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Dolphins 2017 free agents and the 2016 salary cap

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The Miami Dolphins have a lot of salary cap space heading into the 2016 season. We look at some of the 2017 free agents they could consider for long-term deals as part of that salary cap space.

New York Jets v Miami Dolphins Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Miami Dolphins have a lot of salary cap space available right now. According to the NFL Players Association, they have the ninth most cap space remaining for this season in the league, and the most in the AFC East. While teams like the San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns, and Jacksonville Jaguars are somehow still $40+ million under the cap, the Dolphins have a lot of money they could use this offseason, with $17,021,137 available still.

There are not a lot of players out there that Miami could consider signing this year to spend that $17 million. The team could look to roll it over to the 2017 cap, which will help them with some of their larger salary cap numbers for next year (Ryan Tannehill will count $20.3 million against the 2017 salary cap and Ndamukong Suh will be $19.1 million). They could also look to use some of this $17 million to sign their potential free agents before next year.

Who could be a candidate for re-signing this summer? Not as many key free agents as you would think. Many of Miami’s 2017 free agents are players who need to prove something this year before the team will lock them up long-term.

Using this year’s salary cap would depend on how Miami structured the wording on the contract, creating a new deal rather than just adding years to the existing contract.

Dion Sims, tight end

Sims is coming off his rookie contract, which averaged $656,888 per year for four seasons. He appeared to be set to break out last year, only to have a concussion and the Miami offensive system get in his way. Will he be able to rebound this year? He is making $1.67 million in base salary this year, his first year over $1 million, so a contract extension would not be that expensive, and could keep a 25-year-old developing tight end in Miami for the long term.

John Denney, long snapper

Denney has been with the team since its AFL days. That may be a little bit of hyperbole, but it does seem like Denney has been with Miami forever. He does become a free agent this year, and he has held a critical role on the team for so long, it seems like the Dolphins need to re-sign him just because not having Denney would be odd. He is 37-years-old and heading into his 12th season, which means he could be closing in on the end of his career. He counts $1.215 million against the cap this year, making $1.095 in base salary. A couple year extension could lock him in for the remainder of his career.

Spencer Paysinger, linebacker

Miami re-signed Paysinger this offseason on a one-year, $840,000 contract bringing back a solid depth linebacker who is a key special teams contributor. The Dolphins could look to lock up Paysinger long-term, but it probably would not be until after the season. He is only 28-years-old, so he still has plenty of time in his career to continue to be a key part of the Dolphins.

Andre Branch, defensive end

Miami signed Branch to a one-year, $2.75 million contract this offseason. After disappointing as a pass rusher in Jacksonville, the Dolphins are going to look to re-start his career, beginning with him as a depth defensive end this year behind Cameron Wake and Mario Williams. He could see plenty of playing time if the Dolphins look to use Wake primarily as a pass-rush specialist. If the Dolphins are going to re-sign Branch, they are going to do it after the season to see how he performs this year, first.

Kenny Stills, wide receiver

This could be a move Miami looks to make this summer. Stills is coming off his rookie contract, making $1.67 million this year. He was not as much a part of the team’s offense last year, his first season in Miami, as he had expected, catching just 27 passes for 440 yards and three touchdowns, but he should be a bigger part of the offense this year, and at 24-years-old, Miami could lock up another young piece of their receiving corps, keeping him teamed with Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker. The Dolphins could look at a wide receiver corps of those three, plus rookies Leonte Carroo and Jakeem Grant heading into the long-term future.

Jelani Jenkins, linebacker

Jenkins is just 24-years-old and is entering his third season as a starting linebacker for the Dolphins. He is not locked into that position, but he is developing into a key member of the Dolphins defense. His rookie contract paid him $658,172 a year for four seasons, with this year’s $1.671 million the only season in which he topped $1 million. If the coaching staff sees enough from Jenkins in training camp this year, locking him up on a new contract could make a lot of sense.

Jordan Cameron, tight end

Cameron agreed to take a pay-cut this year after a disappointing 2015 season, his first with Miami. He is making $3.5 million in base salary, with another $4.5 million in bonuses, giving him an $8 million cap number. It is not likely Miami would re-sign him this year after working to get the pay cut from him, but it is an option. Miami will likely wait until after the season to consider re-signing Cameron - and it could depends on the play of Dion Sims as to whether Miami needs to bring back Cameron.

Restricted/Exclusive Rights Free Agents

Miami has several key members of the team who will be restricted or exclusive rights free agents next year, which makes them unlikely to see extensions this year, instead having Miami utilize tenders in the offseason to keep them. These include running back Damien Williams, defensive end Chris McCain, tight end Jake Stoneburner, linebacker Kiko Alonso, and safety Michael Thomas.