Dolphins seek clarity on looming decisions
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.
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.