Miami’s finances are in the red, general manager Chris Grier and the front office have roughly a month to balance the checkbook.
The Dolphins are roughly $16 million over the salary cap and must be under it prior to 4 p.m. on March 15, when the 2023 NFL league year begins. Shortly after 4 p.m., the front office begins the tall task of replacing more than 20 soon-to-be free agents.
As of now, Miami is looking at 27 impending free agents. It’s always possible a few of those players return to the franchise, but keep in mind that the Dolphins don’t have a first-round pick in the draft and little money to work with in free agency. Those are strict guidelines and depth is a primary concern this offseason
Options are limited with just five picks to work with — here are three roster spots the team should have figured out before the 2023 NFL draft.
Who will start across from Xavien Howard?
Howard, Miami’s top cornerback, will count for $10 million against the salary cap next season and Byron Jones provided the team with another cornerback with top-end talent. That being said, Jones didn’t play for the team in 2022 as he recovered from ankle surgery.
“Byron (Jones) worked hard trying to get back,” Grier said shortly after the season ended. “Unfortunately it didn’t work out. He did his best. Training, doctors, everybody worked hard.”
The Dolphins can save $13 against the salary cap if he is a post-June 1 cut. Otherwise, Jones costs $18 million against the cap. Cornerbacks Justin Bethel and Nik Needham will be free agents, too. Trill Williams is a restricted-free agent.
That leaves Howard, Kader Kohou, Keion Crossen, and Noah Igbinoghene as the only cornerbacks under contract. Re-signing both Needham and Williams is possible, but 2022 magnified the team’s need for depth for the position.
Whether the Dolphins and Jones figure things out or the team looks toward free agency, the defense needs a major lift at cornerback.
Will Vic Fangio find his linebackers?
Elandon Roberts, Duke Riley, Sam Eguavoen, and Andrew Van Ginkel are all a month away from entering free agency.
Jerome Baker will count for roughly $13 million against the cap and the team drafted Channing Tindall in the third round of last year’s draft — that isn’t enough to work with at inside linebacker. Welcoming back a thumper and leader, like Roberts, is certainly in the picture. That said, Grier will likely have one or two “decent” contracts to award this offseason and linebacker is arguably the defense’s weakest link.
Tremaine Edmunds (Buffalo Bills), Lavonte David (Tampa Bay Buccaneers). Devon Bush (Pittsburgh Steelers) and Deion Jones (Cleveland Browns) are a few soon-to-be unrestricted free agents.
Two safeties start but there is plenty of value in a third banana
Brandon Jones suffered a season-ending ACL injury in late October but is on track to start with Jevon Holland in Miami’s secondary next year. Eric Rowe, Clayton Fejedelem, and Elijah Campbell are soon-to-be free agents.
Rowe played at least 40 snaps in eight games, Fejedelem was valuable on special teams and Campbell faired decently well in coverage when filling in at strong safety.
While Miami is returning most of its firepower next season, depth in the secondary — especially at safety — could become a casualty due to the team’s limited draft capital and cap space. Replacing the versatility of Rowe and special teams support in Fejedelem while developing depth and addressing other needs will be quite the balancing act.
Bonus: Is running back a “desperate” need?
Despite four running backs facing free agency, just how desperate are the Dolphins?
The Dolphins signed Raheem Mostert to a one-year deal worth $3.125 million — and led the team with 891 rushing yards on 4.9 yards per carry. The team spent $6.283 million on the entire running back room last season.
Mostert could return to the team and a rookie tailback isn’t out of the picture. The Dolphins will add running backs at some point, it’s hard to imagine the position group shaping form early in the offseason.
Editors Note: The story has been updated with Trill Williams listed as a restricted free agent.