As the playoff chase faded fast, I think its time to look into our crystal ball and discuss potential moves heading into the 2018 season. We first start off with this: This article is an opinion, not a for sure thing. But first things first, let's take a look at the Dolphins salary cap situation heading into the offseason.
2018 Cap Space: $15.41M
This is a good chunk of money to have to start any off season. The first thing is Byron Maxwell's $10M is off the books which gives the team a nice boost. We begin with idea's of what the team can do to add space:
1. Ndamukong Suh- Suh is in an interesting position this offseason. His 26.1M cap number is the most by far on this team. The defense still hasn't got any better in his first three years with the team. Do the Dolphins cut him? Not a chance. His dead money is 22.2M and will only save the team 3.9M on a cut prior to June 1st. The Dolphins could ask Suh to restructure and convert half of his 26.1 cap number to a signing bonus, giving the team 13M in cap space. However, doing this will also inflate his future cap numbers. The last option is to trade him. Suh will have a huge market as he is still at the top of his game. What will he bring in a trade? My assumption would be a 3rd or 4th round pick due to his contract situation.
Conclusion: The bottom line is Suh will be with the team next year, with a likely request of a restructure. Stephen Ross loves Suh like a son, and it may be difficult to find any takers on his big contract. Expect something to be worked out this offseason.
2. Ryan Tannehill- This is about as interesting as it gets. Most of you that follow me know, I am a big Ryan Tannehill supporter. His 19.8M cap number in 2018 is mind boggling. He hasn't played a game since week 13 of 2016 season. After tearing his ACL in training camp and having surgery, it will have been awhile since he took a live snap in a game. So here are the team options with Tannehill: Tannehill can be cut pre June 1st and the team will save 15.2M with only 4.6M in dead money. So netting out 10.6M seems like a great option for the team. Tannehill can restructure his contract with the team as he is technically going year to year based on when he signed his long term extension. Those details will have to be worked out. But trading him will gain this team NOTHING in return.
Conclusion: The Dolphins will likely ask Tannehill to restructure his contract to lower his cap hit from 19.8M. The team has NO OTHER OPTIONS at Quarterback. Tannehill was masterful in 2016 prior to injury, going 8-5 as the starter. He will be back next season, but the team hopes that he will give some cap back so they can improve the roster.
3. Cameron Wake- Any Dolphins fan will attest, Cam Wake is a franchise player and will likely end up in the Dolphins ring of honor one day. But looking at the now and the team situation, here's where it may be a tough pill to swallow for most fans. Wake will be 37 years old and will carry a cap hit of 8.625. If Wake is cut, the team will retrieve 8.125M in cap space. Wake, still productive (9 sacks this season) will likely be asked to take a pay cut to stay with the team. If he declines, I can see the Dolphins cutting him to get the money on their cap.
Conclusion: Outside the chance he takes a reduced salary, I believe Cameron Wake will be playing his final games as a member of the Miami Dolphins. With pressing needs and a young and hungry Charles Harris, I believe the Dolphins will be saying goodbye to their second all time sack master (8.125 Cap Space Added)
4. Julius Thomas- After the release of Jordan Cameron, the Dolphins traded a 2017 7th round pick to the Jaguars for Julius Thomas. Looking to re-ignite his career with Adam Gase (25 TDs with Broncos). Unfortunately, it hasn't gone well. With 41 catches and 3 TDs this season, Julius Thomas carries a 6.6M cap hit in 2018. There is no penalty to cut Thomas, so I cannot see the Dolphins asking him to stay or reduce his salary.
Conclusion: A wasted 7th round pick. The Dolphins will re-coup their losses by releasing Thomas with no penalty (6.6M Cap Space Added)
5. Ja'Wuan James- I am on board keeping Ja'Wuan. HOWEVER, he carries a 9.34M cap hit and the team will gain it all back by releasing him. That move doesn't make sense however. With tackles coming at a premium, the Dolphins could trade James for a low to mid round pick in the offseason. This all hinges if the team believes that Eric Smith is ready to take on a bigger role with this team. The Dolphins continue to struggle on the OL and could look to go cheaper, as long as someone is ready to take over.
Conclusion: I believe James is going to be playing elsewhere in 2018. The Dolphins can save 8+M at that position by playing Eric Smith. Caution to the wind, however. This is a money making move.
(9.34 Cap Space Added)
6. Lawrence Timmons- Timmons came aboard last offseason with high expectations to finally solve Miami's LB issue. Unfortunately, it didnt happen that way, and Timmons was far from a solution. After going AWOL before the teams first game, (reportedly missed Pittsburgh and wanted to go back). The Dolphins played Timmons as the year progressed but the trade for Stephone Anthony and the emergence of Chase Allen and a returning Raekown McMillan may lead to the end of Timmons time in Miami. It is tricky, because his contract will only save the team 975K in cap space and carry a dead money of 7.25M.
Conclusion: Timmons and his team will likely negotatiate his release from the Dolphins, allowing the Dolphins to re-coup some of their money. If this doesn't happen, expect the Dolphins to release Timmons post June 1st (money is not available yet) (975K cap space added, potentially more)
7. Andre Branch- Branch played well in 2016 when called upon. The Dolphins rewarded him with a big money contract extension. Branch has 21 tackles and 4 sacks in 2017, far off his production for the money is making in 2018 (7.9M guaranteed and a 10M cap hit). Expect the Dolphins and Branch to work on an agreement to free up cap space. Branch is still a big part of the defensive nucleus and will likely come back next year and be a starter opposite Charles Harris.
Conclusion: Restructure deal, cap space added unknown but be rest assured this will be discussed
For what we do know from above, the Dolphins will add 25.04M to their 15.40M in space already carrying in. The salary cap is believed to be going up to 174M- 178M which would give the Dolphins anywhere between 47M-51M in total space to use in free agency as well as adding rookies in the draft. Remember, this is also prior to any potential restructures from Suh, Tannehill, Branch and others. The Dolphins offseason will be very busy, with plenty of new faces and hopefully adding to a youthful group.
We will touch base on free agents once the season concludes. Be sure to check out dolphinstalk.com daily for all your Miami Dolphins news.