Dolphins filling the loss of Vernon nicely

Dec 21, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; Detroit Lions defensive end Jason Jones (91) celebrates a sack against the New Orleans Saints in the third quarter of the game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 21, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; Detroit Lions defensive end Jason Jones (91) celebrates a sack against the New Orleans Saints in the third quarter of the game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports /

Miami announced on Friday that they will sign DE Jason Jones to a one-year deal. Jones becomes the third defensive end the Dolphins have signed in free agency to help fill the loss of Olivier Vernon.

There’s no question Miami suffered a big loss at the start of free agency when DE Olivier Vernon signed a five-year, $85 million contract with the New York Giants. Even though it was surely a blow to lose their Pro Bowl defensive end, the Dolphins were smart in not getting into a bidding war with the Giants. Still, the Dolphins management team knew that they had their work cut out for them to fill the void of losing Vernon. So far, they have done an impressive job.

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Before Vernon’s signing with New York, the Dolphins inked former Bills defensive end Mario Williams to a two-year deal. The deal made it clear that Vernon was likely on his way out. With so much money already tied up in other players like Ndamukong Suh and Ryan Tannehill, Miami could ill afford giving Vernon the payday he expected. Williams contract is a team-friendly one, giving the Dolphins the option to move on from Williams after the first season if they choose with a minimal loss.

The former Pro-Bowler will need to prove himself once again after a lackluster season in Buffalo. Recording just a combined 19 tackles and 5 sacks on the season, Williams seemed disinterested at times, bringing his work ethic into question. In his previous three seasons with Buffalo, he recorded no less than 10.5 sacks and 38 tackles to finish a season. He’ll get his chance to be the player he once was going into next season as the starter opposite of Cameron Wake.

Shortly after officially losing Vernon, Miami continued their search to add depth to the position and landed on former Jaguar Andre Branch. Branch has spent his entire career thus far in Jacksonville. He will be 27 when the season begins, which is an added bonus for the Dolphins, who are aging on the edges.

Branch is not expected to start but he will be a pivotal part of the Dolphins rotation. Miami would love for Branch to become more of a pass rusher, but his ability to hold up the run will be highly welcome on a team that ranked 28th against the run in 2015. Branch’s contract with Miami is for one-year, $3 million guaranteed.

It wouldn’t be a Miami free agency period without signing a couple of former Lions players. The Dolphins signed safety Isa Abdul-Quddus back in early March and have now agreed to terms with defensive end Jason Jones. The deal for Jones is also expected to be a one-year deal and will be signed on Monday. Jones will be reunited with his former teammate, Suh, on the front four.

Jones has spent his last three seasons in Detroit. After suffering a season-ending knee injury early in the first year of his deal, Jones had been a consistent starter for the Lions the past two seasons. In 2015, he recorded 31 tackles and 4.5 sacks. Like Branch, Jones is more of a run-stuffer but is still able to get after the quarterback as well.

Miami has made some nice veteran signings this off-season even if only for the short-term. All three are generally on one-year “prove it” deals but that’s okay for now. If Miami likes what they see from any of them and believes they can fit in the future of the team, then they can make it work. Replacing Vernon will no doubt be tough, as the former Dolphin was recently ranked the 21st best player in the league according to Pro Football Focus in 2015. The Dolphins have not panicked, however, and will have options going forward.

They recently took care of their own with the extension of Cameron Wake last week. The longtime Dolphin signed a deal worth $15 million, with $10 million guaranteed over two years. Wake can also receive additional bonus money should he reach desirable sack counts according to the contract. Wake’s contract extension was a relief to Dolphins fans, who may have been worried that a deal would not be reached.

As mentioned, each deal is essentially short-term so the Dolphins will need to address the position further at some point. Each player, with the exception of Branch, will be at least 30 by the time the season starts. Eventually they’ll have to go younger. Miami did not draft a defensive end in 2016, selecting two cornerbacks instead as the only defensive personnel. They did bring in former Kentucky player Farrington Huguenin as an undrafted rookie.

Miami didn’t make the big free agent splash that we’re used to seeing this off-season but they’ve made some good key acquisitions.  In a lot of ways it’s been nice, as it has allowed Miami to focus more on improving the team as a whole. Even after the signing of Jones, don’t expect Miami to be finished quite yet this off-season.

The Dolphins are still looking into bringing an additional cornerback, with interest in both Leon Hall and Antonio Cromartie. Miami could also use a veteran running back to help develop the young crew. Former Texan Arian Foster, who met with the Dolphins previously, is a likely candidate.