MDD Assistant Editor: Chad Pullen
Rosters are built around assets, just like any other business. Stock values rise and fall. A player plays well one season, his value goes up. He has a poor year the next year, his value goes down. The question as always is, when do you sell? When is the right time to move the asset for the most return you can get? In the NFL, that time is brief and limited. Recently, the Dolphins let the asset that was Reggie Bush walk as a free agent, primarily because he was nearing the age of 30, a magical number for running backs where their careers tend to decline sharply. The Dolphins backup stock was a Fourth Round draft choice from 2012 in Lamar Miller. Much smaller contract, longer long term value, more return on the investment the Dolphins were willing to make. Had Bush been 26 instead of nearing 29, Miami might have gladly paid the 4 year 16 million dollar contract he was given by Detroit.
One of the toughest decisions Jimmy Johnson ever had to make when he took over as head coach of the Dolphins was what to do with an aging superstar in QB Dan Marino. In 1996, Marino was clearly in the final stages of his career. Johnson’s track record has proven out fairly well in Dallas when he turned RB Hershel Walker into a gang of extra draft picks, giving him control of the NFL draft board so much so that he turned Dallas from a 1-15 team to a 3 time Super Bowl winner in half a decade. Johnson faced a similar situation in Miami only the Miami fan base was dead set against trading their franchise icon, even if it would benefit the team long term. Johnson was able to add several great draft picks in the next three years including Daryl Gardner, Zach Thomas, Jason Taylor, Sam Madison, and Patrick Surtain. A young, strong defensive core with which to build around for the next decade. Had Johnson moved Marino at that time, for an extra two or three picks, some of them maybe being decent valued picks, he might have also been able to rebuild a younger offensive core as well, and had a balanced, youthful roster with which to compete in the 1999 and beyond.
Which brings us to the 2013 Miami Dolphins. DE Cameron Wake has delivered 37.5 sacks in the last three seasons for the Dolphins but has also reached the age of 31. Under contract for another three seasons, Wake would be 34 by the time his contract comes up. The Dolphins overall roster situation is structured in a way that only three current players are in their 30’s, and two of them were just signed this offseason, for one year. OT Tyson Clabo, and CB Brent Grimes. Grimes already has young players at his position that the Dolphins could replace him with next season if he does not impress Miami enough to offer him an extension next offseason. Clabo is a stopgap for the 2013 and Miami more than likely will be looking towards the draft to fill that spot longer term. That leaves Wake as the only Dolphin over the age of 30 that has both value, and is an important piece for the team.
With Ryan Tannehill the face of the future for the Dolphins, the team is being constructed around him. As he develops, the Dolphins will either improve by leaps and bounds, or fall flat if he does not meet the expectations Miami has for him. As a generality, QB’s typically tend to grow the most between years four and five. Their experience in the NFL matches up with their talent level, the team is suited for his strengths, protects or hides his weaknesses. That time will be here in two or three more years……..around the time Wake will reach age 34 and no longer have much value for the Dolphins. So the question becomes, should Miami make a run at the playoffs in 2013, try to gauge where Tannehill gets to in terms of his progression as a quarterback, see if they can’t make the playoffs and gain some playoff experience for their young core, and then do they sell one of their best assets right before his value starts to decline?
It will not be a popular move. Just as trading Marino would not have been popular back in 96. But would it be the best move for the Dolphins to help them for the next 7-10 years instead of the next two years? Wake’s value is also a tad higher due to less wear and tear. Entering just his fifth NFL season this year, he has less mileage on him than most 31 year old defensive ends would. That can help Miami get more in return than they would a 31 year old DE in his ninth NFL year. Those picks could bring the leverage the Dolphins need in yet another draft (with the 2014 NFL draft looking especially deep and promising as of this writing) the Dolphins could possibly land another 4-5 impact players in the first two days of the draft that could strengthen the cores on both offense and defense, the move Jimmy Johnson ultimately decided against making, and regretting later. If Wake goes on to have another great season in 2013, increasing his value even a little, would it be worth it to add another first round pick? Or maybe a second and third? Or two #2’s? Or even an extra pick in 2014 and 2015? Every team hopes to make the moves and decisions to place them in the Super Bowl every season. But realistically, the Dolphins have to be building with an eye to the future when the majority of the players they’ve drafted recently will be entering their prime years, adding a couple more pieces to that talent pool over one key player who’s best years will be firmly behind him, the question needs to be asked, when is the right time for them to flip their best asset? Or will they make the same mistake twice and regret it later?