking a cornerback in the first round is essentially giving up on the Dolphins' two young corners, while also passing on filling bigger needs. I would be surprised if Miami goes this route. The team is better off coaching up Taylor and Davis for another year with the hopes that at least one of those players develops and emerges as a starter.
Here are Miami's options:
- Tannehill is entering the final season of his four-year rookie contract in 2015. However, the Dolphins have a fifth-year, team option for 2016 worth approximately $15 million with a May deadline. That is a lot of money for one season. But using the option, in addition to Tannehill’s affordable salary of $2.117 million, would keep the quarterback in the fold for two more seasons at about $17 million. The Dolphins could view it as paying their starting quarterback about $8.5 million per season over the next two years. That way, it doesn’t appear to be as risky an investment.
- The Dolphins also could work out a long-term contract extension with Tannehill this offseason that would make him Miami’s starting quarterback for the foreseeable future. That would include multiple years and it won’t come cheap. Quarterbacks such as Jay Cutler ($126 million), Colin Kaepernick ($126 million) and Andy Dalton ($115 million) all received huge extensions. A case can be made that Tannehill is now in that class coming off a career year where he threw for 4,045 yards, 27 touchdowns and a 92.8 passer rating. If Dalton can get $100 million, so can Tannehill. That’s how inflated the quarterback market is right now. But also keep in mind that these contracts include performance bonuses and clauses that make the final number higher than it truly is.
- Finally, the Dolphins can roll the dice and wait it out with Tannehill. This seems like the least likely scenario. But if Miami isn’t convinced it wants Tannehill to be its starter beyond 2015 -- and there has been no indication that is the case -- the team can let him play out the final year of his contract and risk him becoming an unrestricted free agent next year. The Baltimore Ravens did that with their former first-round quarterback in Joe Flacco and paid dearly for it. Flacco won the Super Bowl in a contract year and Baltimore was forced to make Flacco the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL at the time when it could have signed him for less the summer prior. Tannehill doesn’t appear close to leading the Dolphins to a Super Bowl championship. But they like him enough to not run that risk.
So which option will Miami take? I’m expecting the fifth-year option for Tannehill.
Sure, the $15 million price tag for 2016 is a bit scary. But the team should focus on the $17 million investment over two seasons, which makes it look less daunting.
The Dolphins think Tannehill can develop into a legit franchise quarterback who can consistently lead the team to the playoffs. But he has yet to prove it. Miami should know for sure by 2016 if Tannehill is worth the mega extension other quarterbacks like Cutler and Dalton received prematurely.
Finally, we have Miami's best four players.
Position: Wide receiver
2014 stats: 67 receptions, 862 yards, 10 touchdowns
Analysis: It's difficult to appreciate how dynamic Wallace is in Miami. He's arguably the fastest player in the NFL, and I've rarely seen a player get as open as he does. However, the Dolphins' offense and quarterback Ryan Tannehill are not a match for his talents. Still, Wallace did all he can to develop into a possession-type receiver and led the team in receiving yards and touchdowns. His longest reception of the season was 50 yards. Frustration eventually boiled over in Week 17 when Wallace was benched after a verbal altercation at halftime. It remains to be seen if the Dolphins will bring Wallace back next season, but I doubt Miami will be able to easily replace his production.
No. 3: Cameron Wake
Position: Defensive end
2014 stats: 36 tackles, 11.5 sacks, three forced fumbles
Analysis: Wake, 32, is still playing a high level. He posted double-digit sacks for the third time in his career and made it to his fourth Pro Bowl. Wake did have a few slow stretches during the season but few offensive tackles can handle his fastball. Wake's dedication to fitness and taking care of his body is a testament to his strong play despite his age.
No. 2: Brent Grimes
2014 stats: 57 tackles, five interceptions
Analysis: Due to his modest demeanor, Grimes may never get the credit he deserves for being one of the NFL's best cornerbacks. Those who watch Grimes on a weekly basis knows how good he is. Grimes had another good year in Miami by leading the team in interceptions for the second year in a row. His best play last season was a one-handed, leaping interception against Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson. Grimes further showed his stuff in the Pro Bowl, when he intercepted a pass and made a strong push for MVP honors.
Position: Left tackle
2014 stats: Nine starts
Analysis: I was wrong about Albert. I thought he was a very good -- but not elite -- left tackle. So when the Dolphins invested $47 million on the former Pro Bowler, I wasn't completely sure it was the best move to make. But after watching Albert play in Miami over the course of the past season, he's clearly one of the league's top left tackles -- when healthy. Albert shut down opposing defensive ends and his contributions were even more noticeable in his absence. With Albert, the Dolphins allowed 2.5 sacks per game. Without Albert, those numbers escalated to 3.5 sacks per game. He was definitely my MVP in the first half of the season. Albert is trying to recover from a torn ACL -- which is a concern -- but according to Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey, he's progressing well and appears ahead of schedule.
That concludes "Walker's Fab 40" for 2015.
Here are my complete and updated rankings of Dolphins players:
1. LT Branden Albert
2. CB Brent Grimes
3. DE Cameron Wake
4. WR Mike Wallace
5. QB Ryan Tannehill
6. S Reshad Jones
7. P Brandon Fields
8. G Mike Pouncey
9. WR Jarvis Landry
10. LB Jelani Jenkins
11. DE Olivier Vernon
12. RB Lamar Miller
13. TE Charles Clay
14. RT Ja'Wuan James
15. LB Koa Misi
16. C Samson Satele
17. WR Brian Hartline
18. LS John Denney
19. QB Matt Moore
20. DT Randy Starks
21. DT Jared Odrick
22. S Louis Delmas
23. DT Earl Mitchell
24. LB Dannell Ellerbe
25. CB Cortland Finnegan
26. RB Knowshon Moreno
27. S Jimmy Wilson
28. DE Derrick Shelby
29. DE Dion Jordan
30. LB Jason Trusnik
31. TE Dion Sims
32. G Daryn Colledge
33. WR Brandon Gibson
34. CB Jamar Taylor
35. LB Philip Wheeler
36. OT Jason Fox
37. G/OT Dallas Thomas
38. DE Terrence Fede
39. CB Will Davis
40. DE Chris McCain
Here are seven awards after watching a full week of practices:
Best overall player: Washington DT Danny Shelton
Breakout player: University of Miami WR Phillip Dorsett
Scouts were fully aware of Dorsett’s speed. He averaged 24.2 yards per reception last season but only caught 36 passes. What Dorsett had to prove is he was more than a one-trick pony. He did a stellar job this week by showing off multiple routes and making tough catches against top competition at the Senior Bowl. Dorsett definitely helped his stock and was recognized by the Senior Bowl committee as one of the top practice players throughout the week. He's also interested in playing for the hometown Dolphins.
Biggest surprise: (Tie) Yale FB Tyler Varga and Delaware TE Nick Boyle
The biggest surprises came from small schools. It was hard to separate Varga and Boyle since both consistently stood out. So I rated this category a tie. Varga showed some quickness and very good hands out of the backfield. He’s a combo fullback/part-time tailback who can also get yards on the ground. Fullbacks are dying breeds in the NFL, but Varga could bring some value as a late-round selection. Boyle entered the week as a relative unknown, but he was the second-best tight end in practices behind University of Miami’s Clive Walford. Boyle is a big body who blocked well and caught the ball well. He told me he molds his game after Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Heath Miller.
Most improved: Utah OLB Nate Orchard
The Utes had a good defense last season, and Orchard was one of their top stars. But it took a little while for Orchard to warm up at the Senior Bowl. The college defensive end was asked to do a lot of new things as an outside linebacker, such as stand up and drop in coverage. But things began to click for Orchard in the second and third practice. Orchard made more plays and turned out to be one of the North’s better defensive players by the end of the week. Orchard projects to be an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, but he still needs time to learn the position.
Biggest disappointment: Quarterbacks
If you’re a team looking for a quarterback and don’t have a shot at drafting Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota, good luck. The Senior Bowl proved there are slim pickings at quarterback this year. Alabama's Blake Sims, East Carolina’s Shane Carden, Oregon State’s Sean Mannion, Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson and Baylor’s Bryce Petty all had shaky moments. I saw a lot of fumbled snaps, errant passes and interceptions on both teams this week. None of the quarterbacks was able to separate from the pack in what was a golden opportunity. Teams are looking for quarterbacks all the time, and one of these players could have drastically improved their stock behind the "big two." But questions remain with this group.
Second biggest disappointment: Notre Dame TE Ben Koyack
The Fighting Irish have a strong tradition for producing NFL tight ends, and Koyack is the latest to come down the pike. So I expected to see more from Koyack, but he mostly struggled in Senior Bowl practices. Koyack wasn’t dynamic enough in the passing game or physical enough as a blocker. Boyle was the best tight end on the South team during the week. Maybe Koyack simply had a shaky week in practice and will perform better in the game.
Safest pick: Kansas State receiver Tyler Lockett
Predicting the NFL future of college prospects can be a crapshoot. We also excluded Shelton since we made it clear that he was the best player at Senior Bowl practices. With that said, there’s something about Lockett that screams “NFL ready.” He’s smart, a good route runner, has dependable hands and great speed. These are all qualities you look for in a rookie. Therefore, Lockett is a safe pick to help some team as a slot receiver and in the return game immediately. He’s projected to go in the second or third round. The only concern is whether his 5-foot-11, 175-pound frame can handle the physical pounding of the NFL. Lockett most likely will need to add at least 10 pounds of muscle.
That wraps up my 2015 Senior Bowl coverage. Check out the Dolphins blog for plenty of coverage of the draft and free agency this offseason. Also, follow me via Twitter @JamesWalkerNFL.
This move has been in the works for at least a week after the Jets hired head coach Todd Bowles. Rodgers is good friends with Bowles and the pair coached together in Miami from 2008-11.
Rodgers was one of Miami's most respected assistants. Defensive linemen such as Pro Bowler Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon, Randy Starks and Jared Odrick all developed under Rodgers' tutelage. The Dolphins also registered 39 quarterback sacks last season.
Miami is now in the market for a new defensive line coach to replace Rodgers.
“I think you saw the development of Ryan, and a lot of the other younger players, and I think that bodes well,” Ross said. “It’s hard. You see all these teams making coaching changes and you see us, and none of them have quarterbacks, [they] mostly don’t. So I think that bodes well for the future as we build something.”
Tannehill silenced a lot of critics by throwing for 4,045 yards and 27 touchdowns and posting a 92.8 passer rating this season. All of the aforementioned totals are career highs. Tannehill also proved he could quickly learn a new offensive system under first-year coordinator Bill Lazor. The pair should be even more in sync in their second season together in 2015.
But the team still has a ways to go. The Dolphins finished third in the AFC East for the second straight season, and the division projects to be more competitive next season.
"We were up and down like everybody else," Ross said. "I thought we were getting there, and we didn't make it. But I think there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic that we're on our way."
The situation -- and Wallace's high salary -- put his status with the Dolphins in question. Wallace is scheduled to make $9.9 million next season, and $3 million of it is guaranteed if he's still with the team in March.
"I don't think anybody really knows that," Ross said of Wallace's future. "They're looking and assessing the team and what we have to do to win next year. That's the most important thing. Next year we need to win."
Despite his issues in the finale, Wallace had a strong season in Miami. He led the team in receiving yards (862) and touchdowns (10). Wallace also was second on the team with 67 receptions.
The Dolphins finished 8-8 for the second straight season, but the coaching staff will remain. That includes defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, who will return for 2015, according to a team source. Ownership believes the team is heading in the right direction.
"We were up and down like everybody else," Ross said. "I thought we were getting there, and we didn't make it. But I think there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic that we're on our way."
ESPN's Adam Caplan and ESPN.com New York Jets writer Rich Cimini both report the rival Jets have interest in Rodgers to become their next defensive coordinator. The news makes sense following the recent hire of new Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who has strong ties to Rodgers as they coached together in Miami from 2008-11.
Rodgers is one of the most respected coaches on Miami's staff. He is a holdover from the Tony Sparano era and was retained by current Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin. Players such as Pro Bowler Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon, Jared Odrick and Randy Starks all developed under Rodgers' tutelage. The Dolphins recorded 40 or more sacks for three consecutive seasons from 2011-13 and 39 sacks last season.
The opportunity to become a first-time defensive coordinator -- and do it in New York with Bowles -- could be too good for Rodgers to pass up. The Dolphins could be in the market for a new defensive line coach very soon.