Miami Dolphins 2024 NFL offseason primer: Questions include Tua's contract, bad cap situation, O-line

Miami's defense suffers big blow after losing Christian Wilkins in free agency

Miami Dolphins' 2023 season: 11-6, lost in wild card

Overview: Everything was lined up for the Dolphins in early December. The team was 9-3 and seemingly ready to run away with the AFC East crown. But a stretch of three losses in its last five regular-season games derailed Miami's division title hopes and led to an ugly road playoff loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in a brutally cold wild-card game. It continued a troubling season-long trend of Miami struggling against the league's better teams.

Still, the Dolphins boasted the NFL's No. 1 offense in yards per game, led by quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and guided by head coach Mike McDaniel. With an explosive offense like that, and assuming a little better injury luck on defense than it had in 2023, this is a team that should continue to win a lot of games. But the first question Miami and general manager Chris Grier must answer this offseason is what to do with Tagovailoa: sign him to his first long-term extension or exercise his fifth-year option and figure out the rest later?

(Taylor Wilhelm/Yahoo Sports)
(Taylor Wilhelm/Yahoo Sports)

Key free agents

DT Christian Wilkins
C Connor Williams
EDGE Andrew Van Ginkel

Why they're out: Wilkins has become one of the NFL's premier defensive tackles, grading as Pro Football Focus' second-best run defender while also putting up a career-high nine sacks this past season. It's why the Las Vegas Raiders agreed to give him a four-year, $110 million deal, a blow to Miami who let Wilkins walk west. Miami also lost offensive guard Robert Hunt, who is getting a huge payday from the Panthers and Van Ginkel, who got a two-year deal with the Vikings. Elsewhere, the team is apparently letting Williams walk after reaching a reported three-year deal with Aaron Brewer.

Will the Dolphins use the franchise tag on star defensive tackle Christian Wilkins or sign him to a long-term deal? (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)
The Dolphins couldn't figure out how to afford Christian Wilkins, who reached a deal with the Raiders. (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

Key free-agent needs

Offensive guard
Tight end

Why the holes? Between the free agency of Williams and the loss of Hunt, Miami could be left with a bunch of holes up front on offense, though veteran lineman Terron Armstead is expected to return and they addressed center with their pending signing of Aaron Brewer. And it's no mystery the team could use a reliable pass-catching tight end to take pressure off the receiving tandem of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. They reportedly reached a two-year deal with TE Jonnu Smith. Cornerback also suddenly becomes a need with the team's reported plan to cut Pro Bowl CB Xavien Howard. Miami reportedly plans on bringing back Nik Needham.

Do they have the money?

For now, no. Spotrac projects Miami to be $3.4 million over the cap. Naturally, the team can push money into future years by restructuring highly paid players like Hill, Jalen Ramsey and Bradley Chubb, but the situation might also explain why it couldn't win a bidding war for Wilkins.

Notable cuts

CB Xavien Howard
LB Jerome Baker
LB Emmanuel Ogbah

Why they're gone: Howard was set to carry a $25.9 million cap hit this season. The Dolphins also released  Ogbah, who struggled in 2023 and was benched late in the season. As a post-June 1 cut, he will save the Dolphins $15.8 million in the cap. Among Miami's free-agent additions was a new set of linebackers in Jordyn Brooks, who got a three-year, $30 million deal, Anthony Walker (one-year deal) and Shaq Barrett (one-year deal), according to NFL Network. Meanwhile, the loss of Baker could net the team $11 million in cap savings if the Dolphins cut him after June 1.

2023 NFLPA report card

(Yahoo Sports)
(Yahoo Sports)

Draft picks

1st round: No. 21
2nd round: No. 55 overall
5th round
6th round (via Bears)
6th round
7th round

Good draft fit

Troy Fautanu, OL, Washington

Why him? The advantage to a player like Fautanu is his ability to play either guard or tackle. He doesn't have overwhelming length but may still have the skill to take over the right tackle spot. Either way, he'd represent an important talent injection to a position of need, according to Yahoo's Nate Tice and Charles McDonald in their latest mock draft.

What can move the fantasy football needle this offseason?

At first blush, a lot of things went right for Miami's offense last year — Tyreek Hill was the best fantasy WR on a per-game basis, and Raheem Mostert ranked second in cumulative points and third in points per game among running backs. But injuries and ineffectiveness held Jaylen Waddle down to a WR29 finish, and Tua Tagovailoa was merely a par as the QB10. Give us a healthy Waddle and a step forward from explosive second-year back De'Von Achane and the 2024 Dolphins have a shot to be a top-three offense. — Scott Pianowski