Dolphins' Top Players to Consider for Franchise Tag, RFA Contract Tenders

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistFebruary 17, 2021

Dolphins' Top Players to Consider for Franchise Tag, RFA Contract Tenders

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    The Miami Dolphins were on the cusp of the playoffs in 2020 but have plenty of reasons to be excited about the club's future. 

    One of those reasons is plenty of cap space this offseason. Several teams are going to struggle to get under the salary cap once the official number comes out. It's going to go down after the financial impact of COVID-19 this season. 

    However, the Dolphins are in an excellent position to deal with that. They have the eighth-highest projected cap space as they will have $26 million based on a $180.5 million cap, per Over The Cap

    The first step in spending that money is going to be determining who they want to bring back. The club has a couple of different ways to keep some of their departing talent around. In addition to simply coming to terms on a contract, the Dolphins are able to use the franchise tag and dole out some restricted-free-agent tenders. 

    The franchise tag is a one-year contract with the value being determined by the average of the top five (for traditional franchise tag) or top 10 (for the transition tag) salaries for their position. 

    Tenders are also one-year contracts that teams can hand out to their restricted free agents that allow them to either match any contract offer they receive in free agency or be compensated with a draft pick depending on the tender. 

    Here's a look at who the Dolphins may consider for the franchise tag and RFA tenders. 

Franchise Tag: No Clear Candidates

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    Brett Carlsen/Associated Press

    Although every team is allowed to use the tag on one player per season, only 15 teams exercised that option in 2020. That's because it's an expensive option that teams should really only go to when a long-term deal can't be reached or the club doesn't want to commit to a player longterm. 

    It's a specific scenario that doesn't happen on every roster. 

    Looking across the landscape of players set to hit free agency for the Fins, and it's hard to point at anyone who would make sense. The best free agent they are likely looking to retain is Ted Karras.

    The center was the 17th-graded center by Pro Football Focus, and his veteran presence should be welcome. The Dolphins offensive line will likely be among the youngest units in the league this season with Austin Jackson and Robert Hunt potentially joined by another rookie from the 2021 class. 

    While the team might like the short-term nature of a one-year franchise tag, the cost would be too exorbitant for Karras. When calculating the values of the tag, the league doesn't differentiate between tackles, guards and centers. 

    The tag for any offensive lineman is projected to be $14.5 million, per Over The Cap. That would make him the second-highest-paid center in the league behind Ryan Kelly. 

    Karras is good. He played every offensive snap and provided a steady presence on the line, but he isn't worth that kind of money and could be signed for much cheaper. 

Restricted Free Agent Tender: QB Jake Rudock

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    Bill Feig/Associated Press

    Ryan Fitzpatrick is likely on the way out. General manager Chris Grier has thrown his public support behind Tua Tagovailoa as the quarterback of the future, but the Alabama product is an injury risk, so who the Dolphins have as the backup behind their young quarterback is important. 

    Do the Dolphins trust Jake Rudock enough to be that guy?

    Miami has had an on-again-off-again relationship with the former Michigan quarterback over the last two years. He was signed and cut multiple times both on the practice squad and the official roster.

    At 28 years old, Rudock is no longer a project who could be developed into something. He's an emergency quarterback option who has been around long enough to know the offense. 

    The former Lions quarterback has just five career passes in regular season but has put together some good preseason games, including a 22-of-29 for 229 yards and a touchdown performance in a win of the final preseason game in 2019. 

    The Dolphins actually using a tender to ensure they keep their quarterback would be surprising, though. Even the right of first refusal tender, which would simply allow them to match any contract offer Rudock was to get is estimated to be worth $2.1 million next season, per Over The Cap

    His prorated contract with the Dolphins last season would have only been worth $750,000 but only actually counted for just $44,000 against the cap for all the time he was actually on the team. 

    If the Dolphins are convinced Rudock can be the backup, the right to first refusal tender could be in play. It's a relatively inexpensive contract for a backup quarterback and would guarantee they have no competition for his services. 

    However, Rudock hasn't really done much to generate a lot of competition for his services, so it feels more likely the Dolphins will bring him back on a cheaper deal if they want him to compete to back up Tagovailoa. 

Restricted Free Agent Tender: WR Isaiah Ford

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    The Dolphins receiving corps is likely to undergo some major changes this offseason. The Dolphins don't just have to make a decision on Isaiah Ford. They also get Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns back after 2020 opt-outs, and Jakeem Grant could be a cut candidate. 

    Ford was one of the more interesting stories at the trade deadline this season. The Dolphins actually sent him to the division rival New England Patriots for a seventh-round pick only for him to get waived by his new team and eventually re-sign with the Dolphins practice squad. 

    He was called up to the official roster and played in the final three games of the season. In that stretch, he caught 10 of his 15 targets for 92 yards and played in 76 percent of offensive snaps in the season finale. 

    In 10 total games, he posted 28 catches and 276 yards with 18 of those catches going for first downs.

    At 6'2" and 195 pounds, Ford is a target with decent size who can make some contested catches but doesn't seem destined to transform into anything much greater than that. Still, the right to first refusal tender of $2.1 million would make him a more affordable option to keep around than Wilson, Hurns or Grant. 

    The fact the Dolphins already tried to trade Ford once doesn't imply a ton of belief in him within the organization. He's another impending free agent who might not even have enough of a market to make the tender a viable option. 

    But with reserve offensive lineman Adam Pankey as the team's only other restricted free agent Ford is likely to be one of the few they will consider placing a tender on.