Opening day of the NFL’s free-agent market is drawing to a close. While we have a moment, let’s consider some winners and losers.
The Minnesota Vikings signed a highly regarded, still-young offensive lineman to fill arguably their biggest need without setting a financial precedent. GuardAlex Boone, 28, will sign a contract that averages $6.6 million annually — a bit more than half what the Oakland Raiders committed to Kelechi Osemele a day earlier. At the moment, Boone ranks sixth among NFL guards in annual pay, and his $10 million in guarantees ranks No. 10. After Osemele, Boone was the Vikings’ best option for shoring up an offensive line that left quarterback Teddy Bridgewater pressured on an NFL-high 37 percent of his dropbacks.
The Miami Dolphins took on two descending players and dropped out of the draft’s top 10 in a trade that will take some time to understand — if indeed the reasoning ever becomes clear. Playing with the Philadelphia Eagles last season,Byron Maxwell proved that he doesn’t like to tackle and that he is nowhere close to a shutdown corner. Linebacker Kiko Alonso, meanwhile, did nothing to dissuade the notion that he is an injury risk. He has now missed 21 games in the past two seasons. How did this trade do anything but leave the Dolphins with two discards and diminished draft position?
DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — The Miami Dolphins tussled in a rugby-style scrum when practice began Wednesday, with younger players encircled by veterans and challenged to fight their way out of the pack.
”It was just something I thought up,” interim coach Dan Campbell said.
Since replacing Joe Philbin 2 1/2 weeks ago, Campbell has stressed the need to be more physical and aggressive. His lobbying paid off Sunday with a 38-10 win at Tennessee, which the Dolphins (2-3) trumpet as a turnaround in their season.
But for defensive end Olivier Vernon, the pedal-to-the-metal approach comes with a cost: He said he was fined by the NFL for a late, low hit that injured Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Vernon planned to appeal and declined to say how much he was fined. He hit the rookie quarterback’s left knee and drew criticism from Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt, who said it appeared Vernon was trying to hurt Mariota.
”It was nothing that was intentional,” Vernon said. ”Obviously quarterbacks are defenseless when they’re passing the ball. That’s a given. If that was my intent, I should have gotten fined the max.”
Mariota sprained his MCL but didn’t miss a snap. He finished the game with a brace on his knee.
Vernon apologized after the game to Mariota, who said he didn’t consider the hit malicious. On the play, Vernon drew the first of two penalties he received for roughing the passer.
Campbell didn’t view those infractions as negative repercussions from his mandate to be more aggressive.
”We’re just trying to play football,” he said. ”It’s no different than anybody else.”
And the new head coach offered support for Vernon.
”I just told him I know he’s not a dirty player,” Campbell said. ”He’s trying to get to the quarterback.”
The Dolphins did – they had six sacks after totaling one in the first four games. Cameron Wakehad his first four sacks of the season and was chosen AFC defensive player of the week, while Vernon added his first sack of the year.
Miami also outrushed an opponent for the first time this year, 180-63, and would happily settle for the same thing Sunday against Houston.
Texans nose tackle Vince Wilfork, who has played 20 games against Miami, noted the transformation under Campbell.
”The Dolphins got back to doing what they do best – running the ball,” Wilfork said. ”Last week everybody got a sneak peek at what they really are. They are a ground-and-pound team. They’re tough. They’re physical. As you can see, their coach got them fired up to play, and they responded. We’re going to get their best.”
Campbell, noting the Dolphins’ history of inconsistency, is doing what he can to ensure Wilfork’s correct. The coach has shortened practices but added more contact.
The scrum at the start of Wednesday’s workout was the latest wrinkle, with flailing arms and elbows making it look like a playground free-for-all.
”It’s fun. They were just messing around with each other,” said Campbell, a former NFL tight end. ”When you have the young guys in the middle and they have to find a way to get outside the circle, it kind of gets everybody fired up a little bit. It just created a little bit of energy.”
So that’s terrible. Moreno had just returned from a dislocated elbow that caused him to miss two full games, and all but one carry of another. He’s on a one-year deal with Miami, so he’ll enter free agency in 2015 as a soon-to-be 28-year-old back with a worrisome injury history.
Fantasy-wise, the spin here is simple: Lamar Miller takes over as the unrivaled No. 1 running back for the Dolphins, and we need to view him as a top-12-ish RB, rest of season. Miller has averaged a career-best 5.2 YPC through five games this year, he’s found the end-zone four times, and he’s on pace for 48 receptions. We should also mention that his bye is already behind him, a plus at this stage of the season.
The only real issue for Miller so far has been ball security (three fumbles lost), but, again, no player on Miami’s current roster is likely to challenge his grip on the featured role. Daniel Thomasand Damien Williams are up next on the depth chart; Thomas was inactive on Sunday and Williams played four snaps.
We can’t guarantee that Miller will ever see 25 carries in any game — he doesn’t have more than 15 in any week this season — but he’ll take all the touches he can handle. He’s certainly a strong play this week at Chicago, facing a Bears defense that ranks middle-of-the-pack against the run.
Here’s hoping for a quick and full recovery for Moreno. He was a season-saver for many of us last year, when he led the Broncos’ ground game. Given the timing of his injury, he should have a shot to be fully recovered by opening week 2015, if he can find a team to take a flier.