Why Miami should let Lamar Miller walk in free agency

John Breitenbach examines key free agent decisions facing the Dolphins, including Lamar Miller and Olivier Vernon.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Brad Penner)

(AP Photo/Brad Penner)

Why Miami should let Lamar Miller walk in free agency

Perhaps no NFL team faces a more difficult 2016 free agency period than the Miami Dolphins. A cornerstone of their offense—Lamar Miller—is set to hit the free agent market, DE Olivier Vernon has been transition tagged, and the Dolphins lack the cap space to guarantee either will return to the team next season.

The Dolphins’ short-term solution to their predicament has been to transition tag Vernon, in the hopes that they can retain his services. The tag requires Miami to pay $12 million to their standout pass rusher, assuming no other franchise makes a play at the top defensive free agent. Should any team entice Vernon with a better offer, the Dolphins will have the opportunity to match, but will receive no compensation if he signs elsewhere. In a league that craves pass rushers, a $12 million offer is unlikely deter other teams from entering a bid.

Despite preseason projections picking Miami as the most likely challenger to the Patriots in the AFC East the Dolphins won just six games and finished at the bottom of their division. New head coach Adam Gase had his work cut out filling holes in the 2015 roster, let alone replacing two of last season’s standouts. Previous decisions dictate that the Dolphins will have to find value in free agency this year, far from an easy task.


DE Derrick Shelby

Unlike Vernon, Derrick Shelby might come at a reasonable price. The undrafted free agent out of Utah finished 2015 as our 10th-overall defensive end, with an 82.9 grade. Shelby is developing nicely, finishing with four sacks, six hits, 31 hurries, and four batted passes last season. He’s also one of the better edge-setting defensive ends currently plying his trade in the NFL.

WR Rishard Matthews

The recurring theme amongst the suggested roster moves in this piece is the limited financial investment required. Matthews might fit that bill, but then again, he might fancy a dip into a free agent market barren of wide receiver talent. The Dolphins have never been shy of investing at the position, with first and second round picks—DeVante Parker and Jarvis Landry—already in place. Kenny Stills (acquired via trade) and Greg Jennings also remain on the roster. Parker stepped up after Matthews was injured late in the year, but Stills underperformed. The former Saint caught only 27 passes for 440 yards (four drops) and three scores in 2015. Matthews, meanwhile, caught 43 passes for 662 yards (six drops) and four scores in 2015, providing the Dolphins’ with a reliable intermediate threat. Recent reports indicate the Dolphins will attempt to resign Matthews—they’re just hoping the cost does not become prohibitive. 

Let walk


HB Lamar Miller

The Dolphins lack the resources to invest in both the wide receiver and running back positions under the new regime. Adam Gase’s penchant for running the football means losing Lamar Miller would be a blow to the offense, but perhaps not a crippling one. Jay Ajayi’s nine-game stretch to close out 2015 offers serious hope that at least part of the solution is already on the roster. Ajayi fell all the way to the fifth round in last year’s draft, but looked like an explosive playmaker in his 49 carries. Overall, he picked up 187 yards from those carries and, while the 3.8 yards per carry average looks distinctly average, the 3.3 yards per carry average after contact and 12 broken tackles do not. To put those numbers in perspective, Miller averaged only 2.8 yards after contact per attempt, and broke just 28 tackles in 194 rushes. Amongst backs with a minimum of 50 touches, only Dion Lewis surpassed Ajayi’s 83.7 elusive rating, and only Spencer Ware and Le’Veon Bell recorded a superior yards-after-contact average. Ajayi will have to prove his talent with an increased workload, but the early signs are incredibly promising for the Dolphins.


CB Adam Jones (Bengals)

The Dolphins and Adam Jones are an obvious fit, considering Gase hired Bengals’ secondary coach Vance Walker to be his defensive coordinator in Miami. Familiarity wouldn’t be the only motivating factor, however; cost and quality also come into the equation. At 32 years old and entering a swollen cornerback market, Jones is unlikely to command a big paycheck. As for his quality, Jones finished as our 15th-ranked corner in 2015, with an 83.1 coverage grade. He’s the kind of corner the Dolphins mix in with Reshad Jones’ playmaking ability. He allowed the fifth-lowest QB rating when targeted in 2015 (60.7), allowing just 43 catches on 75 receptions for 416 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions, and two pass defenses. The 9.7 yards-per-catch he allowed also ranked in the top 10.

Slot corner Brice McCain was released after a disappointing campaign, while Jamar Taylor was torched consistently in 2015. In contrast to Jones, Taylor allowed a QB rating of 134.8 including six touchdowns. Simply put, corner is a major position of need for the Dolphins.

HB Tim Hightower (Saints)

If Lamar Miller does decide to move on this offseason, the Dolphins will need a complement to Ajayi. Hightower could be that guy. An intriguing story, considering he was out of the league in 2013 and 2014, the former Cardinal played well in his handful of games last season. A slimmed-down Hightower appeared more decisive in his return to the NFL, carrying 96 times for 375 yards and four scores. After breaking just 52 tackles on over 550 carries in an underwhelming four seasons with Washington and Arizona, Hightower made would-be-tacklers miss 13 times on his 96 carries for New Orleans. One of those broken tackles came on a game-ending third down conversion against the Buccaneers. The sample size is too small to make any definitive judgments, but Hightower is the kind of low-risk, high-reward free agent that might just pay off.

| Analyst

John joined the PFF team in 2008, providing focused analysis on the NFL draft, team-building strategies, and positional value.

  • Paul Paul

    I’m sure Miami have decent ccountants so I’m sure they will find the money somewhere to keep Wake and Vernon.

  • John Mccallum

    I have a simple answer to this problem! The team should resign Vernon & put the franchise tag on Miller! If you really think about this one it’s easy. The franchise tag on a RB is cheaper than it is on a DE! That way the team can work out a long term deal during the season on Miller! Because, if it comes right down to it, I would rather let Cam Wake go if it would help me keep both Vernon & Miller! Don’t get me wrong, Cam’s a great player & may even have a shot at the HOF if he can put up a couple more good seasons! But, we have to face one fact. Both Vernon & Miller are in their mid 20’s while Wake is in his mid 30’s! Vernon & Miller will give us some great seasons for the next 5 years! Cam has maybe 2 to 3 years at the most left! No offense to anybody, but were talking about 2 players that are young enough to play almost 10 more years for us, compared to 2 maybe 3 years! You have to go with the younger player, that’s all there is to it! but, that’s what I would do to keep both Miller & Vernon on the team! And if it came down to, we can only keep one of them, I would chose Miller! A RB will win you far more games than a DE! Law of average’s say that! Just sayin! (Razor58)

    • Anthony Girodo

      Miller + OV are league average players. You don’t franchise guys like that. Wake has no shot at the HoF even if makes 2 more All-Pro type seasons. Miami did well getting value from these guys, time to let them get paid.

      • John Mccallum

        I don’t know were you see Miller as a average player! Because, they never kept up running the football! When your RB has a carrier 4.5 yards per carry average, but never has more than 20 carries per game. Tells you somebody on the coaching staff missed the boat! If Miller is used properly, & gets to a 20 carry per game average he would have 1500 to 1600 rushing yards a season! And he’s averaging 4.5 or more yards per carry behind one of the porest offensive lines in football! I can deal with the team dumping Vernon. And don’t count Cam Wake out on not getting enough votes to make a call to the hall! He’s got better numbers then some of his piers, who are in the HOF!

  • gllmiaspr

    Sorry but completely disagree with premise of the article. The Dolphins salary cap situation is a lot better than the author portrays.
    The Dolphins currently are sitting at 8.6 million under the cap according to overthecap.com. Restructuring Suh would yield an extra 18 million. In addition Dion Jordan, Greg Jennings and Dallas Thomas are likely to be cut and that would yield an app additional 9 million in cap savings. If all of them happen the Dolphins would be 35 million under the cap.
    You still have possible restructure or cuts for Wake, Grimes and Jordan.
    And if you still need money you can restructure Tannehill contract to pay his salary as a bonus and save 7 mullion in the process against this year cap.
    The Dolphins have many problems. But salary cap is not one of them this year.

  • Brendan Steele

    If you look at Mike Tannenbaum’s record in New York, the Jets never made large financial commitments to RBs. Instead they opted to draft and sign low end free agents.

    RB has the shortest career span in the NFL. Miller has not been the most durable back as he’s been hampered every season by minor injuries. IMO, there is doubt he can handle a season’s workload as the featured RB. Can he tote the rock 20-25 times each week?

    I think the Dolphins have a limit at what they are willing to pay him and will stick to it.

  • Brendan Steele

    The Dolphins should pay Olivier Vernon and retain him unless they have concerns we don’t know about. In that case Tag, him and trade him, under the guise they are rebuilding.

    They may be able to get a first round pick for him if the trade is contingent on Vernon working out a long term deal with the new team.

  • crosseyedlemon

    I’m rather stunned that there are this many comments to a Dolphins article….have all the golf courses in Florida been closed?