The Miami Dolphins were rampant free agent spenders on defense in the 2020 offseason. They outbid the entire market for Byron Jones, poured money into EDGE defenders in Kyle Van Noy, Emmanuel Ogbah, and Shaq Lawson, and bolstered their linebacker room with Elandon Roberts and Kamu Grugier-Hill. The mission from defensive-minded head coach Brian Flores was clear: the Dolphins needed to improve on defense.
And they did. The Dolphins were ranked 11th in defensive DVOA but just missed the playoffs, as the combined efforts of veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa weren’t enough to propel Miami over the hump. Now, still with a significant amount of cap space available and a playoff berth in their sights, it’s time to spend money on the offense.
I circled some big-ticket, high-impact free agents that I think fit the bill for what the Dolphins need on offense.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Opinions are split on Smith-Schuster, whose most productive stretch of play came in his first two seasons as a pro, and has since leveled out as an underneath target-hog on the Antonio Brown-less Steelers of the last two seasons. Is he a dynamic YAC threat and truly deadly route-runner, or is he just a stick-mover?
The truth, as per usual, is somewhere in between. Smith-Schuster was asked to dominate on underneath routes from the slot as a function of the Steelers’ offense, limited by Ben Roethlisberger’s waning arm. If the Dolphins’ starting quarterback remains Tua Tagovailoa, a precise underneath passer with only an average NFL arm, Smith-Schuster will immediately become Tagovailoa’s safety blanket for a roster without a clear starting slot receiver.
And even if the Dolphins acquire Deshaun Watson as is planned, Smith-Schuster fills the starting slot role and runs the underneath breaking routes that are left unfilled by a predominately vertical receiver room featuring DeVante Parker and Preston Williams. It’s a good fit.
Aaron Jones, RB, Green Bay Packers
Big second contracts for running backs tend to be a bad idea, as veteran players lose some of the freshness in their legs, deal with injuries, and tail off pretty quickly. Aaron Jones is one of the best running backs to hit the open market in recent seasons, though—and if there’s a team that’s well situated to pony up big bucks for his services, it’s Miami.
The Dolphins are currently projected to have the eighth-most cap space in the 2021 season, and with a defense largely ready to compete and a ton of draft capital in hand, don’t have any positions on the roster worse off than running back. Myles Gaskin represents a good committee back, so the Dolphins could wisely bring in a cheaper free agent like Chris Carson or Malcolm Brown and keep their approach cheap. But the temptation of Jones coming in and immediately establishing a top-flight running game, in hand with the Dolphins’ improving offensive line, is tough to pass up.
Jones may not make it out of Green Bay, but if he does, Miami will be hot on his market.
Matt Feiler, OT, Pittsburgh Steelers
Do the Dolphins need a tackle? Last year’s first-round pick at left tackle, Austin Jackson, looked like an uneven rookie in Year 1. Their second-round pick, Robert Hunt, was solid at right tackle—but they may think he’s better at guard long-term. And what about guard? Solomon Kindley had a strong rookie season, and Ereck Flowers’ transition from tackle has gone nicely, but both can be improved upon. The Dolphins’ offensive line is tough to riddle out.
So let’s target another player whose value is predicated on versatility. Feiler started at right tackle for the Steelers this past season, but has career starts at left guard, right guard, and right tackle over the last few years in Pittsburgh. He’s likely better off as an OL6 who backs up multiple positions instead of as a true starter, but with all of the shuffling that could occur on the Dolphins’ offensive line this offseason, he represents a good safety net at multiple positions.
In that he should be fairly cheap on the market, Feiler gives the Dolphins the flexibility to continue playing their young starters and look for growth, while also presenting a high-floor backup in case one spot on the line needs an immediate, short-term improvement.