The Miami Dolphins have completed their 2021 offseason training program, culminating in last week’s veteran minicamp. The one mandatory event for all players in the offseason, one of the major talking points throughout the week was the absence of cornerback Xavien Howard, who skipped the three-day event as he looks for a new contract. The discussion, rumors, and speculation surrounding Howard will continue throughout the summer until something changes.
Will Howard land a new deal, despite having four seasons remaining on his current contract? Will the league leader in interceptions last year come back without a new deal? Will Miami be forced to trade the 2020 First-Team All-Pro?
While Howard will be a much-discussed story line over the next month or two, there are several other players who also need to be in consideration for a new contract. According to the NFL Players Association, the Dolphins have $5.55 million in salary cap space as of June 21. The Dolphins need to use that cap space to sign the three remaining unsigned draft picks, tackle Liam Eichenberg, safety Jevon Holland, and tight end Hunter Long, but they also need to consider some of their 2022 free agents for contract extensions.
The good news for the Dolphins - and the league - is next season’s salary cap is expected to jump. The league and the NFLPA agreed back in May to a salary cap ceiling of $208 million, well higher than this year’s $182.5 million cap. The idea of the ceiling is to give the players a way to repay the debt that has been incurred by the players receiving their full salaries last year, despite the lack of in-stadium revenue for games played during the coronavirus pandemic. If the generated revenue is high enough that the cap would exceed $208 million, that extra money is counted toward the debt from last year and will allow for high caps in future years.
That is all a way to say the Dolphins will have cap space in 2022. According to OverTheCap.com, the Dolphins will be fifth in the league in available cap space in 2022 with $55.3 million available. Some of that space will likely be used in re-signing some of their own players - though it will likely take some creative contract work to create more space to cover signing bonuses.
Miami’s 2022 free agency list, again from OverTheCap.com, includes:
Will Fuller, wide receiver
Emmanuel Ogbah, edge
Jacoby Brissett, quarterback
Albert Wilson, wide receiver
Justin Coleman, cornerback
Elandon Roberts, linebacker
Malcolm Brown, running back
Matt Skura, center
Mike Gesicki, tight end
Michael Palardy, punter
Jason McCourty, defensive back
John Jenkins, defensive tackle
Brennan Scarlett, linebacker
Duke Reilly, linebacker
Jermaine Eluemunor, guard/tackle
Mack Hollins, wide receiver
D.J. Flucker, guard/tackle
Adam Pankey, guard/tackle
Robert Foster, wide receiver
Vince Biegel, linebacker
Cameron Tom, center
Calvin Munson, linebacker (RFA)
Jamal Perry, cornerback (RFA)
Nik Needham, cornerback (RFA)
Durham Smythe, tight end
Benito Jones, defensive tackle (ERFA)
Nate Holley, safety (ERFA)
Salvon Ahmed, running back (ERFA)
Jonathan Ledbetter, defensive end (ERFA)
Preston Williams, wide receiver (RFA)
Patrick Laird, running back (RFA)
Sam Eguavoen, linebacker (RFA)
Obviously, some of these players signed one-year contracts this offseason, so their status for 2022 depends on how they perform this year. They are not pressing needs for extension discussions this summer. There are, however, a few who should be up for consideration:
Mike Gesicki - Gesicki probably leads the way in the group of players with expiring contracts who needs to be extended. He is not a household name outside of South Florida, but analysts all seem to agree that he is on the verge of being one of the top tight ends in the league. In three seasons, Gesicki has 126 receptions for 1,475 yards with 11 touchdowns. After an odd rookie year when he was asked to be primarily a blocking tight end, despite pre-Draft analysis stating his weakness as a blocker, Gesicki is becoming a seam-threat tight end who can be the big-bodied red-zone target every team needs. Gesicki should absolutely be extended by the Dolphins, and they may want to try to do it this summer before he has a chance to put up gaudy numbers in the season.
Elandon Roberts - Roberts joined the Dolphins last year, playing in 13 games with 11 starts. He tallied 61 tackles, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. He is returning from a knee injury, so there is some hesitancy there to make sure he is back to 100 percent before coming to a new deal, but there is a reason Miami signed him to a second one-year contract without needing him to pass a physical first. He is exactly the player and the leader head coach Brian Flores wants on the defense. Keeping him in Miami, paired with Jerome Baker who just signed a contract extension, makes a lot of sense for the Dolphins.
Will Fuller - This might be too early, but the Dolphins could look to sign Fuller to a contract extension, both to make sure the 27 year old wide receiver does not leave Miami in the spring, and to lower his $10.6 million salary cap number for this season. If Fuller is going to be part of a dynamic wide receiver corps alongside DeVante Parker and rookie Jaylen Waddle, keeping him for more than just this season might be a necessity for the Dolphins. Signing Fuller to an extension might be a discussion once the team figures out exactly what they have in COVID-19 2020 opt outs Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns, both of whom are returning this year.
Durham Smythe - Smythe is becoming a solid all-around tight end and was complimenting Gesicki well last year. The coaching staff seems to really like Smythe, who was listed as the starter on the depth chart for much of the season, and he absolutely has a role with the club. The question becomes, does rookie Hunter Long overshadow Smythe and replace him as the all-around tight end?
Restricted/Exclusive Rights Free Agents who could be considered for long-term extensions - The Dolphins do not really need to make a move with some of their younger players who will have expiring contracts next spring given the players do not yet have enough service time to qualify as an unrestricted free agent. While they most likely will just place tenders on these players, they could also consider looking for long-term stability for players like Jamal Perry, Nik Needham, Salvon Ahmed, Preston Williams, and Sam Eguavoen.
Who would you look to lock up long term?