Mike Tannenbaum and Chris Grier – January 25, 2017 – Senior Bowl Download PDF version

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Executive Vice President of Football Operations Mike Tannenbaum and General Manager Chris Grier

Mike Tannenbaum:

(Opening Statement) – “Just to give you guys an update on Ryan (Tannehill), we’re still working through the process. Nothing’s been definitively decided yet. As always, with all of our players, organizationally, player health and safety is paramount. We’ll do what’s best for the player. We have no material updates as of today, but it’s something (that Head Coach) Adam (Gase), (General Manager) Chris (Grier), (Chairman of the Board/Managing General Partner) Steve Ross and myself, we’ll keep talking through. When we have more information, we’ll share it; but nothing materially new as of now.”

(You won’t know on QB Ryan Tannehill until what, January 30, when he has the other MRI?) – “No one test is going to make a decision for us, so we’re just going to keep going through the process (and) talking to our doctors. Obviously Ryan’s (Tannehill) very involved. We’ll rely on our medical people to give us some suggestions. So we’ll just see how the process plays out.”

(This is mostly in QB Ryan Tannehill’s court? Right? The ball is in his court because he’s the patient, right? He’s the one that’s going to dictate what’s on right?) – “I think like on any significant medical decision, we want to do it collaboratively and certainly we have a very good and experienced medical staff. With that said, one of the things that I like about our medical staff is they’re exhaustive in their research. Anything like this, obviously a player ultimately decides what they want to do; but we’re in constant communication in talking to Ryan (Tannehill) and he’s talking to our trainers and doctors all the time. His agent is involved and it’s been something where we all want to make sure that we’re doing this correctly (and) taking our time. Again, our player’s well-being is always a paramount concern for us.”

(The last update you had with him with the doctors and everything, was he still on pace to recover without surgery? The last time you guys had an update with the doctors and the MRIs and all that?) – “I think the best way to say it is again, we just want to take the benefit of the time and be thorough in our process. When we have something more definitive, we’ll share it. We’re just not there yet.”

(Is time about letting the swelling go down or seeing what can heal naturally?) – “I think it’s, again, just taking the benefit of the time that we’re in the offseason. We want to be thorough and just making sure that whatever decision that we make is the right one, and get as much information as possible.”

(Is time not a factor in terms of even if he has the surgery, you guys believe he’d be ready for next season but for training camp?) – “I don’t think we want to put any timelines. Every player recovers differently from different procedures, but again we wanted to take the benefit of knowing that we have no more games to play to try to get as much information as we can and make the best decision at the appropriate time.”

Chris Grier:

(Have you started any negotiations with WR Jarvis Landry and his agent?) – “No. As of right now we’re – like we said at the end of season press conference – Coach (Adam Gase) gave the assistant coaches off about a week and a half or so. So again, they’ll come back. They just started evaluating our roster again, so we’re going to meet as a staff here next week, with the coaches, and we’re just going to go through the process and be very deliberate. Again, just making sure we evaluate our roster right and then we’ll worry about the guys right now with the immediate free agents and then we’ll start working towards the guys that are still under contract.”

(This year, your team made progress in a lot of areas, but stopping the run was not one of them. You guys gave up 2,247 rushing yards, 4.8 yards per carry. How does that get addressed the offseason, especially with so many positions on that defensive line and linebacker unit being unsettled?) – “Again, I would say it was a good first year for the organization with our new regime and the culture we’re establishing. There are a lot of things we would have liked to have been better. There were a lot of areas we can improve on. I think we’re going to work through, like again I know it sounds like a broken record, but it’s going to be very deliberate. We’re going through right now talking about the guys on the roster and then we’re going to go through the free agents again and we’ve already started meeting with the pro scouts. (Director, Player Personnel) Joe Schoen and (Director, Pro Personnel) Anthony Hunt have done a good job and have already been looking at the free agents. We’re going to do everything we can. We’ve had good discussions with (Defensive Coordinator) Matt Burke already about some things we may do a little bit differently, and so it’s been productive so far; but we’re going to take our time to make sure we can do everything we can to get it fixed.”

(Do you think that the Wide 9 approach was successful and will you continue to take that approach with this defensive line?) – “Yes, I think Adam’s plan for when he brought (Defensive Coordinator) Matt (Burke) and ‘V.J.’ (former Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph)  in together was that, kind of knowing that ‘V.J.’ was – we talked about – may not be here more than a year or so because he’s an immensely talented coach (and) a good person. So we just thought he may be moving on, which he did. So we don’t want to change a whole lot, we’re trying to do where there will be continuity. That’s the one good thing organizations like the Patriots and stuff that have won, is that you’re not always changing every time someone leaves. We’re trying to have it where if a guy leaves, we can keep going and we can keep building. There are a lot of things the defense did well and there were things that can be improved on, but I think that will come as we keep adding positions and building the people that fit the scheme of what we’re looking for.”

Mike Tannenbaum:

(What is DT Ndamukong Suh’s injury?) – “It was just a very minor knee clean out. He’ll be fine and ready to go for the offseason program.”

(How is S Isa Abdul-Quddus doing?) – “He’s coming along. All of our guys now are in rehab. We will get updates from the trainers to see how he’s doing, but right now like (General Manager) Chris (Grier) said, we’re just kind of focused on the evaluations from a playing standpoint and then the medical stuff, we’ll continue to monitor; but there’s obviously not a sense of urgency in terms of anything we need to do right away.”

(When you do identify positions of need that you want to address in this offseason, what is your philosophy in terms of doing that through the draft versus through proven free agents?) – “I think the offseason is one big continuum and we’re going to look at every avenue to improve the team. That can be trades that start around the (NFL) Combine and then we’ll get into free agency. Again, our focus philosophically though is we’re going to try to keep our own the best we can and then be opportunistic, be it in free agency or trades and obviously just try to draft as well as we can. Sometimes, it’s been my experience, if we have a need, sometimes you fill it both in free agency and the draft and again, we’ll try to be opportunistic and use any avenue we can to improve the team.”

(I know you don’t want to tip your hand as far as any of your plans but can you give just generally some idea of how you think about those different avenues for filling a need?) – “I think it’s really important that when you get to the draft that you can line up a play of game. Again, you’re not going to have a perfect roster going into the draft. But we’ve talked about this quite a bit, we want to go into the draft and operate from a position of strength so when Laremy Tunsil falls unexpectedly, you can go ahead and take the best player and you’re not sitting there saying, ‘We have to get a star with our first pick.’ So we want to give ourselves as much flexibility as possible by the time we get to the draft. We have a lot of work to do, but as (General Manager) Chris (Grier) said, and as we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I think a very underrated aspect of team building and the salary cap system is correctly evaluating your own and we have to get that right and we have to be realistic and we have to look at certain players and say, ‘Can we win with them?’ To me, once we do that, that’s the bedrock we build from and move forward; but until we do that, I think our plans are still somewhat up in the air.”

(How many years do you use as a timeframe for building that roster? Are there some guys you sign as just a stop gap to get through and then there are other guys where you look at it and they might be under contract but maybe they have a 2-3 year window? How far do you project?) – “One of the things that Chris and I have been spending a lot of time with (Senior Director of Football Administration) Brandon Shore lately, who handles our salary cap, and we have to have a pretty good idea from a salary cap standpoint for at least two years, what we think the cap is going to be and who’s expiring from a contractual standpoint. So I think that’s a realistic view is this year and one more. Then we’re constantly talking with (Head Coach) Adam (Gase) and the staff about ascending players, descending players and who we need to replace. So I think realistically, you go out more than two years in our system and there are just too many variables.”

Chris Grier:

(How do you view the roster composition as it relates to the defensive end position and where the team needs to work on that position moving forward?) – “The defensive end is, if you’re going to play the Wide 9, obviously that’s one of the key components of the defense. With us, we’re always going to be looking at it. Last year we addressed it with some veteran players. I think once we’ve kind of established the culture of what we’re looking for now, I think we’ll, like (Executive Vice President of Football Operations) Mike (Tannenbaum) said, pursue all avenues in terms of free agency and the draft. But for that position, yes that’s a key position. We’re going to have to find some players there.”

Mike Tannenbaum:

(With that linebacker unit, you got the trade for LB Kiko Alonso, that sort of panned out for you; but then the position sort of ran out of bodies at the end of the season. How do you address that moving forward to get that defense better?)  – “Philosophically, we have to keep improving the depth of our team and when you have guys on your roster, you have to assume they’re going to play. You can look at the four teams that played this weekend, they did a great job. Those teams, all four of them, had players that were playing that maybe were somewhat unexpected, be it from injuries or team players that were traded off of other teams. I think depth is critical. I think we’ve gotten better and we still have a ways to go and every team, every year, the 2017 team is going to be different than 2016 team, but depth is an area that we’re constantly talking about.”

Chris Grier:

(What are you looking for from a linebacker standpoint? What athletic traits do you think sets apart a Dolphins’ linebacker?) – “I think the big thing for us is finding guys that are instinctive, guys that are tough guys, but also have the ability to play in space. I think the one thing we talked about with (Head Coach) Adam (Gase) as well is improving team speed on defense. Again, the way the game is played now, it’s a little more in the passing and space, but you also still have those guys, like I said in the run game, that can hold up inside and make plays, are instinctive, can beat blocks and find plays. For us, again it’s finding guys that are productive – a good history of production, smart, intelligent and can run a little bit.”

Mike Tannenbaum:

(Where are you guys at with DE Dion Jordan right now and what kind of future do you see for him?) – “He’s still on our team. He’s still on the roster, so (there are) really no updates on what we may be doing moving forward.”

(DE Mario Williams, have you guys made any kind of decision on his future?) – “No. Again, we’re going to sit down, as (General Manager) Chris (Grier) just alluded to, the coaches have been gone on vacation and will be back at the end of this week. We’re going to sit down in earnest starting next week and from there, I think our plan will start coming together.”

Chris Grier:

(I understand that some teams have strict measurables for their draft preparation. Some teams will completely cross out a defensive back whose arm length isn’t a certain point, or a tackle whose arm length isn’t a certain point. Since I haven’t been around, do you guys have a couple of rules that you are willing to share? Or is there not that rigidness in your draft evaluation?) – “We believe in prototypes. (Executive Vice President of Football Operations) Mike (Tannenbaum) and I both started with Coach (Bill) Parcells. That was my upbringing with him and (Patriots Head) Coach (Bill) Belichick. The same with (Seahawks Head Coach) Pete Carroll and (Alabama Head Coach) Nick Saban, they’ve all had prototype standards as far as what you’re looking for. The one thing we’ve said is that there are always exceptions, but you don’t want to be a team of exceptions. You can’t be too rigid where you’re like ‘Hey, you can’t take this guy because he’s 5-foot-8 or whatever,’ but he’s a dynamic player. Then you say ‘Well, he doesn’t fit everything, so he’s out.’ I think you hurt your team by doing that. You just want to make sure that those players that are the exceptions have those rare traits or something that’s going to stand out to make sure that they have a role to contribute – a defined role – I think that’s really key. You don’t want to just take a guy that’s really small and dynamic but you don’t know where to play him. For us, we do have prototypes and standards. We believe in that; but we’re also not going to eliminate good football players.”

Mike Tannenbaum:

“I think that line was, coach would say ‘Don’t draft linebackers that come out of Volkswagens.”

(What lesson do you think both of you as an organization can learn from what the Falcons did? They’re not an organization that are too far ahead of you guys. It’s their second year with a new coaching staff. How did they get to the Super Bowl in year two?) – “For me, one of the fun parts about the job, and it’s a privilege to be sitting here, is always learning. So it’s not just from the Falcons. It’s learning from Clemson and how did they get over the hump or how did the Cleveland Cavaliers do it? That’s something we’re constantly talking about within the organization. Look, they’ve done a great job. (General Manager) Thomas Dimitroff, (Head Coach) Dan Quinn, they’ve done a great job. I think that we’re always learning, we’re always trying to get better. I’m proud of the foundation we’ve laid here and I think our future is bright, but we have a lot of work to do. When you look at those four teams that played this past weekend, they’re well coached, they’ve made difficult decisions, they’ve been opportunistic and as I alluded to earlier, I think the other thing those teams have, they all have great depth. You look at some of those players on the field, they’re not necessarily household names that were playing meaningful snaps on championship Sunday. They all deserve credit for that.”

Chris Grier:

(You guys addressed the QB Ryan Tannehill’s situation and DT Ndamukong Suh. Do you have anyone else that you’ve determined since we talked to you two weeks ago that would need surgery this offseason?) –  “I don’t think so.”

(That’s positive, then?) – “Yes.”

Mike Tannenbaum:

“I don’t think there’s anything else that’s newsworthy that we can share.”

(How do you keep this season’s – well, last season’s – momentum going? 10 wins, playoffs – that’s a great start for a new situation. How do you keep that going?) – “I think when we look back at it – and we’re still going through it – I think (Head Coach) Adam (Gase) deserves a lot of credit from this culture of accountability (of) ‘the best players will play.’ Again, I think there are countless examples, but to me, one of the more noteworthy ones is here is Jay Ajayi, who doesn’t even travel to Seattle, and he’s our team MVP. That’s rare in our sport to happen. That says a lot about Jay and his work ethic and his resiliency, and I think it says a lot about Adam and the culture of, ‘the best players will play.’ We’re going to have short memories, but guys will have to earn it. I think moving forward, our players understand that, enjoy that and know they’ll have opportunities to play. I think it’s up to us collectively to go get the best talent, pay it the appropriate way and try to put a team together that can be sustainable for a couple of years.”

Chris Grier:

(You mentioned RB Jay Ajayi – and I was thinking about this earlier – how sustainable does the organization view Ajayi’s future success? Another way to say it is how do you view how far he has come and what his future might be?) – “I think he has just scratched the surface of what he can be. I think he’ll become more patient at times and stuff. I think part of it too is the offensive line. Guys have to stay healthy. He’s adjusting to different guys in (the game) each week, a couple weeks here and stuff. With Jay, the one thing is he wants to be good; he wants to be great. He’s young, and he knows his things he can improve on. We’re excited for his future. Again, it’s (up to) us to make sure we keep surrounding (him with) good players and keep upgrading the offensive line so that we can make sure he becomes a factor for years to come.”

(How important is continuity on that offensive line? You’ve had some injuries. Some of the guys are getting up there in their thirties. But when they were together, they played well. How important is it to keep that unit together, or do you feel like you need to get some young bodies?) – “I think it’s important. Look at Atlanta. Everyone is talking about how the Falcons … I think they didn’t have an offensive lineman miss a game all year. They stayed together all year. It just shows you that if you can keep those five guys on the field together, especially our offensive line – I forget the record when they’re all on the field together – they’re like 8-1 or something, 9-1 or something like that over the last couple years. Again for us, it’s important that we can keep those guys together. But at the end of the day, we know that they may not all be here and we just have to make sure that whoever the next five guys are next season that we do our best to keep them on the field together.”

(Looking at some of the moves you guys made in the offseason – at running back last offseason. Did RB Jay Ajayi significantly exceed what your evaluation of him was?) – “We always thought Jay was a good player. If you remember when (Head Coach) Adam (Gase) got here, he was going to be the starter. He said he was the starter. The one thing we always talked about is it was a really young room with Damien (Williams) and then (Kenyan) Drake. So, we were looking for a veteran guy that could come in and be a mentor. When we met with Arian Foster, we spent a lot of time talking to him. We told him, we said, ‘You’re going to be a 10-carry guy, 15 (carries), catch four or five balls a game, but we’re going to play these young guys, too.’ To his credit, that was the role he was coming in (to). He wasn’t coming in to be a workhorse again, and he understood that. He and Adam hit it off and everything was good. We were just hoping that he could teach them how to be a pro in terms of preparation, studying and doing everything right. From that aspect, Arian was great with the guys. When he decided to retire, all the guys – the running backs – were shocked. I think Drake and all those guys were thinking about working out with him in the offseason. So, it became a close room. I think Arian played a big part in helping those guys grow up fast.”

Mike Tannenbaum:

“The other thing too from a running back standpoint, if you look at Adam’s history when he has been a play caller, the backs have all been productive in the passing game, and that has been a critical factor for us is the running back’s ability to catch the ball. (Jay) Ajayi – going back to Boise (State) – was able to do that. And obviously, Kenyan (Drake) and Damien (Williams) both have that ability, so we feel good about that; but moving forward from a personnel standpoint, that’s always going to be a critical factor in terms of being able to play in the passing game.”

(What’s your vision for G/T Laremy Tunsil moving into Year 2? He had success at left guard. Do you feel like that’s a good position for him right now, or do you think he’s ready to move out to that left tackle spot?) – “I think we’re thrilled that we have him and we have that flexibility. We have to assess a few other variables obviously, but the fact that Laremy had so many plays – so many games – all under his belt is great. Obviously, he played in the SEC at a high level at left tackle, so the fact that he has that ability gives us a lot of comfort.”

Chris Grier:

(WR Kenny Stills was talking about how much he wants to be back. How essential do you view him to what you guys were doing this year offensively?) – “Kenny is an important part. (We) traded for him before I was in this role – (Executive Vice President of Football Operations) Mike (Tannenbaum) traded for him – and he showed the value the second half of the year. He made a lot of big plays for us. It’s a young group of receivers. Those guys all bring a different skill set, so it’s a good group. It’s important for us to bring him back. We’d like to have him back. It’s his right to test the market and see what he can get, but we’d like to have him back.”

Mike Tannenbaum:

(One of the criticisms about this regime – I’m not sure if it pre-dates you, Mike Tannenbaum – is that you guys don’t accurately assess what the market is for free agents when they do hit the market and make fair offers before they hit the market. How do you feel about that criticism and is there something that you are doing to try to address it?) –  “Again, philosophically, starting with (Chairman of the Board/Managing General Partner) Steve (Ross), (Head Coach) Adam (Gase) and (General Manager) Chris (Grier), we want to keep our own. We’re never going to bat 1.000. The system just is not set up for it. We’ve been able to extend some players before I started – some like Mike Pouncey or Ryan Tannehill we were able to do – but candidly, you can’t keep them all. We understand that and acknowledge that. We’ve studied it hard and we try to come up with offers that are fair, but knowing that – as Chris just said – these guys earned the right (to be free agents) and some are going to do extremely well in free agency and we totally understand that. Sometimes they don’t. That doesn’t nearly get the attention as the ones that do. We’re going to prioritize them. We’re going to try to keep our own the best we can. We’ll continue to do that and hopefully if we’re sitting here in August, not only have we kept some of our own but hopefully we’re also talking about two or three meaningful extensions of guys that are prospective free agents heading into 2018 because that’s something that again is going to be really important to us.”

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