Miami’s finances are in the red, general manager Chris Grier and the front office have about a month to balance the checkbook.
The Dolphins are roughly $16 million over the salary cap and must be below it by 4 p.m. on March 15, when the 2023 NFL league year begins. Shortly after 4 pm, the front office begins the big task of replacing more than 20 future free agents.
As of now, Miami is looking for 27 imminent free agents. It’s always possible that some of those players could return to the franchise, but keep in mind that the Dolphins have no first-round draft pick 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 against Xavien Howard?
Howard, Miami’s best cornerback, will have $10 million against the salary cap next season and Byron Jones provided the team with another cornerback with top-tier talent. That being said, Jones did not play for the team in 2022 while he recovered from ankle surgery.
“Byron (Jones) worked hard trying to recover,” Grier said shortly after the season ended. “Unfortunately it didn’t work. He did the best he could. Training, doctors, everyone worked hard.”
The Dolphins can save $13 against the salary cap if it’s a post-June 1 cut. Otherwise, Jones costs $18 million against the cap. Cornerbacks Justin Bethel, Nik Needham and Trill Williams will also be free agents.
That leaves Howard, Kader Kohou, Keion Crossen and Noah Igbinoghene as the only cornerbacks under contract. It is possible to re-sign both Needham and Williams, but 2022 magnified the team’s need for depth for the job.
Whether the Dolphins and Jones work things out or the team looks toward free agency, the defense needs a major boost at cornerback.
Will Vic Fangio find his supporters?
Elandon Roberts, Duke Riley, Sam Eguavoen and Andrew Van Ginkel are a month away from entering free agency.
Jerome Baker will have roughly $13 million against the salary cap and the team selected Channing Tindall in the third round of last year’s draft, that’s not enough to work at inside linebacker. Welcoming a puncher and leader, like Roberts, is certainly in the picture. That said, Grier likely has a “decent” contract or two to award this offseason and linebacker is arguably the weakest link on the defense.
Tremaine Edmunds (Buffalo Bills), Lavonte David (Tampa Bay Buccaneers). Devon Bush (Pittsburgh Steelers) and Deion Jones (Cleveland Browns) are some of the soon to be unrestricted free agents.
Two securities start but there is a lot of value in a third banana
Brandon Jones suffered a season-ending ACL injury in late October, but is on track to start Jevon Holland in the Miami secondary next year. Eric Rowe, Clayton Fejedelem and Elijah Campbell will soon be free agents.
Rowe played at least 40 snaps in eight games, Fejedelem was valuable on special teams, and Campbell performed decently well in coverage when filling in for a strong safety.
While Miami will return most of its firepower next season, the depth in the secondary, especially at safety, could become a victim due to limited draft capital and the team’s cap space. Replacing Rowe’s versatility 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 contract worth $3.125 million, and he 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 running back isn’t out of the question. The Dolphins will add running backs at some point, it’s hard to imagine the shape of the position pool early in the offseason.