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The Miami Dolphins Have Saved Over $50 Million in 2023 Cap Space by Drafting Premium Positions

It’s why you should take them early and often...

New York Jets v Miami Dolphins Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

The Miami Dolphins have put themselves in a position to assemble an elite roster and they did it by using high draft picks on high-value (premium) positions. Positional value is one of my favorite topics to discuss within the game of football. The idea is that certain positions have a larger effect on the outcome of a game... which is why those positions receive a larger paycheck on average.

When competing in a sport (like the NFL) that uses a salary cap, spending your money wisely is foundational to sustained success. One of the best ways to save cap room is by drafting these high-value positions, especially early in the draft when you are more likely to “hit” on your pick. This is something that Chris Grier has shown the propensity to do since joining the Dolphins’ organization.

Which Positions are “High-Value?”

The first and highest value one is pretty obvious: quarterback. They are the face of most franchises and clearly the face of the NFL. They get the largest contracts and it is widely accepted that they have the largest impact on the outcome of games. Having a good quarterback on a rookie deal gives your franchise a huge leg up.

What are some of the other high-value positions? This can differ from person to person, but Offensive Tackle, Edge Defender, Corner (depending on your defense), and Wide Receiver all tend to make enormous impacts on the game. A great way to think about how valuable production is at a certain position is to ask “how much would it cost me on the open market to replace this?”

Grier’s Most Valuable Selections

Tua Tagovailoa

You should have seen this one coming. Getting a quality quarterback on a rookie deal puts you in such an advantageous position. I realize plenty of fans are not sold on Tagovailoa, but it seems undeniable that the Dolphins have one of the twelve best quarterbacks in the NFL (when on the field).

In 2022 he was fourth in PFF passing grade, 2nd in EPA/play, 3rd in QBR, led the NFL in average depth of target, and led the NFL in QB rating. He had a few rocky performances, but overall he proved to the world that he belongs in the conversation with other top passers. If I’m replacing that on the open market, I need to look at the kind of contract he would demand and take the average yearly salary from that.

2023 Cap Hit: $9,633,094

APY (avg per year) to Replace: $38,000,000

Savings: $28,366,906

Jaelan Phillips

This should have been another fairly obvious one, but Jaelan Phillips doesn’t always get the love he deserves. If not for some concussion scares in college, there is no chance Phillips would have been available at pick 18 in 2021. Luckily for the Dolphins, he was.

Phillips has already registered 15.5 sacks in his two NFL seasons and finished with the 6th most (70) pressures of any edge defender in 2022 (per PFF). The scary thing is that Phillips is still an ascending young player. As it stands now, he is just a notch below the truly elite pass rushers (Myles Garret, TJ Watt, Micah Parsons etc...), but there’s reason to believe he will be joining that tier of players soon.

2023 Cap Hit: $3,823,146

APY to Replace: $22,000,000

Savings: $18,176,854

Jaylen Waddle

There are probably about 15-20 NFL teams where Jaylen Waddle would unquestionably be WR1. Everyone talks about Waddle’s speed, but don’t let that fool you into thinking he’s just a deep threat. Jaylen Waddle runs precise routes, can fight for the football when needed, and I don’t know if there is anyone else in the NFL who explodes out of their breaks quite like he does.

In today’s NFL, you need to be three deep at receiver, at a minimum. If Jaylen Waddle hit the open market tomorrow, the line of interested teams would be around the block. The $20,000,000 APY I went with on this one is probably conservative- I could see Waddle really breaking the bank on the open market.

2023 Cap Hit: $7,387,090

APY to Replace: $20,000,000

Savings: $12,612,910

How Have the Dolphins spent $59,156,670?

Well, the most obvious one is on Tyreek Hill. His average per year is $30 million. Another good one here is Terron Armstead, who comes in at a $15 million per year average. Another big addition that is made possible by these savings is Jalen Ramsey. His $18 million average puts this just over the savings threshold, but without a young core on rookie deals, there’s a good chance none of these moves are made.

There is a reason why this rebuild formula is so popular around the NFL. When executed correctly, it works. The big thing here is that you need these draft picks to hit, at least a decent portion of them. Over a two-year span (2020-2021), the Dolphins hit on three of their five first-round selections. Noah Igbinoghene and Austin Jackson are notably absent on this list because they don’t save Miami anything at their current level of play.

This is why teams want to collect so many early picks. No matter how good of a General Manager you are, some of these selections won’t work out. It’s like playing the lottery, the more tickets you buy the better your chances of winning are. For Chris Grier, he hit big on three of those tickets and it’s funding what could be a championship run in 2023.