Assessing the Dolphins salary cap situation

Although February is a quite time for Miami Dolphins related news, it doesn’t mean that the Dolphins front office is sitting around doing nothing.  In reality, February- April are crucial months when it comes to building your team.  This is the time of year that Jeff Ireland and his associates really earn their money (or so we hope!).  The Dolphins must clear out as much cap room as possible by March 13th at 4pm, when the NFL League Year official begins (so does free agency!)

With a new coaching staff, the Dolphins will use February to assess what they have on the roster….and what they need to get better.  February is a number crunching time, when the Dolphins will look at their current salary cap situation for 2012 and develop a plan to move forward with.  The Dolphins currently have about $116 mil on the books for 2012.  The NFL salary cap is expected to be between $120-$123 mil.  Considering the Dolphins need to sign a rookie class of players AND upgrade at certain positions, they have quite a bit of work to do.  The rookies will  account for $4-5 mil of the Dolphins cap for 2012.  Again, that doesn’t leave much left to spend.

So where do the Dolphins think they’ll get the money to sign a Matt Flynn or Peyton Manning?  The Dolphins, like other NFL teams will look to cut players and/or restructure current player contract before March 13th.  When a team restructures a player’s contract, they are doing so to reduce the ‘cap hit’ for the current year.  Reggie Bush, for example, has 1 year left on his deal and is set to count roughly $5 mil against the Dolphins cap.  If the Dolphins restructure his deal and sign him to an extension, they could reduce his cap hit for 2012.  Jake Long, Karlos Dansby, and Yeramiah Bell are also candidates.  Bell, in fact, will probably need to restructure if he wants to stay in Miami.  Otherwise, he’ll probably be cut outright.  These are all the conversations that are going on in Davie right now.  Jeff Ireland is looking at the numbers and putting puzzle pieces together to see which players can give them more flexibility in free agency.

Later this week, we will start hearing crazy NFL rumors…Why?  Because the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis is the unofficial start of free agency.  Why shouldn’t it be, I mean all of the GM’s and player agents are in one place for a week.  Of course the talks will begin (and therefore the rumors) about players that will be available on March 13th.

When the calendar turns to March, you can expect some fireworks.  First, Peyton Manning’s signing bonus is due from the Colts by March 8th.  They probably won’t pay it and Peyton will most likely become a free agent.  Even though he’s not 100%, you can bet teams will be calling him the moment they are allowed to.  Then, less than a week later Free Agency begins at 4pm on March 13th (I think I’ll be sick from work that afternoon).  By this time, the Dolphins will (hopefully) have cleared cap space and will be looking to upgrade various positions (QB, Safety, Right Tackle, #2 WR, etc).  I don’t expect the Dolphins to be huge players in free agency, but I think they’ll be able to maneuver enough to get at least 1 prized free agent (prized = big money, big potential).

Then April comes around and we head to the NFL draft.  After the Dolphins have crossed some needs off of their list,they can (hopefully) use the best draft strategy of them all:  Best Player Available.  The best teams in the NFL utilize this strategy.  If you go into the draft with a handful of needs, you end up reaching for players to fill those holes.  Alternatively, if you have most of your holes filled in, you can look at the players available when you’re on the clock, and select the one with the biggest potential.

So keep in mind, just because there isn’t a lot of Dolphins news right now, doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of important work going on behind the scenes.  Scouts are looking at college players….Coaches are watching film of the current Dolphins players….Other front office types are pouring over tapes of would-be free agents.  Enjoy the calm before the storm…..because once March rolls around, you can expect some fireworks.

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