The Miami Herald presented an “educated” trade idea between the Dolphins and the Jacksonville Jaguars, which the South Florida Sun-Sentinel subsequently reported as not just a hypothetical trade, but one currently in the works. Funny how that works.
The trade is a player-for-player swap with Dolphins LT Branden Albert and Jaguars TE Julius Thomas. Both players were candidates to be released, but instead the teams decided they wanted to swap the players. The trade cannot be official until the 2017 league year begins on March 9th.
The trade makes a lot of sense for both parties.
The 32-year-old Albert has two seasons left on his contract for an average of $9.25 million per year. When healthy, Albert is a Pro Bowl caliber player, but he has played a full 16-game season just once in his 9-year career. He has missed an average of 4 games over the past five years.
The Jaguars decided not to pick up the contract option of OT Kelvin Beachum, which means the team has a hole at tackle, which Albert could fill. The Dolphins used the 13th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft on Laremy Tunsil, who moved in to play guard as a rookie, but was projected as the top offensive tackle in the draft- this makes Albert expendable.
Thomas will turn 29 years old before the start of the 2017 season and he has not played more than 14 games in a single season in his 6-year NFL career. He has three seasons left on his contract valued at $8.27 million per year, making the trade a pretty fair swap of contract values. Thomas recorded 24 touchdowns in 2013-14 while with the Denver Broncos, before signing with the Jaguars for the past two years and playing just 21 of a possible 32 games.
The Dolphins are looking for an upgrade at tight end because TE Jordan Cameron played just 3 games in 2016 due to concussions and could possibly retire. Thomas’ best seasons in Denver came when Adam Gase was offensive coordinator; Gase is the Dolphins current head coach and knows how to maximize Thomas’ ability.
The biggest weakness in the Miami offense was at tight end. RB Jay Ajayi was one of the biggest surprises of 2016 as he ranked 4th in the NFL in rushing yards and was named Second Team All Pro by Pro Football Focus. WR Jarvis Landry and WR DeVante Parker are both entering the prime of their careers, while WR Kenny Stills is entering free agency; WR Leonte Carroo and WR Jakeem Grant are projected to contribute more in 2017 after being the 3rd and 6th round picks of the Dolphins in 2016.
But there was little production by the Dolphins tight ends and Gase wants to add another element to the offense. If Thomas is able to recapture a substantial fraction of his ability in Denver, and the Miami offense grows in its second season under Gase, then the Dolphins offense could really challenge a lot of defenses.
The presence of a tight end up the seam could really open up the middle of the field where Landry is already extremely productive. The Patriots have S Patrick Chung to cover tight ends, but Thomas is an athletic mismatch for even the most talented of defenders.
Of course the Dolphins only beat one team with a 0.500-or-better record in 2016 (the Patriots defeated nine, including the postseason), and are set to face a more difficult schedule in 2017 by virtue of placing second in the division. They also lost defensive coordinator Vance Joseph to the Denver Broncos. Miami is likely to regress in 2017.
But Miami is perfectly placed to move on from Albert thanks to the selection of Tunsil, and if there is any coach in the league capable of reviving Thomas, it’s Dolphins head coach Adam Gase. This would be an excellent trade for Miami and one that could pay off in a major way for a 2016 playoff team that is looking for an encore season.
Edit: The Miami Herald is now reporting that Julius Thomas is no longer a part of the trade.