The Miami Dolphins have a visit scheduled on Thursday with 32-year-old free agent wide receiver Nate Burleson according to numerous reports. That is curious on many levels and has subsequently led to speculation on the part of Dolphins faithful.
Why would Miami have any interest in a 32-year-old receiver (turns 33 in August) who has played just 15 games over the past two seasons with 701 yards to show for it? Perhaps Burleson’s potential locker room presence is what the Dolphins covet. Perhaps, as some have speculated, the Dolphins are merely doing Burleson’s agent a favor in order to generate interest for his client.
Considering the Dolphins’ recent spike in free agency interest and activity, particularity at the wide receiver position, something else appears to be up. Miami signed receivers Kevin Cone and Mike Rios on Wednesday. The team also visited and worked out with free agent receivers Lestar Jean and J.D. Woods. But those are all young pass catchers who project to fill out the training camp roster while potentially factoring into the competition for the club’s fifth and likely final opening at the position.
Burleson, on the other hand, is of a different mold. He’s an accomplished veteran who would be expected to have some role on the team when September arrives. With such a deep draft class at receiver, one would conjecture that the Dolphins should be in no hurry to add receivers considering the quality prospects who will likely be available on the draft’s third day and potentially on the undrafated market.
Signing Burleson — if that comes to pass (still big IF) — would indicate that the Dolphins feel the need to bolster their receiver corps is too pressing to wait. And, in my humble opinion, that would be troubling news for a current member of the Dolphins’ rotation.
No, not Mike Wallace, who the Dolphins are rumored to be interested in trading. Besides Wallace being virtually unmovable given his $17.25 million cap hit in 2014, Burleson is primarily a slot receiver at this stage of his career who has no business replacing a true No. 1.
Brian Hartline is paid a pretty penny despite having limitations as a starter. But he’s a boundary receiver as well, and his excellent chemistry with quarterback Ryan Tannehill isn’t something the Dolphins have interest in parting ways with. Rishard Matthews, who ended the season as the Miami’s starting slot receiver, only accounts for a $583,403 cap charge in 2014 and showed enough promise as a second-year player to keep investing in.
That leaves Brandon Gibson. The 26-year-old receiver was in the midst of an impressive first seven games in 2013 before tearing his left patellar tendon. Although he accumulated 326 yards and three touchdowns in September and October, the fall off when Matthews replaced him in the lineup wasn’t significant.
Matthews is younger, cheaper and arguably has a higher ceiling than Gibson. But what would signing Burleson have to do with either of the two?
If the Dolphins have decided to cut Gibson, which would save $1.735 million of cap space, they would likely be in search of another veteran presence to add to the corps. While Matthews flashed plenty of potential during his sophomore season, he’s still relatively unproven. Moving forward with him as the starting slot would be somewhat of a risk.
Then again, maybe interest in Burleson has nothing to do with insurance for Matthews. Maybe it has something to do with an injured player suffering a setback. Gibson would once again be a likely culprit in that scenario considering the nasty leg injury he suffered last season.
If Gibson’s recovery isn’t going as planned, Burleson would be a capable stopgap solution while Miami determines if Matthews is the real deal. Of course, Hartline is recovering from an injury as well — a PCL tear he suffered in Week 17 — but the Dolphins have been adamant in recent days that his rehabilitation has him on track to be 100 percent by training camp.
It’s difficult to speculate much further until the Dolphins decide if they actually want to sign Burleson at the conclusion of his visit. But even mere interest in a veteran slot receiver suggests the Dolphins have reservations about paying Gibson $2.7 million in 2014.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.