Let the roster construction begin for the Miami Dolphins in their first offseason under new coach Mike McDaniel.
The Dolphins head into free agency this week — with legal negotiations beginning Monday and the official start when free agents can sign on Wednesday, which is also the beginning of the NFL’s new league year — with a tad over $48 million in salary-cap space.
This number, which will decrease with every free agent signed in the coming days but can also be increased by releasing any of a number of players currently under contract, will be used for the Dolphins to upgrade at certain positions, fill holes on the roster and add depth.
Prime among positions the Dolphins and general manager Chris Grier are expected to survey are along the offensive line, at wide receiver, running back and inside linebacker. Miami will also need a backup quarterback to Tua Tagovailoa, could pursue a pass rusher and there is buzz over the team looking to pair Xavien Howard with another high-end cornerback while trading away Byron Jones, who has the Dolphins’ richest contract but has been outplayed by Howard each of the past two seasons.
Following the wave of spending on top free agents, positions of need can still be addressed in the late April draft after the Dolphins were just in Indianapolis more than a week ago evaluating prospects at the NFL scouting combine.
Fixing the offensive line should be first on McDaniel’s list as he incorporates a run-based offense that will feature the outside zone — not to mention the obvious benefits of improved pass protection for Tagovailoa.
Before even looking at free-agent options, the Dolphins could be in the mix for a trade with the Dallas Cowboys for right tackle La’el Collins, 28. Taking on Collins’ $10 million salary for each of the next three seasons in such a The deal, after passing on a homecoming for Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper at double the price as he was shipped to the Cleveland Browns, seems reasonable to maintain the ability to make multiple additions on the line.
Should Miami go the way of acquiring the most prized free agent tackle, Terron Armstead of the New Orleans Saints, he could command somewhere near $25 million a year. Other tackle options include the New England Patriots’ Trent Brown and Indianapolis Colts’ Eric Fisher.
If the Dolphins are looking at guards, Laken Tomlinson, 30, just had his first Pro Bowl season in McDaniel’s offense with the San Francisco 49ers. Rodger Saffold III was just released by the Tennessee Titans and is also coming off his first Pro Bowl. He would be 34 next year. Brandon Scherff is also among top options there, while a prized center upgrade would be Ryan Jensen of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
A top free agent wide receiver would be Allen Robinson, but the draft this season is flush with talented wideouts the Dolphins could aim for pair with Jaylen Waddle coming off his standout rookie season and pass-catching tight end Mike Gesicki, who received the franchise tag. Miami is unlikely to bring back Will Fuller after he made $10.6 million in 2022 and was only available for one full game, an overtime period and another quarter. The Dolphins also have to determine what the future of DeVante Parker, who has two years left on his contract, is in McDaniel’s offense.
The Dolphins have to figure out a plan at running back, and based on McDaniel’s history leading the successful ground game of the 49ers, a committee approach appears most likely. Phillip Lindsay is the type of patient runner who could excel in the outside zone while Duke Johnson would also fit the scheme after his late surge with the Dolphins last season. Raheem Mostert, who had success with McDaniel in San Francisco, is out there, as is Melvin Gordon, who could be the priciest free agent at the position.
With Bobby Wagner’s release from the Seattle Seahawks last week, he leads the inside linebacker market, where Dont’a Hightower is also available after having the New England Patriots connection with defensive coordinator Josh Boyer. The Dolphins’ current former-Patriot inside linebacker, Elandon Roberts, is set for free agency.
The Dolphins could be inserting themselves into the market for a defensive end if they’re not willing to meet the price for Emmanuel Ogbah, who led the team with nine sacks in 2021 and is a batted-ball machine at the line of scrimmage. Miami and Ogbah aren’t close to an agreement, a league source has told the Sun Sentinel. If Ogbah looks to command a salary in the neighborhood of the deal the Titans gave Harold Landry (five-year, $87.5 million with $52.5 million guaranteed), he may be able to find that on the market if not with the Dolphins.
Rising second-year edge defender Jaelan Phillips, whom the Dolphins selected with the No. 18 pick in the 2021 draft, is versatile and able to play either outside linebacker or defensive end in Miami’s scheme that switches fronts. A choice can be made to add an outside linebacker and play Phillips more frequently with his hand in the ground if the market suits that better.
Some edge options in free agency include Chandler Jones, Jadeveon Clowney, Akiem Hicks, former Miami Hurricanes great Calais Campbell, Florida Gators standout Dante Fowler and Deerfield Beach product Jason Pierre-Paul.
Miami could also look into the top of the cornerback market and another Patriot, JC Jackson, to pair with Howard if the team can also find a trade suitor for Jones, who is coming off a recent lower-leg surgery.
The Dolphins’ cap space was previously leading the league, but they have since used the franchise tag on Gesicki and placed a second-round tender on restricted free agent nickel cornerback Nik Needham. The Indianapolis Colts, by clearing quarterback Carson Wentz off his books and shipping him to the Washington Commanders, now have just under $70 million in cap space.
The Dolphins have the ability to cut players to add to their cap space. Options, along with the approximate financial difference releasing them would make, include: safety Eric Rowe ($4.5 million), defensive lineman Adam Butler ($4.2 million), offensive lineman Jesse Davis ($3.6 million), receiver Allen Hurns ($2.5 million), safety Clayton Fejedelem ($2.8 million), tight end Cethan Carter ($2.5 million) and tackle Greg Little ($1.5 million). The difference in cap hit to dead cap for Parker this upcoming season is roughly $3.3 million, but that figure is $6.3 million ahead of the 2023 season.