Kelly: 10 Dolphins players facing critical offseasons | Opinion

Imagine showing up to work one day and realizing your employer has hired your replacement.

The franchise either lured the new guy from a competing company by signing him to a substantial contract, or recruited him straight out of college and told him that he represents the future.

That’s the reality for roughly a dozen or more Miami Dolphins players, who saw the team potentially upgrade at their position through free agency or the NFL Draft, and are now fighting for their starting roles, NFL future, and South Florida residency.

Here’s a look at 10 players whose performance during Miami’s offseason program, which continues with the second week of Phase 3 on Tuesday, will dictate their roles, and possible job status with the Dolphins in 2024.


Liam Eichenberg: The Dolphins have two draft picks (the second-rounder used, and the one they traded away — a 2022 third-rounder to move up into position to select), and three seasons invested in this former Notre Dame standout, who has started games at every spot on the offensive line. Eichenberg’s roster spot is safe because he’s the backup center on this roster, but this camp will likely be his last chance to prove he’s an NFL starting guard. His rookie deal expires at the end of this season so the clock is ticking.

Teair Tart: There’s a special respect deserved when an undrafted rookie blossoms into an NFL starter, and that’s what Tart, a former Florida International standout, did in his first four seasons. He’s the most accomplished of all the defensive linemen Miami added this offseason. But for this 27-year-old to emerge as a starter in Miami new defense he will need to turn the volume up on his conditioning, which appeared troubling last week.

Da’Shawn Hand: Hand has had a rough road in his first six seasons in the NFL, and if he doesn’t earn one of the starting 3-4 end spots in Anthony Weaver’s defense it’s safe to conclude this 28-year-old is more roster filler than NFL starter. Last season Hand, a former fourth-round pick who was a late addition to the team, contributed 17 tackles, one sack and two pass deflections in the 198 defensive snaps he took in Miami’s defense.

Robert Jones: The Dolphins are embarking on a fourth season of investing in this Middle Tennessee State guard, who made it onto the team as an undrafted rookie in 2021 and has started 13 of 32 games he has played in. This is Jones’ opportunity to establish himself as an NFL starter because both guard spots are vacant, and Miami’s coaches would prefer to invest in a young player such as Jones, 24, who has upside. But he will need to beat out Eichenberg, Isaiah Wynn and Jack Driscoll to cement himself at left or right guard.


Cam Smith: We will soon learn if Smith’s disappointing rookie season was because he lacked the skills, and/or maturity to succeed in the NFL, or because former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio had a personal vendetta against the Dolphins’ 2023 second-round pick. Either way, the former South Carolina standout has the opportunity to redeem himself in Miami’s secondary by carving out a role for himself as one of the Dolphins’ top four cornerbacks.

Julian Hill: As productive as this former Campbell standout, who made the roster as an undrafted rookie, was last season, the Dolphins added Jonnu Smith and Jody Fortson Jr. to turn up the volume at tight end. Hill should edge both when it comes to his in-line work, which is important in this offense. But he will need to prove he can be a seam threat to keep his role as a regular contributor on offense.

Jeff Wilson Jr.: Wilson survived the veteran salary shakedown this offseason, getting his salary reduced by $1.5 million. Then the Dolphins traded a 2025 third-round pick to select Jaylen Wright in the fourth round, adding him to an already crowded backfield. While Wilson’s style is more downhill than every back outside of Chris Brooks, Wilson need to have a strong camp, and exhibition season to ensure he survives the final cut.


Channing Tindall: If the Dolphins decision makers felt Tindall was ready to turn the corner and become a reliable inside linebacker they wouldn’t have added Jordyn Brooks and Anthony Walker in free agency. At best, Tindall, the Dolphins’ 2022 third-round pick, is fighting for a role on special teams unless he instantly starts diagnosing plays better and finds a way to fit into Weaver’s defense. Tindall’s main competition for a roster spot is Duke Riley.

Erik Ezukanma: The Dolphins have patiently waited two seasons for Ezukanma to show he was worth a fourth-round pick in 2022, and at this point it’s clear that Miami’s confidence in the former Texas Tech standout has been shaken because they added Odell Beckham Jr. and drafted a pair of receivers — Malik Washington and Tahj Washington — in the late rounds of the 2024 draft. Ezukanma will need to showcase his mastery of the offense this camp to survive being churned in his third NFL camp.

Salvon Ahmed: Ahmed’s annually one of the offense’s top performers in the offseason program, routinely showcasing an elusive running style before the pads come on. Then when real football starts the volume gets turned down on his production. At this point the Dolphins have invested four seasons into the former University of Washington standout, and if he can’t contribute at a high level it might be time to move on.