Which top free agents of 2021 make the most sense for the Dolphins?

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Kyle Crabbs
·4 min read
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NFL free agency opens in one month, marking the start of the new league calendar year in what will assuredly be a frantic stretch for all 32 NFL franchises. For the Dolphins, the buildup to the start of the league year can result in a number of different approaches — and the Dolphins’ aggressiveness will be a telling bit of foreshadowing for what the months ahead hold for Miami. But as one survey’s the landscape of free agency, it is quite clear that a great deal of the top available talents don’t make sense for for the team to go all in on.

So which top free agents make the most sense?

Here are the free agents from Touchdown Wire’s Top 101 free agents of 2021 that make the most sense for the Dolphins when factoring age, price and fit:

Skill Players

RB Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks

RB James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers

WR Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

WR Will Fuller V, Houston Texans

WR Curtis Samuel, Carolina Panthers

WR Rashard Higgins, Cleveland Browns

There’s a varying degree of prices the Dolphins could pay out of this group of talent. Not included were bank breakers like Chicago WR Allen Robinson — that price point feels like it is going to be impossibly high for Miami to navigate comfortably. Godwin is a more dynamic player and, with having to share the ball in a loaded Bucs offense, could be primed for a big breakout elsewhere if Tampa Bay lets him get away (they’re not expected to). In the offensive backfield, Chris Carson has struggled with durability issues (as has Conner) but both feel like the kind of physical back Miami seemed interested in with Jordan Howard last offseason. Both are better than Howard on passing downs and would offer Miami good insurance for whoever they target in the draft (assuming that’s on the Dolphins’ to do list).

Curtis Samuel fills the gadget role in the offense that was shared by Jakeem Grant, Lynn Bowden Jr. and Malcolm Perry in 2020. Higgins is an under-appreciated talent but a savvy route runner — which Miami needs more of.

Trenches

OG Joe Thuney, New England Patriots

C Corey Linsley, Green Bay Packers

EDGE Trey Hendrickson, New Orleans Saints

DL Shelton Rankins, New Orleans Saints

The Dolphins may skip the line here because each one of these players is expected to carry a big price tag. But if Miami wants upgrades, the talent level on the roster has reached the point where these are the kind of talents that must be in the conversation. The team was rumored to be interested in Thuney last year before the Patriots hit him with the franchise tag late in the process — but signing him would almost necessitate Miami find a trade partner for the guard they opted to sign once Thuney was pulled from the market: Ereck Flowers.

Linsley would be a major upgrade for the Dolphins over Ted Karras; but for the spending power issues Miami will face with an aggressive free agent period, the team may opt to go young there.

Defensively, Miami feels like they’re one more pass rusher away. Hendrickson enjoyed a massive season in 2020 — but that will likely price him out of Miami’s market despite the fit as a young, explosive rusher. His teammate, Rankins, would be an upgrade over Davon Godchaux, who is expected to hit free agency as well next month.

Back Seven

LB Matt Milano, Buffalo Bills

LB Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

CB Mike Hilton, Pittsburgh Steelers

CB Desmond King, Tennessee Titans

SAF Marcus Williams, New Orleans Saints

SAF John Johnson III, Los Angeles Rams

Lavonte David would be a perfect fit — but he, like Chris Godwin, doesn’t appear poised to hit the market; the Buccaneers were very clear during their championship parade that they planned to run it back. If David, who is an older player anyway, is not on the market, Miami may look within the division for the next addition with Matt Milano. Milano is a rangy coverage linebacker who is everything the Dolphins don’t have currently on the roster. But if the team were to sign Milano, they’d still need an early down thumper to play the run.

Both of the corners listed play in the nickel, where Miami needs to find an upgrade over Nik Needham. The Needham story has been fun to watch unfold as a UDFA in 2019 but this defense is ready for a more dynamic presence in the slot. Cost could be restrictive here but both King and Hilton are home run fits in the nickel.

Meanwhile, Miami may also opt to upgrade in the safety room. If they do, either Marcus Williams or John Johnson III make the most sense as young talents who won’t command the premiere price tag on the market — that will likely go to Justin Simmons (Denver) and Anthony Harris (Minnesota).