The Miami Dolphins have a number of key players expected to hit free agency in March, and there’s a real argument to be made that none of them or more impactful than defensive lineman Christian Wilkins.
Wilkins, 28, was selected by the Dolphins with the 13th overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft following a collegiate career at Clemson that included two national championships and two First-team All-American selections.
In his five seasons in South Florida, he’s recorded 355 tackles (43 for a loss), 50 quarterback hits, 20.5 sacks, 19 passes defensed, six fumbles recovered, four fumbles forced and one interception.
Wilkins has always been great against the run, but his pass-rush acumen was called into question heading the final year of his rookie contract, and he answered the bell, recording a career-high 23 quarterback hits and nine sacks in 2023.
Now, as he’s set to enter free agency, what should Miami do?
Wilkins’ career production will likely earn him a contract near the top of the market for interior defenders. Currently, Aaron Donald ($31.6 million per year) and Quinnen Williams ($24 million) are the two highest-paid players at the position, according to Over the Cap.
It seems unlikely that Wilkins’ next contract will approach $30 million annually, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him end up around Jeffrey Simmons ($23.5 million per year) or Dexter Lawrence ($22.5 million per year).
With the Dolphins’ current cap situation ($51.9 million over the cap), it would be tough to fit Wilkins in next year. If the two sides had come to an agreement before this offseason, there might’ve been a chance to make things work, but that doesn’t feel like where things are headed.
So, if Wilkins is going to leave, the Dolphins should try to get something out of it. If they were to let him sign elsewhere, they could recoup a compensatory pick in the 2025 NFL draft, but it’s no guarantee that it will be the best pick possible (third round).
However, if Miami were to place the franchise tag on the former Clemson Tiger, they could allow his representation to find a trade partner and get a pick back for 2024 if a team was willing to part with one to have exclusive negotiations with him.
That’s the smartest option for the Dolphins in the coming weeks. Of course, they can always rescind the franchise tag if they can’t come to a deal with another team, but letting him walk and sign with another team for nothing (aside from a future compensatory pick) should be a last resort.