OutKick’s lead NFL columnist Armando Salguero is reporting from the NFL combine this week.
INDIANAPOLIS — The Miami Dolphins have made some pretty impressive attempts at getting better very fast in the past. Give them that.
In the last coach hiring cycle, for example, they called the New Orleans Saints seeking permission to speak with Sean Payton about their coaching job, general manager Chris Grier confirmed Wednesday.
And although Grier said the club did not discuss adding Tom Brady as the club’s new quarterback, there was an attempt from ownership to get Brady to come on as part of Miami’s ownership group, per a source.
So the Dolphins have aimed high even when they’ve rarely connected.
This offseason the Dolphins are preparing to make another big attempt at getting good very fast when free agency comes around. Because the Dolphins are expected to have upwards of $55 million in effective cap space, which happens to be the most in the NFL.
And Grier isn’t going to sit on that big bag of cash and do nothing.
“I think it provides opportunities for us to do a lot of different things, whether it’s free agency or trades,” Grier said. “So, I think for us, we’re not living like year to year. We’re trying to have some perspective. So for us, the opportunity to have good players, we’ve always pursued and tried to do it. We’ll be aggressive still and if Mike and I feel it’s the right player for us to help us get better and keep us going forward, we’ll go after him.”
The Dolphins do not expect to spend every cent of their salary cap space. They want to hold back some operating space in case opportunities to add other players or make other moves comes up during the season, likely at the trade deadline.
But the Dolphins don’t seem beholding to the idea that you can’t win through free agency. They proved that in 2020 when they spent over $150 million in new contracts and jumped from 5-11 in 2019 to 10-6.
The Patriots also proved free agency can provide a big lift last season when they spent approximately $163 million in guaranteed contracts and jumped from 7-9 in 2020 to 10-7 and into the playoffs.
And the Los Angeles Rams? They didn’t build through the draft. They traded or signed players and did quite well, winning the Super Bowl.
So the idea teams cannot build significant portions of their roster using salary cap space rather than draft resources might seem very 2010ish.
“That’s a good question,” Grier said. “I think it’s always a balance because history shows that most times you don’t win that way. Like the Redskins back in the day went all in. I think it’s having the right people, the right staff, everything has to fall in place when you do that.
“I think New England last year did a great job but free agency, there’s probably some players they spent money on that probably didn’t produce like they wanted and we had the same thing happen to us. We spent money but then a couple weren’t here unfortunately the next year.
“So when you live in that market and start paying guys a lot of money and you don’t really know them and you’re relying on what you knew about them in college and coaches, you can’t really dig down and get information from people because other teams may want to sign them. So it’s a little bit of a crapshoot but you try and do your best Sherlock Holmes and find out as much information on them.”
The Dolphins obviously have to do some spending on their own players. Cornerback Xavien Howard has been promised a pay bump and he’ll get it. Pending free agents Mike Gesicki and Emmanuel Ogbah will test free agency but have told the Dolphins they’d like to return to the team and Grier would like them back.
And the Dolphins will add a veteran backup quarterback, coach Mike McDaniel said Wednesday.
But that quarterback will not be DeShaun Watson because Grier said the door is shut on him coming to Miami in a trade after the team aggressively tried to swing a trade for him last year.
The Dolphins’ 2022 starter will be Tua Tagovailoa. That seems fine but it’s not really a swing for the fences considering Grier could not say whether the former No. 5 overall selection in the 2020 draft can be an elite quarterback such as AFC counterparts Joe Burrow, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen or Justin Herbert.
“Yeah, I mean, I can’t say he can’t be,” Grier said. “It’s a situation now where this will be built around his skillset and what the offense can be and how he fits. I wouldn’t say he can’t be.
“It’s too early. He’s played 20 games maybe. The first year was in and out and then he missed some games this year. and I know he’s won games.
“It’s hard to win games in this league. I know people want to say he doesn’t throw the ball downfield but he’s incredibly accurate in what he does and that was the real exciting part for Mike and the coaching staff, it was his accuracy.”
That’s a long answer but if the question about the quarterback is whether he can be elite and the answer is not, “Yes,” then what are we doing?
Well, the Dolphins are counting on an upgrade from a player who’s admitted he hoped to play better after each of his first two seasons.
Grier, expecting to surround Tagovailoa with more running back talent, a run-oriented offense, and more talent elsewhere, hopes that’s a good enough shot to take this offseason.
“Mike’s vision for how Tua fits into this scheme and what he can do, they’re all very excited about it,” Grier said. “So at the end of the day, obviously Tua is going to have to come in and work on the field, but right now there’s a very good comfort level on how they feel and he fits into what Mike wants to do with our offense.”
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero