What a move here by Adam Gase and company as they acquire TE, Julius Thomas for LT, Branden Albert…sort of. According to NFL sources, Albert has been traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars for a conditional late round 2018 Draft Pick. At the same time, the Miami Dolphins have traded a 7th round 2017 Draft Pick in order to acquire Julius Thomas. While these are actually separate trade deals, the final outcome amounts to basically a swap of Albert and a late round pick for Thomas and a late round pick.
Albert, a guy they talked about releasing, has now been used to acquire talent at a position that needed filling. Either the Jacksonville Jaguars really like Albert and did not want to take the chance on losing him in free agency, or they just made a big mistake for an injury riddled blindside tackle. Albert has missed nine games in the past two seasons, but Blake Bortles takes an absolute beating behind center, so the Jaguars seem to have made a desperation move.
Now, time to discuss why this is a brilliant move for the Dolphins. Albert was locked into a $47 million contract that the Dolphins have now parted ways with to acquire a cheaper and probably even better talent (coming later) and will have a solid tight end, who is in a 46 million dollar contract, that will most likely be re-structured. What Julius Thomas gives the Dolphins is something they have not had in a long time; a dominant tight end. The only “dominant’ tight end in recent history for the Dolphins would be Randy McMichael from 2002-2006, but even as good as he was, he never saw a Pro Bowl. The Dolphins hoped that Charles Clay and Jordan Cameron would become solid tight ends, but one has been shipped out of town, and one is on his way out because he cannot stay on the field.
Ultimately, this trade is a perfect swap. Similar contracts and fills an area of need.
Now, what is to become of the Dolphins offensive line?
Nothing on the right side should change. The Dolphins need to retain Jermon Bushrod to anchor the right guard position. Bushrod should be a cheap signing; he will likely be retained to a veteran minimum deal. Mike Pouncey will remain at center with Ju’Wuan James staying at right tackle, for now. The biggest move will be switching Laremy Tunsil to left tackle, his natural position. The rookie had a good season last year. Moving him to the blindside tackle spot should ensure some chemistry between him and Tannehill, given that he can actually stay on the field. One option to fill the left guard spot could be to use what is already on the roster. Unfortunately, Craig Urbik and Anthony Steen are nothing more than emergency backups. What the Dolphins should do is dip into the free agency pool.
Free Agency Guard Pool
In the free agency pool for guards, there are four legitimate options. The first option would be Luke Joeckel. The #2 overall pick in 2013 has not quite lived up to expectations, and because of that, he will not command a large contract. The Dolphins should be able to get him for $4-$5 million per year. He is just 25 years old, which is still a teachable age for a young offensive lineman. With the right coaching, he could step into the role and fill it nicely.
The other options are veteran guys. Sebastian Vollmer is becoming a free agent, and while I don’t likely see Bill letting him walk, I have been wrong about a lot of things in my life. Vollmer, while naturally a tackle, has played guard in his life before, and as a high school football coach, I can tell you that if you can play tackle, you can play guard. Vollmer could command a rather large contract around $5-$6 million per year.
Jahri Evans is coming off a rather solid year with the New Orleans Saints, and he has played primarily at the right guard spot. However, making a transition should be easy for a well-seasoned veteran, and given his situation, he will likely be the cheapest option of the three.
The fourth option is the Green Bay Packers’ TJ Lang. He has been a staple on that offensive line since he was drafted in the fourth round of the 2009 NFL Draft. At 29 years old, Lang is well into his peak years, but has some good years ahead of him. He would bring experience, and more importantly, success. Lang would likely be the most expensive option.
What Should They Do?
In my opinion, the best option is TJ Lang. While the cost will likely be high, he offers experience while still having years ahead of him. Unless Ja’Wuan James improves, he is likely gone after next year. This will give Miami the money to spend on Lang rather than extending James’s contract. They might also look to trade Mike Pouncey for a cheaper option. Finally, with Bushrod likely signing to a veteran minimum, Lang will be the only one commanding a big contract soon.
Your move, Mike Tannebaum…