Several months ago, I wrote up a massive offseason plan based on both free agency and the 2020 NFL draft. The Miami Dolphins would have gotten star free agents, stud prospects, and a franchise quarterback in it. Not only that, I was about to redo that plan to reflect the confirmed draft positions. However, some new information has caused me to rethink the position I was preparing to take.
Evidently, there’s a real possibility that due to the expiring Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), there will be no cap carryover from 2020 into 2021. This information comes from Jason Fitzgerald at overthecap.com, whose specialty is explaining cap space.
In layman’s terms, any cap space that isn’t used in the current year can normally be rolled over into the next season to use then. That would give the Dolphins more room to spend on new players and extend homegrown talent. But if there will no longer be cap rollover, then where is the incentive to not spend up to the cap?
What it means for Dolphins
As it stands, according to overthecap.com, the Miami Dolphins have nearly $100 million in cap space available for 2020. Obviously, the ideal scenario is that things will continue as if nothing changed and allow teams to continue carrying over cap. But there’s no guarantee that will happen. Fitzgerald suggests that the best thing teams can do now is to put voids and buyback options into player contracts for this upcoming season.
But there’s a problem. No amount of buyback options or voids will be enough for the Dolphins to get to the point where they’ve used up all that would-be wasted cap space. How much money can realistically be spent? Using the plan I created, free agency would still leave approximately $25 million in cap space that would otherwise be wasted. So what are the solutions?
1. Spend More
On top of what was mentioned in the old offseason plan, Miami will need a stud running back. Derrick Henry may leave Tennessee and look for a huge contract after becoming the league’s leading rusher. The Dolphins could pay him and finally have the star they’ve been missing since the days of Ricky Williams in his prime. That makes things even easier, by the way, for whoever is anointed the team’s franchise quarterback.
Also, it might not be a bad idea for Miami to basically buy an elite offensive line altogether. Brandon Scherff, Anthony Castanzo, and perhaps sign Jack Conklin to be the right tackle. Jesse Davis is solid as depth, but he’s not an ideal NFL starter. So, make him depth again. A line of Castanzo, Deiter, Tyler Biadasz (Deiter’s old center from Wisconsin), Scherff and Conklin would be a solid team.
Sign both Yannick Ngakoue and maybe Kyle Van Noy or Arik Armstead to contracts. That would shore up the defensive end spots instantly. By the time the draft class is signed, the Dolphins should be right at the brink of their salary cap. Not to mention, the roster’s talent level will be so elevated by that point, the playoffs should not only be a goal, but an expectation.
True, it feels like a return to what hasn’t worked in the past. However, the reasoning behind it is completely different.
2. Front-Loaded Contracts
This other option would allow the Dolphins to save up cap space for the future while still using it up for 2020. With whatever contracts are signed this offseason, give a huge chunk of the money in the first year. It’s a simple idea, and has been utilized by teams for years. Just, in this case, make it a bit more top-heavy than usual.
It’s hard to imagine there will be any player out there who will turn down $20 million dollars in the first year of a new contract. Sure, the other years will be significantly lower, but instant gratification is a powerful temptation. It also comes with the added benefit of insurance. If a player doesn’t pan out the way they’re expected to, a much lower cap hit the next year means moving on from them should be much easier.
No doubt, it’s a gamble. But playing games with the salary cap isn’t as easy as it looks. It would be a waste to let that money go unspent if it’s going to just disappear.
Now, for all we know, news will come out later that the cap will be rolled over after all. Nothing is set in stone as of yet. But if push comes to shove, and a massive chunk of cash is about to be flushed down the toilet? Miami needs to be ready to seize the moment. Spend big on star players, or front-load deals for one year so the cap will be prepared for 2021.
Teams that are prepared win championships. Teams that get caught looking? Not so much.
Luis Sung has covered the Miami Dolphins for numerous outlets such as Dolphins Wire for six years. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung