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NFL free agency rumors show Andre Branch has strong market

What can a year in Miami do for you? Well, if you are the Miami Dolphins’ defensive coordinator, it can get you a head coaching job. And, apparently, if you are the team’s defensive end, it can get you a big pay day.

Just over one year ago, Alfie Crow, of SB Nation’s Big Cat Country, wrote about then Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Andre Branch, profiling him before he hit the open market of free agency. In that profile, Crow described Branch as a “weird case” who “looks like an NFL pass rusher” but added he “is not good at rushing the passer.” He continued, writing, “ 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. He can sometimes win with a bull rush/inside move, but for the most part you’ll see Branch looping inside on a stunt or running a few yards behind the quarterback with the lineman shadowing him. There are two types of pass rushers, creators and cleaners, and Branch is a cleaner.”

Crow did not want the Jaguars to have interest in keeping Branch, who the team had selected in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft. “I don’t think the Jaguars will be bringing back Branch and quite honestly, they shouldn’t even be interested,” wrote Crow. “He’s shown time and time again he’s not a fit in this system and scheme and relies on stunts to get his quarterback sacks. He also seems like one of those players in free agency who could get overpaid because of his physical talent and a team thinks they can "fix" him. Branch would be best served going to a team as a rotational pass rusher paired with a primary creator.”

The Dolphins signed Branch in free agency last year, picking him up on a one-year contract. The team envisioned him as the starting defensive end rotating out when “pass-rush specialist” Cameron Wake came into the game. Instead, Wake proved to be a starter, but that did not push Branch out of the lineup. Miami coaches soon realized, Branch should be the starter opposite Wake, not in place of him. Branch took over the starting role that had previously belonged to another free agent addition, Mario Williams, with Branch appearing in all 16 games in 2016, with 11 starts, recording 49 tackles, one pass defensed, two forced fumbles, and 5.5 sacks.

The season proved to be one of Branch’s best, including his most starts in a season, half-a-sack from his career high of six in 2013, and a career high in tackles. It was also a good enough season to have several teams now interested in the defensive end as he approaches free agency for the second-straight offseason.

Miami wants to bring back Branch, but the price tag appears to be rising. According to Bleacher Report’s Jason Cole, Branch could be approaching the $7-9 million a season range. That could be a huge pay raise for Branch from the $2.75 million prove-it deal he signed with Miami last year. That salary range would jump Branch into the Tamba Hali, Cliff Avril, Connor Barwin, Carlos Dunlap, Julius Peppers, Cameron Wake and Jerry Hughes neighborhood.

Would the Dolphins be willing to increase Branch’s salary to that type of money? He would essentially be replacing Williams on the Dolphins’ roster, who was making $8.5 million per year on the two-year contract he signed with the Dolphins last year. It is not such a high value that Miami cannot afford to sign him, especially if they work the contract so that his salary cap number is low for the first year or two in a long-term deal, potentially looking to lock him up as the heir apparent top pass rusher for whenever Wake chooses to retire.

Cole’s reported range for Branch seems like a giant jump, but it is not unmanageable for the Dolphins. Plus, it seems like coming to Miami for one year leads to bigger-and-better things in today’s NFL. Can those bigger-and-better things happen while keeping the player in Miami?