The Miami Dolphins have a plan if they happen to retain wide receiver Jarvis Landry. Things get a bit murky however, if Landry departs, in the wake of the Dolphins granting Landry permission to seek a trade on Thursday.
Recent franchise history suggests it will take two players, at least, to replace Landry’s 100 receptions per season. Worse, it doesn’t seem the Dolphins have such talent on their roster at either wide receiver or tight end.
That could send Miami into the free-agent market for someone such as Tavon Austin, the Los Angeles Rams’ speedy wide receiver who the Rams want to trade or release, or it could send them searching in the early or middle rounds of the draft for help. Or it could prompt a trade.
The Dolphins put the non-exclusive franchise tag, and its approximate $16 million salary, on Landry on Feb. 20, the first day they were allowed. Miami then granted Landry permission to seek a trade. But the trade market for Landry is a wait-and-see proposition.
Perhaps Miami keeps Landry. The Dolphins are supposedly prepared to stomach his massive salary next season.
Or, perhaps Miami acquires a wide receiver or tight end as part of a trade for Landry. Either, or both, could come in handy.
Among returning wide receivers, the Dolphins are led by Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker. It’s possible Parker, who had a career-best 57 receptions last season, could pick up some of the slack by adding maybe 20 receptions in what would be regarded as a major breakthrough. Stills had 58 receptions last year, the second-best total of his career. Perhaps he also adds 20 receptions.
With an additional 40 receptions between the two of them, that would still leave Miami about 60 receptions shy of Landry’s average in a season.
The Dolphins could hope one wide receiver among the returning group of Jakeem Grant, Leonte Carroo and Isaiah Ford, last year’s seventh-round pick who missed the season with a knee injury, could help do the rest.
But that’s asking a lot — considering that trio hasn’t combined for 60 career receptions.
Grant, the 2016 sixth-round pick, showed promise last season with 13 receptions for 203 yards and two touchdowns.
“I think it just got tough for him where he was getting beat up just a little bit on some of the kickoff returns and punt returns, and he lost a little juice there in the middle of the season,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said of Grant on Wednesday at the NFL scouting combine.
“Then once he really got comfortable, he made an impact on our offense. We’re looking to build on that.”
Carroo, the 2016 third-round pick, had seven receptions for 69 yards last season.
“We’re still just bringing him along,” Gase said. “I think he has a better feel for the offense. Sometimes it’s tough to find that role when you had those three guys really that we all trusted and didn’t want off the field.”
Austin, who signed a four-year, $42 million extension in 2016, has totaled 71 receptions for 566 yards and three touchdowns in the two seasons since getting that deal. He’s been considered a disappointment since being a first-round pick in 2013.
The free-agent market could feature high-priced talent such as Jacksonville’s Allen Robinson or the Los Angeles’ Sammy Watkins, or perhaps Jacksonville’s Marqise Lee.
In the draft, Alabama’s Calvin Ridley is the only receiver projection to be selected in the first round, and he should be there when Miami selects at No. 11.
At tight end, the Dolphins have Julius Thomas, who seems a likely candidate to be released because of last season’s performance and his $6.5 million salary this coming season, along with MarQueis Gray, A.J. Derby and Thomas Duarte. It’s an inexperienced and unimpressive group that, without Thomas, has combined for 64 career receptions.
Miami has sought upgrades at tight end for years, ranging from Dustin Keller and Jordan Cameron to Duarte and Derby. Nothing has worked. The search will continue whether or not Landry is on the roster.
“That’s always going to be a position we look at and try to figure out what’s going to be best for us for this season,” Gase said. “Anytime that you can have a tight end that can be effective in the pass game and still be effective in the run game and pass protection, that’s what you want there.”
The draft is strong for tight ends in the middle and lower rounds but not early. The class is led by South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst.
“Dallas Goedert (South Dakota State), Mike Gesicki (Penn State), Mark Andrews (Oklahoma), Ian Thomas from Indiana, they’re all kind of matchup tight ends,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. “Think of Zach Ertz in Philadelphia as a possible example. They’re the logical tight end group in the second, third, fourth round.”
Landry’s situation remains fluid. But the only thing that seems certain now is if Miami has to replace Landry, it’ll likely require more than one player.