The Miami Dolphins are placing a second-round tender on cornerback Nik Needham, an undrafted player from UTEP who has started 22 of the 45 games he’s played the past three seasons.
According to a league source, placing the a second-round tender on Needham commits Miami to paying the versatile defensive back – who played on the boundary, as a nickel cornerback, and at safety last season – just under $4 million in 2022.
Using a second-round tender reduced Miami’s cap space to a little over $47 million, which is the fourth most cap space available with the free agent negotiating period beginning on Monday at 11 am Miami began the week with the most cap space in the NFL but used at least $10.9 million of it to place the franchise tag on tight end Mike Gesicki.
The Dolphins could have used the right of first refusal tender, which is worth $2.4 million, to retain Needham. But Miami decided against that fearing another team would offer him a substantial multi-year deal that would put the Dolphins at risk of losing the cornerback without compensation.
The salary, which is a substantial raise from the $850,000 Needham made last season as an exclusive right free agent, is guaranteed once he signs his tender. But it’s not the multi-year deal Needham, and most players in his position as restricted free agents, seek as they become veteran NFL players.
Any team interested in signing Needham to a multi-year contract can make him an offer before the April 22 deadline, and the Dolphins have the right to match it.
If Miami decides against matching that offer the Dolphins would receive the team’s 2022 second-round pick for poaching Needham, who contributed 59 tackles, two interceptions, one sack, recovered one fumble and broke up five passes last season.
Needham, who has contributed 171 tackles, six interceptions and three sacks in his three seasons, is the third player the Dolphins have tendered before Tuesday’s formal start of the league’s new year, which allows players to sign with new teams.
Miami also placed a tender on tailback Salvon Ahmed and cornerback Elijah Campbell, committing to pay both third-year players the NFL minimum as exclusive rights free agents. Needham is the first, and likely only restricted free agent the Dolphins will place a tender on before Tuesday’s deadline to use tenders.
Safeties Sheldrick Redwine and Jamal Perry, tailback Patrick Laird, linebacker Sam Eguavoen, and receiver Preston Williams are also restricted free agents.
Redwine, a former University of Miami standout who was signed off Carolina’s practice squad in late October, contributed two tackles in four games last season with Miami.
Perry will have an uphill battle remaining with Miami because of the knee injury he suffered in late November. He’s facing a tough rehab as a restricted free agent.
Laird, who made the Dolphins as an undrafted rookie from California, spent the past three seasons serving as a special teams contributor and a pass-catching specialist out of the backfield. His 2021 season ended with a knee injury, which means like Perry he’ll spend the summer rehabbing.
Eguavoen, a CFL import the Dolphins have spent the past three seasons developing, has spent most of his tenure in Miami as a special contributor. This past season, he contributed 16 tackles, half a sack and six quarterback hits in 180 defensive snaps.
Williams was Miami’s most promising rookie in 2019 before his season ended prematurely because of a knee injury. In 2020, a foot injury derailed his second season as a starter.
Last season, Williams was relatively healthy, but wasn’t a factor. He’s caught six passes for 71 yards in eight games. His struggles learning Miami’s playbook, and complicated personality might motivate the Dolphins to move on instead of placing the original-round tender ($2.4 million) on him.
But it is possible that Miami could re-sign Preston, and the four other restricted free agents, to a smaller contract if they don’t sign elsewhere.