As the NFL trade deadline looms on November 2 at 1:00 p.m. ET, the Miami Dolphins and general manager Chris Grier are in need of action. The Dolphins have been riddled with injuries in arguably their strongest area collectively – the secondary.
Starting back with the Byron Jones PUP situation, then consecutive weeks of injuries to Kader Kohou, Nik Needham and Brandon Jones, the Miami defensive backfield has resembled a MASH unit. While undrafted rookie Kohou could return as early as Sunday against the Detroit Lions, Needham and Jones are out for the season with an Achilles and ACL respectively.
It’s this area of the field that when fully healthy is the straw that stirs the drink in the cocktail of what makes the Dolphins’ defense potentially potent. From 2021 to now there’s been a stark contrast in those corner and edge blitzes, and without the lockdown corners at full capacity, it’s understandable why a player like Jevon Holland has been called to handle more coverage duties. So far in 2022, Holland hasn’t given up a touchdown in coverage and has a pair of interceptions.
The Dolphins still have the luxury of Xavien Howard, who’s coming off of a stellar Sunday night performance, where he essentially had his assignment on an island. Howard was back to his vintage form after a tough start to the season. In primetime against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, he was targeted four times, and the average yard per target was merely 5.5 yards. The three receptions he gave up went for a combined 22 yards, and the quarterback rating against him was 87.5, his best mark since Week 1.
Regardless of Howard playing back to form, Miami’s second cornerback must handle their coverage duties similar to how Byron Jones played, or the other areas of this defense will continue to be called upon to help, thus hurting those exotic blitz packages.
The next man up now is Noah Igbinoghene, who despite being picked on all Sunday night by Steelers rookie Kenny Pickett, ended the game and sealed the victory for Miami with an endzone interception. At just 22 years old, Igbinoghene will try to stack successful games together in his development.
Regardless of the 2020 first-round pick improving, Miami still could benefit from adding depth, if not a prominent cornerback to their roster. Looking around the league, the cornerback market is alive with rumors circulating out of Cleveland that the Browns are listening to offers for a few players, namely Greedy Williams.
Williams is in his third season with the Browns and has started 30 games. The former second-round pick from LSU could be a solid addition to a Miami backfield that simply needs quality because there isn’t quantity anymore in the room. Based on other trades around the league, it shouldn’t come at too great of a cost for Grier and the Dolphins, but the compensation must be draft capital and not a player who could help Miami win in 2022.
Adding to Williams in the rumor mill is Patrick Surtain II, who’s currently a Denver Bronco and was the ninth-overall draft pick in 2021. The cover-corner extraordinaire out of Alabama, and son of Dolphins legend and current defensive assistant Pat Surtain, would fit like a glove in Miami…and cover like one too.
This potential move would cost plenty more than Williams, but the possibility of bringing in that type of player added to a safe bet of a future extension should make them players in a possible Surtain market. The Dolphins don’t own their first-round draft pick in 2023 thanks to the league penalizing them in tampering charges, but they do have the San Francisco 49ers’ pick.
That selection could easily fall in the back end of the draft, so dangling that as the main attraction to land Surtain could be a prudent option, all things considered.
The Dolphins also need improvement on the offensive line, but an in-season deal for a viable plug-and-play starter to improve the unit would be a tall order.
There are certain scenarios around the league, specifically in Carolina where a top-tier lineman could be dealt, as the Panthers seem to be in sell-and-build-for-future mode. A deal for Taylor Moton, to plug in at right tackle, could be a savvy move for a Dolphins offensive line that could suddenly have some pop. A healthy Terron Armstead at left tackle makes it a different line than when he’s out, and the proven experiment of Connor Williams at the center spot helps greatly.
While right tackle insert Brandon Shell has played well, Moton would be an improvement for the line overall, leaving one area at left guard being the issue still with Liam Eichenberg. The former Notre Dame standout was drafted in 2021 following a trade-up in the second round. If Miami continues to ride with Eichenberg, he must limit the penalties and improve in all areas to avoid a change being made.
A caveat to a potential Moton deal, but workable, would be the salary cap ramification.
According to Spotrac, Moton signed a four-year, $71.24 million contract with the Panthers which includes a $15 million signing bonus, $49.6 million guaranteed and an average annual salary of $17.81 million. In 2022, Moton will earn a base salary of $1.04 million, a restructure bonus of $14.96 million and a workout bonus of $200,000, while carrying a cap hit of $7.98 million.
Should Miami go this route, certain players and their contracts would probably have to accompany a pick to send back to Carolina. Albeit speculative, this could be too rich a path for Grier to travel down, considering the number of re-signings and potential extensions Miami will need to work on soon with their young core of talent. Not to mention that, in a few seasons, a quarterback contract will have to be considered.
In terms of rumored selling on Miami’s side of things, speculation has been season-long on the immediate and long-term future of tight end Mike Gesicki. While a valuable and skilled pass-catcher and virtual receiver specializing in the slot area of the field, Gesicki has been limited in Mike McDaniel’s offense.
The franchised tight end has had moments this season and a few games that prove he can be a viable red-zone threat, as well as the third overall receiving option for Tua Tagovailoa after Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. If Miami is in true win-now mode, which, at the moment, they’re the sixth seed in the AFC playoff picture, Gesicki helps add color to the canvas.
Sending out an asset for a minimal return wouldn’t be prudent, since Gesicki is basically a 2022 rental with him set to be a free agent in 2023. Unless the potential return is a quality and immediate upgrade at major areas of need, namely that defensive backfield, then a Gesicki move would be understood.
However, should the Dolphins trade the tight end for just a future pick(s), it would arguably hurt the team in 2022 and leave 2023 with another question mark before a true evaluation of that potential move could be made.