First-round draft picks each year sign a four-year rookie contract, with a team option for a fifth season. This offseason, after selecting him in the first round in 2020, the Miami Dolphins activated the option for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, keeping him with the team through the 2024 season. The fact that the Dolphins executed the option - and that they executed it well before the deadline to make the move - was a major talking point of the offseason for the national media. But, it is the player that had his option picked up last year that is getting overlooked by many.
Defensive lineman Christian Wilkins is entering the final year of his rookie contract after being the team’s first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Miami activated the fifth-year option in the offseason ahead of the 2022 regular season, making 2023 the last year on Wilkins’ contract, a year that will pay him a fully-guaranteed $10.8 million, but does not give Wilkins - or the team - any sense of longevity. There has been talk that the team and Wilkins are trying to come to a new deal that would keep him in Miami for years to come, but nothing has been completed yet.
“I let my agent handle all of that. There is a reason he’s hired,” Wilkins told the media this week. He then added, jokingly singling out Sports Illustrated Fan Nation Network’s Omar Kelly, “The biggest complication with the contract is the Omar Kelly clause. I’m trying to make sure I don’t have to answer any of his questions, good to see you back.”
The offseason continues to progress with the team now heading into this week’s mandatory minicamp, but without any indication that a deal between the Dolphins and Wilkins is imminent. Is there a gap that needs to be closed? “Like I said, I let my agent handle all of that,” Wilkins explained. “He has a job to do. He’s one of the best in the business so I’m putting it in his hands, controlling what I can control. Coming out here every day and leading and playing ball.”
After this week, Miami will likely head into a quiet period, the one down-month on the calendar for the NFL. Training camp will begin sometime in late July, though the exact start date and schedule have not been released yet. Teams can have their veterans report two weeks before their first preseason game, which for Miami is August 11. That would mean the Dolphins could start camp sometime around July 27, with the rookies eligible to report a week earlier than that. The team and Wilkins would likely want to see a contract completed before camp starts.
Whatever happens, though, Wilkins is still going to be the player he has been and always is. “I’m always motivated and motivation comes from within, not a dollar amount, but it’s just my drive to be the best and be my best,” he answered when asked if being in a contract year would be a motivator for him. “No dollar changes that, changes my mindset. Whether something gets done or not my approach is always the same.”
Miami could look to try to get something completed this week during minicamp, but the more likely situation would be just ahead of training camp. If Wilkins were to play the season out on his current contract, with Miami planning to franchise tag him for next year, his cap number would likely be around $20 million for the 2024 season. Of course, if he is to jump into the top eight annual salaries for interior defensive linemen, he would also be jumping into the $20 million per year range.
Miami currently has about $13 million in salary cap space, giving them room to do something with Wilkins. The team has also been rumored to be interested in trying to sign running back Dalvin Cook should he be released by the Minnesota Vikings, so some of that money may be targeting that possibility.
Whatever the case, it seems most likely a new contract, or some clarification on what Wilkins’ future with Miami will look like, will happen closer to training camp than anything happening this week.
(Now cue the announcement of a new contract in 5...4...3...2...)