Dolphins' Top Players to Prioritize in 2021 NFL Free Agency

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistMarch 10, 2021

Dolphins' Top Players to Prioritize in 2021 NFL Free Agency

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    In 2020, the Miami Dolphins' free agency priority was clear: upgrade the defense. The Dolphins utilized their extra cap room to bring in multiple defenders who instantly upgraded a unit that let them down time and time again in the 2019 season. 

    This year, they once again have the resources to be a player in free agency. The latest numbers from Spotrac project the Dolphins to have $35.6 million in space. 

    In a market where many teams are making sacrifices just to get under the cap, that's some serious bargaining power. 

    General manager Chris Grier will still have to be wise in his spending, though. The team has serious momentum after a 10-6 campaign that saw them just miss the playoffs. Without many key free agents of their own, every signing has to make the team better in 2021 to get the most out of this offseason. 

    Based on their needs, money to spend and ability to address needs in the draft, these are the guys they should be pushing to sign first. Also included is an alternate Plan B should they be unable to sign the first option. 

WR JuJu Smith-Schuster

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    If the Dolphins are going to stick with Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback, this offseason has to be all about giving him the best chance to succeed. They have already invested a top-five pick in the lefty, and now they need to give him every chance to prove he can be the franchise quarterback. 

    Unfortunately, Allen Robinson isn't going to be hitting the open market, so that makes the next best target for the Dolphins JuJu Smith-Schuster. 

    Smith-Schuster's skill set fits well with Tagovailoa's strengths. He can win at the line of scrimmage and take advantage of the Alabama product's accuracy. 

    Even with a declining Roethlisberger, Smith-Schuster was a productive receiver last season. He put up 97 catches for 831 yards and nine touchdowns. 

    DeVante Parker and Preston Williams have flashed the ability to be No. 2 and 3 options, but the Dolphins lack a true No. 1 threat who can force defenses to game-plan for him. Smith-Schuster can be that guy and gives the team more flexibility with who to pick at No. 3 in the first round.  

    It would seem unlikely that Chris Godwin wants to leave Tom Brady in Tampa Bay. Kenny Golladay is coming off a serious injury, and no other receivers on the market have the proven production of Smith-Schuster. 

OG Joe Thuney

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    Last season, the Dolphins fortified the interior offensive line by going to Brian Flores' former team and signing Ted Karras. This year, they'd be wise to repeat that strategy with guard Joe Thuney

    The Dolphins rolled out a combination of Ereck Flowers, fourth-round pick Solomon Kindley and second-round pick Robert Hunt. Depending on whether the Dolphins view Hunt as a tackle or guard moving forward, the team could at least use an upgrade for Flowers. 

    Even with a year of experience for Austin Jackson, Kindley and Hunt in the books, the Dolphins still figure to have one of the youngest offensive lines in football. Especially if they opt to use the third pick on Penei Sewell, they could start or give heavy playing time to four first- or second-year players. 

    Bringing Thuney in would force competition between Hunt and Kindley for the final guard spot. Thuney was PFF's 10th-ranked guard last season, and that's right in line with his usual grade. 

    After playing on the franchise tag last season, the 28-year-old Thuney should be looking for a deal that's going to pay him into his 30s. The Dolphins have the extra money and a need for a veteran offensive line presence to secure him on a multiyear deal. 

    The result would be a bolstered run game and pass protection for an offense that needs it. 

Edge Haason Reddick

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    The Arizona Cardinals' signing of J.J. Watt makes it increasingly unlikely that Haason Reddick is coming back. The 26-year-old is coming off his best season by a long shot with 12.5 sacks in his fourth season. 

    It would be easy to question that production. After all, there are plenty of cautionary tales about spending on a player who has just one good season to his name. But there's a good explanation for Reddick's lack of success in the early days in Arizona. 

    The Cardinals didn't quite find the right role for Reddick until this season. After primarily playing as an off-ball linebacker, the Cards put Reddick in a more traditional edge-rusher position, where he thrived. He had the highest pass-rushing grade from Weeks 10 to 17 from Pro Football Focus. 

    The site also predicts a one-year, $8.5 million deal for the pass-rusher. If that's the case, the Dolphins should be willing to outbid that deal and secure his services. 

    Brian Flores' has proven to get the best out of pass-rushers. Emmanuel Ogbah, Kyle Van Noy and Andrew Van Ginkel combined for 20.5 sacks last season. With Van Noy now gone, the Dolphins could use a pass-rushing linebacker to get after quarterbacks. 

    The coaching staff should be able to get the most out of Reddick, whose best days could be ahead of him within the right system. His one-year wonder reputation could drive his price down and give the Dolphins a bargain that addresses a real need.