Are the Dolphins building a team they hope can contend in 2020?
The Patriots rivals 1,500 miles to the south were busy on the first day of the legal tampering period, putting together a series of pieces that -- if you glance at them quickly -- might lead one to believe they're not quite the rebuilding team they've been purported to be.
With massive amounts of salary-cap space -- they led the league in that category going into free agency, according to OverTheCap.com -- cash is flowing from Miami well before the official start of free agency. Former Patriots assistant and Dolphins head coach Brian Flores scooped up Patriots edge defender Kyle Van Noy, handing him a four-year deal. They also went out and picked up another starting-caliber edge player in Shaq Lawson, as well as starting guard Ereck Flowers.
And, oh yeah, they locked up arguably the top corner on the market and paid him like it. Byron Jones received a five-year deal worth more than $80 million, reportedly.
Why all the spending? Particularly for a team that still might be a year or two from truly contending given that their only quarterbacks on the roster right now are Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen?
Well, No. 1, even with all the dollars going out, Miami still has plenty of cap room remaining after beginning the day with more than $80 million available to them. Whatever isn't spent can be carried over into future years. That means they can still pick their spots in the open market for the foreseeable future.
Then there's the fact that Flores has already shown that even if the team might not be really, truly ready to compete for a Super Bowl, he's not looking to tank.
It would've been easy last season for him and his staff to allow the bottom to drop out on one of the least talented rosters in football, eyeing the No. 1 overall pick to nab Joe Burrow or Tua Tagovailoa. Instead, he and his team won five games. And instead of the No. 1 overall pick, they'll be picking fifth. Knowing that, it comes as no surprise that Flores and general manager Chris Grier are looking to take a competitive leap and quickly.
The Dolphins still have three first-round picks and two seconds to add to any other free-agent additions they make in the next few weeks. If they hit often enough, they'll have a roster that in a year or two will be ready to go, especially if they land a young passer.
But what if they want to speed things up even more quickly than that? What if they want their quarterback to be ready to go ... right now?
There's a quarterback who's spent the last two decades in New England who'd make some sense for them. Months ago we pegged the Dolphins as a potential landing spot for Brady because of the Patriots ties on the coaching staff, the ability to build quickly through free agency and high-end draft picks, and because of the market Miami would provide for Brady's off-the-field business interests. The fact that Brady has ties to Dolphins ownership and he could compete against his former team twice a year might also make Miami intriguing.
Despite all that, the Dolphins have consistently said they could not comprehend why Brady would be interested in little ol' them. Owner Stephen Ross openly wondered why Brady would want to go to Miami, a team in transition. Flores echoed similar thoughts at the NFL Combine, saying, "I agree with Steve as far as, ‘Why would he want to come to Miami?’ I do. I’ll leave it at that. I do agree with Steve."
Even if you don't believe their words, their actions do speak volumes.
Not so much their heavy spending Monday. They could've made those moves even if they didn't really plan to contend for a deep playoff run until 2021 or 2022. The actions that spoke loudest were made immediately after they beat the Patriots in the season finale. They parted ways with offensive coordinator and former Patriots assistant Chad O'Shea, and one of the reported reasons was that the Patriots style of offense was too difficult for a young, rebuilding team to pick up.
Then they doubled down and hired Chan Gailey, a spread offense aficionado, seemingly to make the college-to-pro transition easier for whatever young passer Miami would bring in.
So are the Dolphins really in play for Brady, as Mike Lynch reported on Monday night? Especially since they appear to be building up their roster relatively quickly?
Can't rule them out until the biggest-name free agent on the market lands somewhere. But the on-the-field fit, especially considering Brady would likely want to run an offense that the Dolphins just ran out of town, feels like it would be a non-starter for both sides.