According to Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the Miami Dolphins released veteran corner Richard Marshall on Tuesday. The move leaves the Dolphins' corner unit with veterans Brent Grimes, Dimitri Patterson and Nolan Carroll, as well as rookies Will Davis and Jamar Taylor.
The move comes as a surprise to many who saw Richard Marshall as a potential starter opposite Brent Grimes. Marshall had previously been competing with Dimitri Patterson for that honor. Apparently in the eyes of the coaches, Patterson won.
Dolphins fans and media alike are left guessing at the reasons behind the dismissal, with more than a few concerns for how this will affect the team's coverage in 2013.
I do not share those concerns, nor am I that surprised by the move.
When the Dolphins first signed Richard Marshall in the 2012 offseason, I immediately dug into recordings of his previous work with the Arizona Cardinals in 2011 as well as his work with the Carolina Panthers in 2010. I had a number of concerns about his coverage abilities as a perimeter corner. Despite decent timed speed, he was vulnerable to the deep vertical.
When he moved inside to the slot on nickel packages, which he did consistently both with the Cardinals and the Panthers, he was much better. Slot corners tend to be more well protected against the deep ball, and he could use his quick hips, instincts and physicality to the fullest.
During the 2011 season, he added a new ability to his repertoire. The Cardinals tried him as a safety in nickel and dime packages, as well as some base packages. He took to the new responsibilities very naturally; he was an accomplished tackler, had quick hips and a good nose for the football.
It was there, at free safety, that I initially thought Richard Marshall would make his home with the Miami Dolphins. I believed that as a versatile player, he could come down from his safety spot and play corner against slot receivers in nickel packages.
The Dolphins disagreed with my assessment.
They made Marshall a starter, demoting Vontae Davis initially to nickel corner and eventually trading him off the roster. This made Richard Marshall primarily a perimeter corner on base downs, occasionally moving inside in nickel packages.
The results were predictably less than spectacular. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Marshall spent 145 snaps in coverage, allowing 14 of 23 passes to be completed on him for a total of 207 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Additionally, Marshall accumulated four penalties, though one was waived by the opposing team. Two of the penalties came in the end zone, which resulted in the opposing offense starting with a 1st-and-goal from the one-yard line.
It would not be terribly inaccurate to say he was responsible for allowing four touchdowns in only four games.
The details only supported my initial conclusions on Marshall's strengths and weaknesses. Using data from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), we can determine that he played 48 snaps from the slot, allowing only three completions for 28 yards on those snaps. On the boundary, he allowed 11 catches for 179 yards on the remaining 97 snaps.
That means he allowed slightly less than 0.6 yards per coverage snap from the slot, and over 1.8 yards per coverage snap from the boundary.
This data was in line with previous data on Richard Marshall. Though it is impossible to isolate Marshall's boundary data from Pro Football Focus due to his unusual usage as a safety, we can isolate his data from the slot. On 144 coverage snaps, he allowed 11 catches for 152 yards on 23 attempts. He also had an interception and did not allow a touchdown.
From 2008 to 2010 with the Carolina Panthers, once again using Pro Football Focus' data (subscription required), we find that Marshall spent 954 snaps in coverage from the slot. He allowed only 971 yards receiving on 102 catches and 152 total attempts. He allowed five touchdown passes and picked off four passes. On the boundary he played 464 snaps, was targeted 91 times in coverage and allowed 69 catches for 748 yards and six touchdowns with four interceptions.
In the slot, he allowed 1.02 yards per coverage snap, a 67 percent completion, and 6.4 yards per attempt. On the perimeter, he allowed 1.61 yards per coverage snap, a 76 percent completion, and 8.2 yards per attempt.
It's no wonder he had such poor results in 2012 when the Dolphins attempted to use him as a starter on the boundary.
The flags he drew in Miami may not have been coincidental, either. Using raw data from Pro Football Focus, I was able to determine that out of 136 corners who took at least 1,000 cumulative snaps from 2008 through 2012, Richard Marshall ranked No. 19 in terms of penalty flags per snap.
According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, the Dolphins gave him $3.5 million in signing bonus as well as a fully guaranteed 2012 base salary of $2.5 million. They also gave him $100,000 in workout bonuses.
In return, he gave the team four games, arguably four touchdowns directly allowed, four penalty flags and one interception. According to Spotrac, the Dolphins save $9.9 million in salary and workout bonus obligations for the 2013 and 2014 seasons by releasing Marshall.
With the new rules enacted in the latest collective bargaining agreement, any remaining cap space the team has underneath the 2013 salary cap (which will include salary that the team no longer has to pay Marshall) can be rolled forward into the 2014 salary cap as a credit. Therefore, a dollar saved in 2013 equates to a dollar saved in 2014 and beyond.
In this way, it is wise of the Dolphins to view the salary cap on a longer-term basis. The $4.55 million they save in 2013 alone by cutting Marshall equates to $4.55 million that can be freely spent in 2014 or beyond on some other player.
The next relevant question becomes whether the Dolphins have the ability to replace Richard Marshall on the roster.
That is where the presence of 2012 waiver claim Dimitri Patterson becomes so interesting.
Dimitri Patterson played mostly as a slot corner with the Cleveland Browns in 2011 and 2012. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he played 448 snaps in the slot during those years (including his time with the Miami Dolphins), allowed 38 catches on 72 attempts for 411 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions.
On the boundary he played 177 snaps, allowing 32 catches on 54 attempts for 362 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions.
In the slot, he allowed 0.92 yards per coverage snap, a 53 percent completion and 5.7 yards per attempt. On the perimeter, he allowed 2.05 yards per coverage snap, a 59 percent completion and 6.7 yards per attempt.
Further, going back to the previous study tracking corner penalty flags from 2008 through 2012, he ranked No. 8 of 136 corners in flags per snap. He is also prone to getting flagged by the officials.
Essentially, Dimitri Patterson has the same strength-weakness profile as Richard Marshall. This is one reason I continually advocated during the offseason that the Dolphins should choose which corner they like best and release the other one in order to save the money against the salary cap.
The missing piece of the puzzle would be whether the Dolphins can count on adequate boundary coverage from Nolan Carroll, Jamar Taylor or Will Davis.
I cannot speak to the rookies, as they have a lot to prove in the NFL. However, I can say that Nolan Carroll in 2012 was not quite as bad as most believe. He certainly became flustered against the Buffalo Bills in Week 11, accumulating a staggering four penalty flags. But according to Pro Football Focus, on 415 coverage snaps he allowed 41 catches on 72 attempts for 497 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Those numbers, which admittedly could be a little misleading, are actually good on a league-comparative basis. He spent about 98 percent of those coverage snaps on the perimeter.
Do the Dolphins agree with me on Dimitri Patterson's strengths and weaknesses as a corner? We do not know yet. They certainly disagreed with my assessment of Richard Marshall's strengths, weaknesses and usage a year ago.
I disagreed with their usage of rookie Olivier Vernon as a pass-rush specialist at defensive end, as my evaluation of him coming out of college led to the conclusion that he was unprepared to rush the passer from the outside effectively. I also disagreed with their usage of Jared Odrick as a defensive end in base personnel packages.
Suffice it to say, I do not always see eye to eye with the Dolphins' coaches.
However, if you ask me whether I believe the Dolphins made a mistake by releasing Richard Marshall from service in 2013 and 2014, I am inclined to answer that the Dolphins rather took a step in rectifying a previous mistake.