Are Dolphins a man short at four defensive positions? What to know and the consequences

The Dolphins are a month away from receiving an $18.5 million salary cap mini-war chest when Xavien Howard’s release is fully processed as a post-June 1 cut.

In a related story, a case could be made that the Dolphins are one player short of being good enough at every position on defense except inside linebacker.

They could use a defensive tackle with the pedigree and talents of free agent Calais Campbell after not adequately replacing Christian Wilkins (at least in our view).

They could use another cornerback to protect themselves if Kader Kohou or Cam Smith struggles as a No. 3 corner behind starters Jalen Ramsey and Kendall Fuller.

They could use another safety to cover themselves if Jevon Holland or Jordan Poyer is injured.

And they could use another veteran edge player to protect themselves if Jaelan Phillips (torn Achilles on Nov. 25) and Bradley Chubb (torn ACL on Dec. 31) aren’t healthy for the regular season opener, and if the Dolphins determine that both rookies Chop Robinson and Mo Kamara (as opposed to one or the other) aren’t ready for significant September playing time in a rotation with Shaq Barrett.

So that leaves this question:

Beyond the $4 million needed to sign their draft class and the $3 million or so needed for the practice squad, should the Dolphins use the remaining space (the $18.5 million plus the $1.8 million they have now, plus cap savings on a potential Tua Tagovailoa extension) to address any of those four defensive areas?

Or should Miami wait until mid to late August to determine whether reinforcements are needed at any of those positions?

Or should the Dolphins simply save that cap space in the event of midseason injuries, or with the intention of carrying it over to 2025, when cap space will be tight?

The case for and against on all four:


Who’s available who would be an upgrade: Campbell had 10 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks as a 17-game starter for Atlanta last season. Campbell, 37, has given no indication that he’s retiring.

At 282 pounds, he could largely replace the girth, run defense and pass rush lost when Wilkins left for the Raiders.

The reason to do it: The Dolphins signed only backups (Neville Gallimore, Jonathan Harris) to replace Wilkins. Teair Tart and Benito Jones were signed primarily to replace nose tackle Raekwon Davis, who left for the Colts.

The reason not to do it: If Campbell plays, he likely isn’t going to do it for peanuts. It probably would require well above the $3 million that Odell Beckham Jr. agreed to accept as a base salary — perhaps something similar to the $7.5 million Campbell earned with the Falcons last season.

Also, when new Dolphins defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver coached in Baltimore, that Ravens defense last season used only one or two defensive tackles on 95 percent of their snaps. Miami probably could make do with Zach Sieler paired with either Tart or Jones on most of those snaps.


Who’s available: Justin Simmons, Jamal Adams, Quandre Diggs, Kareem Jackson, Micah Hyde and John Johnson, among others.

The reason to do it: Poyer is 33 and Holland missed five games with knee injuries last season. If one of them sustains a significant injury, are the Dolphins comfortable inserting Elijah Campbell or Nik Needham as a starter? Keep in mind that since entering the league in 2016, Simmons’ 30 interceptions lead the NFL.

The reason not to do it: Simmons, in particular, likely would be costly. The Dolphins are already $8.5 million over the 2025 salary cap without Tagovailoa, Holland, Poyer, David Long Jr., and several others being under contract that year. So any money not spent in the months ahead can be carried over to 2025.


Who’s available: Former Dolphins Melvin Ingram, Emmanuel Ogbah, Justin Houston and Bruce Irvin; Tyus Bower (worked with Weaver in Baltimore), Carl Lawson (visited the Dolphins last month), Jerry Hughes and Yannick Ngakoue.

The reason to do it: If the Dolphins do not believe Phillips and Chubb will be ready for the opener. In that scenario, it’s risky business to enter camp with no other veteran edge player on the roster besides Barrett.

The reason not to do it: The reason not to do it yet would be to give Robinson and Kamara a very heavy snap load in May and June OTAs and training camp and determine whether you need outside reinforcements, while also getting a better feel for the timetables of Phillips and Chubb over the weeks ahead.


Who’s available: Nearly 40 veterans with NFL experience, including former Dolphins Howard, Keion Crossen and Eli Apple; plus J.C. Jackson, Adoree Jackson, Cameron Sutton, Stephon Gilmore, Patrick Peterson, Steven Nelson, Tre Herndon, Fabian Moureau, Tre Flowers, Chandon Sullivan, Trayvon Mullen and Akhello Witherspoon.

The reason to do it: To protect yourself in case Kohou, Smith, Ethan Bonner, Needham (now playing a lot of safety) and former Bills special teams ace Siran Neal don’t play well enough to warrant earning the No. 3 or No. 4 cornerback jobs.

The reason not to do it: The reason not to do it yet would be to give a ton of snaps this summer to Smith, Bonner and undrafted rookie additions Storm Duck (Louisville), Isaiah Johnson (Syracuse) and Jason Maitre (Wisconsin) to see if any emerges as a worthy rotation cornerback this season.

The view here: If Campbell is interested in playing for the Dolphins and the sides can agree to a salary, that would be worth pursuing now. If Campbell isn’t interested, there isn’t another defensive tackle still available who would be a clear upgrade over what Miami has on its roster.

With the three other aforementioned positions, there’s a case for waiting until after OTAs — or early-to-mid-August — to see exactly what you have with the young players at edge/outside linebacker and cornerback and also to give yourself at least a month to watch young veterans Needham and Campbell play safety in Weaver’s defense.

There will always be good players available in August, players who likely will take less money — some much less — at that point than they would now.

So waiting two to three months can be justified. But at some point, an established, quality veteran might need to be signed at some or all of these four positions.

Here’s what’s known so far about the Dolphins’ 2024 schedule and the NFL schedule.