The 2020 Miami Dolphins are a Madden player’s dream.
I love Madden. I don’t love Electronic Arts as a video game company, but I love playing Madden. Like many of you reading this, I enjoy playing Madden because you get to take charge of an NFL franchise. That means you get to decide how the games are played, what the stadium ticket prices are, and – most importantly – who is on the roster.
In many cases, making transactions and shaping the roster in your image is more fun than playing the actual football game. At least, that’s how it is for me. So with questions abound as to how this gutted Miami roster will find its way back to power, I offer my solution. The Miami Dolphins will not have to stay at the bottom of the league for long with this plan. There will be no decade of bottom of the barrel play ala the Cleveland Browns.
In this first story, we’ll jump right into free agency. With nearly $120 million in cap space to work with, there will be a lot of signing happening. No longer are they under the dead cap of Ndamukong Suh and Ryan Tannehill. It’s time to start fresh. With this story discussing free agency, part two will discuss the 2020 NFL draft.
2020 Miami Dolphins Free Agency
First and foremost, it’s important to decide which positions need to be invested in with established veterans. Even with all the draft picks Miami has, they can’t address all of them in the draft. So, it’s time to see what’s available for the Dolphins to add in 2020. General Manager Chris Grier has already made it clear he intends to be “very aggressive” in free agency. It stands to reason some splashes will be coming.
“We’ve talked about building this long-term with sustained success right away, and for us, we’ll be very aggressive. We’re not going to sit here on a bunch of money or anything. The plan is to build a winner here. No one likes losing. We’ve talked about building a team that’s going to win and compete for championships for a long time instead of being in this one year, and then you fall back for two or three. Again, it is a long-term vision, but we will be aggressive.”
So expect a spending spree in Miami. But where? Let’s go position by position. Keep in mind, all of this is speculative, and things can (and will) change as time goes on.
We will discuss this position in more depth later. All that needs to be said, is that Fitzpatrick will be released in the offseason and put the Dolphins over $120 million in cap space, saving them $4 million. This is, of course, assuming Grier doesn’t miraculously find a team desperate for a backup QB willing to trade a sixth or seventh round pick for him. Unlikely, but stranger things have happened. Never know what could happen when someone snorts some of that ol’ Fitzmagic.
Rudock will remain as a part of Miami’s camp roster. And of course, there’s Josh Rosen. He stays. Nothing else to say until later.
Let’s start with Kenyan Drake. As talented and as explosive as he can be, he won’t be with the Dolphins in 2020. He will want to find a team who intends to give him the football, rather than keeping him inexplicably benched. But that’s okay, because as the old saying goes, running backs are a dime a dozen. Miami will still have Kalen Ballage, Myles Gaskin and Patrick Laird under contract. Granted, none of them offer what Drake does, but the draft usually brings a few playmakers that can fill that void.
The Dolphins can also easily re-sign running back Mark Walton for about $1 million or two, provided he stays out of trouble. So far, he’s doing a good job of that. Walton was impressive in the preseason, and his strength and speed make him a solid back. The New England Patriots are experts at making running backs look great, and if Miami is going to follow that model, Walton is a solid choice to pair with Ballage.
Gaskin and Laird can easily be the depth players.
Now things get interesting. In 2020, the Dolphins will have only four wide receivers under contract. Albert Wilson, DeVante Parker, Jakeem Grant, and Preston Williams. Two speed guys in Wilson and Grant, and two big guys in Parker and Williams. But, releasing Parker saves Miami $5 million in cap space. Releasing Wilson saves them $9.5 million.
Wilson’s ability likely makes him safe, but Parker can be replaced by Williams. That leaves two slots open. The Dolphins could bring back Isaiah Ford as an exclusive restricted free agent, and they likely will. However, why settle for that when there are other options available?
When the Dolphins drafted Parker back in 2015, the hope was he would develop into a true top receiver. Miami had been looking for a long time. Now they’re still looking. The time has come to find a proven, stud player to lock it down once and for all.
Enter Amari Cooper, who just made Xavien Howard look like a pedestrian cornerback this past week.
This route from Amari Cooper is just being mean to the CB.pic.twitter.com/DVGulydjAG
— Mike Leslie (@MikeLeslieWFAA) September 22, 2019
Cooper is being “intentionally patient” regarding his impending second contract, according to ESPN. And he has every reason to. Dallas thought he was good enough to give a first round pick to Oakland for, and since his arrival in Dallas, he’s been a superstar. In just 12 career games with the Cowboys, he’s made 69 catches for 963 yards and ten touchdowns (as of 2019 week three). On top of that, the wide receiver market continues to rise, with other superstar names such as A.J. Green and Emmanuel Sanders hitting the market in 2020.
According to Spotrac, market value for Cooper would be around a 5-year, $94 million dollar contract (rounding up). That averages out to approximately $19 million a year. That’s on par with the likes of Falcons WR Julio Jones and Saints WR Michael Thomas. Since contracts tend to go up, not down, the Dolphins would likely have to pay even more than those deals to land Cooper and make him the highest paid WR in the league. For the sake of numbers, we’ll give him a 5-year, $120 million dollar contract. That averages out to $24 million a year.
It would be worth it to get a player of Cooper’s caliber under contract long term in his prime.
True, Dallas will put up a fight to keep him, and Cooper’s rapport with QB Dak Prescott is strong. But money talks, and Miami is Cooper’s hometown team growing up. The temptation to make a massive payday and play on the team that featured some of his favorite players growing up (Jason Taylor, Ricky Williams, Sam Madison), it may be too much to resist. Cooper would instantly make things easier for Williams, Grant and possibly Wilson, and give Miami’s new young QB (whoever he may be) an elite target to throw to in his first season.
As former Dolphins tight end Troy Drayton would say, the tight end is the most important player on the field. I’m sure every coach and GM worth their salt disagrees, but that doesn’t change the fact that Miami’s been searching for an answer at tight end ever since Charles Clay left back in 2015. Free agent signings since then include Dustin Keller, Jordan Cameron, and Julius Thomas. All three were big splashes that amounted to nothing for the Dolphins.
Now, Eric Ebron and Tyler Eifert are hitting the open market. Tempting, but hopefully Miami learned their lesson about free agent tight ends and decide against such a move. They will only have two tight ends under contract in 2020 (Gesicki and Smythe), so they will need bodies. But Ebron or Eifert aren’t it. They need to focus on developing both Gesicki and Smythe rather than spend big on another veteran that will likely fail. Gesicki looks better now that he isn’t being asked to block. He hasn’t looked great, but he hasn’t been targeted much either, so he can only be judged based on what he’s given.
The Dolphins should re-sign Nick O’Leary, give him a slight pay raise for his ability to block and be a solid role player in the 2020 Miami plan. Let’s give him a 2-year, $6 million dollar deal. After that, draft another one in the upcoming draft and find some cheap bodies to compete in training camp. Maybe someone will surprise the team, but tight end, for now, doesn’t seem to be a high priority. No need to spend big.
Okay, let’s get serious. The 2020 Miami Dolphins need an offensive line. They need a good one, maybe even a great one. Their ability to draft offensive linemen is seriously in question. The only good one they’ve drafted in recent years, Laremy Tunsil, is gone now so they could get a boatload of picks. Miami needs to fill up the holes with legitimately good players for once. Proven players. So, the time has come to invest big money in fixing the line.
Holdovers from the 2019 line will likely be Wisconsin standout Michael Deiter, and versatile lineman Jesse Davis. Veteran center Daniel Kilgore becomes a cap casualty, with Deiter moving over to play center. Deiter is struggling somewhat at guard, and he’s already been forced to play left tackle out of necessity. As a center, Deiter started 16 games in college, so he has some experience there. If nothing else, he should be a lateral move from Kilgore, with higher upside.
That leaves two guard spots that need filling, as well as left tackle.
Left tackle is going to be filled with a veteran stopgap, except this time the player in question is going to be solid, more along the lines of Branden Albert than Bryant McKinnie. Colts left tackle Anthony Castanzo will be 32 years old come 2020, but he’s put in solid seasons at left tackle year after year, including 2019 so far. He’d be perfect to protect a young quarterback looking to make his mark in the league. He’s already done it once for Andrew Luck, there’s no reason he can’t do it again. A 2-year, $20 million dollar deal would more than suffice.
As for one of the guard positions, time for another big splash. Brandon Scherff, who’s a two-time Pro Bowler, is looking for a huge payday. Recently, news came out that the Redskins offered him a contract that would give him $13 million per year. That would make him the third highest paid guard in the league, right behind Jaguars guard Andrew Norwell and Cowboys guard Zack Martin.
— Mark Bullock (@MarkBullockNFL) October 16, 2018
There’s no indication as of yet that Scherff is interested in accepting that offer. The Redskins have given him multiple extension offers, this being the latest. Scherff seems determined to test the free agent market, and a brand new QB with hype attached could be a good incentive to accept a high offer from Miami.
A 5-year, $82.5 million dollar deal would make him the highest paid guard in the league, averaging $16.5 a year, and the Dolphins can afford to pay it. For too long, Miami has allowed the interior offensive line to fall by the wayside, and the quarterbacks have suffered as a result. If the Dolphins want to find success after this tanking effort in 2019, they must make the offensive line top priority, or it will all be for nothing.
There’s still one guard spot left, but that will be addressed later.
Once again we have an interesting situation. Miami clearly needs defensive ends and edge players. Defensive tackle is fairly taken care of. Davon Godchaux and Christian Wilkins are a solid one-two punch as starters, and no doubt the Dolphins will find some cheap role players to fill out the rotation. The likes of Danny Shelton come to mind (at around a $4 million cap hit for 2020). Miami also has Jamiyus Pittman and Gerald Willis sitting on their practice squad. They will find bodies there.
But there are a lot of excellent players who will be available in free agency in 2020 as pass rushers and edge setters. Not the least of which is rising star Yannick Ngakoue, a pass rusher for the Jaguars who was voted to a Pro Bowl in 2017 when he put up 12 sacks during the season. In 2018, he followed up with 9.5 sacks.
"The Jacksonville Jaguars select Yannick Ngakoue, defensive end, @TerpsFootball"
2 seasons later, @YannGetSacks91 has 20 sacks and 10 forced fumbles to his name. pic.twitter.com/QScPYlKti9
— #DUUUVAL (@Jaguars) April 26, 2018
This is yet another huge splash signing for the 2020 Miami Dolphins. The initial plan was to not have a lot of those, but after a season like the one they’re having now, impatience will set in. Plus, the talent of this free agent class is hard to pass up. Ngakoue is entering his prime, and he’ll be looking to break the bank. Even after spending big on Cooper and Scherff, Miami has more than enough to fit in a potentially elite pass rusher if he shakes loose from Jacksonville.
A 6-year, $132 million dollar deal would make him the highest paid pass rusher in football (barring Jadeveon Clowney’s likely extension with the Seahawks). The Jaguars could also simply slap the franchise tag on him to make him stay in 2020, but with the way players seem to have more power these days, it’s a gamble Jacksonville may not want to make.
After that, Charles Harris will still be around as cheap labor and Taco Charlton will likely get an offseason to prove himself against other players. Then there’s Robert Nkemdiche, who’s sitting on Miami’s PUP list and hopefully getting in shape. He also could have something to offer. Finally there’s undrafted free agents Jonathan Ledbetter and Dewayne Hendrix, who both showed substantial promise as developmental players. Miami will comb the market for edge setters no doubt, but Ngaukoue alone makes the Dolphins pass rush far more formidable.
And there’s still the draft to go.
Adding Shaq Lawson is another option if they can’t sign Ngakoue. He wouldn’t command as much money as Ngakoue, and has the added benefit of being able to set the edge. That versatility is a big deal for Miami.
We’re getting close to the end of this ride. With all the huge signings Miami’s made, surely there’s not a lot of money left. However, even with all these signings, the 2020 Miami Dolphins still have over $75 million in cap space. They will need around $20 million to sign their draft class, so subtract that and you still have $55 million. That number could also go up based on how the contracts are structured. In order to assure the spending did not go overboard long term, I have attempted to make the first year of the contracts significantly higher against the cap than most contracts have them. In theory, higher first years means lower later years, which is what ultimately matters. There’s no point in signing all these free agents if you have to part ways in a year or two.
This way, there’s still money to throw around. Will they though? For the linebacker position, probably not.
As it stands, the 2020 Miami Dolphins will have Jerome Baker, Raekwon McMillan, and Sam Eguavoen under contract in 2020. All three of those players have a specific role, with Baker being the best of the three. Since the 2020 Miami Dolphins are emphasizing the secondary more than anything, that means linebackers aren’t as important. McMillan is the run stuffer (effective, too), and Baker and Eguavoen handle sideline to sideline. Andrew Van Ginkel is still there too, waiting for his chance to show what he can do. Vince Biegel is also back.
Nothing to see here, let’s go to the secondary.
Xavien Howard is the team’s top cornerback, and he got a huge contract that has him ranked as the most expensive corner in the NFL. There were rumors regarding Jalen Ramsey joining the team via trade, but those have died down. Ramsey also isn’t set to hit the market until 2021, meaning he’s likely to either finally get traded to a team that will give him a long term deal, or the two sides will resolve their differences. Either way, Ramsey is unlikely to become a free agent anytime soon.
So what next for the 2020 Miami Dolphins? Obviously, cornerback is a need for Miami. Howard is a great player but isn’t perfect, as evidenced by his struggles against the aforementioned Amari Cooper. He’s still worthy of being looked at as a top corner, but he needs help. Eric Rowe isn’t cutting it. So, time to splurge! Enter another Cowboys free agent, Byron Jones.
Byron Jones was voted #97 on the 2019 NFL Top 100.
Fair or nah?
— Blogging The Boys (@BloggingTheBoys) July 23, 2019
He’s not a household name like Ramsey, but Cowboys fans (as well as the brass) desperately want to keep him around somehow. According to reports, Jones has not even been approached about contract extensions yet, as they’re putting focus on Amari Cooper first. Now, if Cooper were to sign with Miami, they would have the money to re-sign Jones or put him on the franchise tag. But again, money talks, and with Dallas needing to spend to keep their offensive line intact for Prescott and Elliott, the 2020 Miami Dolphins can afford to throw more money at Jones than the Cowboys.
Jones doesn’t make a lot of interceptions like Howard does, in fact he’s only caught two his whole career, both as a safety. But when he made the transition to cornerback in 2018, he was voted to the Pro Bowl as a true shutdown corner. He’s continuing that in 2019. That’s an impressive feat. As he lacks the impressive numbers Howard has, Miami could get away with offering a deal a little lower. Perhaps around the $14 million per year range. But if he does demand more and wants to be the highest paid corner in the league, the Dolphins can accommodate.
For the sake of argument, we’ll give Jones a record-breaking 5-year, $80 million dollar deal. That puts him above Howard in total money and average salary ($16 million), and gives the Dolphins that deadly cornerback tandem they haven’t had since the days of Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain.
If they can’t get their hands on Jones, then there’s always Trae Waynes or Marcus Peters to consider adding.
Eric Rowe can easily be brought back as depth to fill out the rest of the corner spots. He’s not sufficient as a starter, but as a backup he fits. Then there’s Chris Lammons, Jomal Wiltz, and Ken Webster. Webster in particular has some chatter surrounding him due to his measurables. And, of course, there’s still the draft.
We have made it ladies and gentlemen, the last part of the team worth significant investment. What was once a loaded position is now extremely thin. T.J. McDonald was shockingly released, then Minkah Fitzpatrick was traded for a first round pick. That leaves Bobby McCain and Reshad Jones as the team’s only starting caliber safeties. So what to do?
First off, the Bobby McCain experiment comes to an end. He’s serviceable, but not exactly a star at free safety. So, McCain goes back to the slot where he made his money now that Fitzpatrick is no longer around. As for Jones, he’s made it clear he’s in it for the long haul, so he also stays as a veteran voice, for now.
So who takes over at free safety? The highest upside name would probably be HaHa Clinton-Dix, who signed a 1-year, $3 million dollar deal with the Chicago Bears this offseason. Depending on his performance, he may want to stay in Chicago if they’re willing to pay him. But the Dolphins could go in a different direction altogether.
As has been noted countless times already, head coach Brian Flores hails from New England. He knows everyone there intimately. He’s worked with them, knows what they’re capable of. This includes a veteran free safety who’s been near the top at his position for a long time now. Pro Bowl safety Devin McCourty. The 2020 Miami Dolphins will lure him away with the promise of a large paycheck, similarly to Danny Amendola, and he along with Jones will be a dangerous tandem at safety.
— NFL (@NFL) September 22, 2019
Even at 32 years old, some are arguing that McCourty is playing the best football of his career. Through just three games in 2019, McCourty already has three interceptions. His ability to roam the field and make plays is unprecedented. With the Dolphins, McCourty’s presence would give Miami excellent production, a veteran voice, and time to find and develop a new, long-term safety.
McCourty will be 33 in the 2020 offseason, so a long-term deal would not be in their best interest. Three years at most will do. So the Dolphins give McCourty a 3-year, $36 million dollar deal. That puts him on par with Reshad Jones’s annual salary, and it ups the price on what New England was paying him. He’s getting older, he’ll want to make as much money as he can while he can.
And that puts an end to the 2020 Miami Dolphins free agency. Obviously this doesn’t account for depth players added at bargain basement prices. But even with all the splashes, and the impending draft class, Miami still has over $25 million remaining in cap space. With the salary cap going up every year, the Dolphins should be just fine to keep all their new players.
But of course, free agency is only part of the battle. Now, it’s time to go through the draft, where the 2020 Miami Dolphins will be completed.
Luis Sung has covered the Miami Dolphins for numerous outlets such as Dolphins Wire for six years. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung