Stay or Go: Evaluating Whether or Not Miami Should Re-Sign Unrestricted Free Agents
While the Dolphins seem primed to have a busy offseason in both free agency and the 2017 NFL Draft, the team would be wise to finalize decisions on its current free agents before other organizations can have a crack at them. While many of the team’s 14 unrestricted free agents are likely to be let go, some of them did play significant roles in the team’s unprecedented success in 2016. It is important for the front office to be decisive in where they want to allocate their resources this offseason. Keeping integral parts of last year’s playoff squad intact will be essential to ensure the continuity that owners, general managers, coaches, and talking heads alike love placing emphasis on.
Kenny Stills (WR):
At this point, we’ve been over how important Kenny Stills has been for Adam Gase’s offense. The former New Orleans Saint had a breakout season in which he had more touchdowns than Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, and Jay Ajayi. Stills ended the year 3rd on the team in receptions at 42 and 3rd on the team in receiving yards at 726, all while re-establishing himself as one of the league’s premier deep threats. He also finished 3rd in yards per catch behind only DeSean Jackson and Chris Hogan at an impressive 17.3 yard average. His 2.5% drop average, which was among the lowest of wide receivers in 2016, was an equally impressive statistic considering his status as a deep threat.
Needless to say, his contributions to Adam Gase’s offense were substantial, and the team needs to do their best to keep him in Miami. His excellence as a field stretcher and quick route runner did wonders for Ryan Tannehill’s deep ball and helped soften the box for Jay Ajayi. Keeping the trio of Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, and Kenny Stills should be among the team’s top priorities in the coming weeks. Unfortanately, Kenny Stills will be one of the best receivers that will hit the open market in March. Thus, the Miami Dolphins may decide to pass on him knowing that they do not have the resources to enter a bidding war with a more desparate team with more slary cap space. If last year’s market is any indication, Stills should receive anywhere between $6 and $9 million per year depending on which teams try to lock him up long term. At any rate he’ll be receiving considerably more than his current $600,000 yearly salary. It seems as though the front office will work to re-sign Stills to a long-term contract, but whether or not Stills will give the team a hometown discount remains to be seen.
Dion Jordan (DE):
While the former 1st round pick is still an intriguing option at pass-rusher, his suspensions and recent knee injury are huge question marks. Considering he hasn’t recorded a single statistic since 2014, I think the Dolphins should just cut ties in order for both sides to move on from what was definitely one of the most disappointing draft picks in Miami Dolphins’ history.
Verdict: Let Him Walk
Andre Branch (DE):
When Branch was elevated to starting defensive end in response to Mario Williams’ disappointing play, he quickly showed the team why the decision was the right one. In his first game as a starter, Branch totaled a sack and a half against the Steelers and continued to be a solid contributor to the Dolphins’ defense throughout the season. While he was hardly a world beater, his 5.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 49 total tackles was a respectable stat line for a 4-3 defensive end. While he is not an ideal starter going forward, his knowledge of the system and experience would be very valuable as a spot starter or depth defensive lineman until the team finds Cam Wake’s heir apparent.
However, pass-rushers tend to be incredibly overvalued on the free agent market, especially when they are as young as Andre Branch (27) is. He is sure to receive much more than his $2.75 million and will undoubtedly need to be locked down long-term. If Branch’s asking price is more than $5-6 million, the team should probably consider letting him go. But, the team should absolutely make their best effort to keep the youndefensive end to ensure continuity at their strongest defensive positional unit.
Jordan Cameron (TE):
Jordan Cameron was once a very promising tight end, but injuries have derailed his career to the point that we’re not sure if the man can even play anymore. Considering that Jordan Cameron missed 13 games this year due to injury it is clear that the team must move on from the former Cleveland Brown. His injury history is far too extensive for the Miami Dolphins to gamble on again, especially when they have other tight ends that need to be re-signed. Even when Cameron played all 16 games in 2015 (35 receptions for 386 yards and 3 TDs), he looked to be a shell of his former self. While I can see him potentially making a positive impact somewhere if he remains healthy, Cameron’s place is not with the Dolphins as they cannot afford to take the chance for anything close to his most recent contract.
Verdict: Let Him Walk
Jermon Bushrod (G):
When Adam Gase brought Jermon Bushrod with him from Chicago, it seemed as though he planned for the former tackle to be used as a depth or utility lineman. However, with the sudden release of guards Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner after the team’s 1-4 start, Jermon Bushrod was given the opportunity to cement himself as the starting right guard. While Bushrod struggled initially, as he never played guard at the NFL level, he soon found his footing and became one of the team’s most consistent offensive lineman. While his age (32) is a concern long-term, the team would be wise to try and lock him up for another season or two considering the revolving door they’ve had at guard has hampered the offense as a whole for years. Though I believe that the team should look to bring in top-tier guard talent with such a strong class of free agent interior O-lineman, having Bushrod on the roster as a contingency plan would be an excellent strategy. This would also show that the team has a plan in place for Laremy Tunsil’s eventual switch to left tackle coming in the next few years.
Dion Sims (TE):
Dion Sims had a decent 2016 campaign where he totaled 26 receptions for 256 yards and 4 TDs. He made a number of significant plays, especially down the stretch, and certainly proved himself to be at least an above average tight end. Unfortanately for the Dolphins his young age and solid measurables make him a prime candidate to be overpaid this offseason. The Miami Dolphins may be rendered unable to afford Sims at a reasonable price. However, his inconsistency as a pass-catcher limits the impact he can have in Adam Gase’s offense as the number one tight end. So, considering the fact that there are objectively better and more accomplished guys on the free agent market, I think the Dolphins would be better off looking else where for tight end talent. Jack Doyle, Martellus Bennett, Jared Cook, and Jacob Tamme would all be upgrades that could be afforded at comparably better prices than what Sims could receive on the open market.
Verdict: Let Him Walk
Neither Michael Thomas nor Baccarri Rambo proved that they are starter material during the 2016 season, but they were serviceable as depth safeties. However, considering the injuries to starting safeties Reshad Jones and Isa Abdul-Quddus, they were forced into starting roles and often failed miserably. Though both thrived at times in limited roles, safety is undoubtedly a position in which the depth needs to be of higher quality due to the injury concerns surrounding the starting unit. While both could be re-signed on reasonable one-year deals, I’d prefer if the team looked into higher quality options at depth safety/defensive back like Darius Butler or Micah Hyde.
Verdict: Re-Sign (But Look for Upgrade)
Jelani Jenkins, Donald Butler, and Spencer Paysinger were among the worst 4-3 linebackers in the NFL and had a sizeable contribution to what was by far the weakest unit on the entire team. Outside of Kiko Alonso, Miami’s linebackers were absolutely dismal, and the team should be looking to infuse talent in both free agency and the Draft. I honestly would not be shocked if the team drafts two linebackers and signs a big name free agent in order to plug the leak that was the Dolphins’ linebacker corps. Their status as unrestricted free agents gives the front office an easy out from three of their most underachieving players. Though at least one (likely Jelani Jenkins due to age and potential) could be brought back, the team should look to clean the slate completely next to Kiko Alonso.
Verdict: Let Them Walk
Depth tight end Dominique Jones, quarterback T.J. Yates, and long snapper John Denney round out the Dolphins’ 2017 free agents. Yates is a luxury and will probably not be re-signed as Ryan Tannehill and Matt Moore are undoubtedly the 1 and 2 at the position respectively ahead of next season. The team also has 2016 7th round pick Brandon Doughty on the practice squad. They will probably re-sign Dominique Jones considering Dion Sims and Jordan Cameron are probably not going to be back next season. John Denney is a two-time Pro Bowler, 2016 team captain, and is the longest tenured Miami Dolphin. While I can see reason to go cheaper at a position like long snapper, the team should probably just re-sign him to keep continuity on special teams.
Verdict: Sign Jones and Denney, let Yates walk