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Mike Gesicki
Miami Dolphins

Should Dolphins Re-Sign Mike Gesicki? It’s An Ultra-Complicated Decision

  • Kyle Crabbs
  • February 10, 2022
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The Miami Dolphins can boast quite the string of offensive struggles over their recent history. They extend well beyond the last three years of a Brian Flores-coached football team that seemed to struggle to ever find their groove with the ball, too—Miami has not posted a top-10 scoring offense since 2001 and has not logged a top-10 offense in yards since 1995, Don Shula’s final season as the team’s coach. But even aside from a lack of elite offenses, Miami has been lucky to claim “good” ones or “above average” ones at that. The Dolphins’ 404 points scored in 2020 was just the fourth occasion in franchise history in which the team surpassed 400 points and the first since 1986. Which seemingly makes the decision that looms for tight end Mike Gesicki relatively straightforward, no?  On an offense that doesn’t lay claim to a lot of success and desperately needs continued investments to get right, Gesicki is one of the few standout players who has been capable of pulling his weight (and then some) for the Dolphins over the last three seasons. And with a new, offensive-minded coach now in the fray via the team’s new hire of Mike McDaniel from San Francisco, one would seemingly be ready to assume that Gesicki, who is an expiring contract and set to hit free agency, is at or near the top of the team’s offseason priorities.  The former Penn State product struggled greatly as a rookie in 2018 when Adam Gase felt it was appropriate to use the flex tight end in pass protection for one of every five snaps the rookie took that season. The three years since? Steady growth in production and a clear ability to make impact plays in the passing game. 
  • 2019: 51 receptions, 570 yards, 5 touchdowns
  • 2020: 53 receptions, 703 yards, 6 touchdowns
  • 2021: 73 receptions, 780 yards, 2 touchdowns
What is clear is that Gesicki can be a productive mismatch threat at the NFL level. Yet, the contract extension talk has been mysteriously quiet in the build-up to Gesicki’s expiring contract. And with free agency just about a month away, the clock is ticking for the Dolphins to hammer out a deal before open season begins. That is, of course, assuming they want to.  Why would they not, when Gesicki and rookie wide receiver Jaylen Waddle were the team’s best options by far in the passing game this past season?  For starters, this is a player that doesn’t come without some questions in regard to his role, scheme versatility, and implementation. Gesicki isn’t a player who fits the traditional tight end model and he’s effectively served as a wide receiver first and foremost for the Dolphins—and while that’s okay, it does pose some challenges for teams looking to capitalize on one of the biggest appeals that tight ends have to offer in today’s game: creating mismatches based off personnel groupings.  Gesicki’s implementation over the past several years has fallen predominantly as a slot receiver, but even his usage isolated on the perimeter as a boundary receiver is challenging the reps that he’s taking with his hand in the dirt.
  • 2019: 461 snaps in the slot (66%), 78 snaps aligned outside (11%), 159 snaps in-line (23%)
  • 2020: 365 snaps in the slot (59%), 133 snaps aligned outside (21%), 122 snaps in-line (20%)
  • 2021: 453 snaps in the slot (56%), 252 snaps aligned outside (31%), 99 snaps in-line (13%)
The steady development of Gesicki as a detached member of the passing game has allowed him to steadily increase his production and maximize his role, but his presence doesn’t always pose a challenge to opposing defenses to solve with their personnel.  The Dolphins led the NFL in 12-personnel groupings in 2021 with a rate of 61% of offensive plays 669 snaps). No other team in the league was remotely close. The Dolphins ran 12-personnel at a rate that was more than double that of the next closest team (Green Bay at 29%) and nearly three times the rate of the NFL average for 2021 (21%). But Miami’s 12-personnel was often just 11-personnel, given that Gesicki only played 13% of his snaps with his hand in the dirt. The appeal to the receiving tight end mismatches across the league lies in their ability to present multiple layers to opposing coaches. Do we stay in base and risk them getting matched up on linebackers in the middle of the field? Do we play in big nickel to get an extra safety on the field and hope we can fit the run effectively?  Miami’s 12-personnel grouping didn’t present those challenges because Gesicki spent 87% of his snaps detached from the set as either a crack blocker in the run game (an area where he’s seen improvement but certainly not something we should consider a strength) or as a pass-catcher. And because Gesicki didn’t present those challenges, one of the subliminal values of his potential as a player has been stripped away.  This is, of course, not to say Gesicki isn’t still an impact player. And in an offense that features him in more ways than how Miami did down the stretch in 2021, where he was either running Y-cross or serving as an early progression in the flat to Tua Tagovailoa’s throwing side in many of Miami’s RPO concepts that charged Gesicki with running horizontally and not vertically, he can absolutely challenge you. In his bid to get paid, you can be sure his representation will be using that point to build an argument that there’s meat left on the bone. They’ll also likely point to Gesicki’s utilization (with only 13% of his snaps played in-line) to suggest that Gesicki is really a wide receiver. Why would they not, considering the tight end franchise tag value for this past year was less than 2/3rds that of the wide receiver value?  You can quickly see how the simple question of “should Miami pay Gesicki a second contract?” suddenly has a lot of contextual data weighing on the decision.  Gesicki will likely look for wide receiver money because, well, he’s been used as a wide receiver. And because he’s been used as a wide receiver, the biggest personnel appeal that he offers as a tight end has been mitigated. And because his biggest personnel appeal has been mitigated, he’s suddenly of less value to Miami because he’s a less dynamic route-runner and separator than many of the other options the Dolphins could implement if they decided to simply run true 11-personnel.  Among qualifying tight ends on Next Gen Stats over the last three years, Gesicki has ranked near the bottom in yards of separation on targets. 
  • 2019: 2.6 yards of separation (26th out of 32 qualifying tight ends)
  • 2020: 2.0 yards of separation (34th out of 34 qualifying tight ends, third-worst among all pass-catchers)
  • 2021: 2.8 yards of separation (25th out of 29 qualifying tight ends)
Granted, some of this is usage and routes run, but a tight end who is actually a receiver that separates better than only a handful of actual tight ends is quite the quandary.  Round and round we go. Will anyone blink? Nobody knows.  Here’s what we do know. Miami will have an opportunity to be strategic with whatever decision they come to. Perhaps with McDaniel now at the helm, the team assessment of Gesicki softens from what appeared to be a hard line in the sand when Flores ran the operation—the team drafted tight end Hunter Long in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft despite Gesicki’s presence and growth, presumably to brace for potential life after Gesicki.  McDaniel’s first major hire is a big one. Jon Embree joins the staff as the tight ends coach and assistant head coach after five seasons in San Francisco holding the same role. Embree has coached successful tight ends of all different kinds of archetypes: Tony Gonzalez, George Kittle, Jordan Cameron (probably the closest to Gesicki), and Chris Cooley. He also helped develop Cameron Brate for three seasons in Tampa Bay from 2014-2016.  What that means for Gesicki is hard to say—only McDaniel, Embree, and general manager Chris Grier will know what conclusion they come to in the month ahead. But if the assessment comes back that Gesicki needs to be locked in for the team’s future long-term, the Dolphins will have their work cut out for them.  Gesicki’s camp will leverage his 87% usage detached from the set as an argument to log upper-echelon tight end money from the team. Fellow 2018 second-round tight end Dallas Goedert just got four years and $57M from the Philadelphia Eagles. That value is third among current tight end contracts and averages $14.25M APY. His career numbers through four seasons are nearly identical to Gesicki’s. 
  • Goedert: 193 receptions, 2,295 yards, 16 touchdowns
  • Gesicki: 199 receptions, 2,255 yards, 13 touchdowns
Expect that $14M+ APY baseline to be a centerpiece of any negotiations. But the Dolphins would be well within their rights to question whether Gesicki’s hybrid role warrants such a price tag. After all, he’s a tight end by classification only, not in reality. Should the Dolphins feel that the lost value of mystery around Gesicki’s implementation as a “tight end” prices him above their comfortability, the team will have a chance to counter with the ultimate trump card in today’s CBA: the franchise tag.  The projected value of a tight end franchise tag in 2022 is $11M fully guaranteed for the season ahead, $7.5M less than the projected value of a wide receiver ($18.5M). And while Gesicki’s camp could easily contest that he deserves the latter designation, we haven’t had a strong track record of NFL players successfully fighting that battle with the league.  Remember Jimmy Graham? Graham fought this same battle in 2014 and was ruled a tight end by an arbitrator, negating the chance to recoup an extra $5M on his own franchise tag with the New Orleans Saints that year. Granted, Graham’s in-line usage was still significantly higher than Gesicki over Graham’s own three final seasons ahead of the tag. 
  • 2011: 48% of snaps in-line, 52% of snaps detached
  • 2012: 28% of snaps in-line, 72% of snaps detached
  • 2013: 43% of snaps in-line, 57% of snaps detached
Assuming an arbitrator comes to the same conclusion with Gesicki (who has two seasons of the last three with in-line usage sitting in the 20% range), the Dolphins can flex their leverage and then make a decision on how to proceed. If the team feels strongly that they’d like to find a more suitable answer as the primary tight end and wants their receivers to offer more dynamic play, they can transition away from Gesicki via trade and try to get an immediate return for his services.  Given that the Dolphins enter this offseason No. 1 in cap space, it is hard to imagine the team netting a compensatory pick for Gesicki in 2023 by letting him walk out the door. If he walks, he walks and the Dolphins have nothing to show for it. And given the cap flexibility the Dolphins currently possess, that outcome is an unacceptable one to come to.  Gesicki very clearly offers value to the right kind of offense, be it in Miami under McDaniel and Embree or elsewhere across the league. And Miami, even if they don’t intend on retaining Gesicki, should keep that in mind amid the next 30 days or so until the opening of the new league year.  Unless, of course, an arbitrator sides with Gesicki and grants him the projected $18.5M wide receiver tag value. Then all bets are off.  So should Miami lock in Gesicki with a second contract? It’s hard to say… which is probably why we’ve seen the lack of traction on this front thus far.

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Kyle Crabbs