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The Miami Dolphins’ salary cap situation may not be as dire as some perceive it to be, particularly when you measure their ranking relative to the rest of the NFL. The Dolphins are in the top quarter of the league in currently scheduled 2021 cap space — and the team, as is the case with all 32 franchises, has the ability to maneuver pieces around the board and manufacture even more room to work. But how the Dolphins get there needs to be something the Dolphins closely examine. And, if the team deems they do indeed need more cap space allocated to ideally address the roster this offseason, the team will need to be wary of a valuable lesson from the past.
Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald outlined a plan yesterday to help the Dolphins nearly double their available salary cap this offseason. The root of the argument lied in contract restructures from established talents and high-priced players on the roster.
This is a dangerous game.
Why? Because it is exactly this style of doing business that helped build up do the Dolphins being in salary cap hell and needing to kickstart an amazingly ambitious roster rebuild (and flush of the roster) in 2019. For the Dolphins to ignore history in this sense and simply embrace restructuring player deals such as CB Byron Jones, LB Kyle Van Noy and OG Ereck Flowers would set the team up for potential failure down the road.
There’s no worse place to be than ready to move on from a player and yet financially handcuffed by guaranteed money and bloated contracts. And if the Dolphins were to make such negotiations on restructures, they had better be sure that whoever they bring into the picture is indeed a part of the plan in Miami through the end of their currently scheduled contract. Because if not, the Dolphins will find themselves right back in the toxic hole of paying the equivalent of one or two elite players per season in salary cap in dead money — sunk costs that prevent the team from getting the most out of their spending power.
Take Flowers as an example. He’s due $9M in new cash this season. If the Dolphins converted his base salary to the veteran’s minimum (just short of $1M), the team could convert the remaining $8M he’s due into a signing bonus, which in turn would then allow the team to split that $8M between the two remaining years on his contract.
The short-term payout is obvious: Miami saves $4M against the 2021 salary cap. That’s a decent player on the market the team can add.
But the other $4M is rolled over into 2022, the final year of Flowers’ deal. And Flowers is already due $11M against the cap before this hypothetical restructure; meaning his cap charge for 2022 would then be $15M. That’s a top-tier price for an interior offensive lineman. And in a perfect world, Miami’s line is improved to the point where Flowers is out of the starting this year, let alone in 2022.
Granted, Flowers’ contract features no added guarantees to his base salary for 2022 so Miami could, theoretically, restructure Flowers for the 2021 relief of $4M and then cut him after the 2021 season, eating the $5M in guarantees they’d be on the hook for (he’s already got $1M in prorated money on the books for 2022 based on his existing deal). And depending on when the Dolphins would make such a decision, the team could split the $5M charge between 2022 and 2023; most notably if he’s a post-June 1st cut in the summer of 2022.
So the question is this: is all that calculated approach worth $4M in cap space? That’s a question on the the Dolphins can answer. But it is important to note that any restructured contracts should be considered a decision not made lightly — because that’s exactly what put the Dolphins into their complex disaster of a salary cap situation to start this regime in the first place.