Kelly: Are the Miami Dolphins ignoring the trenches? | Opinion

If NFL teams used the phrase “put your money where your mouth is,” as a barometer for team-wide priorities, it would be glaringly obvious that the Miami Dolphins feel the interior spots on the offensive and defensive line are afterthoughts.

Not only did three players who served as foundational players in the trenches on the offensive and defensive lines move on to greener pastures when Christian Wilkins signed a four-year, $110 million deal with the Las Vegas Raiders. The Carolina Panthers also signed Robert Hunt to a five-year, $100 million deal the Dolphins weren’t willing to match, and Miami let Raekwon Davis sign a two-year, $14 million deal with the Indianapolis Colts.

But the nine defensive linemen and five offensive linemen who are competing to replace Wilkins, Hunt and Davis each barely make more than the NFL minimum.

Let me provide an illustration of the disparity in the financial resources used to address those free agent defections. Da’Shawn Hand, Teair Tart, Jonathan Harris, Neville Gallimore, Benito Jones, the five veteran defensive linemen Miami signed this offseason, collectively will earn $7.85 million this season if they make it to the 53-man roster.

Davis, a role player for the Dolphins the past four years, will be paid $7 million by the Colts.

“This is an exciting time personally for me as a coach,” Defensive line coach Austin Clark said. “There is a challenge of helping guys who have all had different roles in their careers. Whether they have been the guy who has started, or haven’t, or they’ve been a guy fighting to make a roster. I’m challenging them, working with them.

“There is some internal motivation from those guys, and I definitely feel that.”

Offensively, Miami was forced to rebuild the interior of the offensive line, which was filled with replacements in the final two months of the 2023 season because of injuries.

Miami signed Aaron Brewer to a three-year deal worth $21 million ($13.8 million of that money is guaranteed) this offseason, with the expectations are that he will replace Connor Williams at center. Williams sustained a season-ending, and potentially a career-ending knee injury last December and remains a free agent. But the odds of him joining an NFL team are slim at this point.

Brewer’s athleticism should come in handy when it comes to making second-level blocks, but the fact he’s listed at 6-foot-1, 295 pounds, which is relatively small for a college offensive linemen, much less an NFL starter, might present some trouble for MIami’s offensive line in the pass blocking department.

Liam Eichenberg is projected to be his backup, but when he’s not taking snaps at center this former Notre Dame standout is competing with Jack Driscoll, a free agent signed from Philadelphia, and holdovers Isaiah Wynn, Robert Jones, Lester Cotton and Chasen Hines for the two starting guard spots.

Offensive line coach Butch Barry is confident Eichenberg’s cross training at center, which began last offseason and carried into the season, will make the 2021 second-round pick a better pro.

At this point he has started 38 NFL games, and has played all five positions on the offensive line. If the Dolphins didn’t allow Eichenberg to settle into one spot — possibly right guard — they would be doing him a disservice.

Miami added Driscoll, who has started 17 NFL games the past four seasons, because of his athleticism, Barry said.

“[Discroll’s] a guy who can really move his feet. He has good initial quickness,” Barry said. “He’s very dedicated to his approach in how he wants to do things.”

As for Jones and Cotton, who each started games last season, Barry wants to see consistency from them,” especially since they now have two years of experience in this scheme, and spent one season with Barry learning the finer points of it.

Head coach Mike McDaniel has been extremely clear that each offensive lineman who has been in the Dolphins program for longer than a season should take another step forward because they have familiarity with the scheme, understand what is needed, and expected of them.

“I am very happy with our current orchestration of both those units. The offensive line, there’s a little more history and experience personally with all the guys involved,” McDaniel said. “On the defensive line, there’s more new. So the guys are working to get things tied together with the entire defense in that regard just like the newer offensive linemen that we do have are working to master a new scheme.”

McDaniel hasn’t strayed from his “I’m very happy with the team” mantra, but supports adding talent that would ratchet up the competition level.

Right now, that would require larger salary commitment for possible free agents such as Calais Campbell, or the utilization of trade resources. Miami could wait until teams begin the process of trimming their rosters down to 53 at the end of August, and see what can be found on the waiver wire, or sign a veteran who was displaced.

It’s early, but for now, what’s on the roster is what the Dolphins have to work with.

“I think competition always breeds benefits for the Miami Dolphins just because it brings the best out of people,” McDaniel continued. “We’ll never shut the door on that, but I’m happy with the groups, their production, how they’ve been working together.”

We’ll see if McDaniel keeps that same tune when he sees his team in pads come August, which provides the best chance to evaluate the trenches before the regular season begins in September.

Hopefully it won’t be too late to make improvements by then.