Dolphins Rumors

Dolphins Coach Jim Caldwell Taking Leave Of Absence

Dolphins assistant head coach/quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell will be taking a leave of absence to focus on his health, the team announced in a press release this morning.

“I will be stepping back due to some medical complications that require my full attention,” Caldwell said. “I want to thank Stephen Ross, Chris Grier, Coach Flores and the rest of the organization for the support they have given me and my family.”

The Dolphins will still keep the 64-year-old on board, as Caldwell will serve as a consultant to the team for the upcoming season. NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport tweets that Jerry Schuplinski, a former Patriots assistant, will likely take on many of Caldwell’s duties.

“Our focus is on Jim’s health and supporting him in every way that we can,” said head coach Brian Flores. “With his knowledge and experience, Jim has been an invaluable member to our coaching staff and will continue to serve as a sounding board for me throughout the season.”

Caldwell has been coaching since 1977, and he’s held NFL gigs since 2001. He had a three-year stint as the head coach of the Colts that included a Super Bowl appearance. Caldwell later moved on to become the head coach of the Lions, and he compiled a 36-28 record during his four years in Detroit.

Caldwell had a handful of head coaching interviews this past offseason, including talks with the Packers, Jets, and Browns. After Flores was hired in Miami, Caldwell was brought in as an assistant.

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Preston Williams Impressed During Dolphins' Spring

NFL Supplemental Draft Order

The NFL’s Supplemental Draft order does not go by the inverted win/loss records of clubs. Instead, the order is dictated by a weighted lottery that uses a team’s win percentage as just part of the equation. Here, via Tom Pelissero of NFL.com (Twitter link) is the complete order of the supplemental draft:

1. Lions
2. Broncos
3. Jets
4. Cardinals
5. Giants
6. Bills
7. Raiders
8. 49ers
9. Jaguars
10. Packers
11. Bengals
12. Bucs
13. Falcons
14. Vikings
15. Redskins
16. Titans
17. Dolphins
18. Steelers
19. Panthers
20. Browns
21. Ravens
22. Patriots
23.Cowboys
24. Seahawks
25. Eagles
26. Texans
27. Bears
28. Colts
29. Saints
30. Chiefs
31. Chargers
32. Rams

The supplemental draft is conducted via email. If multiple teams submit a pick for the same player in the same round, this order dictates which club gets the player. Of course, any team picking a player in the supplemental draft will sacrifice the corresponding pick in the 2020 draft.

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Dolphins’ Kenny Stills Changes Agents

Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills has new representation heading into 2019. The 27-year-old has fired his reps at Wasserman in favor of Ryan Williams of Athletes First, according to Liz Mullen of Sports Business Journal (on Twitter). 

For Williams, it’s another big-name client to join a stable that features Clay Matthews, Anthony Barr, Josh Norman, and Josh Rosen. For Stills, it’ a major change in advance of a pivotal season.

Still inked a four-year, $32MM deal with the Dolphins in 2017 with nearly $19MM in guarantees. He’ll count for a $8.75MM cap number in 2019, but the Dolphins will have a big decision to make next year. If released, the Dolphins would save $7MM against the cap with just $1.75MM left in dead money.

Stills, of course, hopes to return to the form he exhibited early on in his career with the Saints, but there’s no telling what the Dolphins’ rebuilding offense will look like in 2019. Last year, Stills managed just 37 grabs for 553 yards and six touchdowns, a huge drop from 2017’s 58/847/6 line.

Next year, Stills could be looking for a new employer, or pushing the Dolphins for a big-time extension. In either scenario, he’ll have new representation at work for him.

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Make-Or-Break Year: Dolphins WR DeVante Parker

Can a player be on the verge of a “make-or-break year” right after signing an extension with their team? In the case of Dolphins wide receiver DeVante Parker – yes. 

Parker is under contract with Miami through the 2020 season thanks to a new deal inked in March, but little is assured for the fifth-year pro. Initially, Parker was set to play out the 2019 season on his fifth-year option, which would have paid him $9.4MM. Instead, the Dolphins were poised to rip up that contract after another disappointing year, so they were able to leverage Parker into a lower-risk pact. Parker’s restructured deal guarantees him just $4.5MM in 2019 with a non-guaranteed $5MM in 2020.

In other words, the Dolphins stand to have a solid value in Parker if he is able to turn things around and live up to his billing as the No. 14 overall pick in the 2015 draft. Meanwhile, if he gets injured and/or underwhelms like he did in 2018, the Dolphins can walk and focus their resources elsewhere in 2020.

As the Dolphins enter a rebuilding season, they want to know what they have in Parker, a player who entered the league with tons of hype and wound up as the third WR selected in his draft class. The 26-year-old reportedly had a solid spring and new quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick may prove to be a better fit for his style than longtime starter Ryan Tannehill.

To date, Parker’s best season came in 2016, when he finished with 56 catches for 744 yards and four touchdowns. He’ll have to top that if he wants to continue to ply his craft in South Beach beyond this season.

If he falters, the Dolphins can decline his $5MM option for 2020 and walk away with no fiscal penalty.

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Dolphins Notes: Mills, Drake, Ledbetter

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald passes along a veritable treasure trove of notes for Dolphins fans today, so let’s dive right in:

  • Although free agent acquisition Jordan Mills was disappointing in minicamp and was replaced at right tackle by Jesse Davis, Jackson says the Dolphins are still very much open to having Mills man the RT position. The club will give him a chance to redeem himself in training camp and may elect to keep Davis at guard, where he played last year. Zach Sterup is also in the mix for the right tackle job.
  • Jackson believes that running back Kenyan Drake has been woefully underutilized to date and that he should be getting 12 to 18 carries a game. Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics support Jackson’s opinion, citing Drake’s ability to win after early contact and force missed tackles. However, PFF also says Kalen Ballage should serve as Miami’s primary third-down/receiving back, which Jackson’s eye test does not support. Jackson says Ballage looked “unnatural” as a receiver out of the backfield during the club’s offseason program, and he even says the embattled Mark Walton could be the Dolphins’ best receiving back. Drake and Ballage will have plenty of opportunity to prove their worth in 2019, which is an especially crucial year for Drake, a 2020 free agent.
  • UDFAs often have a better chance of cracking the roster of a rebuilding team like the Dolphins then they would on a club with playoff aspirations, and Jackson says Miami hopes at least one of the its undrafted defensive linemen — Dewayne Hendrix and Jonathan Ledbetter — will make the cut. Ledbetter, one of the best collegiate DEs at stopping the run, is attempting to diversify his game by refining his pass rush skills.
  • The team also has several UDFA cornerbacks that merit some attention, and the new coaching staff had plenty of luck developing that type of prospect in New England. 2018 UDFA Jalen Davis flashed in minicamp this year, and while the Dolphins have taken a look at him both outside the numbers and in the slot, his size (5-10, 185) may make him better-suited to a slot role.

Revisiting The 2018 Free Agent WR Class

The 2018 free agent class of wide receivers reshaped the market in a number of ways and set the table for lucrative extensions for players like Odell Beckham, Brandin Cooks, and Stefon Diggs. But even allowing for the premium that teams often have to pay in the first wave of free agency, the size of the contracts that the 2018 FA wideouts landed raised a lot of eyebrows throughout the league. As we look ahead to Year 2 of some of those contracts, let’s examine the early returns.

Sammy Watkins‘ three-year, $48MM deal with the Chiefs topped the class in terms of total value, average annual value, and guaranteed money at signing ($30MM). And while his talent certainly merited that type of payday, his injury history was a concern, as he had missed 10 games over the prior three seasons. He ended up missing six games during his first year in Kansas City due to a foot injury, though he did manage to suit up for both of the club’s postseason contests. His raw numbers obviously don’t look too impressive as a result of the missed time, but he did rank fifth among all qualified wideouts in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric, meaning he was very valuable on a per-play basis. He also tallied 10 catches for 176 yards during the Chiefs’ two playoff games, and while injury problems may always plague him, he continues to be a factor whenever he’s on the field. KC is likely not regretting Watkins’ deal at this point.

The Bears doubled up at wide receiver by signing Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel last March, which allowed them to part ways with Cameron Meredith. Chicago brought in Robinson on a three-year, $42MM pact, even though he suffered a torn ACL in Week 1 of the 2017 season and had only posted one elite season in his career (which came back in 2015). And after his first year with the Bears, Robinson is still looking for his second 1,000-yard campaign.

There is some reason to hope that he can get there, especially with a fully-healthy offseason and a year of building chemistry with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky under his belt. A-Rob played in just 13 regular season games last season but was targeted 94 times, and he was brilliant in the Bears’ lone playoff game, posting 10 catches for 143 yards and a score. Football Outsiders’ metrics didn’t love him, but Pro Football Focus assigned him an above-average grade that made him the 28th-best WR in the league. He may not have quite lived up to expectations, but there is still time for him to get there.

Chicago signed Gabriel to a four-year, $26MM deal in the hopes that he could become a big-play threat for Trubisky. But while Gabriel played in all 16 games for the club and saw 93 targets, he managed a fairly modest 10.3 yards-per-reception and two touchdowns. Advanced metrics weren’t overly fond of his work either, and he will be hoping for a bounce-back year in 2019.

It’s still too early to evaluate some of the other significant contracts given to 2018 wide receivers, because the signees saw their seasons derailed by injury. Marqise Lee, who re-upped with the Jaguars on a four-year, $34MM deal, missed the entire 2018 season due to a preseason knee injury, and he is not expected to be back until the end of this year’s training camp. The Dolphins were thinking highly of their three-year, $24MM accord with Albert Wilson, who was performing well for Miami until he landed on IR in October with a serious hip injury. He is expected to be ready for the start of the 2019 regular season, but he may not see the field until then.

Likewise, Paul Richardson showed flashes in the first year of the five-year, $40MM contract he signed with the Redskins last March, but he landed on IR in November with a shoulder injury.

But at least the aforementioned players are still on their respective teams. Michael Crabtree signed a three-year, $21MM deal with the Ravens after being cut by the Raiders, but he disappeared from Baltimore’s offense when Lamar Jackson became the starter, and Baltimore sent him packing in February (as of this writing, there has been no reported interest in his services). And Donte Moncrief signed a one-year contract for a surprising $9.6MM with the Jaguars, but his mostly disappointing performance in Jacksonville had him searching for a new team this offseason. He ultimately caught on with the Steelers.

All in all, then, the 2018 class of free agent wideouts was a mixed bag. None of the contracts those players signed look like a home run at this point, and while that could change in 2019, those who were surprised by the amount of money thrown at WRs last March were right to be a little skeptical.

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Josh Rosen ‘Clear Underdog’ In Dolphins’ QB Competition?

The Dolphins are one of only a couple of teams that will be having open quarterback competitions in training camp. They signed Ryan Fitzpatrick to a two-year, $11MM deal this offseason, but then traded a second-round pick for Josh Rosen in April. 

Many have accused the Dolphins of tanking, and they’re definitely playing for the future, so it’s been assumed the team will want to get a look at Rosen sooner or later. Not so fast. Fitzpatrick has apparently been impressing during OTAs and minicamp, per Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald. Additionally, Jackson writes that Rosen is a “clear underdog to begin the season as the starter.”

One Dolphins player told Jackson that Fitzpatrick has “impressed everyone as a leader and that he was clearly the best quarterback in the offseason program.” Rosen started 13 games for the Cardinals as a rookie last year, and struggled mightily. He completed only 55 percent of his passes, and had more interceptions (14) than touchdowns (11). That being said the circumstances were far from ideal, as we was playing for an offensive coordinator who was fired just a handful of weeks into the season, and with one of the league’s worst offensive lines.

Fitzpatrick started the first few games of the 2018 season for the Buccaneers due to Jameis Winston‘s suspension, and played so well that he initially kept the job when Winston returned. He was subsequently benched, reinserted, and benched again before the end of the year. Fitzpatrick has always been more than capable of playing lights out in flashes, but has struggled for consistency.

New Dolphins coach Brian Flores has insisted that the team isn’t going to tank, so maybe he will go with Fitzpatrick each week if he thinks it gives him the best chance to win. Miami only gave up a late second-rounder for Rosen, so it’s not as if they’re too heavily invested in the UCLA product.

That being said, with Fitzpatrick’s relatively modest contract they aren’t too invested in him either. Miami will likely be picking early in next year’s draft and they’ll need to get a look at Rosen to see whether or not they need to draft a quarterback. Fitzpatrick will likely falter at some point and relinquish his grip on the starting job, but it doesn’t sound like it’ll be right away.

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Dolphins’ Kendrick Norton Injured In Car Crash

Defensive tackle Kendrick Norton was involved in a “serious car accident,” according to an announcement from the Dolphins. The 22-year-old had to have his arm amputated at the scene of the crash, Andy Slater of 640 AM (on Twitter) hears. It’s unlikely that Norton will play football again, though his life is not believed to be in danger.

Norton, a University of Miami product, entered the league as a seventh-round pick of the Panthers in 2018. Last December, the Dolphins signed him off of Carolina’s practice squad, but he has yet to appear in an NFL game.

Norton spent three years at the U of M, racking up five sacks and 18 tackles for a loss during his time there. Athleticism, and fighting, is in his blood – he’s the son of Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken Norton and the grandson of former heavyweight champion Ken Norton Sr.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Norton and his family.

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This Date In Transactions History: Ricky Williams Retires

On this date in 2004, one of the NFL’s best running backs called it quits at the age of 26. On the heels of a four-game ban for marijuana, Dolphins star Ricky Williams decided that he had enough. 

I’m finally free,” Williams told the Miami Herald from Hawaii. “I can’t remember ever being this happy.”

Williams’ announcement sent shockwaves through the football world and also became the topic of national conversation for non-sports fans. How could Williams, who was just two years removed from leading the league with 1,853 rushing yards, walk away from millions of dollars and superstar status?

Many believed that Williams was choosing recreational marijuana over his career. However, Williams explained that he was in search of true happiness, fulfillment, and enlightenment.

Well, why not?,” Williams said when asked about his puzzling decision. “I just don’t want to be in this business anymore. was never strong enough to not play football, but I’m strong enough now. Everyone has thrown every possible scenario at me about why I shouldn’t do this, but they’re in denial. I’m happy with my decision.”

The Dolphins’ offense was largely built around Williams and his mid-summer departure was nothing short of devastating for the club. The Dolphins invested a great deal in No. 34 – they sent four draft picks to the Saints, including two first-round picks – to acquire him in 2002, so they had little in the way of backfield reinforcements.

Later, Williams revealed that there were other factors that went into his decision. After his stellar 2002 campaign, he once again led the league in rushing attempts with 392 on the year. However, without a quality passing game to keep defenses honest, he averaged just 3.5 yards per carry. The Dolphins, meanwhile, carried over the same exact quarterback room into 2004. Knowing that Jay Fiedler, Brian Griese, and Sage Rosenfels would produce the same results, Williams elected against taking more punishment.

I led the NFL in attempts the past two years and they really didn’t go out and get a quarterback to help me, so I knew it’s going to be all on me again,” Williams told Sports Illustrated in 2004. “I could see my mortality as a football player, that I’m not going to be able to do this much longer. It just became obvious to me that playing football for me is not going to be fun, not something I’m going to enjoy and it’s time for me to do something different.”

Williams returned to football in 2005 and managed to average 4.4 yards per tote in a suspension-shortened season. In 2006, the NFL handed Williams a one-year ban for the fourth drug policy violation of his career, prompting him to sign with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts.

After suffering a pectoral tear in his 2007 return, Williams would not play another full NFL season until 2008. The time spent away from the NFL would have been an insurmountable obstacle for most players, but there was clearly something to Williams’ holistic regimen.

From 2008-2011, Williams’ ages 31-34 seasons, the veteran managed 4.3 yards per carry for the Dolphins and Ravens. Then, after topping 10,000 career rushing yards, Williams decided to retire for good.

Today, Williams is one of several ex-NFL players involved in the formation of the Freedom Football League, which vows to provide players with “permanent and reliable holistic health and wellness support on and off the field” as well as encouragement to address “hot-button” societal issues.

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