The Miami Dolphins have a history of finding a gem in the undrafted free agent rough. In 2020, the team added played like defensive tackle Benito Jones and wide receiver Kirk Merritt. In 2019, they signed players including guard Shaq Calhoun (now with the Arizona Cardinals), running back Patrick Laird, defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter, cornerback Nik Needham, tight end Chris Myarick, and wide receiver Preston Williams. The Dolphins like to add undrafted free agents who are going to have an impact on the roster.
Is Robert Jones the next of those players? Can an offensive lineman become a fan favorite?
The Dolphins signed jones to an undrafted free agent contract that included $130,000 in guaranteed money. While not completely an unheard of amount, that is still a large number. According to OverTheCap.com, the Dolphins have averaged $23,036 in guarantees for undrafted free agent players over the last two years. The Dallas Cowboys have the highest average over the past two seasons, with $71,429 per UDFA signed. The Dolphins giving one player $130,000 is a huge sign that the team believes he will stick around this season.
“You know, man, it was just a blessing,” Jones laughed and replied when asked during Saturday’s rookie minicamp press availability about the guaranteed money. “When they started coming in, I was just – I couldn’t believe it. Because at the end of the day, I just wanted an opportunity. Even if they gave me $15,000 guaranteed, I was going to take it and run with it because I just wanted a place where I could go and compete.”
He will have a chance to compete this summer, but it will be an uphill battle as he comes in undrafted. “I wasn’t disappointed,” Jones said of not being selected in the second-round 2021 NFL Draft.” At the end of the day, I just wanted an opportunity to get to this level and just play football and I was blessed with the opportunity to come here and compete.”
The Dolphins coaching staff’s work at the Senior Bowl this year paid dividends with Jones when he explained why he is in South Florida. “I chose the Dolphins just because I just feel like the coaching staff, because I did work with them at the Senior Bowl, I just felt like that coaching staff wants the best out of every player, even if they were going to different teams or not. So I thought they had my best interests at heart.”
He added to the thought, saying of the Senior Bowl experience, “It was just, going out there – I just saw they pushed everyone no matter if they were going to play, or if they weren’t going to practice; they pushed everyone no matter what and they never singled anyone out and they always made sure they pushed everybody to their expectations. So when all the teams started coming, I just knew ‘Coach Lem’ (Offensive Line Coach Lemuel Jeanpierre), Coach Flores and everyone was just going to push me to my best.”
Jones was a tackle at Middle Tennessee State, but the Dolphins are listing him as a guard, where he played during his junior college career at Highland Community College. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein wrote of Jones pre-Draft, “Jones is a two-year starter at right tackle who will transition inside to guard due to a lack of athleticism at tackle. His wide frame can be a challenge to navigate and there is potential for improvement by making the proper adjustments with hand placement. However, his inability to bend and drop his pad level will make it even tougher to create leverage and sustain blocks as an interior player. Sub-package rushers might be too quick for him to handle in protection with his lack of body control.”
Jones may not be a perfect prospect, but he could be exactly what fans would want to see from a rookie. He is a guy who is going to come in and give is all on every snap, and he is going to do whatever the coaches need to make the team better. “My process is just keep developing as a player and keep getting mentally tough,” Jones said when asked about the competition he is facing. “When you go each level, you go up – because I started at JUCO – every level is all about a mental game and just really understanding what you’re doing. Getting here is all about me learning the playbook and just learning my fundamentals and learning how does this team want me to do certain things.”
The Dolphins could look at Jones as a depth guard option early in his career, with the versatility to flex him outside if needed, as well as potentially give him time at center to serve as the emergency option there as well. He has the ability to move around and, while he may not be perfect for any one position right now, with coaching, he could become a key member of Miami’s offensive line. He could become the next UDFA fan favorite.