On Tuesday, the Miami Dolphins picked up the fifth-year option on center Mike Pouncey‘s rookie contract, assuring that he’ll remain with the club through the 2015 season.
Citing Pouncey’s first Pro Bowl berth this past year, most fans and media members are under the impression that the move was a no-brainer. However, Pro Bowls are no accurate barometer of success and Pouncey might not be worthy of receiving top dollar at his position — at least not yet.
The Dolphins are now scheduled to pay Pouncey a base salary of $7.438 million in 2015, which will be less than only what Alex Mack will accrue with the Cleveland Browns at center. But, despite being named an all-star, Pouncey hasn’t played on the elite level said salary will indicate.
Paying a very good center, which Pouncey certainly has been, elite money for only one season isn’t an egregious error and there is ample time for Miami and Pouncey to come to terms on a multiyear extension. But the problem — at least from the Dolphins’ perspective — is that Pouncey can now use his north of $7 million salary in 2015 as leverage in contract negotiations.
Once he’s on track to be paid like an elite center, he’s not going to accept being compensated like anything less. And with a Pro Bowl appearance, which has rightfully or wrongfully bolstered his reputation, now under his belt, Pouncey has all the ammunition he needs to demand a contract that rivals Alex Mack’s deal in Cleveland.
The Browns matched Mack’s five-year, $42 million offer sheet from the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason. With an annual salary of $8.4 million, Mack is the league’s highest-paid center by far. Some of the NFL‘s most reliable left tackles make less.
Is Pouncey worthy of a salary in that ballpark? Not according to Pro Football Focus, which slotted Pouncey as the NFL’s 13th-most efficient center in 2013. Considering 32 centers start at one time, ranking 13th — slightly above average — is leaving something to be desired as a former first-round pick.
While the site tabbed Pouncey as the league’s top pass-blocking center, the -2.4 run blocking grade — down from +10.1 in 2012 — it handed him was only good enough for 21st. At center, the ability to pave holes for the running game is arguably of greater value because the most dangerous quarterback hunters typically rush from the edge where tackles usually don’t have support on both sides like interior players do.
Pouncey has routinely showcased the ability to get to the second level in a quick, explosive manner, but he struggled some when attempting to generate a strong push up front this past season. Pouncey’s abysmal supporting cast undoubtedly impeded his effectiveness to a degree.
It’s difficult to excel in the zone blocking scheme with a heavy-footed guard to the right and left of the center. Due to the incessant leakage from lapses at the other four spots, Pouncey wasn’t able to pull and trap as frequently as an athlete of his caliber ideally should.
Don’t forget the gallbladder infection Pouncey played with down the stretch, either. He was forced to sit out two games in November and had to exhibit remarkable pain tolerance attempting to return to full strength when he rejoined the lineup.
With a revamped offensive line and better health, Pouncey could have his best season to date in 2014. His ceiling remains high enough that becoming an elite player in the near future is plausible. Contrary to perception, though, he’s yet to solidify himself as such. And if he doesn’t in 2014, one could argue he won’t be worth the $7.438 million he’s slatted for in 2015 or any potential elite-money extension.
It should be noted that Pouncey could still face a suspension by the league for his role in the team’s infamous bullying scandal. Despite that concern, the Dolphins are committed to Pouncey through at least 2015. The issue isn’t expected to factor into Miami’s decision to extend Pouncey or not if nothing else arises.
None of this is to say Pouncey is an overrated talent, wasn’t worthy of the No. 15 overall pick in 2011 or shouldn’t be apart of Miami’s long-term plans. He’s only 24 years old, after all, and still possesses the potential to become one of the league’s most dominant interior linemen.
He just has plenty left to prove — at least if he wants his play to mirror his eventual price tag.
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