Miami Dolphins: Dannell Ellerbe
Next up is Nos. 21-24.
No. 24: Dannell Ellerbe
2014 stats: Two tackles
Analysis: Ellerbe was not the player the Dolphins expected when they signed him to a $35 million deal in 2013. He didn’t make enough plays in the run or passing game two seasons ago and suffered a season-ending hip injury in Week 1 this past season. Ellerbe was expected to be the leader of the defense, which never materialized. He is due $8.95 million next season and likely will be released. Ellerbe’s replacement, Jelani Jenkins, did a stellar job and led Miami with 110 tackles. The Dolphins need the cap space.
No. 23: Earl Mitchell
Position: Defensive tackle
2014 stats: 33 tackles, two sacks
Analysis: The Dolphins signed Mitchell in free agency to bring a high motor. But Mitchell rotated with two and sometimes three other defensive tackles and it was difficult for any of them to establish a rhythm. Mitchell didn’t make a huge impact last season but he was solid. The Dolphins, who finished 24th against the run, are expected to make changes at defensive tackle. However, Mitchell will be one of the holdovers.
No. 22: Louis Delmas
2014 stats: 61 tackles, one sack, one interception
Analysis: Delmas was a solid, one-year pickup for Miami. He started 12 games and added energy and stability to the defense. However, Delmas tore his ACL in December and that greatly impacts his chances of returning to Miami during free agency in March. Delmas will not be healthy and the Dolphins -- as well as other teams -- must monitor his progress. If Delmas is 100 percent by September, he could bring some value.
No. 21: Jared Odrick
Position: Defensive tackle
2014 stats: 28 tackles, one sack
Analysis: You can’t fully gauge Odrick based on his numbers. The Dolphins felt Odrick was better suited as a defensive tackle and playing in a big rotation. That was frustrating at times for Odrick, and it bubbled over in Week 14 against the Baltimore Ravens when he had a sideline spat with head coach Joe Philbin. Odrick is more of a “tweener” who could rotate between defensive end and defensive tackle. His best fit may be as a 3-4 defensive end, which is not Miami’s base defense. The pending free agent may be better suited elsewhere.
- Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press writes about New England Patriots tailback Jonas Gray's long road to the Super Bowl.
- Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald writes Super Bowl media day is both wonderful and absurd.
- Alain Poupart of the Dolphins team site takes a look at leading tackler Jelani Jenkins.
- Hal Habib of the Palm Beach Post writes about the new wax statue of Dolphins Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino.
Let’s see what is on the mind of Dolphins fans.
Walker: As long as Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert (knee) returns in time for the regular season, I rate linebacker as Miami's biggest need. This is a position where the Dolphins could (should?) have a complete overhaul. Philip Wheeler, Dannell Ellerbe and Koa Misi all have sizable contracts and could be released. Miami's defense was ranked No. 24 in the NFL and the linebackers made few game-changing plays in the passing game. Jelani Jenkins is the only keeper of this group. The secondary has needs but nothing major. Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes and safety Reshad Jones are two very good players. Miami just needs others to step up.
@JamesWalkerNFL bigger draft concern, offensive line, linebacker, or secondary?— J.T. Seymore (@JTeatsBurgers) January 14, 2015
Walker: This is a tremendous question. Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin made a point from Day 1 to not deal with high-maintenance personalities. Philbin traded receiver Brandon Marshall before Marshall got a chance to work with the coach. Philbin gave Chad Ochocinco a chance but pulled the quick hook after his off-the-field incident. Most recently Philbin has had issues with defensive tackle Jared Odrick and he's unlikely to return. Sometimes talent brings high-maintenance personalities. Philbin is not a fan of high maintenance, but he must learn to deal with that from time to time if Miami wants to get to the next level.
@JamesWalkerNFL can Phillbin learn to handle diva personalities with talent?— TexasPhinMan (@TexasPhinMan) January 14, 2015
Walker: Yes, it does. The Dolphins will and have tried to put the best face on this. That is their job. But adding Tannenbaum to oversee the front office signals Dolphins owner Stephen Ross didn't have faith in Hickey being the boss of the front office. Keep in mind, Hickey was not Miami's first choice. Ross was turned down by candidates numerous times. Tannenbaum certainly has a lot to offer Miami. But it does add pressure on Hickey to continue to produce.
@JamesWalkerNFL Does the Tannenbaum hire demonstrate Ross's lack of confidince in Hickey?— Eric Houston (@houstonloves) January 14, 2015
- Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post takes a look at potential free-agent targets for the Dolphins.
- Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald says continuity in the NFL is overrated.
- Alain Poupart of the Dolphins team site writes receiver Jarvis Landry and Ja’Wuan James made the Pro Football Writers Association All-Rookie Team.
- Dolphins executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum tells WQAM the key is developing players.
Here is a look at whose stock is rising and falling in Miami:
1. Mike Tannenbaum, executive vice president of football operations: The Dolphins have a new overseer in Tannenbaum. He will be in charge of the front office, although the Dolphins made their reporting chart somewhat confusing. The Dolphins say Tannenbaum, coach Joe Philbin and general manager Dennis Hickey all will report to owner Stephen Ross. But Tannenbaum has a very strong post mostly similar what Bill Parcells had in Miami. Tannenbaum has plenty of front office experience as the former general manager of the New York Jets for seven seasons.
3. Kevin Coyle, defensive coordinator: There was speculation that Coyle could be fired soon after the season. The Dolphins’ late-season collapse was fueled by the defense allowing 32.5 points per game in the final six weeks. Players were not happy on defense, which came to the surface when defensive tackle Jared Odrick got into a sideline spat with Philbin. Coyle certainly is not out of the woods. But the fact that he is still holding his post two weeks into the offseason could be a positive sign.
1. Dennis Hickey, general manager: The hiring of Tannenbaum doesn’t look good for Hickey, no matter how you slice. Although the Dolphins do not describe Tannenbaum as Hickey’s new boss, Hickey is no longer the highest-ranked official in the front office. The Dolphins tried to put a good face on it. But it’s clear the Dolphins must produce in 2015 or Hickey and Philbin’s jobs could be in jeopardy.
2. Stephen Ross, owner: There are plenty of reasons the Tannenbaum hire makes sense from a football perspective. Tannenbaum knows the AFC East well, and he brings plenty of institutional knowledge. However, the Dolphins’ national perception took a hit with the way things were handled, and that’s on Ross’ shoulders. The team’s structure isn’t clear. The Dolphins initially said Hickey will report to Tannenbaum. Then, the Dolphins changed it and said Hickey will report to Ross. The structure could present a situation where people are pointing fingers if things go wrong.
3. Several high-priced veterans: This is the time of year when some NFL veterans with high salaries get nervous. The Dolphins have several players who could be on the chopping block over the next few weeks. Players such as linebacker Dannell Ellerbe ($8.45 million salary), cornerback Cortland Finnegan ($5.475 million), linebacker Philip Wheeler ($3 million) and receivers Brian Hartline ($5.95 million) and Brandon Gibson ($3.26 million) are all potential cap casualties. Miami must slash salaries this offseason to make cap room for new players.
- Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald writes the Dolphins own receiver Brian Hartline a quick decision on his future.
- Emily Shapiro of ABC News reports former Dolphins fullback Rob Konrad remains hospitalized after swimming nine miles to shore last week.
- Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post writes new Dolphins vice president Mike Tannenbaum had hits and misses with the New York Jets.
- John Congemi of the Dolphins team site lists five players who stepped up in 2014.
Plenty of Dolphins fans have questions. So let’s take a look into the Twitter mailbag.
@JamesWalkerNFL What is your thought on the possibility of letting Wallace go and picking up a F/A that is better suited for out offense?— Thomas Tsaboukos (@TrackMan32) January 2, 2015
@JamesWalkerNFL: There is some controversy surrounding what happened in Week 17 between Mike Wallace and the Dolphins on the sideline before halftime. But I expect that to eventually blow over and for cooler heads to prevail. Wallace is due $9.9 million next season, and the Dolphins are guaranteed to pay Wallace $3 million regardless of what happens. I have a hard time seeing Miami cutting a player of Wallace's caliber and letting him walk out the door with a $3 million check. The Dolphins simply don't have enough dynamic players to allow that to happen. They are a much better offense with Wallace than without Wallace. Of course, it's possible Miami can search for a trade to see if a team is willing to take on Wallace's high salary. If there's a potential contender who thinks it needs one more receiver to get over the hump, that route would be possible. But in the end, it seems more likely that the Dolphins and Wallace work things out in 2015.
Walker: It's not my job to make a case for Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle. This year's track record speaks for itself. Miami's defense was very good in the first half of the season and awful in the final six games when it needed to make a push for the playoffs. But Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin is very loyal to his coaching staff. He had to be forced by ownership to fire former offensive coordinator Mike Sherman a year ago. Everyone knew that move was for the betterment of the team, but Philbin remained reluctant. If Philbin isn't "encouraged" by ownership to fire Coyle, there might not be a change this offseason.
@JamesWalkerNFL Wheeler & Ellerbe out of here?— Marques McCoy (@McCoywitme) January 2, 2015
Walker: I expect it to be just a matter of time before Dannell Ellerbe is gone. He is due $8.45 million, which is way too high. Ellerbe is coming off a season-ending injury and wasn't a game-changing player for Miami when healthy. I don't see how Ellerbe returns unless he takes a significant pay cut. Philip Wheeler is due a relatively modest $3 million salary. But he has become such a liability in the run (missed tackles) and passing game (bad coverage) that I expect Miami's defense to move in another direction. The Dolphins are due for a major makeover at linebacker.
If you have questions about the Dolphins, feel free to send them my way via @JamesWalkerNFL..
If you have questions about the Dolphins, feel free to send them my way via @JamesWalkerNFL.
With that in mind, let’s open the Dolphins mailbag and see what’s on the minds of Miami fans.
James Walker: I like the idea, Mjhogan. Although it's very early, Melvin Gordon currently is on my short list of targets for Miami. But I'm not convinced the Dolphins are ready to make that kind of move at this stage. Gordon was the best running back I watched last year in college football. I think he's going to be a good pro and worthy of a first-round pick. He's also a good fit for what Miami does offensively. However, Miami is happy with the improvements of Lamar Miller, who had his first 1,000-yard season. The Dolphins will look for a power back or a "bell cow" to complement Miller. But I don't expect it to be in the first round. The team has more pressing needs than another running back.
@JamesWalkerNFL would they think of taking Melvin Gordon in the 1st rd to pair with Miller? Or will they go linebacker? I'm fine with either- Mike Hogan (@mjhogan29) January 2, 2015
Walker: A surprise, Boom? By that you're asking me to reach a little on something that is not certain. Most people expect potential cuts such as linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, cornerback Cortland Finnegan, etc. But looking deeper into the roster, a possible surprise could be guard Shelley Smith. He signed a two-year contract last offseason but was the not the player the Dolphins had hoped. He failed to solidify the guard position and is due $2.75 million next season. That's fairly high for a backup. Miami might cut ties after one season. But, again, this would be a bit of a surprise and definitely not as certain as other names I mentioned.
@JamesWalkerNFL - Who might be a surprise cap causality this offseason?- Jason Harris (@BoomHarris) January 2, 2015
Walker: There are some Dolphins observers in South Florida who have said for years that ownership was the issue in Miami. I was in a wait-and-see mode until Ross at least had the chance to hire one, his own head coach; and two, a general manager. The 2014 season was the first year in Ross' tenure that he had both in place with Joe Philbin and Dennis Hickey. Ross inherited former head coach Tony Sparano and former general manager Jeff Ireland when he took over as majority owner in 2009. Philbin and Hickey are 8-8 together and that's not good enough. I don't fault Ross for his patience. Too often in the NFL, owners do the opposite. But only time will soon tell if Ross hired the right people to begin with. The 2015 season will definitely be a proving ground.
@JamesWalkerNFL is Steven Ross the problem for this team not succeeding?— Larry Rios (@RiosLarry) January 2, 2015
How can Miami get better in 2015? Here are three New Year's resolutions:
Resolution No. 1: Figure out defensive issues
Analysis: Is it the 4-3 scheme? Is it the players? Is it defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle? Probably elements of all three were issues with the Dolphins down the stretch. Miami had a top defensive unit through 10 games but gave up 32.5 points per game in the final six weeks. It was a baffling collapse that had coaches and players dumbfounded. The offseason will provide plenty of time to reflect to fix certain defensive issues.
Resolution No. 2: Increase cap room
Analysis: It's time for Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey to go to work in his second season. Miami has a lot of high-priced veterans, and the team must decide who to keep or release in order to free up cap room. Several names could be on the chopping block: cornerback Cortland Finnegan, linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler and receivers Brandon Gibson and Brian Hartline. Hickey must go through the books and decide who is worth keeping around at their projected salary. The Dolphins also need money freed up to chase outside free agency.
Resolution No. 3: Find a game-changing linebacker
Analysis: Miami thought it had its linebacker position set in 2013 when it signed Ellerbe and Wheeler to big free-agent contracts. The team was wrong. Both turned out to be busts in two seasons and now the Dolphins are starting over. I think linebacker is Miami's biggest need. The Dolphins need an difference-maker at the position who can stuff the run and cover tight ends and slot receivers. Jelani Jenkins is the only starting linebacker guaranteed to return.
Like all teams, the Dolphins will scrutinize their salary-cap situation and try to create more space. That could mean getting rid of players who didn’t put up big numbers this season.
With that in mind, here is a look at five players with high salaries and cap numbers to keep an eye on:
Stats: 2 tackles
2015 cap/salary: $9.85 million/$8.45 million
Stats: The Dolphins thought they upgraded their linebacking corps two years ago when they signed Ellerbe to a $35 million free-agent contract. He struggled in the middle his first year and was moved outside in 2014. Then, a pectoral injury he suffered during Miami's opener ended his second season. Now, the Dolphins most likely will cut bait with Ellerbe next season to avoid his $8.45 million salary. Not only was Ellerbe a disappointment, his replacement -- Jelani Jenkins -- greatly excelled at a much lower cost. Jenkins led the team with 110 tackles and will be one of the young players Miami builds its defense around. I would be very surprised if Ellerbe returns with a near-$10 million cap charge.
Chances of release: 95 percent
Stats: 45 tackles, zero sacks
2015 cap/salary: $4.4 million/$3 million
Analysis: Like Ellerbe, Wheeler was expected to upgrade Miami’s linebacking corps as a free-agent signing two years ago. Instead, Wheeler was a major disappointment. Wheeler had decent production but didn’t make impact plays and was too much of a liability, both against the pass and in the run game. Although Wheeler said Sunday that he would “love” to return, the Dolphins can find a better replacement at linebacker via the draft or free agent at a much lower cost.
Chances of release: 80 percent
2015 cap/salary: $4.26 million/$3.26 million
Stats: 29 receptions, 295 yards, one touchdown
Analysis: Gibson deserves credit for working his way back to the field from a major knee injury in 2014. However, Gibson is a No. 4 receiver with the Dolphins at this stage of his career. He lost his slot job early in the season to rookie Jarvis Landry, who is a tremendous talent and costs a lot less. The Dolphins can save Gibson’s $3.26 million salary and use it elsewhere next season. They have enough young receivers who can fill the No. 3 or No. 4 role.
Chances of release: 75 percent
Stats: 44 tackles, zero interceptions
2015 cap/salary: $6.475 million/$5.475 million
Analysis: Finnegan signed a two-year contract with Miami that could easily become a one-year deal. The Dolphins would lose just $1 million (and save $5.475 million) on the cap by cutting the veteran cornerback who dealt with multiple injuries this seasons. However, Finnegan has been a calming presence in the secondary and the locker room. Young cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Will Davis also remain unknowns entering their third seasons. It is possible Miami could ask Finnegan to take a pay cut to stick around another season. But it’s doubtful Finnegan returns at his projected salary.
Chances of release: 70 percent
2015 cap/salary: $7.35 million/$5.95 million
Stats: 39 receptions, 474 yards, two touchdowns
Analysis: Hartline is a tricky case. He had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2012 and 2013 but suddenly disappeared in Miami’s new offense this year under offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. Hartline’s lack of production appears more system-based than due to personal performance. He didn’t get nearly the same the opportunities this season, and the quick-hitting offense doesn’t fit Hartline’s style. If he’s let go, Hartline should be productive again in a different style of offense.
Chances of release: 50 percent
It's time to turn the page to 2015 and focus on where the Dolphins must get better. Here is a first-look at Miami's top pick:
Pick: No. 14
Top needs: LB, G, TE, CB, S
Analysis: The Dolphins are in for a tricky offseason. They have a lot of talent, but some of that talent is overpaid and making it tough on the salary cap. Miami could have many cap casualties, particularly on defense. It also will be tough for the Dolphins to re-sign their top free agents such as defensive tackle Jared Odrick and tight end Charles Clay. Projecting key cuts such Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler, linebacker will be Miami's biggest need. Clemson's Vic Beasley, Washington's Shaq Thompson and University of Miami's Denzel Perryman are among the top-rated linebackers, according to ESPN draft expert Todd McShay. Those are some early names to keep an eye on. There certainly will be more names surface in the next few months.
However, it’s not too early to look ahead to the offseason. Earlier this week, we previewed the offensive and defensive free agents. On Wednesday, ESPN's Todd McShay offered his first mock draft.
Here are some thoughts on McShay's selection for Miami:
Selection: No. 16
McShay's pick: Shaq Thompson, OLB, Washington
McShay's quote: “Thompson is a unique talent with an outstanding combination of size, speed and athleticism, and he could help upgrade Miami at linebacker.”
Analysis: It’s hard to pinpoint Miami’s biggest need at this early stage. But linebacker could be near the top of the list. The Dolphins have decisions to make with high-priced linebackers Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe. Both underachieved and are candidates to become salary-cap casualties. If that’s the case, Thompson could be a possibility. Miami had a nice find in second-year outside linebacker Jelani Jenkins. But the other two positions are open for next season.
Let's open the mailbag to see what's on the mind of Miami fans.
Walker: It's been quiet on the contract front with Ryan Tannehill and many of Miami's potential candidates for an extension. This will be an interesting offseason for several Dolphins players, but we will address that when the time is right. In terms of Tannehill, he's under contract for 2015. He will be the starting quarterback next season. The biggest question is what will Miami do with Tannehill's fifth-year option? It's pricey at approximately $15 million for 2016, and that could prompt extension talks this offseason. With the amount of decent (but not great) quarterbacks getting huge contracts, I'm very curious to see where Tannehill's price point lands. If those numbers aren't favorable for the Dolphins, they could just pick up the option and see where Tannehill is after two additional seasons.
Walker: It's in the "lost and found," and Miami better find it fast if the team wants to remain in the playoff race. The Dolphins currently hold the final wild-card spot in the AFC via tiebreakers. But there is a six-way tie where anything can happen. Miami has allowed 478 rushing yards in the past two games, and coaches and players say it can be fixed. It's mostly an issue of fundamentals and physicality. The Ravens, who have the NFL's fifth-ranked run game, will be a strong test.
Walker: I don't expect to see the same trio of Philip Wheeler, Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins next season. There will be changes, and there should be. Jenkins came on strong this year and is a tackling machine. He will remain as a starter entering his third season. That makes Wheeler or the injured Dannell Ellerbe expendable. Both have big contracts and underperformed. I expect at least one of those linebackers to be a cap casualty in the offseason. The coaching staff loves Misi and he usually grades high. But I think Miami should consider drafting a natural middle linebacker.
#DolphinsMailBag do u think we can finish this season and make the playoffs?? Last year didn't go well— Richard A Hawkins Jr (@Richboyhawkins1) December 4, 2014
Walker: This is the question everyone wants to know, and I'm just going to let it play out. The Dolphins have a chance. They have three of their final four games at home and need to get to at least 10 wins. But there are so many teams in the running that it becomes a tough numbers game. Sunday's game against Baltimore is huge and close to a playoff eliminator.
Here are three things to watch in this matchup:
1. Protecting Tannehill: It's well documented that the Bills swept the Dolphins last season. One of the primary reasons the Bills' defensive line dominating the Dolphins' offensive line in the trenches. Buffalo registered nine sacks in two games against Miami. Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill didn't have much time to throw and is 1-3 against the Bills in his career. Pass protection will be key to determining if Tannehill can overcome this week.
2. Next man up: Miami is thin at linebacker and will be in transition. The Dolphins put starting outside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (hip) on season-ending injured reserve Monday. Starting middle linebacker Koa Misi also missed practice all week with an ankle injury and appears to be a long shot. The Dolphins will be relying on backups such as Jason Trusnik and Jelani Jenkins against the Bills' strong running game. Miami is hoping starting outside linebacker Philip Wheeler (thumb) can return this week from a thumb injury.
3. Facing E.J.: The Dolphins will get their first shot at Buffalo starting quarterback E.J. Manuel. The Bills' 2013 first-round pick missed both Miami games last year due to injury. Manuel received a lot of criticism during the preseason and played decent in Buffalo's Week 1 victory over the Chicago Bears. He threw for 173 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
However, McCain returned to the team Thursday in good spirits and participated in his first practice of the week.
McCain expects to play despite missing practice Tuesday and Wednesday.
"I still need a little bit extra preparation, but I think I'll be ready for Sunday when that time comes," he said.
McCain has an interesting backstory. He was a long shot to make the Dolphins after numerous red flags that included getting kicked out of college at the University of California. In addition, McCain went undrafted with a long road to earn a spot on the 53-man roster. He also had to stay focused and out of trouble with the Dolphins.
But McCain did all the right things since joining the team and let his natural athleticism shine. He was a standout in training camp and during the preseason, which set the table for his Week 1 showing against the Patriots.
The Dolphins are thin at linebacker with Dannell Ellerbe (hip) on season-ending injured reserve and the statuses of Koa Misi (ankle) and Philip Wheeler (thumb) up in the air. They could need a backup linebacker like McCain to step up for the second week in a row against Buffalo's talented backfield led by C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson.
"They're very dangerous," McCain said. "C.J. is a very speedy guy, very shifty. Fred is also good. We just have to be ready for the quickness. I believe with our front guys and our second-level guys we'll be able to hold on to whatever we come up against."