Dolphins Unlikely To Retain G Robert Hunt, DT Christian Wilkins; CB Xavien Howard Will Not Return

As of Friday afternoon, the Dolphins are still $20MM over the cap. They will not pick up any savings from the Xavien Howard post-June 1 cut for months, meaning more moves will need to transpire for the team to move under the 2024 salary ceiling.

This will affect how the Dolphins proceed with their top two free agents. Barring an 11th-hour change, both Robert Hunt and Christian Wilkins look to be headed out the door. Each will be a candidate to land a near-top-market deal at their respective positions, and it does not look like the Dolphins will be prepared to match such an offer.

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Hunt’s return looks unlikely due to the salary he will command, per the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson. Kevin Dotson‘s $16MM-per-year Rams deal (feat. $32MM guaranteed) may set the floor for Hunt, who has been a more consistent player. The Dolphins have maintained a good relationship with Hunt’s camp during this process, Jackson adds, but the market will probably push them out of the bidding. The parties discussed an extension months ago, but with the Dolphins paying Austin Jackson along with Terron Armstead, Hunt is probably on his way out.

Moved from right tackle to right guard in 2021, the former second-round pick has played well inside. As injuries and position changes (along with an O-line coach carousel) continued to take place over the past three years in Miami, Hunt was probably the team’s most reliable O-lineman. But with a top-10 guard contract likely, the Dolphins will face the prospect of replacing both their starting guards and starting center. Connor Williams is also a UFA-to-be, and while he is coming off a December ACL tear, he played well on a two-year Dolphins deal and should garner extensive interest regardless.

The Dolphins are believed to still be trying to keep Wilkins, effectively revealing a priority queue with Hunt at No. 2, but the price point will presumably move them out of the running. Wilkins should be expected to command an average salary in the $24-$25MM range, ESPN’s Adam Schefter said recently. The Dolphins offered the 2019 first-round pick top-10 DT money last year, before the sides broke off talks ahead of the season, but Jackson adds the team has not shown it is comfortable going to the $25MM-AAV place to retain Wilkins.

ESPN’s run stop win rate ranked Wilkins in the top two in 2021 and ’22, and after the Dolphins were hesitant to go to the Quinnen WilliamsDexter LawrenceDaron PayneJeffery Simmons level with their offer due to Wilkins’ modest sack production (11.5 from 2019-22), the Clemson alum ripped off a nine-sack contract year. He is set to cash in, with teams like the Texans and Vikings expected to be in on the bidding. In that likely event, the Dolphins will be tasked with replacing a five-year starter.

Elsewhere on Miami’s depth chart, no Dolphins-Howard reunion — one GM Chris Grier floated as a possibility — will come to pass. Regarding a return to Miami at a reduced rate, the former All-Pro cornerback said (during a 560 WQAM interview) “that door is closed.” Howard expressed a similar sentiment earlier this offseason when asked if he would take a pay cut to stay. That said, the soon-to-be 31-year-old corner will need to play the 2024 season at a lower rate compared to the big-ticket deal — which included $50.6MM in new money — the Dolphins gave him after the Byron Jones deal prompted the ballhawk to gripe about his own contract in the early 2020s.

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