The Miami Dolphins used the 13th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft to select Clemson defensive lineman Christian Wilkins. A hybrid lineman for the Dolphins, Wilkins has proven able to play anywhere along the line of scrimmage, stuffing the run or attacking the quarterback from any position. Since being selected, Wilkins has played in 64 games, including 60 starts, over four seasons, missing just two games back in 2020. He has 290 tackles, 11.5 sacks, one interception, 17 passes defensed, three forced fumbles, and four fumble recoveries. He also has two receptions after lining up as a fullback on offense, each for a one-yard touchdown.
As he heads into his fifth season in the league, Wilkins is entering the final year of his rookie contract. The Dolphins picked up the option in his deal, guaranteeing him $10.8 million this season. The jump from his fourth-year salary of $2.6 million to this year’s $10.8 million is a giant leap forward - but Wilkins could be headed toward an even bigger payday soon.
“Christian, ever since we drafted him, has done nothing but get better each year,” Dolphins general manager Chris Grier said earlier this offseason. “He is a tireless worker, as we’ve talked about. You guys have heard me talk about how he works around the building. He’s in every day. He’s still in the offseason. I’ve seen him around more than anyone. He loves the game. He loves our organization. We love him. We’d like to have him here for a long time. But in terms of conversations with agents, we don’t really talk publicly about it, but we would like to have him here a long time.”
Miami head coach Mike McDaniel was asked at the NFL’s spring meetings about Wilkins and the potential of getting a contract extension competed. McDaniel indicated the team and Wilkins have been in “constant” communication and that it is a priority for the team to complete a deal this offseason.
The Dolphins recently agreed to an extension with tight end Durham Smythe, adding two years to his deal. Now they need to get the deal done with Wilkins, and they may now have the framework for the deal.
On Friday, the Tennessee Titans agreed to a four-year extension with defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons, a move that keeps the 2019 19th overall pick with the team through 2027. Like Wilkins, Simmons had his fifth-year option picked up by the Titans, a move that will pay him a similar $10.8 million this year. The extension will add years six through nine to the deal, and an additional $94 million, including $66 million in guaranteed money. The signing bonus is $24 million for Simmons.
For a statistical comparison, Simmons has played in 56 games over his first four seasons, starting 54 of them. He has 189 tackles with 21.0 sacks, 19 passes defensed, two forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries. Simmons leaps ahead of Wilkins, however, in having been selected to two Pro Bowls. Wilkins has been snubbed, with no selections to the all-star event as of yet.
Simmons’ contract slots him behind the Los Angeles Rams’ Aaron Donald in terms of the annual average value of the contract as an interior defensive lineman, with Donald set at $31.7 million per year and Simmons at $23.5 million. It moves him ahead of free agent signings this year, including the Washington Commanders’ re-signing Daron Payne ($22.5 million) and the San Francisco 49ers adding Javon Hargrave from the Philadelphia Eagles ($21 million).
Wilkins should come in ahead of Payne. Will the lack of Pro Bowl selections keep him from being able to surpass Simmons? He probably will not get to Donald money, but he could slide in just behind the Rams’ superstar, ahead of Simmons despite the lack of all-star selections.
The question becomes when will the deal get done? With Simmons now signed, Miami has what should be the framework for the deal. If they wait longer, the New York Jets’ Quinnen Williams, the New York Giants’ Dexter Lawrence, and the Kansas City Chiefs’ Chris Jones could all start agreeing to new deals, moving ahead of Simmons.
The market is starting to heat up for interior defensive linemen. Wilkins deserves a new deal, and he should be able to maximize his value whenever that deal is completed. He should move ahead of Simmons. But, if the Dolphins want to limit just how high that value will be, they need to get the deal done soon.