The Miami Dolphins will enter this off-season looking for more than a head coach. They are going to be looking to fill possibly 13 roster spots. The Dolphins could have 13 players become free agents when the season ends and free agency rolls around sometime in March.
For obvious reasons the Dolphins can’t afford to re-sign all of them and some will be cheaper than others. I won’t waste your time trying to guess the value those players will command on an open market that hasn’t been set yet and won’t until much much later. That won’t however keep from telling you who I believe is worthy of being re-signed based on play vs. a general salary that they may command. It’s not rocket science to see who is performing and who isn’t.
four players that deserve to be re-signed.
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Miller has been very productive in the Dolphins offense over the last two seasons. This year he won’t likely hit the 1,000 yard mark for the season, repeating what he accomplished last year but Miller has become very valuable in the passing game. An area that he didn’t exactly excel at in his first couple of seasons.
Through nine games Miller has rushed for 521 yards on 107 carries for a 4.9 yard average. He has five rushing touchdowns on the season as well. Miller’s biggest problems aren’t his own and to some degree they are not the fault of the offensive line. Most of his troubles this year come on the shoulders of the coaches who are abandoning the run far too often and early for Miller to find success.
In the passing game Miller ranks third in receptions with 33 for 319 averaging 9.7 per reception. He has added two touchdowns. Miller’s growth the last two years make him one of the teams top priorities this off-season but that will depend on who is the coach in 2016 and how they view the team. The two headed attack of rookie Jay Ajayi and Miller could set the team up nicely for the foreseeable future.
When the 2015 league new year kicked-off Rishard Matthews wanted a release out of town or at the very least a trade. The Dolphins denied him that option and expected him to play out the final year of his rookie contract. Matthews wasn’t upset over his contract just his playing time. That all changed when training camp rolled around.
With the injury to DeVante Parker sidelining the first round pick, Matthews got plenty of looks at receiver through camp and pre-season and earned a starting job. Through the first nine weeks Matthews has developed into a solid and sure handed receiver. Reliable, Tannehill has looked Matthews way often and as Matthews grows into the role his route running has vastly improved.
Matthews is the teams second leading receiver with 42 receptions for 647 yards well on his way to a 1,000 yard season. He has also scored four times on the season. Matthews is not going to break the bank like Brian Hartline did three years ago but he is showing that he deserves a contract extension and the Dolphins would be smart to give him one. Even with the return of Parker eventually and Kenny Stills.
Shelby has played well at the defensive end position this year and has looked good since the Dolphins lost Cameron Wake. Shelby isn’t going to be an expensive re-sign and frankly I doubt he gets a lot of action on the free agent market. Shelby will likely enter free agency as a 3rd to 4th tier DE and that doesn’t mean a lot of money.
The problem Shelby will face is that he isn’t an every down player and isn’t penciled in as a starter. While Shelby is a serviceable and important back-up he doesn’t have the qualities that other teams look for in a starter and that will keep his price down. If all things are equal the Dolphins would be better off re-signing him and playing him more often getting better value for their money.
The biggest issue for Shelby and the Dolphins however is that Shelby is replaceable and a lot will depend on which direction the team goes system wise in 2016.
Stoneburner isn’t an unrestricted free agent he is an exclusive rights free agent which means he doesn’t hit the market unless the Dolphins let him or want him to. Stoneburner hasn’t played much since Dion Sims returned to the team but with Jordan Cameron likely gone after the season ($6 million plus cap hit in 2016) the Dolphins might just have a solution.
Stoneburner has really good hands but needs to work on his blocking skills and route running. He has a large frame that is perfect for shielding defenders and is a viable red-zone target.
Stoneburner will come cheap as well and the Dolphins should lock him up for another two years at the pricetag he will command. The next step is getting him on the field where he can learn the game quicker. Looking around the league, there are plenty of young tight-ends making impacts for their teams, such as Gary Barnidge in Cleveland and the emergence of Travis Kelce last year in Kansas City. The Dolphins may have a great option in Stoneburner if they can find a way to, well you know, use their tight-ends. (no-pun intended)
Why no 5th?
Olivier Vernon is the next big name on the Dolphins free agent pending list and frankly he hasn’t shown much this year. In fact he didn’t show much last year either. Vernon looked promising in his rookie season and then played well in his second but he has fallen quite a bit. Consistently inconsistent against the run and the pass Vernon has struggled off the edge to get to quarterbacks. The bigger issue is that Vernon is likely to over-value himself and will likely put himself out of the Dolphins price range.
Vernon will likely get a very good 2nd contract on the open market. I expect him to generate 2nd tier or upper 3rd tier interest but those parties will be teams that believe they can coach him in the right direction. In Miami his salary won’t like be conducive to the teams current salary cap structure. In the end I believe that Vernon will leave and make good money but will continue playing at about the same level he is now.
Michael Thomas is slated to be a free agent and at the beginning of the year I said he was overdue for a breakout season. He hasn’t, broken out that is and it’s very likely that he will hit the free agent market unless he signs a low contract to stay with the team. Zach Bowman is also a free agent playing this year on a one year deal. He won’t likely sign another contract with Miami considering he isn’t thrilled with not starting.
Kelvin Sheppard should head into free agency. The Dolphins need an immediate upgrade at the middle linebacker position as Sheppard has been horrible. Sheppard really doesn’t provide much depth either making him more than expendable. The upside of Zach Vigil should be the easy writing on the wall when it comes time to discuss a new contract with Sheppard. A conversation that should start and end with “no-thanks”.
The rest of the impending free agents are either bit players or players that have no value to the team outside of one season. Easily upgradeable. Matt Moore would be the only player remaining that would warrant discussion but it’s time that the Dolphins find another back-up quarterback as Moore simply hasn’t shown through two seasons of exhibition games that he can be relied upon if needed.