Dol­phins seek clar­ity on loom­ing de­ci­sions

Miami Herald (Sunday) - - Sports - BY BARRY JACK­SON bjack­son@mi­ami­her­ald.com

The Dol­phins will tell you the sec­ond half of their sea­son, which be­gins Sun­day against the Jets, is all about mak­ing a play­off push. But the fi­nal eight games must also be about gain­ing clar­ity on key loom­ing off­sea­son de­ci­sions be­sides whether to stick with Ryan Tan­nehill. Among them:

Do the Dol­phins keep

A ei­ther of their start­ing de­fen­sive ends ( Cam Wake and Robert Quinn)?

At least one likely will be gone and per­haps both. Wake, an im­pend­ing free agent, is the tougher call be­cause he could serve a part-time role with a mod­est base salary if will­ing. The down­side: He’s on pace for a two-sack sea­son — the worst of his ca­reer — and he’s 36.

But Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus said “while he is not mak­ing the im­pact plays we are used to see­ing over the years rush­ing the passer, Wake’s run-de­fense grade of 80.4 this sea­son is a ca­reer-high.”

PFF ranks Wake 15th among all de­fen­sive ends and 11th-best against the run. Also, his 18 quar­ter­back pres­sures are the most of any NFL de­fen­sive line­man who has played in fewer than six games. It’s pos­si­ble Wake could re­turn, but likely not at the $8 mil­lion he’s earn­ing this sea­son.

With Quinn, it’s im­pos­si­ble to en­vi­sion him re­turn­ing on his cur­rent con­tract (in­clud­ing a $12.9 mil­lion 2019 cap hit) — or re­turn­ing at all — un­less he plays like a Pro Bowl de­fen­sive end over the fi­nal eight weeks. His $11.8 mil­lion salary for 2019 isn’t guar­an­teed, and the Dol­phins would have no dead money on its cap if it cuts him.

Not only does Quinn have just one sack, but PFF rates him 13th-worst against the run among 103 de­fen­sive ends.

If the Dol­phins move on from Wake or Quinn, they can­not jus­tify pro­ject­ing a start­ing role for An­dre Branch (PFF says he has been the third worst of 103 de­fen­sive ends this sea­son and he looms as a po­ten­tial cap ca­su­alty) or Charles Har­ris (71st of 113).

Does Mi­ami need to add A a line­backer who could le­git­i­mately com­pete with ei­ther Raek­won McMil­lan and Jerome Baker? The team is hope­ful both will be long-term starters. Mi­ami should in­vest more time in both. But they can’t play badly over the fi­nal eight games and ex­pect to go to­tally un­chal­lenged in camp.

Both rook­ies have mixed some promis­ing plays with bad ones. Per PFF, Baker is 31st and McMil­lan 35th among 81 lineback­ers. Baker is 23rd against the run, McMil­lan 27th, though both — and many oth­ers — have been help­less to pre­vent the de­ba­cle the past two weeks. McMil­lan has been OK, but he’s not

Zach Thomas, folks.

But both been torched in pass cov­er­age, even though that was a per­ceived strength for Baker out of Ohio State. Baker has al­lowed 21 of 25 passes thrown in his cov­er­age area to be caught for 181 yards, equal­ing a 110.2 passer rat­ing in his cov­er­age area.

McMil­lan has al­lowed 18 of 21 to be caught for 205 yards and a 146.9 passer rat­ing. At least one likely will start for Mi­ami next sea­son. Per­haps both will. But they can’t be gifted the jobs if they aren’t at least de­cent in the fi­nal eight games.

A Make a de­fin­i­tive de­ci­sion on the sec­ondary. The likely end game next sea­son would have Minkah Fitz­patrick mov­ing to safety full-time, Bobby McCain mov­ing back to slot cor­ner­back, a start­ing cor­ner be­ing added and safety T.J. McDon­ald be­ing cut. McCain could make a case to stay on the bound­ary if he plays very well the fi­nal eight games, but he seems bet­ter in the slot.

And keep in mind that cut­ting McDon­ald ac­tu­ally saves only $1.4 mil­lion from his $6 mil­lion cap hit; the rest will be dead money if he’s a post June 1 cut. But Fitz­patrick needs to play ev­ery down next sea­son.

Whether to re-sign loomA ing un­re­stricted free agent right tackle Ja’Wuan James, who — in a mi­cro­cosm of his un­even ca­reer — was great against Khalil Mack and the Bears and sub­stan­dard against the Ben­gals’ and Tex­ans’ strong de­fen­sive fronts. PFF ranks him 27th among 76 tack­les — Laremy Tun­sil is 19th – but he has al­lowed three sacks (tied for 14th most among NFL tack­les) and 14 pres­sures. The Dol­phins paid his $9.3 mil­lion this sea­son only be­cause they knew they wouldn’t find bet­ter, more af­ford­able op­tions in a shal­low free agent class. Un­less he’s great the fi­nal eight games, the Dol­phins again fig­ure to ex­plore out­side op­tions.

Whether to keep re­ceiver A

De’Vante Parker at the $9.4 mil­lion he’s owed. It seems un­likely now, but if he strings to­gether sev­eral games like the one last Thurs­day in Hous­ton (six catches, 134 yards), it at least be­comes a dis­cus­sion point. He has a $9.4 mil­lion cap hit if he’s on the team in 2019, no hit if he’s not.

Make de­ci­sions on the

A other im­pend­ing free agents be­sides Wake, Parker and James. Frank Gore, whose 4.6 per carry av­er­age is 20th in the league, ap­pears most likely to be in­vited back, and re­stricted free agent Nick O’Leary has made a case but must play well over the fi­nal eight games. Even though Wil­liam Hayes’ loss was dev­as­tat­ing, his age (33) and lack of dura­bil­ity would make this a hard sell. The most prom­i­nent among other im­pend­ing un­re­stricted free agents: A.J. Derby, Brock Osweiler, MarQueis Gray.

CHAT­TER

Though Jus­tise Win

A slow got his Heat con­tract ex­ten­sion partly be­cause of de­fense, he en­tered Satur­day al­low­ing the player he’s de­fend­ing to make 22 of 31 shots, with that 71 per­cent the worst among NBA for­wards and guards (min­i­mum 25 shots). And though coach Erik Spoel­stra has been play­ing Tyler Johnson ahead of Wayne Elling­ton partly be­cause of de­fense, keep in mind that Johnson is al­low­ing the player he’s guard­ing to shoot 50 per­cent. Elling­ton al­lowed 46.1 per­cent last sea­son.

A UM and FIU have agreed to play their game next year in Novem­ber, ac­cord­ing to UM, but a site (Mar­lins Park or Hard Rock) hasn’t been de­ter­mined. … If the NFL’s passer rat­ing for­mula were used, Ma­lik Rosier would have en­tered Satur­day’s game with a dis­mal 74.4 rat­ing for the sea­son — bet­ter than only two NFL starters last week ( Josh Rosen, Derek An­der­son). UM’s N’Kosi Perry en­tered Satur­day with a 96.2 passer rat­ing.

Hous­ton is a pos­si­bil­ity A as a trade part­ner for catcher J.T. Real­muto, and Mi­ami likes Astros left field prospect Kyle Tucker, a left-handed hit­ter who hit .332 with 24 homers and 93 RBI in Triple A. Though the Mar­lins are pub­licly non­com­mit­tal about trad­ing him, this or­ga­ni­za­tion doesn’t keep trade­able play­ers who don’t want to be here.

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