Dolphins cap space: splashy moves or trust the process

With the release of veteran LB Kyle Van Noy last week, the Miami Front Office have made it clear that they are looking to expand the Dolphins cap space, ahead of 2021 free agency. While it’s never smart to have a bloated cap, or carry too much dead cap, what is the Dolphins plan with all this cap freedom?

There are three main possibilities to consider: to make a run at free agents this year, to build some roll-over for next season, or to clear space for a trade of Deshaun Watson.

DOLPHINS CAP SPACE BEING CLEARED FOR 2021

The most popular view out there on the twitter-scape right now is that the Dolphins are looking to make some splashy signings in the 2021 market. Aaron Jones, Corey Linsley, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Lavonte David are all candidates for a big splashy deal.

While all these players represent significant areas of need they all have at least a little bit of baggage, and some are rising up the age scale. In fact two of these players are older than any remaining member of the Miami Dolphins roster.

While that clearly doesn’t preclude them it should immediately raise some flags. This roster is being built on the younger side. While this can be a very overblown statistic, top to bottom in the NFL there’s only a difference in average age of about 18 months, the Dolphins clearly want to get younger.

In the case of someone like Lavonte David, do the Dolphins look to add an ageing LB to replace an ageing LB? Whilst I agree David would likely be an upgrade, does he look to leave the SB champions who have a good shot at returning to the big-game next season for a team still rebuilding?

So while the sexy fun option is to build in 2021, I see that as quite unlikely. While the Dolphins do rank 8th in the league currently for cap space, there’s not really a massive amount of cash to go around, and back loading contracts during a rebuild is a recipe for returning to the mediocre days of our recent history.

CUT TO THE BONE AND CREATE SOME CARRY-OVER CAP SPACE

Far more likely in my mind is that the Dolphins cap space is used to stick to the plan of the last few seasons. With Tua Tagovailoa firmly ensconced in the QB position, and no veteran backup on the roster to wheel out to stifle that learning curve, the Dolphins cap space could be held in reserve, and rolled over to 2022.

We did it in 2019 when the roster was gutted of the majority of its best players and some of that money was wielded in 2020 with varying degrees of success. And right now, as teams cut to just reach the new lower cap may not be the best time to spend that money and back load contracts.

The players most likely to flood the market are those in the late-twenties, or thirties who were already on deals that made them not so cap friendly but didn’t carry the dreaded dead-cap. Are they the players to build around with a young, still-learning offense?

Does it even fit the Dolphins plan to sign those kind of players? If free agency 2020 taught us anything it should be that it doesn’t. So why not continue our own path and cut those whose production has been sub-par and continue building for the future?

Are we going to be a roster to win the Super Bowl in two-years? If we are then go and land Aaron Jones on a big deal, and try and land the big free agents. But if it might take a little longer, those players will be off the roster anyway.

Is this team one or two players away from a Super Bowl? Not by a long shot. Just take a look at the last game of last season if you need to check that opinion.

So why not remove the likes of Bobby McCain, Jakeem Grant, Durham Smythe, Clayton Fejedelem, Albert Wilson, Allen Hurns, and maybe even Eric Rowe to boost the Dolphins cap space by another $20-million. And draft their replacements, or sign the younger players with upside, and keep the rest in your wallet for 2022.

No need to act like you’re in win now when you’re not.

OR IS THE DOLPHINS CAP SPACE ABOUT TO BE USED CREATIVELY

Or perhaps the Dolphins are creating this space with a view to a massive overhaul and trade for Deshaun Watson and build around him to win now. With only a $10.54-million cap hit in 2021 Watson would easily fit within the Dolphins cap space of $33-million and change.

If the cap returns to 2020-levels in 2022, it will go up by about $22-million which is almost exactly how much Watson’s cap figure would go up in 2022 ($24,460,000). Tua’s dead-cap number would be about $25-million which the Dolphins can almost absorb already with the release of Kyle Van Noy.

That means you can either keep those borderline players we mentioned earlier, or cut them and use that cap space for either a couple of free-agents. Building through the draft is still an option without those highly-prized first round picks because second, and third-round receivers (and lower) often prove to be as good or better.

Of course this is unlikely, but it’s not out of the question.

Given everything Chris Grier and Brian Flores have done in their two-years together I would expect them to continue to go with young talent, and for the most part ignore those big-priced free agents this season.

The future is bright and there’s no need for the Dolphins cap space to be used too early in the process.

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