TAMPA, Fla. — With the Miami Dolphins expected to sit quarterback Tua Tagovailoa for Saturday’s preseason opener, Thursday’s joint training camp practice was Tagovailoa’s last chance for a while to get on the same page with tight end Mike Gesicki.
And in an encouraging development for Gesicki, Tagovailoa actually looked his way Thursday multiple times in the red zone — with Gesicki catching one thrown to him (a holding penalty negated the touchdown) and dropping another.
The curious case of Mike Gesicki
In a normal year, that play-by-play breakdown would be a throwaway line at the end of a broader story. But this is no normal year.
Gesicki is playing under the franchise tag (a designation with which he’s not entirely thrilled), and he’s playing in a new offense that, up until this point, has not exactly featured the tight end position.
Gesicki has gone entire practices this summer without even being targeted in 11-on-11 reps — an unthinkable development just six months ago. Since the start of the 2019 season, no Dolphins player has had more catches (177) than Gesicki.
But with the arrival of McDaniel, Tyreek Hill, and Cedrick Wilson, he’s probably been the team’s No. 4 option in the passing game through the first two weeks of camp.
Prior to Thursday’s practice, PFN asked McDaniel why that was.
“The tight end position in particular in our offense, we try not to force any behavior. We try to exploit the defense where they’re most vulnerable. You can go down the stat line of George Kittle if you wanted, where he’ll have, I think, the game before and after, one that he set a record for like the most — he was like five yards away from setting the game record for a tight end of receiving yards in the first half against the Broncos, and then the next week, I think he might have had two catches or whatever.
“It’s something that we’ve talked to the tight ends about at length — it comes in waves. There have been practices where he’s got seven or eight … he had more targets maybe Practice 7 — it was 7 or 8 — than Tyreek had. It’s just one of those things that you try in the game of football, especially when you are a pass receiver at any position, to really focus on what you can control. You can’t control the defenses. You can’t control the progression. You can’t control the pass rush.
“There are a lot of times where he’s No. 1 in the progression and maybe the right guard or something whiffs on the three-technique. So it’s not something really to look into, it’s more executing your job. I think the tight ends as a whole, and Mike, in general, is confident that when the defense is vulnerable, we’ll find a way to exploit that with his pass skills. But right now, we’re just football players trying to be football players.”
Is Gesicki playing his final year for Dolphins?
Gesicki is no ordinary football player, however. He’s one of the 10 best pass-catching tight ends in the league. And he’s a guy who wants a contract extension — either from the Dolphins or someone else. If his usage craters in 2022, his stats will too. And that won’t help his case whenever it is he reaches the free agent market.
That dynamic can be corrosive, which is why we asked McDaniel if he felt he had to talk to Gesicki about it prior to the start of camp.
“We discussed it. I didn’t have to have a talk. It’s more big-picture, what do you really want? Really, if you’re trying to be on a really good offense in general, it is — there are probably good playmakers, so the ball is going to be distributed. The most efficient offenses that I’ve found have pretty equitable ball distribution because that’s what really — defenses, if they lock in on something, they get paid too, but that gives them vulnerability somewhere else.
“So understanding that everyone’s success helps build more success for people. The more that Tyreek and Jaylen [Waddle] and the running backs and other receivers do well, the more favorable the matchups are for the tight ends and vice versa.”
Gesicki is determined not to let his contract situation be a distraction — even if he correctly noted a couple of weeks back that those who did this offseason largely got paid.
But unless his role jumps significantly, it’s fair to wonder what his future is with the team — and if he has one at all. The Dolphins drafted a would-be replacement in Hunter Long in 2021, and at $10.9 million in guaranteed salary, Gesicki would be an awfully expensive decoy in 2022.
That said, the Dolphins would be foolish to purge talent from their roster, and unless someone completely wows them with a trade offer, they probably won’t.
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