Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Dolphins' potential cap casualties in 2012

The Miami Dolphins enter the 2012 offseason with an estimated $11.2 million in cap space, giving them money to do some things but not go crazy in the free agent market, especially with potentially pricey in-house free agents to consider like Kendall Langford and Paul Soliai.

As the free agency period approaches in March, I thought I'd look at the Dolphins' roster and see if there was anyone currently under contract that might become a cap casualty due to an excessively high salary.

While the Dolphins honestly don't have many such players, here are a few that might not be worth what their cap hit would indicate, and thus could be on the chopping block over the next month.

SS Yeremiah Bell

Of all the players on the Dolphins, Bell is without question that one that I most believe should and will be cut by the team before free agency begins on March 13. I've always liked Bell and he has a great story, working at a steel mill, walking on at a small school, being drafted in the sixth round, spending his rookie season on the practice squad. He's certainly a story of perseverance and the the career he's had to date is quite impressive.

Three years ago when the Dolphins re-signed Bell to a four-year, $20 million contract, I called it a good move. At the time, Bell was stout against the run and was what I considered an underrated guy in coverage that was always around the ball. He's topped 100 tackles in each of the past four seasons, leading the team in the category every time.

That being said, it's nearing time to part ways with Bell, who will be 34 years old in just over a month and is showing decreasing ability on the field.  Injuries and age have sapped a lot of his athleticism and he's become such a liability against the pass that I can't justify him remaining in the starting lineup, even at a smaller salary.

In the final year of his contract, Bell has a total cap hit of $4.35 million, which is just too high for a player that can't cover or get to the ball quickly anymore. Regardless of whether or not Chris Clemons or Reshad Jones has panned out, Bell is at a point where he's so one-dimensional that I don't think you can start him anymore.

I know a lot of fans out there like Bell, and I always did too. But the logical person in me says Bell is an obvious cap casualty this offseason. He simply costs far too much money when you can find a young guy that could play just as poorly in coverage for 10 percent of the price.

DT Tony McDaniel

If I were in charge of the team, Bell would be my first cut, but McDaniel would be my second. It's safe to say the Dolphins got plenty of value out of a guy they acquired for a seventh-round pick in 2009, as he's totaled 71 tackles and 6.5 sacks while being pretty solid rotational lineman at times over the past three seasons.

That being said, McDaniel is coming off a down year when he graded out as a sub-par pass rusher and run defender. Even if the team moves to the 4-3 scheme, they already have starting-caliber players Randy Starks and Jared Odrick under contract, plus restricted free agent Phillip Merling as a possible backup.

If I'm the Dolphins, I take the $3 million in cap space that cutting McDaniel will provide me and I put that toward re-signing four-year veteran Kendall Langford, who has been one of the better 3-4 linemen in recent years. A starting "rotation" of Starks, Langford, and Odrick completely alleviates the need for McDaniel—especially with such a high price tag.

OL Nate Garner

Garner's had an interesting career with the Dolphins, inactive for every game as a rookie in 2008 after being claimed off waivers by the Jets just before the season; appearing in every game and starting right while holding up well; and missing all of 2010 with a foot injury.

The 2011 season was a bit of a disappointment for Garner, who was expected to compete for a starting job but was deemed too valuable to lose on the bench and gave way to a horrendous pair of immobile starters on the right side on Vernon Carey and Marc Colombo. He started at left guard against the Giants in Week 8, but was about as bad as I've ever seen filling in for Jake Long at left tackle against the Eagles in Week 14, allowing seven quarterback pressures and three sacks.

Garner has shown he can be a valuable backup and even flashed a little potential as a starter in 2009, but his performance this past season makes me question whether or not he can truly play tackle in the NFL even as a reserve. If he profiles strictly inside and doesn't have starting ability, his versatility and value decrease significantly.

If that's the case, Garner might not be worth the $1.4 million he'll cost in the final year of his contract in 2012. If Lydon Murtha can return as a top backup tackle and/or the team could add some depth through the draft, Garner may be expendable at his current price—even if the Dolphins don't even have two starters in place on the offensive line.

Other names to consider

I want to go ahead and say now that I don't really see any of the players below being cut. But with a new head coach, a new defensive scheme, and plenty of changes coming in Miami, you can't quite rule anything out. Here are some guys with big cap hits that might not have to worry now, but could be in danger depending on what moves the team makes in free agency and/or the draft.

WR Davone Bess

Even mentioning Bess in this article might be considered blasphemy to some, but hear me out. I'm well aware Bess is a reliable slot receiver with good hands and an outstanding work ethic. But I would also argue Bess is physically limited with no upside to become anything more than he already is. Not to mention, he's painful to watch "returning" punts.

I don't expect Bess to be cut this offseason, but I wouldn't consider him entirely safe either and he'll be someone to watch in this regard in 2013 as well. Bess is due base salaries of roughly $2.2 million in 2012 and $2.6 million next year, which is not cheap for a guy that's never going to be a No. 1 or No. 2 guy in your offense.

All I'm saying is if the Dolphins end up finding another true starter in the draft over the next year or so, don't be surprised if the fan-favorite Bess ends up going the way of Greg Camarillo.

K Dan Carpenter

Carpenter has been a reliable placekicker for the Dolphins for most of the past four seasons and converted 85.3 percent of his kicks in 2011. Teamed with punter/holder Brandon Fields and long snapper John Denney, the trifecta has truly been a well-oiled machine under coordinator Darren Rizzi.

Due more than $2.5 million in 2012 from the extension he signed two years ago, the former Pro Bowler is not cheap but is likely not on the chopping block. Unless a stud placekicker falls into the Dolphins' laps late in the draft or in the undrafted free agent market, Carpenter will probably be around for quite a while.

TE Anthony Fasano

Dolphins fans watch special talents like Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham play, and they get frustrated with Fasano. It's understandable, but I would say the Dolphins' starting tight end is being a little under-appreciated right now.

He doesn't have Vernon Davis speed and no one is going to mistake him for a beefed-up wide receiver, but I've consistently argued over the past year that Fasano is a well-rounded starting-caliber tight end as one of the best blockers at his position as well as a capable receiver.

Cutting Fasano could save the Dolphins roughly $3.7 million against the 2012 salary cap, but without so much as a capable backup behind him there's very little chance he's shown the door. Fans should view 2011 sixth-rounder Charles Clay as a role player and not a starter, so right now Fasano is all they've got. Unless they draft one early or land Jermichael Finley in free agency, Fasano will stay.

OG Richie Incognito

Probably the Dolphins' next most reliable offensive lineman after Jake Long, Incognito is a serviceable if unspectacular interior lineman that can hold up in the starting lineup but is never going to dominate. He earned slightly positive grades as both a run blocker and pass protector in 2012, although he struggled heavily with nine penalties committed—second-most among NFL guards.

The Dolphins probably aren't actively trying to replace Incognito, in part because they have holes at right guard and right tackle, not to mention a consistently banged-up left tackle in Long and a second-year center in Mike Pouncey. Unless the Dolphins landed a big-name guard like Carl Nicks in free agency and found a first-year starter high in the draft, Incognito should start at left guard once again in 2012.

QB Matt Moore

You can count me among those that don't believe Moore is the long-term starter, and the Dolphins' organization has made that pretty well known in statements made throughout the offseason. I will say I was pleasantly surprised with his play in the second half of the 2011 season and view him as a more-than-capable stopgap until a franchise quarterback can be found.

Moore is due $2.55 million in the second and final year of the contract he signed in 2011, which is fine money for a starter and even a manageable amount for a No. 2 quarterback. Even if the Dolphins land Peyton Manning or Matt Flynn in free agency, the team has no other experienced backup and an Manning's health risks would make Moore a worthwhile luxury.

The only way Moore could possibly get cut in 2012 is if the Dolphins signed a free agent to start and draft a quarterback high enough to be the No. 2 guy right away (someone like Brandon Weeden), but otherwise Moore will stay in Miami this season regardless of whether or not he's the starter.

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