The 2023 NFL season is officially in the books after Super Bowl 58 concluded Sunday night in an overtime walk-off win for the Kansas City Chiefs, their second title in a row and third in the last five seasons.
For the San Francisco 49ers, the other thirty NFL teams, as well as even the dynastic Chiefs, organizations will now have a few days to catch their collective breaths before officially turning to league business as early as next week. A week from Tuesday, February 20, the franchise and transition player tag window opens.
Before going into any mock preparation, the Miami Dolphins are currently in the red for their 2024 salary cap at roughly $51 million over. With a number of pending unrestricted free agents that will become officially open market players on March 13, the Dolphins and their salary cap guru Brandon Shore, mixed with general manager Chris Grier, of course, have plenty of work to do.
The Dolphins administration will have to clear cap space, and before doing that, two dominoes may have to fall before the other trimmings proceed, leading into re-signings and, ultimately, new signings.
Christian Wilkins and Tua Tagovailoa are major pieces, contractually, that could be the first points of business for Miami. An extension for Tagovailoa could create a bit of 2024 salary cap space, while as the overall number increases across the league, the Dolphins can be very strategic here.
In the model used on Over The Cap, the Tagovailoa mock contract was a tad south but mirrored that of Joe Burrow’s deal, which recent rumors have speculated is the target range the sides are looking at.
The Wilkins saga, while having a number of potential outcomes, a few staying in Miami either long-term or for one more year. Either way, if Wilkins is either tagged or re-signed, his cap number will be approximately in the $21-23 million range for 2024.
While it’s been rumored more money is wanted, with the league cap increasing all the way to $284 million in 2026 and $314 million in 2027, Miami could very well flood those years with money for both Wilkins and Tagovailoa.
Mixed with a number of other contracts long gone at that point, these two moves, if each long-term deal could set the table for cap restructures, with names like Bradley Chubb, which could save a cool $14 million for 2024.
The next move could be another veteran restructure in Tyreek Hill. That’s another $12 million dollars, and all of a sudden, the Dolphins have cut their negative cap figure in half, essentially, with two contract re-workings.
Kicking the financial can further down the road, which in this case, is still looking fiscally responsible in 2025 and beyond so far, a restructuring of Jalen Ramsey can create upwards of $18 million in 2024 space.
All of this is, obviously, contingent on the ability of an owner to cut the checks needed to front-load with bonus money. And, in Miami’s case, Stephen Ross has never, ever been shy of that.
Between these restructures, and for argument’s sake, a Wilkins long-term deal finally getting done, the cap would be, in a very unscientific approximation, of now negative $27 million in 2024 thus far and in the red $26 million in 2025.
Now, Miami would need to cut, potentially trade and simply move on from a few players, and let’s say it’s a veteran defensive back like Xavien Howard. There’s about $18 million that could be saved, as long as a cut or trade happens post-June 1. A move like this would create substantial “dead money,” at around $7 million, increasing the Dolphin’s overall dead cap to around $17 million.
With a new defensive coordinator in Anthony Weaver, it’s a mystery at the moment of his plans, but indicating his approach to coaching, welcoming in new staff and parting ways with several Dolphin defensive assistant coaches, the former NFL player could want input on potential ability to have influence and outsource and/or draft a certain skill set.
Players like Emmanuel Ogbah and Jerome Baker are two that come to mind. While the Dolphins are extremely thin of contracted/healthy edge rushers, the veteran Ogbah could simply save Miami too much money to keep in South Florida.
Cutting or trading Ogbah after June 1 would mean a cap savings of about $15 million and add a few million dollars to the dead cap ledger.
With this move, Miami now gets to about $6 million dollars on the good side of the line and just under $2 million in the red for 2025. A few more “cap casualties” of role players could generate another $10-12 million dollars in salary cap savings.
As for Baker, drafted a Dolphin, the team leader could work extremely well in the heavy-blitzing mindset that Weaver and his hires seem to have. A possible tweaking of his contract could create another $5-6 million of wiggle room.
Lastly, what to do with Terron Armstead? Should the often banged-up offensive lineman return, a potential restructure here could create another $8 million.
With sites such as Spotrac and Over the Cap, it’s clearly not an exact science, and all must be taken with a grain of sea salt. However, given a margin of error of a few million dollars, these several moves created about $30 million in wiggle space in 2024 to re-sign players like Andrew Van Ginkel and Robert Hunt and perhaps a few other role players.
It’s important to realize here that there would be a 2025 negative cap number of around $10 million in this model, yet 2026 would be at around $40 million in free space, and then with a very new majority of the roster, Miami would have $193 million in cap space, but would have a franchise quarterback locked up, a few defensive cornerstones and the flexibility to work with fifth-year options, and potential extension opportunities with 2021 first-round picks, Jaylen Waddle and Jaelan Phillips. That deadline for those option designations sneaks up on May 2.
After all this, players who are intriguing to speculate about their futures would be unrestricted free agents like Connor Williams, Brandon Jones, Raekwon Davis, Nik Needham, DeShon Elliott, Braxton Berrios and River Cracraft, to name several.
Further down the line, specifically offensive, players like Robert Jones, Kendall Lamm and Isaiah Wynn are all UFAs, and each is a valuable depth piece, and all proved to have starting potential from the 2023 season.
Realizing this is just a speculative, fun exercise, and it does indicate that it is plausible for the Dolphins to create continuity in their core group, which could open that “window” slightly more in Miami’s ultimate plan and attempt for postseason success.