Jake Bailey doesn’t raise the Dolphins special teams bar

With a special teams coach that should have been fired, Miami must turn to UDFA to replace veterans at both kicking positions.

Despite signing Jake Bailey (left) to a new contract on Friday, Miami must look for collegiate competition as Bailey is still not very good and Jason Sanders (right) is too expensive under the cap.
Despite signing Jake Bailey (left) to a new contract on Friday, Miami must look for collegiate competition as Bailey is still not very good and Jason Sanders (right) is too expensive under the cap. / Megan Briggs/GettyImages
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The Miami Dolphins resigned punter Jake Bailey on Friday, to a two-year deal that could be worth in the neighborhood of $5 million. This is a horrible investment for a team that is over the cap in excess of $20 million and the team needs to look for a cheap undrafted free agent to come in and compete with him and incumbent kicker Jason Sanders.

Last month, I was pounding the table for the Dolphins to workout and then sign Matt Ariaza, a/k/a The Punt God, who was a street free agent who they could have gotten cheap. Special teams coach Danny Crossman blew it and lost his opportunity as he signed with the two-time Super Bowl Champions Kansas CIty Chiefs a few days later.

Super Bowl Champions win the big games for a multitude of reasons. Two of those reasons are one, they scout well, and two, they take a chance on certain players. Kansas City did exactly that with Ariaza, while Crossman sat on his hands and brought back a line drive punter that lost the division title for them last season.

Ariaza would have signed with Miami for the league minimum and would have cost very little in terms of the salary cap. Instead, Crossman knew that he was keeping Bailey and that management would offer him substantially more money than a street free agent.

With Miami's high-octane, end-zone finding offense firing on all cylinders, the punter is probably the least important player on the squad. To spend in excess of $2 million per season on a mediocre punter is just crazy.

With only six draft choices, the Dolphins could not reach for Iowa's Tory Taylor, the best collegiate punter in the country, but there will be a host of undrafted free agents up for grabs that can kick the ball 46 yards at a time, just like Bailey did last season. Taylor will be off the board by the third round and the Dolphins currently do not possess a third-round selection.

Austin McNamara
Austin McNamara from Texas Tech would be a good solid replacement for punter Jake Bailey, if he goes undrafted in next month's NFL Draft. The Dolphins should be looking for competition for Bailey is making too much money for the level of talent that he displays week in and week out. / Josh Hedges/GettyImages

Austin McNamara, a fifth-year senior from Texas Tech, will more than likely go undrafted and be available to the Dolphins after the seventh round concludes. I believe that Taylor will be the only punter selected.

McNamara has a powerful leg and kicks the ball like he is mad at it and has an average hangtime of over five seconds. He has gotten better each year and in 2023 he averaged 46.3 yards per punt and placed 24 punts inside the 20-yard line. More impressive was the fact that his punts yielded a return only 18 percent of the time. Miami could sign him for a song and pay him the league minimum.

Another guy that I like is Matt Hayball, a fifth-year senior from Vanderbilt. Hayball was probably the best punter in the 2023 season as he finished in the top five in gross punting average while his returns were limited. He averaged 47.6 yards per punt with a long of 71.

Taylor and BYU's Ryan Rehkow were the only punters invited to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last week. Rehkow will not get drafted and will be there for the taking.

In the old days, when Mike Westhoff and Steve Hoffman were special teams coaches in Miami, the Dolphins never spent a lot of money on a punter, unless your name was Reggie Roby, who was a perennial all-pro. Westhoff and Hoffman would scout the undrafted free agents and bring in the best every year. Many of the punters that challenged Roby in camp, would be signed by other teams after they were cut in Miami due to Westhoff's ability to scout specialists and work with them in camp and expose them in game situations.

Sanders is too expensive and needs to face stiff competition in camp from another undrafted free agent

Sanders might be coming off of one of the best seasons of his career, but there is no way that the Dolphins can spend almost $7 million on their two kicking specialists. Sanders had the great game against Dallas, but most of his other kicks were from inside the 40 where kickers are supposed to be money in the bank. I know that I praised Sanders, and I do believe that he is a great kicker, but kickers have salary ceilings. He has reached that plateau and he needs to be replaced.

With the Dolphins so far over the cap, and they need to be at the cap level by Tuesday at 4:00 Eastern time, Sanders would be a good cap casualty as he has a cap number of roughly $4.5 million. If he was cut, Miam would have a dead cap figure of just over $2 million, according to spotrac.com. The Dolphins could use that $2.5 million for a position player that they really need where they are losing assets in free agency.

Will Reichard
Will Reichard makes a field goal in the 2023 SEC Championship Game for Alabama against Georgia. Reichard is probably the best kicker coming out of the 2024 NFL Draft Class. / Kevin C. Cox/GettyImages

There are roughly five or six college kickers coming out that will not get drafted. The best kicker coming out is Alabama's Will Reichard, who is the NCAA's all-time leading scorer. He might get drafted, or he might not. If he was available, I would entertain a bidding war for him and pound the tables to get him after the draft.

Joshua Karty of Stanford has been ranked in the top three kickers all season long and there is a good chance that he will be available post-draft. Cam Little from Arkansas is coming out as a junior, but he is good enough and strong enough to play in the NFL and deserves a look.

Karty, Little, Reichard and Harrison Mevis were the only kickers invited to Indianapolis for the NFL Combine. Chances are that one or two of the four will get drafted and the other two will be UDFA. Miami needs to seriously look at the UDFA class and see who is available. With the potent Dolphins offense, especially after the signing of Jonnu Smith, Miami will be more explosive and will not need to rely on Sanders or long field goals quite so much.

Undrafted free agents make teams every season. There is no reason why Miami cannot have UDFA's as starting specialists next season.