Norwell Solves “Forever” Problem at Left Guard
Miami Has A “FOREVER” Issue At Left Guard
Left Guard! We’ve said it before. We’ll say it again and again if we must! We can trade for one. We can draft one. Or we can hire an Unrestricted Free Agent. Whatever we do, Miami absolutely, unambiguously, incontrovertably must obtain an NFL caliber starting Left Guard during this off-season. As PhinsNews previously pointed out, we have no one currently under contract that can fill that need …zip, nada, zero! Not a single LG who can protect the QB, open lanes for the RB, pull or get to the 2nd level when the play requires it.
Andrew Norwell, Pro-Bowl LG, is an Unrestricted Free Agent
Norwell is currently the starting Left Guard for the Carolina Panthers. He’s a 26 year old, 6’6″, 325 lb NFL First-Team All-Pro coming off a truly dominant 2017 season. Pro Football Focus (PFF) named him to their First-Team All-Pro Honors list. Here’s why:
- PFF Overall 2017 Grade: 88.7 (that’s ‘Elite’ territory, #3 among all OGs)
- Among OGs (170+ pass-blocks), 2nd in pass-blocking efficiency at 98.3
- 8th best run blocker among all OGs with a PFF grade of 83.4
- The only OG in 2018 to not commit a single penalty (500+ snaps).
- Moreover, there were Zero penalties committed in a total of 903 snaps.
- In addition, he didn’t allow a single sack all season in 2017
- Again, the only OG (200+ pass-blocks) to not allow even a single hit, one of only four OGs to achieve this feat since PFF started collecting data back in 2006
Norwell: zero penalties, zero hits, zero sacks allowed!
That’s nothing short of an unbelievable streak, especially for penalty ridden Phins fans. Since taking over the starting job last season, he has earned a reputation for proper technique, fundamentals, and the ability to execute play-in and play-out. Especially hard to believe of a player who wasn’t even drafted …yes, that’s right …he was a UDFA!
Doubts? Just take a quick look at this 2017 highlights tape.
So How Could a Prize LG like Norwell hit Free Agency?
One word …CAP. The Panthers already have a ton of money, more than $27 mil, invested in their offensive line. The Panthers signed both right guard Trai Turner and left tackle Matt Kalil to big contracts in 2017. Because of this, the Panthers could have limited cap space of less than 14 mil to work with. They need $8-10 mil just to sign their top 3 draft picks. They could ‘tag’ Norwell but that would break the CAP bank. Even a ‘transition tag’ would cost more than $10 mil per year. Spotrac.com has Norwell’s ‘market value’ at $11.8 mil per year. The Charlotte Observer believes the Panthers are in danger of losing Norwell to free agency. He will very likely draw a lot of interest if he hits free agency.
Can Miami Sign Norwell in Free Agency?
Of course they can. But the pay per head sites wonder, will they even try is the real question. Keep in mind that Miami bailed on the high end OG market last year. Instead, they signed Ted Larsen (PFF grade 39.4, ranked 68th best OG) for less than $2 mil. Similarly, they waited until the 5th round to draft Asiata. He was a ‘steal’ who hardly even dressed for a game, much less played in one, even though we were desperate at OG. Thus, we got what we paid for.
Miami has to want to really fix it!
First, the Dolphins FO and HC Gase have to make up their minds to finally fix the ‘forever’ issue at LG. They can get a high caliber LG through either FA or the Draft …or they can go the ‘cheap’ route again and let the next FO and HC fix it. If they want to be here in ’19 they will choose to fix NOW. Free Agency better mean full press for Norwell. But he will cost north of $11 mil per year …and we could easily get outbid.
Norwell won’t necessarily go to the high bidder
There is always a Cleveland with $100 mil+ CAP space willing to pay Zeitler’esque money for someone like Norwell. But they run into a problem when the FA wants to play for a credible contender, not another rebuild …as Norwell has intimated. Miami doesn’t have to be the high bidder to win, just the high bidder among the credible teams. It matters that Drew Rosenhaus is Norwell’s new agent. He knows Miami well …whether that is good or bad remains to be seen.
Miami has the flexibility to drastically improve it’s CAP space
Second, Miami has to solve it’s own CAP issues. The Dolphins CAP numbers are worse than the Panthers, with less than $10 mil CAP space for 2018. However, Miami’s numbers are very flexible compared to Carolina’s. Consider just the OL. Where Carolina has $27 mil committed, most in new, inflexible contracts, Miami has $26 mil committed but in very flexible contracts. $18 mil is in the James and Pouncey contracts alone with another $2 mil in Larsen’s. James, Pouncey, and Larsen all performed well below their contracts in 2017 and could be cut or renegotiated downward. Many CAP gurus have calculated that Miami could clear as much as $60 mil in CAP space team wide without serious difficulty.
There’s a gorilla in the CAP closet
The gorilla is Landry’s FA contract. I expect to see him re-signed in the neighborhood of $13.8 mill per year average with a sizeable guarantee. Once that is done, everything else will fall into place.
Better to Sign Norwell, Draft Nelson or pull a rabbit out of the hat?
Signing Norwell, if we can, will cost upwards of $12 mil per year average. Above all, he would provide an immediate, proven pro-bowl caliber LG just entering his prime. He’s as close to a ‘sure thing’ as anything in the NFL will ever be. A not insignificant point is that acquiring Norwell in FA would give Miami a lot more flexibility in the draft.
On the other hand, there are probably three OGs in the 1-2 rounds of the draft that could address the LG issues with fairly high confidence level. Nelson would be as close to a ‘sure thing’ as you can get in the draft …but almost 50% of those 1st round ‘sure things’ fail in any given year. Ryan Leaf and Dion Jordan come to mind. The Smith trade puts Cousins in FA and could mean that a QB/OL needy team like Denver will draft Nelson ahead of us, instead of a QB.
There are other options …just not reasonably ‘sure things’
The other two viable LG candidates, in the top of the draft, are Price and Hernandez. They could easily go low 1st or high 2nd. Neither would be a candidate at #11 and neither looks to have Nelson’s ceiling. That said, they are worthwhile gambles if the LG issue is not solved before their names are on the board. Price would almost certainly imply a Miami trade down out of #11 since he likely won’t be there in the 2nd.
I’ve made my case for Norwell in FA. There are many that will still believe a LG can be had by this FO in the draft’s later rounds. You are right, they can. But it takes serious luck AND talent evaluation skill working together. And I’m not sure this FO has it, not after Asiata.
What do the rest of the PhinsNews readers think?