The Miami Dolphins have decisions to make on 20 players who are scheduled to be free agents when the new league year begins on March 9. Some of those players are restricted or exclusive rights free agents, while others are unrestricted free agents and will be free to join with any team if Miami does not sign them to an extension. Starting today, we are going to look back at the 2016 season for those 20 players, then give you the chance to vote on what you think Miami should do with the specific player.
First up on our list is defensive end Andre Branch. A five-year veteran of the league, Branch joined the Dolphins last March after a four-year stint with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Branch was a second-round pick of the Jaguars in 2012, but never panned out as a pass rusher. Big Cat Country’s Ryan Day wrote of Branch in August, “Andre Branch was not good in Jacksonville, but he flashed moments of brilliance as any mediocre player given hundreds and hundreds of opportunities.” Before that, Alfie Crow, also from Big Cat Country, wrote, “Branch never seemed to fulfill what the Jaguars thought he could be, which was a starting 4-3 weakside end who could rush the passer. While Branch has started a number of games as a weakside pass rusher, he hasn’t really brought much of a consistent pass rush with him...Branch is a pass rusher who is not good at rushing the passer. Branch is a classic "clean up" pass rusher, in that someone else does the creating and he ends up picking up the prize. He just does not have that natural ability to turn the corner rushing the passer from the end position and will often get run wide over and over during a game by any good offensive tackles.”
With the Dolphins, Branch seems to have found a better fit. He recorded 5.5 sacks during the season, half a sack from his career high set back in 2013, and started 11 games, the most games he has started in a single season in his career. The Dolphins played Branch primarily as the right defensive end, allowing him to match up against the offense’s left tackle often in one-on-one situations as defenses double teamed defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and defensive end Cameron Wake, and Branch played well enough to move into the starting lineup and turn Mario Williams into a spot player.
“I love this place,” Branch said after the team’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs. “They believed in me when not too many people did. I appreciate them for that. So we’ll see how it goes. I don’t know what the future holds, but I had an amazing time this year.”
“It’s probably the most fun season I’ve had in the NFL,” Branch added according to the Palm Beach Post’s Jason Lieser. “I’ve got a lot of brothers now that I didn’t have last year. I’m gonna cherish this moment. The brotherhood and camaraderie we had. There’s something there that you don’t run across too much. It felt like family. That’s what (Adam) Gase has brought here. That’s his culture. I hadn’t experienced that before. This was the most fun season I had in the pros.”
Branch’s expiring contract was a one-year deal worth $3 million. He turns 28 in July.
A defensive end franchise tag is expected to be around $17 million for one season.
The Phinsider thoughts
The Dolphins brought Branch to the team on a “prove it” contract, and he did that. He is not a top-line defensive end, but he is definitely a starter-level player who can give the team some flexibility and options. In an off-season in which the team already has to be thinking about adding depth and youth to the offensive line, looking toward the day Cameron Wake retires, it does not make sense to add another hole to the roster. Branch seems to like it in Miami, and the team could use him for at least another year. He should be fairly reasonably priced, so Miami re-signing him makes the most sense.
What should the Dolphins do with Branch? Vote below and feel free to discuss in the comments.