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What the Branden Albert-Julius Thomas swap means for Jaguars, Dolphins

The Jaguars now have a new starting left tackle in Branden Albert, while the Dolphins reunite Julius Thomas with Adam Gase.

On the surface, the trade talks between the Dolphins and Jaguars this week came down to rather simple truths: Both teams had players they no longer wanted—Branden Albert in Miami’s case, Julius Thomas for Jacksonville—so the two sides swapped parts.

The agreement reportedly will go off as two separate transactions: Per the Miami Herald’s Armando Salguero, it’ll be Thomas to Miami for a 2017 late-round pick and Albert to the Jaguars for a 2018 late-rounder. There were rumored contract talks surrounding both players, as it pertained to their new homes, which might explain why this didn’t happen in one fell swoop—in other words, the Jaguars may have wanted to move on acquiring Albert regardless of what played out with Thomas.

The Jaguars now have a new starting left tackle in Albert, while the Dolphins reunite Thomas with Adam Gase, under whom he produced his best seasons when the two were together in Denver.

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Financially, it’s a bit of a wash, until any contract extensions/restructurings are announced. Thomas’s current 2017 base salary is $7 million, and he will leave $3.6 million in dead money on the Jaguars’ books; Albert is set to cost $8.875 million, with $3.4 million in dead money.

But there is always room to dig a little deeper when deciphering NFL transactions, especially when it comes to a trade. With that in mind, the trades also reveal that ...

A.) The Jaguars preferred Albert to Kelvin Beachum. Or, if nothing else, thought the former was a better bargain. Multiple reports have the Jaguars and Albert working on a restructured contract, ahead of the finalization of the Jacksonville-Miami trade. As of right now, Albert has two years and around $24 million left on his deal, but with just $3.4 million still guaranteed.

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Had the Jaguars picked up Kelvin Beachum’s option for the 2017 season, it would have locked them into $18 million in additional guarantees, spanning the next two years. Even if they wind up upping Albert’s guaranteed money, they still should be able to come out on in the black there.

Both Albert, 32, and Beachum, 27, come with injury concerns. Albert has missed at least two games each of the past five seasons; Beachum tore his ACL as a Steeler in 2015, before signing with the Jaguars last off-season.

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B.) Laremy Tunsil will be the Dolphins’ left tackle next season. This was close to a given anyway, hence part of their willingness to say goodbye to Albert. Miami nabbed Tunsil in last year’s draft with an eye on him becoming a long-term answer at tackle, and that remained the plan even though Tunsil spent most of his rookie campaign starting at guard. With Albert out of the picture, there is nothing standing between Tunsil and the role protecting Ryan Tannehill’s blindside. Which leads us to ...

C.) The Dolphins are short two starting guards. The other first-teamer alongside Tunsil last season was Jermon Bushrod, also a converted left tackle who struggled mightily as a full-time starter along the interior. Bushrod is set to become a free agent when the new league year opens, and there have been no indications yet that the Dolphins plan to retain him.

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This could be a good off-season to be in need of a guard. T.J. Lang, Kevin Zeitler, Larry Warford, Ronald Leary and Evan Mathis are among the names that could be available come free agency. Once they officially bid adieu to Albert, the Dolphins will have upwards of $45 million worth of cap space available. They’ll have to set some of it aside for a guard or two.

D.) The Jaguars will be looking for a tight end in the draft. This likely would have been the case anyway, because Thomas was headed out one way or another. Thomas never found the magic that saw him produce back-to-back 12-TD years under Gase’s watch in Denver: During his two seasons in Jacksonville, he put up just 736 yards and nine TDs.

There isn’t much left on the Jaguars’ tight-end depth chart, either. Veteran Marcedes Lewis and 23-year-old Ben Koyack were the next most productive TEs behind Thomas last season, and they combined for 330 yards.

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Thomas, meanwhile, probably has one year to try to revive his career. He never has been known for his run-blocking prowess, so his value lies almost entirely in what he can do as a pass-catcher. The Dolphins’ tight ends did not scare anyone last season, but Thomas—if he’s healthy and finds a comfortable fit in his new offense—does offer downfield potential. Paired with the more physical Dion Sims, he won’t find a better opportunity than the one Gase gives him.

Technically, the Albert-Thomas trades won’t go down as a one-for-one move, although that is more or less what happened. When those rare swaps occur in the NFL, this is usually the backdrop—a relatively high-priced player on his way out of town traded for another player of a similar ilk.

It’s worth a shot, on both sides.