Aug 19, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys free safety Byron Jones (31) defends against Miami Dolphins tight end Jordan Cameron (84) in the end zone during the first quarter at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
The Miami Dolphins have a little over two months before major personnel decisions need to be made. 14 in-house unrestricted free agents will be looked at thoroughly.
Miami coaches and personnel executives will pour over the seasons tapes, weigh on each players contributions to the team on and off the field, and then balance all of that with the salary cap. A number will be assigned to those who they want to keep and an offer will be made.
For most of the 14 contracts won’t come. The Dolphins need to improve in several areas and only a few actually make the team better or have the value to the team. Some will inevitably price themselves out of Miami’s plan.
Here is a look at those 14 unrestricted free agents and the additional eight restricted free agents whom the Dolphins may offer a deal to. Listed by whether the Dolphins should or shouldn’t offer a new deal.
Not-resigning Cameron will leave a hole at tight-end but there was a hole when Cameron was healthy. He never returned to the form he had in Cleveland prior to the concussions. Cameron wants to continue playing but he will be doing so somewhere else in 2017. There is no price worth bringing Cameron back on at this point with his injury concerns.
Donald Butler – UFA
The Dolphins signed the former Charger linebacker when their own group was depleted with injuries. Butler did very little to stand out and with the Dolphins likely making an investment for the future in this unit, Butler has little to offer and shouldn’t have a future in Miami.
T.J. Yates – UFA
Yates was an insurance policy. Tannehill will be back and Miami will have more time to work with Brandon Doughty. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Dolphins don’t look at the draft for a mid to late round QB as well.
Bacarri Rambo – UFA
Rambo was brought in after the safeties were depleted. He played o.k. but not o.k enough to warrant another return. Rambo won’t find much on the FA market so Miami will have time to sign him later if they desire. Not before free agency begins.
Dec 17, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Miami Dolphins tight end Dion Sims (80) celebrates his touchdown against the New York Jets during the third quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Several players could come back at team friendly deal but in many cases they are more or less fall back options or are needed for depth.
Dion Sims – UFA
Unlike Cameron, Sims isn’t hurt. The question really is whether or not the Dolphins will value him as much he may value himself on the open market. Hurting Sims is that after four years he is still progressing and only showing signs of potential. Sims isn’t going to get a lot of free agent offers and that could be a reason Miami brings him back at team friendly salary.
Spencer Paysinger – UFA
Paysinger played well on special teams this year and after two years of assuming he was out the door, he didn’t play that poorly when he needed to be on the field. Paysinger isn’t going to break the back for Miami or anyone else and he has value on the ST’s.
Michael Thomas – UFA
I like Michael Thomas. Always have. The problem is that Thomas isn’t becoming starting material and Miami needs a top safety to pair with Reshad Jones. Thomas is a viable option as a back-up so if the price were team friendly I would definitely bring him back for another two years.
Jelani Jenkins – UFA
The Dolphins desperately need to improve their linebackers and that includes Jenkins. Honestly I toiled with putting him on the no list due to injuries and lack of progress. Still Jenkins knows the system and if he can be signed to a deal that would not guarantee him a starting job it might be worth it to keep him. The problem is that Miami needs to upgrade from Jenkins and that is going to be more costly than keeping him.
Nov 23, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Miami Dolphins long snapper John Denney (92) celebrates his special teams turnover recovery in the third quarter against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos defeated the Dolphins 39-36. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
For several free agents, the price should be enough for the Dolphins to re-sign. These players have played well enough to deserve a new extension but not with a huge or even significant raise.
Jermon Bushrod – UFA
Bushrod played better than many had thought at right guard this season but is he the answer or is he a back-up who came in and was serviceable? Bushrod wants to come back and Miami will give him a good look but they also need to sign a number one guard and if they look in that direction, Bushrod will only be offered a back-ups salary.
John Denney – UFA
Denney is the longest tenured player in Miami and one of the oldest. He is 38 years old and is still playing at a high level. Which isn’t hard considering he is a long snapper. The Dolphins paid him over $1 million the last two seasons and that will likely be the bench mark this year. But Miami should also look at trying to reduce that payout. It’s hard to imagine Denney not being on the team but it could happen. Still he is affordable at $1 million.
Dominique Jones – UFA
The Dolphins got some play out of Jones this year and he has some potential. More than Thomas Duarte. He should be an easy re-sign.
Thomas Duarte – ERFA
The Dolphins own the exclusive rights to Duarte and extending him should be easy but it won’t be for him to start. Duarte still needs to learn and the practice squad is his best place right now.
Anthony Steen – ERFA
Another exclusive free agent, Steen played surprisingly well, or at least better than anticipated in Mike Pouncey’s absence.
Damien Williams – RFA
Williams is restricted which means the Dolphins will need to tender him a new contract. That contract will carry with it draft pick compensation if he is signed elsewhere and Miami does not match. Williams has proven he can spell Jay Ajayi.
Mike Hull – ERFA
Hull is still learning the league and the team and another year will help him. Miami owns his rights.
Jake Brendel – ERFA
Same thing as the others. The Dolphins can really offer a low-end salary for a guy who may or may not make the team.
Nick Williams – RFA
The Dolphins like Williams but need to see more from him in the off-season. They will tender him at a low compensation.
Lafayette Pitts – ERFA
Pitts has potential and the Dolphins like him so expect him to receive a new tendered deal.
Dec 11, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills (10) celebrates after making a catch in the game against the Arizona Cardinals during the second half at Hard Rock Stadium. The Miami Dolphins defeat the Arizona Cardinals 26-23. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
There are not a lot of players that Miami “needs” to re-sign and the two listed here are not necessarily “must-have” players but they should be highly considered to be re-signed.
Andre Branch – UFA
Branch played well late and the Dolphins have need at defensive end. Where his salary demands are will determine where Miami sees him in their future. Branch has told members of the media that he hopes to be back in Miami. He very well may. The Dolphins have no one ready to step into that role and they need more than just one DE. Cam Wake is 34 years old and Miami needs someone who can takeover sooner rather than later.
Kenny Stills – UFA
Stills caught 9 touchdowns and if he had caught the one against Seattle the Dolphins would have played the Texans instead of the Steelers last weekend. Of course that is all a “if only” scenario. That drop made Stills focus more.
His output in 2016 was a huge jump from 2015 and he developed a solid rapport with Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins won’t break the bank on Stills, who want’s to stay in Miami. They believe that Leonte Carroo can take over on the outside but letting go of good talent is something that needs to change in Miami and Stills would be a top choice to return.