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Omar Kelly: A deep dive on the Dolphins depth chart after first round of free agency

The Miami Dolphins began free agency with $63.3 million in cap space, and they spent $43.8 million re-signing nine of their own players and adding eight newcomers as of Friday.

The team enters phase two — the bargain shopping segment of free agency — with $19.4 million left in cap space and eight 2022 draft picks, and they have the ability to create more than $20 million in spending room by releasing or restructuring the contracts of a few veteran players, which includes Pro Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard.

The big question we should be asking is whether General Manager Chris Grier, who is leading the football side of the organization for the fourth straight season, has improved the roster enough to turn the 2022 Dolphins into a perennial playoff contender?

Let us look at the depth chart and breakdown each unit.

Quarterback (3)

Tua Tagovailoa, Teddy Bridgewater and Chris Streveler

Miami will spend a third season investing in Tagovailoa, the No. 5 pick in the 2020 NFL draft, to see if he can establish himself as a franchise quarterback. Tagovailoa, who owns a 13-8 record as an NFL starter the past two seasons, completed 67.8 percent of his passes last year, throwing for 2,653 yards with 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions (90.1 passer rating). He’ll likely improve if the Dolphins put better talent around him. But if he struggles or gets injured, don’t be surprised if Bridgewater, who was signed to a one-year deal with a base salary of $6.5 million, leads the Dolphins to wins. Bridgewater, a Miami native, holds a 33-30 record as an NFL starter and has a cumulative passer rating of 90.7. Streveler, a former CFL standout who spent the majority of the past two seasons with the Arizona Cardinals, needs to prove he’s more than a camp arm.

Tailback (5)

Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert, Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed and Gerrid Doaks

Mostert has been a productive starter in the NFL and knows the run schemes new coach Mike McDaniel will attempt to install this offseason. He’s averaged 5.7 yards per carry, rushing for 1,610 yards on 284 attempts during his 49ers career. The problem is he’s rehabbing a knee injury, and might not be completely recovered until midseason. Edmonds is a threat rushing and receiving, which means he could provide a Deebo Samuel-type presence in the backfield. Gaskin, Ahmed and Doaks are all decent backups who could blossom into respectable NFL starters with the right opportunity and coaching.

Receiver (10)

Jaylen Waddle, DeVante Parker, Cedric Wilson Jr., Lynn Bowden Jr., Preston Williams, Allen Hurns, Trent Sherfield, Cody Core, DeVonte Dedmon and River Cracraft

Waddle set NFL and franchise rookie records in 2021, establishing himself as one of the NFL’s brightest young stars last season, but he was the only member of his unit that had a decent amount of success. Parker struggled with injuries all season, as usual, which explains why he only caught 40 passes for 515 yards and two touchdowns, and Hurns spent his second straight season out of football, on injured reserve in 2021 because of a broken finger. Both could possibly be released to create cap space, but it appears Miami will take them into training camp. Wilson set career highs with 45 receptions, which he turned into 602 receiving yards and six touchdowns for the Cowboys last season. He’s a blossoming slot receiver, one that has the skill set and size (6-foot-3) needed to play outside. Bowden Jr. sat out all last season because of medical concerns, but could make an impact if he can learn the offense at a respectable pace. Sherfield, Core, Dedmon and Cracraft are journeymen trying to find their footing in the NFL.

Tight end/Fullback (6)

Mike Gesicki, Adam Shaheen, Hunter Long, Cethan Carter and fullbacks Alec Ingold and John Lovett

Gesicki signed his franchise tag, which means he’ll likely spend his fifth season with the Dolphins, serving as a hybrid receiver-like weapon. Miami’s new coaches believe they can help Gesicki become a better blocker. Until that happens, the Dolphins must rely on Shaheen and Long, a 2021 third-round pick, to serve as the in-line tight end unless someone better is added in the 2022 draft, or Durham Smythe, who started 41 games in that role for the Dolphins the past four seasons, gets re-signed. The addition of two fullbacks proves the Dolphins are about to become a run-heavy offense, which should benefit Tagovailoa and Miami’s defense. The Dolphins will probably only keep four players in this group and develop a tight end and fullback on the practice squad. That means look for another addition or two to be made.

Offensive line (12)

Connor Williams, Robert Hunt, Liam Eichenberg, Austin Jackson, Jesse Davis, Michael Deiter, Solomon Kindley, Robert Jones, Greg Little, Larnel Coleman, Adam Pankey and Kion Smith

The only newcomer added to the second worst offensive line in the NFL last season was Williams, who started 51 of 57 games during his four seasons with the Cowboys, most of which was at left guard. It’s logical to assume Williams, whose strength is his pass protection, will continue playing guard. But it is possible that Miami’s new coaches could view him as an offensive tackle in this zone scheme, because he played left tackle at the University of Texas. Eichenberg, Jackson and Davis’ can’t be as bad as they played last year. That is what this coaching staff is banking on. All three might be better utilized at guard, especially in this new scheme. And the Dolphins should explore moving Hunt back to right tackle, the spot he played well at as a rookie in 2019. Adding a center to compete with Deiter, who is entering the last year of his contract, would also be ideal.

Edge players (7)

Emmanuel Ogbah, Jaelan Phillips, Andrew Van Ginkel, Darius Hodge, Daeshon Hall, Brennan Scarlett, Sam Eguavoen

Re-signing Ogbah, who has recorded 83 tackles, 45 quarterback hits, 18 sacks, forced four fumbles and 17 pass deflections in his two seasons with the Dolphins, was huge. That should allow the defensive front to pick up where it left off in 2021, as one of the NFL’s top sack and pressure producers, if injuries don’t come into play. Philips and Van Ginkel are youngsters who have a ton of potential, and they each could take another step forward as professionals. Most of Phillips’ eight sacks in his rookie season came in the second half of the year, when Miami stripped him of his linebacker responsibilities and made him a pass rushing specialist. It will be interesting to see how this 2021 first-round pick develops in year two. Hodge and Hall are developmental projects. The Dolphins need to add at least two more pass rushers/outside linebackers to this unit to turn up the volume on pressures and sacks.

Defensive tackle (4)

Christian Wilkins, Raekwon Davis, Zach Sieler and Adam Butler

Wilkins is coming off a career-best season in all categories. Sieler, who produced 62 tackles and two sacks, was one of the NFL’s best per-snap contributors in 2021. Davis is a force against the run, but needs to prove he can do more. Butler’s $4.1 million salary in 2022 could turn him into a cap casualty, but at this point it is difficult to say if Miami needs the cap space. What is clear is that the Dolphins need some young, developmental talent in this unit, because Wilkins, Davis and Sieler’s contracts expire after the 2023 season.

Inside linebacker (4)

Jerome Baker, Elandon Roberts, Duke Riley, Calvin Munson

Baker led the Dolphins in tackles for a third straight season. It will be interesting to see if this coaching staff views him as an inside or outside linebacker. He’s played both in his previous four seasons, but it’s clear that he’s not the instinctive run-stuffer Miami needs in the middle of its defense. Roberts had a career season with the Dolphins (83 tackles, one interception, one sack and two forced fumbles), but he’s a two-down player who struggles in pass coverage. Riley played well in spurts, and could do more in a second season in the same defense. But he’s been a journeyman for a reason. The Dolphins would benefit from restocking the linebacker shelves by adding a young, versatile, three-down talent who could blossom into a starter if given snaps and proper coaching.

Cornerback (10)

Xavien Howard, Byron Jones, Nik Needham, Noah Igbinoghene, Elijah Campbell, Keion Crossen, Trill Williams, Quincy Wilson, Javaris Davis, D’Angelo Ross

It’s critical that Miami restructures Howard’s old deal, because the Dolphins defense would fall apart if he demanded another trade or sits out the offseason program or training camp. This new coaching staff needs Howard to buy in, and that will cost Miami an $18 million-a-year salary. The Dolphins are at a crossroads with Jones, who was the highest paid Dolphins ($14.4M) before Ogbah got his new deal, which will pay him $17 million this season. Jones had ankle surgery this month, which protects him from being waived. His entire 2022 becomes fully guaranteed Sunday. Placing a second-round tender on Needham just about ensures the versatile defensive back returns for another season, which is wise. Wilson is a 2017 second-round pick who has fallen on hard times the past few seasons. Ross has spent the past three seasons on New England’s injured reserve list or their practice squad. Campbell and Crossen should be viewed as core special teams contributors. Igbinoghene, a 2020 first-round pick, and Williams have talent, but are rough around the edges from a technique standpoint.

Safety (5)

Jevon Holland, Brandon Jones, Eric Rowe, Clayton Fejedelem, Sheldrick Redwine

Holland and Jones are one of the NFL’s better young safety duos. The pair should be in position to take another step forward in 2022 if they can stay healthy and get proper coaching. Rowe had a decent season in 2021, contributing 71 tackles and forcing three fumbles, but he wasn’t nearly as impactful as he was in 2020, and that could encourage the Dolphins to release him or re-structure the final year of a contract that will pay him 4.5 million in 2022. Fejedelem has a limited impact on defense, and his $2,775,000 salary in 2022 also puts him in the danger zone of being purged. But Miami seems to like his special teams contributions. Re-signing Redwine, who has been an NFL starter during his career, could benefit both Miami’s defense and its special teams unit.

Special teams (2)

K Jason Sanders, LS Blake Ferguson

Punter Michael Palardy, who is a free agent, had an average season with the Dolphins in his return to the NFL. He would benefit from having some competition if re-signed. The Dolphins also need to add a return specialist to the roster, because having Waddle and Holland handle returns is a recipe for disaster, considering how important their roles on offense and defense are.


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