Sunday, September 19, 2021

Dolphins roster facing tight fit at Tight End

The hot topic right now for the Miami Dolphins is clearly our Offensive Line. Can these young men gel and grow fast enough to become solid enough for Tua Tagovailoa to have a real shot at a deep playoff run during his Rookie contract. Or even less, can they all become strong enough to be regular starters. 

Before that it was our Defensive Backs. Embroiled in the Xavien Howard controversy and Noah Igbinoghene’s underwhelming performances, there was a lot of chatter around how that group would look and contribute this year. 

We’ve had talking points for Running Back, should we have drafted or signed one? Wide Receivers was a hot topic coming out of the season, and how Tua had no weapons. Pass Rush was scrutinised too. All with the backdrop of the love / hate divide surrounding Tua, his potential to lead the franchise and other QB options. 

But I am going to talk about of Tight End situation for a bit. Why not? Well, they seemed the most settled unit of our roster last year. Mike Gesicki started to show his incredibly high upside, making plays every week and some spectacular ones at that. Adam Shaheen had his best career year to date with solid returns in yardage, first downs and TDs. Durham Smythe had carved a role too, catching his first ever professional TD whilst being an effective blocker. So why mess with it? And why talk about a group that seems solid. 

For me it is very solid, but it feels like that solid production is built on glass foundations. Or it has a volcano of potential chatter just waiting to erupt. 

Lets start with Big Mike. I liked him in college, he gave me chills with his combine performance and when he landed in our lap in the 2nd round I could barely contain myself. Each year he has steadily increased his level of output and is now a key member of our offense and is developing a beautiful relationship with our QB1. But as we all know Big Mike is coming into a contract year, and I don’t see this being a cheap or easy extension. 

Let’s face it, Chris Grier is not a fan of huge extensions. But Mike Gesicki could be one of the top players in his position this year, MR TE Travis Kelce has his ranked top 5. TEs like Kelce himself, Darren Waller and George Kittle have hyped up the media perception of the position and reset the market in terms of monetary value of contracts.

I don’t see Gesicki making as much as them, but I expect his agent to start conversations with numbers pretty damn close. We have definitely got another year of Gesicki, but I am not sure Grier pays him as much as he thinks he is worth, and as we saw with Howard, asking for high cap numbers isn’t always well received with elements of the Dolphins world. 

Here’s hoping a contract can be worked out because I love the guy and think with all the speed on our offense right now, someone who can rise and catch balls in areas no-one else can get them will be invaluable to us in certain situations. 

So what else, next man up is Adam Shaheen. His play since he has arrived has been just fine. He is the ideal side kick, he will get first downs, yards and TDs in unspectacular fashion in a perfect complementary role to Gesicki. But in a developing Covid world, vaccination talk and regulations are starting to arrive in a squad which has a very high vaccination rate, Shaheen is adamant and vocal about his position to never get vaccinated in this situation. 

So what? Its not compulsory and its nothing to do with football… except the new regulations that could lead to forfeit of cancelled games if they trace it back to an unvaxxed member. Rightly or wrongly this puts his position in jeopardy and brings controversy. Technically they can’t cut him for it, but every dropped pass, short route or weak block will be amplified and scrutinised putting more focus on him and indirectly leading to him being cut. Another stable member of last season, operating on thin ice. 

Next, Durham Smythe, the least exciting of all our TE prospects. Yet potentially the most consistent, its just his consistency comes in areas where if he does well, he won’t get attention. He has quietly gone about his business, blocking his way into a position of respect within the camp. Just a few weeks ago there was outcry about Xavien Howard not being a ‘team first guy’. Durham Smythe is. He is a cheerleader for his teammates and puts his body on the line for his guys. You all saw the reaction to that first TD last year, this is a well liked man. 

DOLPHINS FACING MULTIPLE DECISIONS

But his problem is that like Mike Gesicki, he is ALSO in a contract year. The two best mates were drafted in the same year. Smythe is on his last year of his rookie deal, but could become an after thought as his production pales in comparison to Gesicki who will clearly be a higher priority. Add in that Emmanuel Ogbah will be on that priority extension list, the front office has promised Howard further contract talks next season, Will Fuller is on a one year deal and could be looking to extend his time in Miami further. Smythe could find himself so far down the pecking order that he just gets missed. 

Our solid room from last season, could arguably all be gone within a year if certain situations play out. 

Then lets talk about what’s changed. We the first and most obvious is that Hunter Long was drafted in the third round. With our Oline missing pieces and Running Backs on everyone’s lips, Miami ignored the outside noise and took Brian Flores fellow Boston College Allum and drafted Hunter Long. He has a tonne of upside too, a lot to like and be excited about.

Plus his attitude seems so spot on for this franchise and this league. However TEs famously take a few years to get to grips with the NFL, they grow, they learn and breakout much later than other positional players. So the fact is that Hunter Long COULD be the heir apparent to Mike Gesicki if Miami feel his number is too high, but that is unlikely going to be in the immediate future, and patience for drafted players doesn’t seem to last long for Miami draftees, just ask last year’s first rounders Tua, Austin Jackson or Noah Igbinoghene. 

On top of all this, we also have Cethin Carter now in the mix. A name that not many people know or care about, and a name that seems like he will clearly be the fifth priority from the five names on this list. On historical play, investment and scheme understanding you may be right. His main argument is his superb special teams contributions, that will stand great favour with the staff.

But the main argument for me that has me thinking he is a contender here… they guaranteed a significant portion of his 2021 contract. Don’t get me wrong, he isn’t a top earner, but you don’t guarantee a contract like that for someone firmly on the roster bubble, or who you are not convinced will make the team.

They agreed and signed that contract with Carter in mind to play a role, and with two players in contract years, one coming off his best year to date and a rookie taken while bigger needs existed, there aren’t many roles to go around. 

The final scenario I will mention is more left field, but yet feels more realistic than any of our current fringe tight ends making the team. The chatter and talk is that Mack Hollins has been running TE drills and getting a look in TE spots. He has the frame, he has the body type, he has the pass catch ability to make a decent tight end, and after seeing Tebow and Kelvin Benjamin have a go at TE this year, why not Mack Hollins?

On a current roster that has an abundance of Wide Receivers with legitimate claims on a final roster spot, moving Hollins to TE may make sense for more pass catching potential. For Hollins, to add TE roles to his WR and Special Teams listings only goes to strengthen his case for a spot. 

But then view it from the eyes of the current TEs, someone who only saw offensive snaps due to a poor WR group last year, is now getting looks for your position. On top of contract talks yet to start, vaccination pressure and everything else talked about, you now have a convert challenging your position. At this stage, there are no problems, and there are unlikely to be any moving forward, but it is another ingredient to add to the TE picture. 

So looking at this, there are five names who could you could make serious arguments for making the roster, and an experimental option to add to the interest. But surely Flores won’t roll with 5 rostered tight ends, not with depth needed elsewhere. He could trade Gesicki perhaps, he has high value, and if they don’t think they can match his price next year, then maybe get what they can while they can. But I don’t like that idea, nor do I see it happening.

Shaheen is looking more and more like a cut candidate, but losing him and we lose our sidekick to TE1. Obviously Hunter Long stays around, but as stated, we can’t expect too much too soon from a rookie 3rd round TE. Which leaves Smythe and Carter as discussed above, with Hollins continuing to craft his role around them. 

I’m going to leave here without making any roster predictions. At least not for what I think Flores will do. But with two players in a contract year, a newly invested rookie, a new face on a well guaranteed contract, a vocal anti-vaxxer who will not get cut without a fight or without saying something and a WR picking up more attention, while there is currently still harmony, there are several fuses there, that could ignite as the situation progresses. 

We have to think the right decisions will be made, and there is nothing saying that any of these speculative issues will actually become a problem, you can’t ignore the delicate situations for Chirs Grier and Brian Flores to manoeuvre around ad they make their TE decisions both now, and in the not too distant future. 

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