NFL Nation: Brent Grimes

Cortland Finnegan admits he had a down year with the St. Louis Rams in 2013. The veteran cornerback battled through injuries and inconsistent play that limited him to just seven games and one interception.

Finnegan
The poor year eventually led to Finnegan getting released by the Rams this offseason. However, he quickly found a home Friday with the Miami Dolphins, who were searching for a veteran presence to add to their secondary.

Finnegan, 30, is the early favorite to start opposite Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes. It could be a formidable duo if Finnegan can return to the old form that he had with the Tennessee Titans. Somewhere, that got lost during his stint in St. Louis.

“I play with an edge, and I’ve learned to control that throughout the years with the fines going down,” Finnegan explained during his teleconference Friday with the Miami media. “At the same time I want to bring that same tenacity and spunk that I had that maybe I was missing. I know a lot of people said maybe something was missing. Maybe that’s what it was.”

Finnegan, at his best, was one of the most physical cornerbacks in the NFL. He was an aggressor who often got in the heads of receivers.

A starting cornerback job is wide open in Miami. Finnegan will compete with 2013 draft picks Jamar Taylor and Will Davis in training camp. Taylor and Davis had injury-plagued seasons and will be hungry to earn bigger roles with the team in 2014.

Finnegan has a lot to prove with his new Dolphins team, as well.

“I’m going to work,” Finnegan said. “Nothing was ever given to me, and I don’t want it. I want to come in and compete for any job of that magnitude. I hope the younger guys are coming in to compete.”

Finnegan said he’s out to prove he has something left in the tank. His inconsistent play last season has many wondering if he’s hit a wall. The Dolphins signing Finnegan to a two-year contract shows the coaching staff believes last season was an aberration.

Finnegan said he expects to be “110 percent” by organized team activities in the spring.

“Now it’s a clean slate,” Finnegan said. “I’m on a new team with great coaches. I have to let my play do the talking.”
The Miami Dolphins have made several quality moves already in free agency. But there remains a gaping hole at cornerback opposite Pro Bowler Brent Grimes.

Taylor
Davis
Can a pair of 2013 draft picks fill that void?

Former second-round pick Jamar Taylor and third-round pick Will Davis will be provided a chance to fill significant roles with the Dolphins in 2014. Both had redshirt rookie years last season. Taylor and Davis both battled various injuries early in the season and couldn’t work their way into the rotation.

But the Dolphins, via their recent roster moves, are making it clear that Taylor and Davis will be provided a clean slate this season. Miami cut veteran starter Dimitri Patterson last week to save $5 million on its salary cap. The Dolphins also allowed veteran Nolan Carroll to walk in free agency. Carroll signed Thursday with the Philadelphia Eagles. Between Patterson and Carroll, Miami lost seven total interceptions from last season.

Taylor and Davis were highly-touted players entering last year’s draft who have potential. Taylor was a playmaker at Boise State who was considered by many to be a first-round prospect. But health issues leading up to the draft dropped Taylor to the second round. Miami felt it got value in Taylor, but his issues and injuries carried into training camp and the early portion of the season. Taylor got playing time sparingly late in the season, but he didn't get enough reps to show what he can do.

Davis is a ballhawk who showed flashes in training camp. He unofficially led the Dolphins in interceptions during training camp practices. As a member of the scout defense, Davis picked off Miami starting cornerback Ryan Tannehill three times in summer practices, which opened some eyes. Davis also had an interception in the preseason against the Jacksonville Jaguars. But a toe injury late in the preseason put him behind and he never found a consistent spot in the rotation.

Miami is hosting veteran cornerback Cortland Finnegan Friday. That is a sign the team is looking for another veteran presence to add to the mix. But the Dolphins also are hoping one -- or both -- of their young cornerbacks steps up this year.
It only took a few minutes on a conference call to know what type of player the Miami Dolphins were getting when they signed free-agent safety Louis Delmas.

I asked Delmas Monday night to describe his game. His response was intriguing.

Delmas
"It's like turning on the TV and watching a car race, and that one dude who leads the race goes ahead and runs into that brick wall full speed and actually breaks that brick wall," Delmas responded. "That's what I'm here for."

Delmas is a big hitter. He's an enforcer. In his words, "I like to bang."

In other words, Delmas is just what the Dolphins need in their secondary.

The Dolphins were ranked 21st in total defense last season. They had talent, but the defense at times looked pedestrian and lacked the consistent fire and energy it takes to carry a team.

Delmas brings some of that passion and intimidation to Miami. He's one of the biggest hitters in the NFL and will replace outgoing free-agent starter Chris Clemons, who was up and down last season. Delmas has been on Miami's radar for at least a week following his release from the Detroit Lions. He recorded 64 tackles and three interceptions last season in Detriot.

"This is a player that plays with great passion and love for the game," Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey said. "He's a physical presence and has playmaking ability. We feel like he will bring a lot of things to the table as a Miami Dolphin."

Delmas, 26, is banking on himself in 2014. His physical style has resulted in injuries, which is why Miami signed Delmas to a one-year "show me" contract.

The Dolphins did the same thing with cornerback Brent Grimes last year following an Achilles injury. Grimes made the Pro Bowl following the 2013 season and Miami signed him to a four-year, $32 million extension last week. The Dolphins are hoping Delmas also has a big year.

"I have a lot to prove to myself," Delmas said. "I have a lot to prove to my fans, a lot to prove to my family in my backyard and a lot to prove to this organization. How will I do that? By coming here being myself."

The Miami Dolphins have more than $30 million in salary cap space and are expected to be major players in free agency for the second year in a row. Offensive line is an obvious area of need, but what about the safety position?

Should the Dolphins take the plunge with free-agent safety Jairus Byrd?

The former three-time Pro Bowler is one of the best players on the market and won’t come cheap. A source informed ESPN.com's Dolphins page Monday that Byrd is seeking a contract in the range of $9 million per season. That number would make him the second highest-paid safety in the NFL behind Eric Berry, who has a six-year, $60 million contract with the Kansas City Chiefs.

The NFL Network reported over the weekend that Miami and the St. Louis Rams are among the teams expressing interest in Byrd. He is a dynamic playmaker who has 22 career interceptions with the Buffalo Bills. Byrd also had plenty of success against the Dolphins in the AFC East.

Signing Byrd would fill a need in Miami’s secondary and take away a top defensive player from a division rival. That is a win-win for the Dolphins. However, Miami has been on a spending spree since last year. The Dolphins recently shelled out $29.3 million contract for safety Reshad Jones last season and a $32 million contract for Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes last week. Adding Byrd could allocate $100 million or more into Miami’s starting secondary, which is a significant investment.

The Dolphins have other well-defined needs such as offensive tackle, guard and defensive tackle. These are not sexy positions, but they must be addressed if Miami wants to improve on last year's 8-8 record.

Potentially signing Byrd would make a huge splash for the Dolphins. But it does not come without financial risks.
Tarell Brown tweeted Sunday morning about getting a massage and of his plan to barbecue. Brown has reason to be in a festive mood.

Brown
There is reason to believe the cornerback market will be robust in free agency a year after the market struggled. Green Bay re-signed cornerback Sam Shields to a whopping four-year, $39 million deal Saturday. Miami recently signed Brent Grimes, who suffered in free agency last year, to a big extension as well.

If that trend continues, Brown should benefit when free agency starts Tuesday. While the cornerback position is filled with some strong players, ESPN analyst Bill Polian ranks Brown at the top of the available players at the position.

If just one NFL team agrees with Polian, the 49ers will have difficulty keeping him. The 49ers want Brown back, but they will likely not be willing to give him a huge deal with bigger contracts on the horizon for the team. If Brown signs elsewhere, the team will likely have Chris Culliver, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, compete for a starting job. The 49ers would also likely have to add an inexpensive veteran and use an early draft pick on a cornerback.

Quick takes: Aqib Talib

March, 9, 2014
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  • Yes, the Washington Redskins are interested in New England cornerback Aqib Talib, who will be a free agent Tuesday. They were among the teams that contacted him, but this is clearly no surprise. I’m not sure of a Redskins beat reporter who didn’t speculate on this possibility. But they have contacted a number of players, or, more accurately, their agents: (among them based on reports: tackle Anthony Collins; safety Mike Mitchell, who was among the first contacted; and defensive lineman Arthur Jones). All of these make sense and have been speculated about, but they won’t sign them all. Collins, for example, would be a good right tackle, but I’d imagine he’ll get paid as a left tackle.
  • [+] EnlargeAqib Talib
    AP Photo/Damian StrohmeyerFree agent Aqib Talib would give the Redskins three cornerbacks capable of starting.
    It doesn’t mean they will sign him, but with the connections between Talib and Redskins secondary coach Raheem Morris, it makes sense the Redskins would be interested. That and the fact that they need another cornerback. The Redskins' third corner last season was David Amerson, who played 67 percent of the defensive snaps.
  • There is a lot to like about Talib. He’s a good cornerback and has transformed his reputation playing in New England. I remember being told when he was in Tampa Bay that he was a guy who wanted to be a leader, but really didn’t know how and that he wasn’t a bad guy but acted improperly. With the Patriots, that leadership side emerged.
  • But this is big: Would that side continue in Washington? Or was it a function of being in an environment such as New England’s? I’m not blaming Morris, because I wasn’t there, but under his leadership as Tampa's head coach Talib had issues. It could simply be because he was young. I don’t know. I do remember the Redskins having issues with Talib before he was drafted. After Morris was fired, numerous reports cited that things were too lax. Morris is not in charge here, but was that why Talib struggled there or was he just young? I'm not smart enough to say, nor do I know Talib at all, other than talking to people and reading reports.
  • That said, it sure seems the combination of a stable environment, a strong head coach and a solid organization helped Talib. He learned what it took to be a successful pro. The Redskins have a first-year head coach and an organization that has much to prove. That does not mean Talib would revert to bad habits, but this difference is worth discussing.
  • Talib has size (6-foot-1), can play physical and move inside and out. Every team needs three cornerbacks capable of starting, and the Redskins would have that. How good some of those cornerbacks are can be debated. But Talib’s ability to play inside and out would be welcomed. The Redskins don’t have a third cornerback you can count on right now. Of course, it’s still just March.
  • The Pro Bowl is a popularity contest, but Talib has made just one (this year). Take that for what it’s worth.
  • But if it’s going to take big money to sign Talib, then you must have buyer beware. For comparison, Sam Shields' Green Bay deal was four years, $39 million; but he’s two years younger than Talib. Brent Grimes re-upped with Miami for four years and $32 million with $16 million guaranteed. He'll be 31 in July and has played in every game in three of the past five seasons, but appeared in a combined 13 games the other two years. Of course, I’d want to see the breakdown of Shields’ contract first, before knowing how to use it as a guide.
  • Another aspect, and this is rather big: Talib’s injury history. He hasn’t played more than 13 games since 2009. It’s tough to justify a big contract for someone with this history. Players don’t become more durable as they get older (he's 28). I don’t think I’d jump out and give him a big deal at the start of free agency (of course, this depends on what sort of deal it is). This one will require discipline on the part of the Redskins. I think we'll learn something about them based on how this unfolds.
The Philadelphia Eagles will be in almost perfect position when NFL teams are allowed to open talks with unrestricted free agents Friday.

They are perceived as a team "headed in the right direction," as soon-to-be-free-agent safety Jairus Byrd said on ESPN on Tuesday. And they have enormous flexibility thanks to more than $26 million in salary-cap space, according to ESPN's Roster Management service.

The Eagles didn't have to release wide receiver Jason Avant for cap purposes. That decision was about paying the $1 million roster bonus negotiated into his contract and due on March 15. But with Avant's departure, the Eagles save another $2.5 million on their cap.

General manager Howie Roseman has set low expectations for the team to make a huge splash in free agency. He could be doing that because he simply doesn't see a free agent worth splurging on, because he wants to prevent potential fan disappointment or because he doesn't want to telegraph his real plans to other teams before the market opens.

Three of the more intriguing names disappeared from a potential wish list this week: Miami extended the contract of cornerback Brent Grimes, Washington placed the franchise tag on linebacker Brian Orakpo and Pittsburgh linebacker Jason Worilds signed his transition-tag tender.

The two top safeties, Byrd and Cleveland's T.J. Ward, are expected to hit the market. Roseman has acknowledged his preference to address the safety position in free agency so it isn't a glaring need going into the draft. But he may have his sights set on some of the less expensive players expected to be on the market.

Roseman said last week that his spree of contracts for current Eagles would not limit the Eagles' options in free agency.

"It will affect other things going forward," Roseman said. "We have some flexibility. Obviously, this affects it, the things we've done the past couple of days. But we're going to go out and try to do things that make sense for our football team."

Another thing working in the Eagles' favor is the expansion of the cap this year to $133 million and the expected continuing rise over the next couple of years. That extra cap space comes just as Roseman will have to decide on extensions for players like Nick Foles, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Boykin and Mychal Kendricks.

Foles, especially, gives the Eagles a lot of flexibility. Starting quarterbacks can eat up 12 to 15 percent of a team's salary cap. Foles' 2014 salary of $770,880 accounts for 0.65 percent of the Eagles' cap. That's about as much as backup offensive lineman Allen Barbre.

Eventually, if they're going to be successful, the Eagles will have to pay a quarterback that kind of money. For now, they can build a team and deal with Foles -- or someone else if Foles should stumble -- when the cap increases.

"It's hard to look three years out," Roseman said. "It's hard to know where you're going to be after two full seasons and after two draft classes. We do spend a lot of time on the cap next year. We try to be conservative with what the cap projections are going to be."

Finally, there's this reality: The salary cap is not nearly as onerous as it is made out to be. The Dallas Cowboys were in as tight a situation as any team in the NFL going into the new league year. By reportedly reworking quarterback Tony Romo's contract, converting salary to bonus money, the Cowboys resolved their cap issues.

So there is an escape hatch from cap purgatory. The Cowboys still probably won't have the cap space to be proactive in free agency.

The Eagles will. They are in position to do whatever they want.
The Green Bay Packers did not use the franchise tag or transition tag Monday, which was the deadline for NFL teams to do so as a way of keeping their own free agents.

Shields
There's still a week left for the Packers to negotiate exclusively with their own players before they hit the open market Monday, but as ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Saturday, the team is unlikely to come to an agreement before then with perhaps their most coveted free agent, cornerback Sam Shields.

As recently as last week, the Packers were still in negotiations with Shields' agent, Drew Rosenhaus, about a long-term deal, but the two sides were far apart.

Although the Packers have more than $30 million in salary-cap space, general manager Ted Thompson clearly did not want to be in a position of having to use more than $11 million of it on one player.

The franchise tag for a cornerback would have been $11.834 million, while the transition tag would have been $10.081 million. There were no cornerbacks among the six players tagged (four with the franchise designation and two with the transition).

It's unknown exactly what Shields is seeking, but the deal signed Monday by Miami Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes could help determine Shields' value. Grimes signed a four-year, $32 million deal that included $16 million in guaranteed money.

Shields, who emerged last season as the Packers' top cover corner, entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent and received only a $7,500 signing bonus. He played last season for the restricted free-agent tender of $2.023 million.

Including Shields, the Packers have 17 players who would be eligible for unrestricted free agency beginning March 11. Teams can begin negotiating with other team's free agents Saturday, but no deals can be signed for three days.


First-year general manager Dennis Hickey inherited quite a situation with the Miami Dolphins. This is a team coming off a high-profile bullying scandal and multiple firings after a late-season collapse, and it will have a head coach on the hot seat in 2014.

But Hickey had nothing to do with any of these scenarios. He was hired to replace former Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland in January and Hickey made his first big decision a great one, re-signing Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes to a four-year extension on Monday to help solidify the secondary.

Hickey will have plenty of decisions to make in the coming weeks, especially with more than $30 million remaining to spend in free agency. The Dolphins also hold the No. 19 overall pick in May's NFL draft. But locking up Grimes for the foreseeable future on the same day as the franchise tag deadline was a wise move by Hickey. The Dolphins took care of arguably their most consistent player from last season. Now Grimes is a happy camper and a building block who is in line for another productive season.

The key to being a good GM is to garner significantly more hits than strikeouts. No talent evaluator will bat 1.000. But if your singles, doubles and triples outnumber your whiffs, you can build a contender in the NFL. Consider re-signing Grimes, Miami's best in-house free agent, an early home run. Hickey may round the bases and take a bow. He won the day.

There is still plenty of work to be done in the secondary. Will Miami re-sign Chris Clemons to start at safety or look outside at a free agent like Louis Delmas? Who starts at cornerback opposite Grimes? Nolan Carroll is an unrestricted free agent and veteran Dimitri Patterson could be released, which will save Miami about $5 million. Are 2013 draft picks Jamar Taylor and/or Will Davis ready to assume major roles next season?

All of these questions will be answered at a later date. But Hickey and the Dolphins deserve kudos Monday for taking care of the biggest piece of their secondary. Grimes is a Pro Bowl talent capable of shutting off half the field on a given week. That's a major luxury to have.

Grimes' market relative to Talib

March, 3, 2014
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The Dolphins signing cornerback Brent Grimes to a contract extension Monday is the first domino to fall in a market with several top players. The financial terms, per ESPN's Adam Schefter, are as follows:

Years: 4
Total value: $32 million
Bonuses/guarantees: $16 million

There are still a few more details that would help us gain a better understanding of the deal, such as how much of the bonuses/guarantees are paid up front and how much of the bonus/guaranteed money is deferred.

But from an average-per-year standpoint ($8 million) and a bonuses/guarantees standpoint ($16 million), the initial details of the deal come in a bit higher than I would have originally thought. After a softer cornerback market in 2013, Grimes' deal -- per this initial report -- looks strong.

My initial reaction is that the price for Talib just went up a bit based on where I thought it might be.

I think the Patriots would do this type of deal for Talib if the $16 million in bonuses/guarantees was split into multiple parts -- such as $6 million up front, $5 million in a 2015 option bonus and another $5 million in 2016. The idea would be to protect against injury concerns and not have the full total of bonuses/guarantees paid up front where all the risk falls on the team side.

If another team was willing to pay more of it up front, I could see that being a deal-breaker from the Patriots' perspective.
MIAMI -- The Miami Dolphins must make a major decision today on the immediate future of Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes.

The NFL’s franchise tag deadline is Monday at 4 p.m. ET. That leaves just a few hours for the Dolphins to decide on what to do with their most consistent defensive player.

Miami has some choices. It can use the one-year franchise tag before the afternoon deadline. The tag will cost approximately $11.5 million for cornerbacks this season -- a steep price -- but it allows the Dolphins to keep Grimes away from other teams and continue negotiating an extension into the summer. There also are other, lesser tags available to Miami.

The Dolphins could opt not to tag Grimes and allow him to become an unrestricted free agent on March 11. He is coming off a career year and will get plenty of interest in the open market.

Lastly, Miami could reach a long-term extension with Grimes by 4 p.m. ET, which seems less likely with each hour that passes on Monday.

A look at free-agent cornerbacks

February, 27, 2014
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INDIANAPOLIS -- It’s no secret that the Indianapolis Colts want to re-sign cornerback Vontae Davis. Davis talked about it at the end of the season and general manager Ryan Grigson referenced him during his season-ending news conference. Using the franchise tag on Davis is unlikely since the tag number is expected to be around $11 million.

The salary cap has yet to be set, but the Colts will have the fourth-most money in the NFL to spend once free agency starts March 11. As it’s been noted before, though, do not expect the Colts to spend just because they have the money to do so. They know that's not a wise decision.

Davis won’t be the only cornerback hitting the free-agent market.

Here’s a look at how Davis’ stats stack up against some of the other free-agent cornerbacks:

 
Some of these names could be removed from this list if their teams decide to use the franchise tag on them by next week.

Although he was inconsistent at times last season, Davis and the Colts appear to be on the same page as far as re-signing goes. Davis referred to the organization as a family at the end of the season. Davis, a former first-round pick, has the talent to become one of the top cornerbacks in the league.

Tag deadline, Grimes decision nears

February, 24, 2014
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The Miami Dolphins have seven days to decide if Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes will get the franchise tag for the 2014 season.

Grimes
Grimes
NFL teams have a two-week window that is closing on March 3. That provides the Dolphins one more week to negotiate with Grimes in an effort to reach a long-term extension. If both sides can’t agree, Miami is expected to use the franchise tag to prevent its No. 1 cornerback from hitting the open market as an unrestricted free agent.

Grimes was the Dolphins’ most consistent defensive player in 2013. He tied for the team lead with four interceptions and did a good job of defending the opposing team’s best receiver. The Dolphins signed Grimes to a one-year, $5 million contract last season.

NFL.com reported over the weekend that Grimes may not get the franchise tag. But I won’t believe that until I see it. The Dolphins have the resources – the franchise tag and cap room -- to keep Grimes in the fold for at least one more year and should use it to their advantage.

Each day that goes by, the more likely it is that Grimes gets "tagged." This will be one of the big stories to keep an eye on with the Dolphins this week.

Franchise/transition tags: Dolphins

February, 17, 2014
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The window has opened Monday for all 32 NFL teams to use the franchise tag on star players. The Miami Dolphins have used the tag two of the past three years, on defensive linemen Paul Soliai and Randy Starks, respectively.

Grimes
Grimes
Will Miami utilize the franchise tag in 2014?

I expect the Dolphins to use the exclusive tag on Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes this year. Miami cannot afford to lose its most consistent defensive player from last season and also one of the few proven corners in its secondary. Perhaps the nonexclusive tag is a possibility, considering no team would want to give up two first-round picks for Grimes. The transition tag would be too dangerous, as other teams could outbid Miami for the star corner.

Grimes was phenomenal in 2013 after signing a one-year contract. He tied for the team lead with four interceptions. But Grimes’ coverage was so consistent that opposing quarterbacks often threw to the weaker corner on the other side.

Grimes also showed he could bounce back 100 percent from Achilles surgery in 2012. He made his second Pro Bowl and even got an interception in that game. I asked Grimes at the end of the season if this was his best year, and he said it was.

The Dolphins have a lot of free agents this year. But Grimes is the only legitimate candidate for the franchise tag. The Dolphins will try to work out a long-term extension with Grimes, but the one-year franchise tag is a major bargaining chip in the team’s favor.

Miami would be wise to tag Grimes if both sides cannot reach an agreement soon. There is flexibility with the tag that still allows both sides to negotiate an extension well into the summer. The worst mistake the Dolphins could make is to let Grimes hit the open market on March 11, when there is a solid chance a bidding war could commence and Grimes might not return.
There is good news and bad news for the next general manager of the Miami Dolphins.

The good news is Miami has quality cap room, because the team isn’t tied into a lot of contracts. The bad news is the Dolphins’ next GM has plenty of important decisions to make.

The Dolphins have just 48 players under contract, which includes practice squad players and future contracts. That is the seventh-lowest total in the NFL.

Dolphins Vice President of Football Administration Dawn Aponte did a good job with the team’s salary cap. Miami will enter free agency this year with some flexibility, despite spending more than $100 million in guaranteed contracts in 2013.

The Dolphins’ current cap number is about $109 million, according to the Roster Management System. That is about $17.3 million under the projected $126.3 million cap for this year.

On the flip side, Miami has more than 20 restricted and unrestricted free agents. The new GM must hit the ground running in deciding which Dolphins players they want to keep and let enter the open market. The biggest decision will be star cornerback Brent Grimes, who made his second Pro Bowl this season and won’t come cheap.

The Dolphins have well-defined needs in free agency this year on the offensive line, at running back and in the secondary.

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