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PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 23: Miami Dolphins

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Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland didn’t hear no a lot this offseason.

The team had been the bridesmaid many times in the last few years when pursuing players and coaches, but they landed plenty of big game this offseason. Wide receiver Mike Wallace, tight end Dustin Keller, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and cornerback Brent Grimes are just some of the players who decided to play in South Florida this season and their arrival has led to a lot of playoff talk around the Dolphins.

That may make it a win-or-else scenario for Ireland, which makes it a good thing that he seems to have positioned the team well from a personnel standpoint. Now that personnel needs to gel in order for the team to return to the postseason for the first time since 2008.

Strengths.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill didn’t have too many people to throw to as a rookie last season, which contributed to some of his struggles, and Ireland made sure that excuse disappeared. In addition to Wallace and Keller, Miami re-signed Brian Hartline and added Brandon Gibson as a free agent to give themselves a far deeper and considerably more talented receiving corps than they had last season. There’s been plenty of optimism about Tannehill’s growth this offseason and this group gives him a chance to show it off in a major way.

The Dolphins haven’t had any complaints about Cameron Wake’s pass rush ability over the years. Wake had 15 sacks last season, a career high, and did it without much help from his friends on the defense. If first-round pick Dion Jordan brings the heat as hoped, Wake will be even more dangerous to stop this time around.

Defensive line continues to be a Miami strength when you kick inside to the tackle spot. Randy Starks isn’t likely to get a long-term deal after being franchised, keeping his motivation high to turn in another productive season. Paul Soliai gives them a huge obstacle to opposing run games and Jared Odrick is a handy extra body to use at end or tackle.

Safety Reshad Jones, who is also looking for a new contract, is coming off a very strong 2012 season. A repeat performance will get him that deal and make him someone Miami can build around in the secondary.

Center Mike Pouncey has a good chance to join his brother Maurkice in the Pro Bowl sooner rather than later. He’ll anchor a line that has questions we’ll discuss below and the upside to be an effective unit.

Weaknesses.

It may not turn out to be a weakness in the long run, but there are certainly plenty of questions to answer about the cornerbacks. Grimes and Richard Marshall are both coming off of injuries that could leave them at less than full strength and one can never predict how much rookies like Jamar Taylor and Will Davis will bring to the table in their first seasons.

We’ll stay in the uncertainty more than weakness column as we turn our eye to the running backs. Reggie Bush went to Detroit, leaving second-year man Lamar Miller as the likeliest choice for the lead back role this year. Miller’s speed is intriguing, but he’ll need to show he can do the more mundane business of moving the chains and picking up pass rushers to help make Miami’s offense balanced and productive this season.

As mentioned above, no one other than Wake rushed the passer well enough. If Jordan doesn’t provide the extra pressure, it’s hard to see who might do it.

Camp will be important for the Dolphins because they have so many new players in the system and chemistry will be a must for units with major changes like the offensive line and linebackers. While you’d expect the players to pick things up fairly well, it’s never as easy as just plugging players into spots and letting them go.

Changes.

There will be a new look on the offensive line for the Dolphins this season. Jake Long was the rare one that got away this offseason, heading to the Rams and leaving left tackle in the hands of Jonathan Martin. Martin played the position at Stanford and moved there after Long was hurt last season, so familiarity with the job shouldn’t be too big an obstacle.

The Dolphins also signed Tyson Clabo to play right tackle, a move some questioned because his style doesn’t seem to mesh with the zone blocking principles the Dolphins introduced last season. He’s a capable player, so the line should be in good shape if he takes to the new system.

Linebacker was another area of major change as the Dolphins shipped out Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett in favor of Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler. They definitely got younger and faster in the process, but both of the discarded vets were solid players and Ellerbe has a short track record of success for a player who got a big deal this offseason.

Wide receiver Davone Bess and tight end Anthony Fasano were each let go as part of the overhaul of the receiving corps.

One notable area without change was Joe Philbin’s coaching staff, which provides the team with continuity in their effort to build on last season’s result.

Camp Battles.

Richie Incognito should hold onto the left guard spot, but right guard will be a spot of contention for John Jerry, rookie Dallas Thomas and, assuming he’s healthy, free agent addition Lance Louis. Jerry didn’t play well last season, which should make the competition that much livelier.

There’s plenty to sort out at corner with Nolan Carroll and Dimitri Patterson joining the players already named in a fight for roles in the secondary. The best-case scenario for the Dolphins is that all the competition helps answer some of their questions at corner before the start of the regular season.

Miller’s the odds-on favorite for the top spot on the depth chart, but Daniel Thomas and Mike Gillislee will be fighting for snaps as well. Thomas has disappointed to this point in his NFL career and Gillislee passing him by wouldn’t bode well for his future in Miami.

The Dolphins drafted kicker Caleb Sturgis in the fifth round, which likely makes him a favorite in the battle with erratic incumbent Dan Carpenter.

Prospects. 

With Aaron Hernandez in prison, Rob Gronkowski’s status uncertain because of surgeries and other questions about their receiving corps, many have opined that the Patriots could be in danger of losing their perch atop the AFC East.

If they do, the Dolphins appear to be the team in the best position to replace them as division champs. They were 7-9 last season before making additions that should be improvements in several places, Philbin and Tannehill have a year of experience under their belts and the Bills and Jets are riddled with more holes. It’s easy to see things coming together in a winning season and a playoff berth, whether or not the Patriots plummet.

That said, the Dolphins still need to do it. Teams with busy offseasons never suffer for a lack of buzz, but they do fail to answer the bell on occasion. The Dolphins have the pieces and we’ll find out soon enough if they know how to use them.

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Myles Garrett expects to return to practice next week

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Browns defensive end Myles Garrett isn’t practicing this week, but he doesn’t expect to be out of action for too long.

While Garrett didn’t specify the injury that’s keeping him on the side when he spoke to reporters on Wednesday, he didn’t do anything to cast doubt on word that it is a minor issue. Per multiple reports, the first overall pick in this year’s draft said that the team was being cautious and that he expects to be back on the field next week.

Garrett isn’t the only Browns first-round pick working on the side. Safety Jabrill Peppers was also held out of practice and, as with Garrett, the team isn’t showing any great concern. While discussing both players, coach Hue Jackson talked about a “little soreness” and “slips and bumps and bruises” as the reason why they weren’t on the field while saying he expected all would be well sooner rather than later. 

Wide receiver Corey Coleman also produced a brief scare in Wednesday’s practice when he stayed down after making a catch, but Jackson said that he simply landed wrong on the ball and would be fine.

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Brock Osweiler thinks he has proven he’s good enough to start

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When the Browns traded for Brock Osweiler, he was a throw-in on a deal that allowed the Texans to dump his expensive contract and allowed Cleveland to gain a second-round draft pick. But now that he’s at the Browns’ Organized Team Activities, he thinks he can win the starting job.

Asked today if he thinks he’s good enough to start, Osweiler answered, “Absolutely. Absolutely.”

“I think the proof is in the film from the past two years,” Osweiler said.

Osweiler added that he thinks he’s going to win the starting job.

“My expectation is always to start,” Osweiler said. “But once again that is not my decision to make. Now if I came out here and told you guys I wanted to be the backup then I’m in the wrong business. Absolutely I want to play and I want to help this team win games, but I know there’s a lot of work that needs to go into that, and ultimately I need to earn that on the practice field. And I have a lot of work ahead of me to do that.”

Realistically, if Osweiler is the Browns’ starter that probably means that both second-year quarterback Cody Kessler and rookie DeShone Kizer have disappointed in training camp and the preseason. The reality is that after what Osweiler put on film in the past two years, no NFL team wants him as its starting quarterback.

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Antonio Brown ready to take advantage of new celebration rules

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The NFL might not let Antonio Brown twerk (or hump the goalpost), but he’s hoping to take advantage of the league’s new relaxed celebration rules.

Specifically, he’s ready to get more people involved, now that group celebrations are allowed.

“It’s amazing,” Brown said of the changes, via Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com. “I’m sure the guys are looking forward to it, the O-line, some of the guys who don’t get to celebrate with the guys who are getting in the end zone. I think it will be fun.”

Brown was flagged three times last year for his celebrations, and while the league didn’t add a three-pump limit which would have made some of his dances legal, he said he’s excited to be able to dance with center Maurkice Pouncey for a change.

But he’s not willing to share too much now, showing he can still be a bit of a tease.

“Man, you’ve got to look forward to it,” Brown said.

Of course, the Steelers are looking for more than dances moves from Brown, after giving him a four-year, $68 million extension this offseason. But this way, if he gets fined for going overboard, he can afford it.

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Bills wrap up draft class by signing Nathan Peterman

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The Bills have all of their draft picks under contract.

The final piece of the puzzle came on Wednesday when they signed quarterback Nathan Peterman. The fifth-round pick signed a four-year deal.

Peterman started 24 games at Pittsburgh after transferring from Tennessee during his college career. He threw 47 touchdowns while completing 60 percent of his passes, which led to high marks from some draft evaluators that obviously didn’t match up with the way teams viewed him as he dropped to the third day.

He joins Tyrod Taylor, Cardale Jones and T.J. Yates on the quarterback depth chart in Buffalo. Taylor may be gone after this season, which should earn Peterman some looks in the preseason as the team plots its course at the position.

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Stephon Tuitt recovering from hand surgery

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The Steelers are down a defensive lineman at their Organized Team Activities.

Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that defensive end Stephon Tuitt is not practicing after having surgery on his hand. Bouchette adds that the team does not expect the surgery will impact him for the regular season.

That’s good news for the Steelers as Tuitt has developed into a crucial part of their defense since joining the team as a second-round pick in 2014. He’s produced 10.5 sacks over the last two years while also proving strong play against the run.

Tuitt’s entering the final year of his contract and his performance makes him an extension candidate at some point this year. Given the outlook for a return in time for the regular season, his surgery shouldn’t get in the way of that.

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Odell Beckham cashes in with shoe deal

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A football team has yet to give receiver Odell Beckham Jr. a massive contract. A shoe company has.

Beckham has a new deal with Nike. According to NiceKicks.com (via SportsBusiness Daily), Beckham will make more than $29 million over five years and up to $48 million over eight years. In contrast, he’ll make only (only?) $1.839 million in 2017 from the Giants.

That said, Beckham eventually will be making a lot more from football. In 2018, his salary spikes to $8.459 million. An extension would push his compensation even higher.

While Beckham is making more than any other NFL player on a shoe deal, basketball players do much, much better. LeBron James, for example, is believed to have a lifetime Nike deal worth more than $1 billion. Michael Jordan, retired for years, still made more than $100 million from Nike in 2016. (He made $94 million in salary during 15 years as a player.)

While those are extreme examples, Beckham now holds the NFL high-water mark for shoe deals. Which ultimately provides even more proof of the reality that athletes should play basketball or baseball instead of football, if they can.

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Jim Caldwell hopes to fix “family” issue with Calvin Johnson

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Very seldom do breakups go seamlessly, but Lions coach Jim Caldwell was surprised when Calvin Johnson’s split with the team turned ugly with recent comments.

But as a guy who tries to keep things as steady as possible, Caldwell hopes the rift can eventually be healed.

“Playing in the National Football League for a team, it’s like a family. Families sometimes have disagreements,” Caldwell said, via Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com. “They look at things a little differently. I have grown children. Sometimes we look at things a little differently. We hash them out, talk them out. There’s dialogue, but it doesn’t mean I don’t love them. But we get the differences worked out.

“I think the same thing will happen in this situation. Maybe there’s a disagreement, a little different viewpoint, but the most important thing, I think, is perhaps this whole thing will bring about a little bit more dialogue.”

Johnson didn’t get into specifics, but the team’s decision to pursue $320,000 in prorated signing bonus from him upon retirement (which he could have easily avoided) seems to have been the most likely point of contention.

And while Caldwell said he hasn’t talked to Johnson, he said he texts with him regularly and hopes to get the franchise’s all-time leading receiver back in the fold someday.

“One of the things that I think you’ve noticed since I’ve been here, our practices are open to all our alumni,” Caldwell said. “They can come any time, any day. There’s no restrictions against them in terms of watching our practices and being involved.”

Of course, at the moment Johnson has been hanging out at Raiders practices, the kind of distance that’s both physical and metaphorical between the team and the latest star to have hurt feelings on the way out the door.

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Andrew Hawkins says he’s signing with Patriots

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Wide receiver Andrew Hawkins recently got a master’s degree in sports management from Columbia University and said that his goal is to become a General Manager in the NFL, but he won’t be heading to the front office just yet.

Hawkins said in a video posted to Uninterrupted’s Twitter account that he is signing with the Patriots. Hawkins visited with the team last week.

Hawkins caught 33 passes for 324 yards and three touchdowns while playing in all 16 games for the Browns last year. That was his third season in Cleveland, a run that started with career highs of 63 catches and 824 yards in 2014.

He’ll join a Patriots receiving corps that includes Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Hogan, so there’s going to be some work for Hawkins to do to claim a roster spot come the end of the preseason.

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Myles Garrett has minor injury, working on sideline at Browns’ OTAs

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The first overall pick in the draft is hurt, but the Browns are not concerned.

Myles Garrett was spotted on the sideline at Organized Team Activities today, riding a stationary bike and working with kettlebells rather than participating in football activities with the rest of the team. But multiple reporters posted on Twitter that he has only a minor injury.

There’s no word on the nature of Garrett’s injury, but the Browns are likely showing an excess of caution with a player they hope will be a cornerstone of their franchise for years to come.

A pass rusher from Texas A&M, Garrett played much of his final college season through a nagging leg injury.

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Cowboys keeping Ezekiel Elliott out of OTAs after car accident

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Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott currently isn’t participating in Organized Team Activities, for reasons unrelated to football. According to ESPN, Elliott was a passenger in a Sunday automobile accident.

Via Todd Archer and Adam Schefter of ESPN, Elliott did not suffer significant injuries. The Cowboys have opted to keep him out of the first two OTA sessions in the exercise of caution.

This implies that Elliott has injuries, but that the team doesn’t currently believe the injuries are significant. In January, Elliott was involved in an automobile accident that coach Jason Garrett dubbed a “fender bender.”

It’s unclear how many of the 10 OTA sessions Elliott will miss. Each team is permitted to conduct up to 10.

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Constructing the dream offensive line

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Former Giants tackle and two-time Super Bowl champion David Diehl joined PFT Live on Tuesday for a full hour. Among the segments was an effort to construct the dream offensive line, with a fantasy draft format.

We picked one lineman after another until we each had a tackle-to-tackle unit of five players in whom we’d entrust the health and safety of a quarterback and running backs.

To see and hear what we had to say on the issue, check out the video and feel free to tell us which guy came up with the better dream offensive line. Especially if you think I did.

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Seahawks looking at Austin Davis, along with Colin Kaepernick

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If the Seahawks want to portray this as just another offseason tire-kicking, they needed to roll someone other than Colin Kaepernick into town.

Thus, they’ll have at least one other veteran quarterback come in to audition.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the Seahawks are also bringing in Austin Davis for a workout today.

Davis was most recently with the Broncos, hanging around as a third option behind Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch. He has also spent time with the Browns and Rams.

The Seahawks have insisted they’re looking at all available options, and have previously mentioned Robert Griffin III as one.

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Rick Spielman: We’ll take it a day at a time with Teddy Bridgewater

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The Vikings released video of Teddy Bridgewater taking snaps, dropping back and throwing passes during Tuesday’s practice, but they still aren’t ready to talk about when Bridgewater may be able to take on a full workload after last year’s knee injury.

General Manager Rick Spielman met with the media on Wednesday and said that the team will “take it a day at a time” with Bridgewater while adding that the quarterback hasn’t been cleared for full practices at this point. Spielman declined to comment on when that might happen and said it was “still the unknown” whether he’ll play in 2017, but acknowledged that it’s “very encouraging” to see Bridgewater doing things on the field.

“Very limited in what he’s able to do at this point, but it’s progress,” Spielman said.

Bridgewater is not at Wednesday’s practice for a previously scheduled doctor’s appointment and Spielman said the release of the video from Tuesday’s closed practice was partly because the media wouldn’t be able to see him working. If all goes well at the doctor and the progress continues, it shouldn’t be too long before they get that opportunity and the Vikings have to make a call about when he moves to the next step of his football work.

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Pro Bowl is staying in Orlando for another year

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Players hoping for free trips to Hawaii are going to continue to be disappointed.

The NFL announced that this year’s Pro Bowl would return to Orlando, after last year’s successful debut there last year.

The all-star game will be held in Camping World Stadium on Jan. 28, and will be broadcast by ESPN and simulcast on ABC, making it the first time it has aired on both cable and broadcast networks.

(While it’s become a silly game full of alternates, people still watch it.)

They will again play with the more familiar AFC vs. NFC format, after realizing previous contrived efforts to gin up interest didn’t work.

It will be interesting to see if playing in a less-than-glamorous destination will cause more and more players to skip the event, but the league was apparently content with last year’s experience.

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Titans sign fifth-rounder Jayon Brown

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The Titans signed first-round cornerback Adoree’ Jackson on Tuesday and they got another one of their draft picks under contract on Wednesday.

Linebacker Jayon Brown has agreed to a four-year deal with the team. Brown, a fifth-round pick, is the seventh player in the draft class to sign a deal.

Brown made 21 starts at UCLA and took over for Myles Jack in the middle of the defense last season. He led the Pac-12 in tackles and intercepted three passes on his way to first-team all-conference honors.

Brown will join college teammate Aaron Wallace in Tennessee’s linebacking corps and will also be reunited with Lou Spanos, who was UCLA’s defensive coordinator in his freshman year before moving on to become the Titans’ linebackers coach.

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