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June 13, 2024

What Wilkins’ Departure Got the Dolphins

What Wilkins’ Departure Got the Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins lost a foundational piece and emotional leader when Christian Wilkins left via free agency, but they also gained something very valuable this offseason, that being financial flexibility.

Now that the dust has settled on the first phase of NFL free agency, it’s easy to crunch some numbers and understand the Dolphins’ ability to sign so many players was made possible precisely because they were willing to let Wilkins walk — no matter how painful that was.

“I’d be the first to say, I absolutely love Christian Wilkins as a player and his game,” head coach Mike McDaniel said at the NFL owners meetings. “But there is this whole thing about the salary cap, and when money goes to one place, it doesn’t go to another. … The bottom line was we’ve never doubted Christian as a player, but you have to make some tough decisions when you’re thinking of the whole scope of the team. Realistically, it’s a lot more difficult than we want all the best players. There are times like that when you have good players on your team, something that you’re hoping to – a problem derived from drafting a good player and developing him is that we’ve made a multitude of moves with our relationship towards the salary cap, that it probably wouldn’t have existed with that.”

THE CHRISTIAN WILKINS “REPLACEMENTS” Of course, the Dolphins’ ability to sign so many players this offseason was partly the result of how they structured those new contracts, with void years becoming commonplace to lower the first-year cap number.

Not counting the two defensive tackles signed before the start of free agency — Daviyon Nixon and Isaiah Mack — the Dolphins have brought in 13 new players: LB Jordyn Brooks, TE Jonnu Smith, LB Shaquil Barrett, C Aaron Brewer, CB Kendall Fuller, S Jordan Poyer, CB Siran Neal, T Jack Driscoll, DT Benito Jones, DT Neville Gallimore, DT Jonathan Harris, LB Anthony Walker Jr. and TE Jody Fortson.

Not one of those players carries a 2024 cap number higher than $2.8 million, per Over The Cap.

Wilkins, meanwhile, will count $10.3 million on the Las Vegas Raiders after signing his four-year, $110 million contract before his cap number tops $30 million each of the next three years.

Looking strictly at 2024, the Dolphins got Brooks, Fuller, Barrett and Brewer for $10.5 million of cap space.

The Dolphins’ decision to not put the franchise tag on Wilkins also was debated and it’s interesting to see how that played out in terms of what they were able to get done with that cap space.

The franchise tag for defensive tackles this year was $22 million, which is what Wilkins would have counted against the cap until there was a new extension in place.

That same amount of cap space got the Dolphins their 10 most expensive free agent acquisitions (by cap number): Brooks, Fuller, Barrett, Brewer, Smith, Poyer, Neal and three of four among Driscoll, Jones, Gallimore and Harris.

Call it quantity over quality if you want, or bargain shopping, but it’s also impossible to argue that the Dolphins were better served by being able to add that many players as opposed to making sure to retain Wilkins, a very good player but not one quite good enough to justify the kind of sacrifice he would have necessitated.

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