If the Miami Dolphins are looking to build on their first AFC playoff appearance in eight years, here are five players they should target in free agency.
The Miami Dolphins had a very successful first season under head coach Adam Gase. He brought with him a no-nonsense attitude and an attention to detail that can conceivably work for this AFC East franchise for years to come.
Gase looks to be the real deal as a young head coach. He has two great men in his front office in general manager Chris Grier and executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum. Gase even seems to have great working relationship with owner Stephen Ross.
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Overall, things are looking up for the Dolphins head into 2017. If they want to get back into the AFC playoffs, here are five players Grier and Tannenbaum should zone in on during NFL free agency this spring.
Inside Linebacker, Miami Dolphins
On the Philadelphia Eagles’ multifaceted approach to drafting Carson Wentz as their next franchise quarterback, Philadelphia initially moved up to No. 8 from No. 13 by trading cornerback Byron Maxwell and inside linebacker Kiko Alonso to the Dolphins.
Alonso has only played ball in three of his four professional seasons out of Oregon, all for different teams. He will be hitting restricted free agency this spring. One would think that Grier and Tannenbaum would want to invest in this young linebacker this offseason.
Miami will have some salary cap space, roughly $29,379,383 to work with this spring. The back-seven of the Dolphins needs to be improved, but do they have the resources to give new defensive coordinator Matt Burke a snow ball’s chance?
Since Alonso is a restricted free agent, Miami can match any offer he garners this spring if the organization feels so inclined. He has had an injury-riddled career thus far, so he may not receive the type of second offer many thought he would coming out of Oregon.
For a couple million dollars, it would be advantageous for the Dolphins to bring back Alonso for the sake of continuity. He is familiar with Burke from their year together in Miami. Despite injuries, Alonso has shown big playmaking from inside linebacker. He’s worth keeping around in South Beach.
Nov 13, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Miami Dolphins defensive end Andre Branch (50) reacts after a sack during the second half against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Miami won 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
Defensive End, Miami Dolphins
The strength of the Miami defense has been in its pass rush. With guys like Ndamukong Suh, Cameron Wake, and even Mario Williams, it’s easy to see. However, Suh is a nose tackle that can only derive so much of a pass rush, Wake is getting old, and Williams may be on his way out of the league.
Miami needs to be pragmatic in how its defensive line evolves. It did a good job in handling the Olivier Vernon exodus to the New York Giants last free agency. One wise move would be to give defensive end Andre Branch another contract with the Dolphins.
Branch had his best year as a professional in 2016. He spent his first four years with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but found a bigger role with the Dolphins. Branch had 11 starts, 5.5 quarterback sacks, 49 total tackles and two forced fumbles.
With a potential exodus from Williams, Grier and Tannenbaum could choose to bring Branch back for another contract. Like with Alonso, Branch is very familiar with the type of defense that Burke wants to run with the 2017 Dolphins.
Branch already had his best season in the NFL in his first year with the Dolphins. He made $2,703,125 in his first year in South Beach. A slight bump up in pay grade should suffice in keeping Branch a part of many future Dolphins pass rushes.
Oct 23, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell (93) looks on after tieing the Seattle Seahawks 6-6 in overtime at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Defensive End, Arizona Cardinals
Fate would have it that one of the better fits for the Dolphins this free agency cycle is a player than many of its fan base hates from last season. Yes, Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell would look phenomenal in teal and orange.
Dolphins fans hate Campbell since he pretty much wrecked the knee of Miami starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill on a rainy Sunday afternoon in Miami Dolphins. Matt Moore came in for Tannehill the rest of the year and did just fine, but Tannehill might have been good enough to upset the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Wild Card round.
Schematically, Campbell could come right in and be a better version of Branch and Williams. If the Dolphins lose both this offseason, it isn’t the end of the world, as that would increase the likelihood of Campbell leaving Glendale for Miami Gardens.
Financially, it will be difficult to nab Campbell. He could be slapped with the franchise tag as a high-profile defensive end worth the $17 million. Keep in mind that Campbell made $15,250,000 in the final year of his four-year deal with the Cardinals.
In all honesty, Campbell may very well be a lifelong member of the Cardinals. If he does choose to leave the Valley of the Sun, the Sunshine State’s southernmost NFL franchise would not be a bad landing spot for the veteran defensive lineman.
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
Wide Receiver, Miami Dolphins
If the Dolphins need to re-sign any player hitting unrestricted free agency this spring, it would have to be wide receiver Kenny Stills. In four NFL seasons split between the New Orleans Saints and the Miami Dolphins, Stills has proven himself to be a solid tertiary receiver.
He can make plays in space as a No. 2 or No. 3 option in a strong receiving corps. Stills is explosive out on the edge and a matchup nightmare in the slot. He started all 16 games for the Dolphins, collecting 42 catches for 726 yards and a career-high nine touchdowns. If he had his choice, why would he want to leave an offense with Gase as its architect?
Stills isn’t going to get the franchise tag, but he will definitely get a huge pay increase this offseason. While he won’t get the projected $15.7 million from the tag, Stills’ new multi-year contract will be worth more than the $1,167,000 he made in his fourth year in the league.
The fifth-year wideout out of Oklahoma is very likely to quadruple or even quintuple his NFL salary in this free agency cycle. In short, Stills will make somewhere in that $4 to $8 million range when he hits unrestricted free agency.
Miami has a proven No. 1 in Jarvis Landry and a solid No. 2 in DeVante Parker. Before Parker hits free agency in a few years, it would be advantageous for Miami to bring back a familiar receiving weapon in the form of Stills at a fair market price. The Dolphins can afford to keep Stills and should.
Oct 2, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson (22) reacts after intercepting a pass against the Arizona Cardinals during the first half at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Rams won 17-13. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Cornerback, Los Angeles Rams
While Miami loses former defensive coordinator Vance Joseph to the Denver Broncos head coaching job, the Dolphins should be in good shape with Burke taking over the reigns from Joseph in running the defense for Gase.
That being said, Burke isn’t the defensive back coach that Joseph was. This means player development at that position group won’t come as easy as it did last season for the Dolphins. In short, Grier and Tannenbaum need to upgrade Burke’s secondary in free agency.
The one guy that Miami should swing for the fences in the back-end should be Los Angeles Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson. In 2016, the Rams franchise tagged Johnson for $13.2 million. The Rams may have really liked Johnson, but they will have a new coaching staff in 2017.
In all fairness, new Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will probably like to keep Johnson as a key piece of his defense. The Rams could slap him with the franchise tag again, costing them a projected $14.3 million. However, the Rams can afford to pay him reasonably with a projected $38,985,625 for general manager Les Snead to work with.
Miami may not have the caps space of the Rams, but one thing does play in their favor this free agency cycle. There are a lot of good defensive backs going on the market, which will drive down the price to some degree. Maybe Miami can grab a strong cornerback the caliber of Johnson for $15 million in 2017?