BREAKING DOWN THE DOLPHINS 2021 FREE AGENTS
Article by Andrew Moore (@ajmoore21)
The 2020 season is at the business end of proceedings, and with the Dolphins very much in the playoff mix all attention is understandably focused on the field. Some heads are slowly turning towards the draft, largely because the Texans have gifted Miami a top 5 pick, but I thought it’d be fun to dive into some of the roster decisions that the Front Office will need to make following the conclusion of the season.
Despite their on field success, the Dolphins have a surprisingly high projected cap space in 2021. Spotrac has them with around $35m, with the Colts the only other serious playoff contender with more ($66m). So it’s clear that there isn’t a need to make drastic changes to the roster to free up more space in 2021, a stark contrast to the likes of the Saints (-$96m) and Eagles (-$66m).
That being said, roster churn is all part and parcel of the game, and the Fins have a considerable number of players (20) slated to become UDFA in 2021. So who should they keep as part of the Brian Flores project? (note: I’ve picked the higher profile players to break down)
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB
2020 Cap Hit: $8m
Outlook: Fitz started the season as the QB1 and went 3-3 in the first six games. Since then he’s been used as a ‘reliever’, taking over from Tua Tagovailoa against the Broncos and in dramatic fashion against the Raiders, he also stepped in and beat the Jets with Tua injured in week 12.
It’s clear the veteran signal caller has been a vital part of the Dolphins success this season, not only for his on-field exploits, but also because of his role in developing his successor. His standing in the locker room is unquestionable, and the spark he has given the Miami offense when needed has shown why Flores and Offensive Coordinator, Chan Gailey, hold him in high regard.
Should he be re-signed? If Fitz wants to come back and the coaching staff is confident in his ability then the answer to this question should be yes. The 38yr old’s combination of humility, experience and ability make him the perfect backup for the Fins in 2021. As Tua continues his development and the wider Dolphins project unfolds, it’s vital that the backup QB offers a balance of support and the ability to come in and steady the ship if injury or the virus hits the locker room. Looking at the other scheduled vetern free agent QBs in 2021, only Colt McCoy, Brian Hoyer and potentially Tyrod Taylor tick similar boxes as Fitz, but none of them have the familiarity with the organisation or the ability to win that he does.
Matt Breida, RB
2020 Cap Hit: $3,259,000
Outlook: There was considerable excitement about the Jordan Howard, Matt Breida combo in the Dolphins backfield before the season. It’s fair to say that it hasn’t worked out at all. Howard was cut earlier in the year and Breida has been relegated to a third string role at best. With the emergence of Myles Gaskin, and to a lesser extent Salvon Ahmed, Breida has only seen one game with more than ten rush attempts (vs New England w15).
It’s difficult to put a finger on why Breida has seen such a limited role in the Fins offense, against the Patriots he proved to be a useful complement when Gailey opted for a run-centric game plan and in open space he’s one of the quickest players in the NFL. It’s more than possible that the hot hand is the simply the one that is being fed, and here it is hard to argue that Gaskin is the guy, but either way it doesn’t bode well for Breida returning in 2021.
Should he be re-signed? No, the Dolphins have a young upside back in Gaskin, and it feels like one of the many draft picks they’ve accumulated for the 2021 draft is best used on a more powerful option that they can complement him with. Breida certainly has a future in the NFL as part of a committee backfield, but it feels like the Fins’ coaching staff don’t trust or rate him enough to pay him to stick around in South Florida for another year.
Salvon Ahmed, RB (Exclusive Rights Free Agent)
2020 Cap Hit: $466,000
Outlook: Signed via 49ers practice squad earlier in the season, Ahmed has been a solid backup option in the games that Gaskin has missed. Against the Patriots, the UDFA out of Washington rushed for 122 yards and a score, the second most by a Dolphins rookie over the past 15 seasons.
An elusive back, with some nice moves to make defenders miss, Ahmed has been used as the bell cow back in three games (Den, LAC, Pats), where he rushed a combined 56 times for 250 yards and 2 TDs. Those are solid numbers in an offense which has struggled to establish the run at times this year, especially from a player who didn’t have any preseason with the Dolphins at all.
Should he be re-signed? Yes, as an ERFA all the Dolphins have to do is offer Ahmed a one year minimum salary deal and he can’t negotiate with other teams. This makes perfect sense for a player that we’ve seen be productive when called upon. As above, it feels inevitable that Miami will spend draft capital on another style of back in the offseason, but there’s no reason why Ahmed can’t act as the third option in that scenario.
Ted Karras, Center
2020 Cap Hit: $3m
Outlook: One of several New England Patriots to join the Dolphins in the off-season, Karras has been the anchor on the offensive line and is yet to miss a snap. Despite exhibiting some growing pains over the course of the season, the Miami o-line is much improved on previous seasons and has some pieces that will be mainstays for years to come.
To Karras’ credit he’s been very consistent all year, giving up only three penalties, one fumble loss and two sacks on the year (prior to week 17). He’s also clearly very happy to be on the Dolphins roster, saying recently that he knew the team were on the rise, and that was a key reason he signed with them in the offseason. Coming from New England, Karras clearly understands the culture that Flores and co are trying to build, and that has proved crucial with his positional group predominantly made up of rookies.
Should he be re-signed? Spotrac calculates Karras’ market value as just north of $10m, which is way too much and I don’t think it is realistic really. So, if the value is around his current $3m a year cap hit or slightly more (to lock him in for three/four years) then yes, I think the Dolphins should keep him. There’s no better Center on the roster, and the familiarity Karras enjoys with Tua means it makes sense to keep him to aid the QB’s development.
Others to re-sign:
- Isaiah Ford, WR – 2020 Cap Hit: $600,000
Others not to re-sign:
- Julie’n Davenport, T – 2020 Cap Hit: $2.1m
- Adam Pankey, T – 2020 Cap Hit: $825,000
Nik Needham, CB (Exclusive Rights Free Agent)
2020 Cap Hit: $675,000
Outlook: Needham has seen his snap count fall this year with the arrival of Byron Jones to play outside Corner, but to his credit he’s embraced a role as the team’s Nickel option and has come up with some clutch plays. His play has seen opposition passer rating drop to 75.1 (from 111.7 in 2019) when targeting him, and his transition to Nickel has seen him used substantially in blitz packages.
Like Eric Rowe, Needham is proof of the versatility that Coach Flores is looking for in his defensive players. Having developed consistently despite his position move this year, and given the fact that he’s beaten out rookie 1st round pick Noah Igbinoghene for the Nickel role, it’s not a stretch to say that Needham has a future in Miami.
Should he be re-signed? Like Ahmed, Needham is an exclusive rights free agent, and as such it’d be daft of the Dolphins not to lock down one of their youngest, most exciting play makers to another year. Given the Fins propensity to lean on their secondary at times, it’s also entirely likely that they bring in more competition at the CB position this offseason, but that shouldn’t be taken as distrust in Needham and the existing secondary.
Elandon Roberts, LB
2020 Cap Hit: $2m
Outlook: Another offseason acquisition from New England, Elandon Roberts has been a useful supplementary piece on defense and special teams for Miami this season. Having started 11 games for the Fins in 2020, he’s put up 61 tackles, 8 TFL, 4 QB hits and 1.5 sacks. Not a bad return for a player who only started in three games for the Patriots in 2019.
As this article is being written, it’s been announced that Roberts is injured and likely out for the playoffs (if the Dolphins get there), and it’s his absence that might see him lose out on a long term starting role in Miami. Andrew Van Ginkel made big plays in both games that Roberts has missed to this point, and the 2nd year Linebacker seems to be locking down a starting spot in Josh Boyer’s defense.
Should he be re-signed? Hmm, in reality Roberts is likely to get another short term deal. The core of the Linebacker unit is Jerome Baker, Kyle Van Noy and the emerging Van Ginkel, but beyond that there is very little depth which plays into Roberts’ hands. However, it feels like the emphasis Flores and Boyer put on pass coverage could give them reason to move on from the former Patriot, given that he’s allowed a completion rate of 92% on 23 targets, giving up 220 yards. It also feels like LB is a position that will be an off-season priority for the Fins given that their run defense could be argued to be the weak point of an excellent overall unit.
Davon Godchaux, DT
2020 Cap Hit: $2,183,485
Outlook: One of the Dolphins’ 2017 draft class, Godchaux has had a decent career to date. Coming into 2020 he was the starting Nose Tackle when Miami ran a 3-4 look defense, but a bicep injury landed him on IR and Raekwon Davis has stepped up and performed in his absence.
Godchaux was one of the standout performers in 2019, as he started all 16 games, registering 75 tackles and winning the Fins nomination for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. His impact had been seen as crucial by both the Front Office and the coaching team earlier in the year, and there were worries about the position when he was placed on IR. At this time it felt like he was a lock for a new contract in 2021. But the emergence of Davis, the 2020 2nd round pick, has potentially thrown that into question.
Should he be re-signed? I think the Dolphins will try and bring back Godchaux after he’s had a chance to test the market this year. One of those deals where the player is briefly a free agent but then comes back to the team at a reduced rate. The fact that he clearly gets and plays a part in the strong locker room culture that Coach Flores is trying to build is vital, add that to his solid production, and he could well be back next year.
Others to re-sign:
- Vince Biegal, LB – 2020 Cap Hit: $2.1m
- Kamu Grugier-Hill – LB/ST – 2020 Cap Hit: $3m
Others not to re-sign:
- Kavon Frazier, S – 2020 Cap Hit: $887,500
- Jamal Perry, CB – 2020 Cap Hit: $675,000
- Sam Eguavoen, LB – 2020 Cap Hit: $675,000
Matt Haack, Punter
2020 Cap Hit: $2.1m
Outlook: It’s always a good sign for a Punter when they’re kept consistently on a roster for several years in a row. And it’s easy to see why Haack has been kept around in Miami, the 26 year old has only had one punt blocked in four years as a Dolphin and this year he’s been incredibly consistent when it comes to field position battles.
On the year, Haack has landed 24 punts within the 20 yard line, ranking him 7th in the league, with an average of 44.8 yards and a long of 63 yards. I won’t pretend to know too much about Punter stats, but these seem consistent with the likes of Johnny Hekker and Riley Dixon, who are considered some of the best in the league.
Should he be re-signed? Yes – the Dolphins’ Special Teams unit has been excellent this year, and Haack’s reliability is enough for them to keep him on the roster. If Miami lets him walk it could be a case of ‘you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone’, and you only have to look at how bad the Chargers unit has been to put you off that for life.
Others to re-sign:
- Mack Hollins, WR/Gunner – 2020 Cap Hit: $825,000
So there you have it, a breakdown of the Dolphins free agents in 2021. Agree? Disagree? Let us know at @DolFanUK_Pod.
All salary cap data from Spotrac.com, all player statistics from Pro-Football-Reference.com.