TAMPA — Where exactly is this headed?
Does Mike Gesicki fit the Dolphins’ plans or doesn’t he?
Are his obvious shortcomings as a blocker such that the Dolphins have fallen out of love with his even more obvious skills as a receiver?
Is it only a matter of time before he, coach Mike McDaniel and general manager Chris Grier have a long, rather uncomfortable talk?
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All these questions and more simmer with each day of Dolphins training camp.
Gesicki had a role in two plays during Thursday’s joint practice with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They shouldn’t have been notable, but so many practices have come and gone when you had to remind yourself No. 88 was still around, it’s now news when footballs are flying his way.
How can you be a team’s franchise player if you’re barely playing a role in the franchise? (That question applied to both teams Thursday, since the face of the Bucs, Tom Brady, oddly decided it was a good time to begin a hiatus of about 10 days.)
The longer Gesicki’s inactivity continues, the more you wonder whether the Dolphins tagged him as a bargaining chip, retaining his rights until the right trade offer comes along. Meantime, the tag costs $10.9 million.
Gesicki isn’t one to publicly complain
At least publicly, Gesicki always has voiced the company line. He has never popped off about demanding the ball more and it would be a shock if he starts now. He says he’s working hard to improve his blocking and coaches echo that.
But there’s no getting around that the Dolphins are putting a higher premium on tight ends’ ability to block than they ever have since Gesicki arrived. It’s an important element of the wide-zone system McDaniel wants to run.
Thursday, McDaniel sought to defuse the situation by pointing out that when he was in San Francisco, there were games in which George Kittle saw little of the ball and, naturally, plenty of others when he did.
“It’s something that we’ve talked to the tight ends about at length,” McDaniel said. “It comes in waves.”
The waves are breaking differently now. Jaylen Waddle is going to get his catches. So, too, are three newcomers. Tyreek Hill certainly is going to get his. It would be a mistake to shortchange Cedrick Wilson and rookie Erik Ezukanma’s potential in this offense.
It also would be a mistake to forget the many catches Gesicki can make that other tight ends can’t. If his career arc continues the way it has his first four seasons, Gesicki should have in the neighborhood of 850 receiving yards in 2022. Only seven tight ends surpassed his 780 total of 2021.
Mike McDaniel: Look at the bigger picture
For now, McDaniel is appealing to Gesicki’s team-first nature.
“It’s more big-picture,” McDaniel said. “What do you really want? Really, if you’re trying to be on a really good offense in general, 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.”
What’s equitable for the Dolphins ought to be equitable for Gesicki. He has earned that right. Hill knows, having come over from Kansas City, where he played alongside one of the best tight ends ever, Travis Kelce.
“It’s definitely important,” Hill said of having a threat at tight end to take heat off wide receivers. “You know, that’s why I’m always in Mike’s ear. Like next time y’all are interviewing him, just ask him: ‘How aggravating is Tyreek?’ Like, literally ask him that question. And he’ll tell you, ‘Man, Tyreek is like literally in my ear all the time about the greatest tight end, the greatest tight end.’
“And I tell him all the time, man, like Kelce was my best friend on the Kansas City Chiefs. We hung out together. You know, we did a lot of things together. So I told him, I need that same relationship with him. Like when I came here, ‘I want you to be my best friend.’ The tight end is always my best friend.”
McDaniel also challenged Gesicki, telling him that if he plays his best, by season’s end, he will make the franchise tag “look like a discount” and it will improve “your socioeconomic status for the long term.”
That’s McDaniel’s Yale-speak for giving the guy a raise and a long-term contract, something the Dolphins have clearly been reluctant to do. There isn’t a player around who wouldn’t prefer that long-term security to getting tagged.
“I’m not a big, you know, complain about it and make a big deal about it,” Gesicki said two weeks back. “Although it seems like the guys that do get paid a lot of money, so maybe I should have. But I mean, I’m going to keep coming to work, keep doing what I’m doing.”
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Thursday, that meant catching a deep ball along the sideline that may have been a touchdown. Officials never gave a signal and since it occurred on a field with limited access, it was impossible to know if Gesicki landed in bounds. Likewise was another of Tua Tagovailoa’s throws that targeted Gesicki but fell incomplete — possibly a drop but maybe a good play by the defensive back.
Looking ahead, it would be too simplistic to pigeonhole Durham Smythe as the blocking tight end and Gesicki as the receiving tight end, thereby tipping off defenses. At the same time, there’s no mystery about what’s coming when it’s third-and-7. We know Gesicki can move the chains.
Gesicki has said he doesn’t wish to play somewhere else. A season of inactivity — should it play out that way — has a way of changing a player’s mind. If Gesicki landed elsewhere and went on to put up 1,000 yards (with the Dolphins getting little compensation), it wouldn’t be a shock.
It would, however, be a shame.
Hal Habib covers the Dolphins for The Post. Help support our journalism. Subscribe today.