Dolphins take on risk with Culliver

Aug 10, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins cornerback Chris Culliver speaks with the media after practice at Baptist Health Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 10, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins cornerback Chris Culliver speaks with the media after practice at Baptist Health Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

The Dolphins signed Chris Culliver to help out with their injury-riddled cornerback situation. With an injury history himself, Culliver will start off on the PUP list.

On Tuesday, the Dolphins and free agent CB Chris Culliver reached an agreement for one season, worth up to $5 million. Culliver has spent four seasons in the NFL after being drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in 2011. He spent his first four seasons in San Fran, although he played in only three, before signing a four-year deal worth $32 million with the Washington Redskins last off-season.

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Culliver enjoyed a good tenure during his time with the 49ers but had a forgettable year in his lone season with Washington. He was suspended for one game for violation of the NFL’s personal conduct policy and then later tore his ACL and MCL, ending his season. Culliver played in just six games for the Redskins, recording only 16 tackles and no interceptions. His ACL tear last season was the second in his career after missing the entire 2013 season.

The Dolphins need help at the cornerback position in the worst way but taking on Culliver is a big risk even for them. Dolphins cornerbacks have had a tough time staying healthy so far during the teams’ training camp. Bringing in a guy who has already torn his ACL twice in his short career brings a red flag to a position that is already thin as it is.

The Redskins didn’t need to worry about Culliver having a bounce-back season, and frankly, lost interest in the idea after their big signing of Josh Norman. The acquisition of Norman made Culliver expendable in their eyes, who would have counted for over $9 million against the cap had he remained on the team. The Dolphins signed Culliver with the belief that he can have a bounce-back year similar to the one he had in 2014.

After Culliver missed the entire 2013 season from his first ACL injury, he bounced back to have his best season yet. Culliver finished 2014 with 45 tackles, 15 pass deflections, and 7 interceptions, in 14 games. His impressive comeback combined with his overall success in San Francisco led to his big payday in Washington.

Shortly after making the signing official, the Dolphins placed Culliver on the PUP list to continue rehabbing his knee. Culliver could be made active fairly quickly and will have plenty of time to compete for a starting position, but it bares to question why the Dolphins signed Culliver at all.

Culliver has the experience and will primarily compete with rookie Xavien Howard for the starting cornerback position opposite of Byron Maxwell. To be clear, there’s no doubting of Culliver’s abilities and he’s a necessary upgrade over other Dolphins cornerbacks like Tony Lippett, Chimdi Chekwa, and Al Louis-Jean. Head coach Adam Gase, in fact, was very happy with the news:

While Culliver surely has the skills to come in and compete, injuries at the cornerback position have derailed the Dolphins in training camp. Howard started camp on the PUP list and is losing valuable practice time as a rookie. The Dolphins cut Ifo Ekpre-Olomu earlier this week after tearing his ACL in practice. Ekpre-Olomu also tore the ACL in his other knee while in college. Chekwa was seeing first-team reps in practice before, he too, went down with a leg injury. It seems puzzling that Miami would bring in a guy with a history of the very thing they’re trying to fix.

The Dolphins have spent much of the off-season in search for help on the corners. They completed the trade that netted them Maxwell back in March but elected to cut veteran Brent Grimes shortly after. Cutting Grimes was deemed the right decision, particularly since Grimes’ wife, Miko, had blasted the team on multiple occasions. Since then, however, Miami has looked long and hard to fill the void he left.

Miami had been linked to veteran free agents Leon Hall and Antonio Cromartie for most of the off-season. Contrary to some reports though, it appears that the Dolphins simply weren’t interested in either player. Many Dolphins fans believed that the team would eventually sign Hall, who has a long history with Miami’s new defensive coordinator, Vance Joseph. The pairing never happened, however, and Hall has since signed a contract with the New York Giants. Cromartie is still currently a free agent, but it looks as though the Dolphins are pointing to both player’s ages (both over 30) as reasoning for their lack of interest.

Culliver will turn 28 next week and his contract with Miami is a team-friendly deal but his injury history makes it a huge risk right out of the gate. Signing players with injury histories seems to be a common theme these days for Miami. The Dolphins and the fan base are crossing their fingers that this risk is worth the reward.

If Culliver can stay healthy and flash around like the player he was in San Francisco, then it’s winner, winner, chicken dinner for Miami. Dolphins fans should feel cautiously optimistic about Culliver’s signing. He’s a good signing for them, but should he re-injure his knee or suffer a setback at any moment, you can then expect Miami to quickly cut him similar to how they did Ekpre-Olomu. If that happens, the Dolphins will be back to square one without a lot of options going forward.