Dolphins Rumors

Dolphins Prepared To Tag DT Christian Wilkins; CB Xavien Howard Reunion In Play

The Dolphins have work to do in the near future to achieve cap compliance, and a pair of notable defenders in Christian Wilkins and Xavien Howard could find themselves playing elsewhere next season. In both players’ cases, though, a continued Miami tenure cannot be ruled out.

Wilkins profiles as a top franchise tag candidate given his importance to the Dolphins’ defensive front. The former first-rounder is on track for free agency after extension talks were tabled until after the 2023 campaign. Wilkins certainly helped his value by recording career-highs in sacks (nine), QB hits (23) and pressures (30) this year. As was the case previously, he could therefore join the list of defensive tackles landing lucrative second contracts.

The position’s market saw a new second tier emerge below Aaron Donald during the 2023 offseason. Jeffery SimmonsDexter LawrenceEd Oliver and Quinnen Williams secured new pacts after Daron Payne hammered out an agreement with the Commanders following the team’s decision to tag him. Miami would be hit with a $22.1MM cap charge with a Wilkins tag.

To no surprise, general manager Chris Grier noted at the Combine that a franchise tag remains a consideration in Wilkins’ case (h/t Adam Beasley of Pro Football Network). Using it would further complicate Miami’s cap situation, but it would ensure he would not be able to test the market in free agency once the new league year begins. A long-term deal would be an obvious team priority, and it would lower his 2024 cap figure. Tagged players can continue negotiating extensions until mid-July before being forced to play on the one-year tender.

Grier also noted that the door is still open to cornerback Xavien Howard remaining with the Dolphins on a new deal. Miami informed the veteran last month that he will be released in a cost-cutting move, but not until the new league year opens on March 13. A post-June 1 designation would be necessary for the Dolphins to see notable cap savings. As a result, time could still exist for both parties to come to a new agreement.

Howard’s release would save $18.5MM presuming it proves to be one of the two post-June 1 cuts teams are allowed each offseason. An agreement eating into that total would come as a surprise, but the 30-year-old would still be a capable member of Miami’s secondary if he were to be retained. One of the league’s top ballhawks during his Dolphins tenure, Howard recorded only one interception in 2023, though, and the team already has Jalen Ramsey on the books for the next two seasons at a significant cap hit.

Miami will be a team to watch over the coming days as the franchise tag deadline (March 5) and the start of free agency approaches. Further clarity on the team’s plans with Wilkins and Howard will be in place soon as Miami seeks to improve in general on defense compared to last year’s showing.

Dolphins, Andrew Van Ginkel Have Mutual Interest In New Deal

After re-signing with the Dolphins on a one-year deal last offseason, linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel proceeded to have one of the best seasons of his career. While the five-year veteran will surely test free agency in pursuit of a pay raise, there’s still a chance he sticks in Miami.

During an appearance on The Joe Rose Show, agent Drew Rosenhaus said there’s mutual interest in Van Ginkel returning to Miami (via Daniel Oyefusi of the Miami Herald). However, the agent also cautioned that his client will be “coveted by several other teams,” so there’s no guarantee that the linebacker will return to the Dolphins.

“He’ll be very well sought-after,” Rosenhaus said (via David Furones of the South Florida Sun Sentinel). “Whether or not he remains with the Dolphins, there’s mutual interest, but obviously it’s going to come down to, I’m sure, the start of free agency and what the market looks like and how the Dolphins are going to compete with other clubs.”

The former fifth-round pick has spent his entire career with the Dolphins, rotating between the bench and the starting lineup. After showing some pass-rush prowess early in his career, Van Ginkel seemed to put it all together in 2023. He finished this past season with a career-high six sacks while also compiling some of his best numbers in TFL (eight) and QB hits (19).

Pro Football Focus was especially fond of the player’s performance. Listed as an edge rusher, Van Ginkel was ranked seventh among 112 qualifying players at his position. This included a top-four positional grade for his coverage skills and a top-seven positional grade for his pass-rush ability.

The Dolphins have already started clearing out some of their pass-rush depth, as the team cut Emmanuel Ogbah last week. With Jaelan Phillips and Bradley Chubb both questionable for the start of next season, the organization could be especially committed to retaining some continuity in Van Ginkel.

2024 NFL Cap Space, By Team

The NFL provided clarity to its teams on Friday by setting the salary cap ceiling ($255.4MM). Franchise tag figures have been locked in as well, and clubs can now proceed with their offseason planning knowing exactly where they stand with respect to financial flexibility. Courtesy of Over the Cap, here is the current landscape in terms of salary cap space:

  1. Washington Commanders: $79.61MM
  2. Tennessee Titans: $78.66MM
  3. Chicago Bears: $78.34MM
  4. New England Patriots: $77.96MM
  5. Indianapolis Colts: $72.34MM
  6. Houston Texans: $67.58MM
  7. Detroit Lions: $57.61MM
  8. Arizona Cardinals: $51.1MM
  9. Cincinnati Bengals: $50.67MM
  10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: $43.68MM
  11. Los Angles Rams: $43.11MM
  12. Las Vegas Raiders: $42.94MM
  13. Minnesota Vikings: $35.81MM
  14. Carolina Panthers: $34.57MM
  15. Atlanta Falcons: $33MM
  16. New York Giants: $30.8MM
  17. Philadelphia Eagles: $27.35MM
  18. Jacksonville Jaguars: $24.68MM
  19. Kansas City Chiefs: $18.19MM
  20. Baltimore Ravens: $16.63MM
  21. Seattle Seahawks: $12.97MM
  22. New York Jets: $12.76MM
  23. Pittsburgh Steelers: $9MM
  24. Green Bay Packers: $2.3MM
  25. San Francisco 49ers: $5.07MM over the cap
  26. Cleveland Browns: $7.76MM over
  27. Dallas Cowboys: $9.86MM over
  28. Denver Broncos: $16.81MM over
  29. Los Angeles Chargers: $25.61MM over
  30. Miami Dolphins: $27.92MM over
  31. New Orleans Saints: $42.11MM over
  32. Buffalo Bills: $43.82MM over

All teams must be cap compliant by the start of the new league year, but it will of course be more than just those currently over the limit which will make cost-shedding moves in the near future. Cuts, restructures and extensions are available as tools to carve out space in advance of free agency. Several have already taken place around the league.

That includes the Dolphins’ release of defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah and the planned cut of Xavien Howard. The latter cannot be designated a post-June 1 release until free agency begins but once it happens, Miami will move much closer to cap compliance. The Saints have moved considerable commitments into the future via restructures (as usual), but more transactions on that front will be required even with the cap seeing an historic single-season jump.

The roughly $30MM spike from 2023 will provide unforeseen spending power for teams already set to lead the pack in cap space while also making the task of those at the bottom of the list easier. Spending more on backloaded contracts this offseason at the expense of future space obviously carries risk, however. Still, the news of a higher-than-expected ceiling will add further intrigue to each team’s financial planning.

With Dak Prescott and Deshaun Watson each set to carry record-breaking cap hits for 2024, the Cowboys and Browns will be among the teams most in need of working out a deal to lower those figures. In Dallas’ case in particular, an extension would provide immediate breathing room in addition to clarity on his future beyond the coming season. For Cleveland, Watson’s fully-guaranteed deal has already been restructured once and will need to be again to avoid consecutive years of a $64MM cap charge over its remaining term.

If the Commanders and Patriots add a quarterback with the second and third picks in this year’s draft, each team currently in the top six in space will enjoy the benefits of having a signal-caller on their rookie contracts. That would allow for an aggressive approach to free agency, although the Chiefs’ success after Patrick Mahomes signed (and re-worked) his monster extension has proven it is possible to win Super Bowl titles with a substantial QB investment on the books.

Dolphins To Release CB Xavien Howard

Part of two pricey cornerback tandems in Miami, Xavien Howard did not have a chance to operate in the second one for too long. Less than a year after the Dolphins acquired Jalen Ramsey to pair him with Howard, they will move on from the latter.

The Dolphins have informed Howard he will be cut, NFL.com’s Mike Garafolo and Peter Schrager report. Chosen in the 2016 draft, Howard is the Dolphins’ longest-tenured player. The two-time All-Pro will soon become a high-profile free agent. This move comes shortly after the Dolphins released Emmanuel Ogbah. Howard’s deal ran through 2026.

This release will not occur until the start of the league year, per NFL.com. This is presumably because the Dolphins intend to designate Howard, as they did Byron Jones in 2023, a post-June 1 cut. Not making this designation would prevent Miami from benefiting much from releasing Howard. By using it, the Dolphins would save $18.5MM this year. If Miami did use the post-June 1 option, its savings would barely exceed $2MM.

Teams can make two post-June 1 cuts each year, and although the league no longer mandates teams wait until June to make these moves, the Dolphins cannot release Howard now and designate him a post-June 1 cut. Needing to wait until the start of the 2024 league year, the Dolphins will still make plans for a 2024 roster that does not include Howard. Between the Ogbah and Howard moves — assuming the latter’s release is of the post-June 1 variety — the Dolphins will save more than $32MM. That moves the team to within $6MM of cap compliance.

One of this era’s top ballhawks, Howard has intercepted 29 passes — tied for fourth-most in Dolphins history. Twice leading the league in INTs, Howard has been a starter throughout his career. Set to turn 31 in June, Howard will now explore options outside of Miami. He is expected to generate significant interest, per Garofolo and Schrager. With the Bears preparing to use the franchise tag on Jaylon Johnson and the Chiefs probably considering the tag for L’Jarius Sneed, this year’s cornerback market could thin out quickly soon. Players like Howard would benefit.

Howard’s season under Vic Fangio was far from his best. Intercepting only one pass, Howard allowed 62.9% of the passes thrown his way to be completed. He brought down his passer rating-against number from 101.2 in 2022 to 81.3 under Fangio, but Pro Football Focus ranked the experienced cover man 98th among corners last season. Howard, however, had been one of this period’s better corners in previous years. The Dolphins rewarded him on multiple occasions in the process.

During the second half of the 2010s, the cornerback market stagnated. This affected Howard, who had signed a five-year, $75.25MM extension in May 2019. Despite Howard’s deal being finalized three years after Josh Norman‘s then-record-setting Washington pact, it barely raised the CB ceiling. Howard became disgruntled after the Dolphins agreed to terms with Jones on a more lucrative contract in 2020. Reaching free agency, the ex-Cowboys first-rounder did raise the bar. Howard, who had intercepted 10 passes during Jones’ 2020 Miami debut, was already seeking a new deal by 2021.

When talks did not progress that year, Howard requested a trade. The Dolphins did not budge there, but they not hold their ground for long on the financial front. They reworked Howard’s deal before the ’21 season, fully guaranteeing his salary while adding incentives. In March 2022, the Dolphins further rewarded their top corner by redoing his contract — an agreement that provided $50.6MM in new money. This reworking ballooned the dead money associated with a Howard cut, though it was probably unrealistic for the Dolphins to keep the veteran tied to his 2019 pact for two more seasons given the circumstances.

Howard did not quite live up to the latest contract adjustment, which the team made despite his original extension running through 2024. With Jones attached to a higher AAV and a better guarantee, the Dolphins broke with norms and gave into Howard’s demands that year. Howard soon became indispensable, with Jones missing all of the ’22 season with what looks like a career-ending injury.

Earlier this offseason, Howard said he was not prepared to take a pay cut if the Dolphins were to ask. It is unclear if they did, but the organization will close the book on a lengthy CB chapter. Howard also brought headaches off the field. In addition to the contract grumbling, the four-time Pro Bowler was arrested on a domestic battery charge. It was later dropped, but the Baylor alum was later named in a police report in connection with a shooting at his former agent’s home. That case was later closed. Howard never encountered a suspension during this period, and the Dolphins compensated him well over the course of his career.

Acquiring Ramsey in 2023, the Dolphins gave their new CB prize more guaranteed money by reworking his deal post-trade. With Tua Tagovailoa and Jaylen Waddle on the Fins’ extension radar, they look to be moving forward with just one high-end cornerback payment on their books. The Dolphins also have UDFA Kader Kohou on a rookie deal and used a second-round pick on Cam Smith last year.

Dolphins To Release DE Emmanuel Ogbah

Seeing his playing time reduced last season, Emmanuel Ogbah became needed as the Dolphins saw their top edge rushers go down with major injuries. With Bradley Chubb and Jaelan Phillips expected back before or during the 2024 season, Miami will make an expected cap-driven move.

The Dolphins intend to release Emmanuel Ogbah, according to ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter. Although Ogbah was a regular presence before Vic Fangio‘s one-and-done season as Dolphins DC, the former starter’s demotion made him a release candidate.

Friday’s $255.4MM salary cap reveal brought good news for cap-strapped teams, but the Dolphins still have plenty of work to do. Before this Ogbah move is calculated, Miami sits more than $38MM over the 2024 cap. Releasing Ogbah will $13.7MM in cap space for the Dolphins. Ogbah was attached to a four-year, $65.4MM deal agreed to in 2022; he was set to carry a $14.93MM base salary next season. Considering his Miami trajectory, that proved unrealistic for the team.

Ogbah, 30, had been a productive pass rusher for the Dolphins on his previous contract. The Dolphins re-signed the former Browns second-round pick in free agency two years ago, but a torn triceps sustained midway through that season — a development that came shortly after the team traded a first-round pick for Chubb at the trade deadline — changed the previous starter’s trajectory.

Between the 2020 and ’21 seasons, Ogbah cemented his case for a significant raise by registering nine sacks in each season. He totaled 45 quarterback hits in that span. After the Dolphins had Ogbah on a two-year, $15MM deal, the raise did not go as planned. Ogbah will hit free agency on a downturn, and while he could still profile as a rotational rusher somewhere else, the veteran is unlikely to fetch much on the open market given his minimal production over the past two years.

The Chiefs used Ogbah primarily as a rotational player during their 2019 Super Bowl-winning team, acquiring him that year via trade from the Browns. But a torn pectoral muscle shelved him midway through that season. Ogbah did not play during that playoff run, and after missing Miami’s 2022 wild-card game due to injury as well, his only postseason contest came back at Arrowhead Stadium on a frigid night — a 26-7 Dolphins loss. Ogbah only started because of the injuries to Phillips, Chubb and Andrew Van Ginkel. The Dolphins had brought in veterans Melvin Ingram, Bruce Irvin and Justin Houston to help Ogbah in that emergency circumstance, but Chubb and Phillips will be expected to anchor new DC Anthony Weaver‘s edge-rushing corps next season.

Miami has Chubb signed through 2026, and should the team pick up Phillips’ fifth-year option by May 2, he will be locked down through 2025. Van Ginkel is on track for free agency, seeing his contract expire shortly after an injury. Following Phillips’ Achilles tear and Chubb’s ACL setback, Van Ginkel suffered a foot injury in Miami’s regular-season game.

Dolphins LT Terron Armstead Expected To Play In 2024

Terron Armstead has not confirmed he will be back for a 12th NFL season, but early signs are pointing in that direction. As the Dolphins appear set to go through Tua Tagovailoa extension talks, his two-year left tackle is viewed as likely to be part of the 2024 equation.

The Dolphins expect Armstead to play next season, according to the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson. Armstead said coming out of the 2023 campaign he was unsure about returning, and while injuries have continued to play a regular role for the accomplished blocker, he is tied to a $15MM-per-year deal that features some guarantees already in place moving forward.

As part of the five-year, $75MM contract Armstead inked with Miami in 2022, he locked in $5MM of his 2024 base salary by being on the Dolphins’ roster on Day 3 of the 2023 league year. The rest of that $13.25MM salary will be guaranteed on March 15. That represents a good incentive to come back; Armstead will be going into his age-33 season.

Tyreek Hill has represented the primary catalyst for Miami’s offense taking off under Mike McDaniel, but Armstead has also provided the Tagovailoa-led unit with some upper-crust abilities since joining the team in McDaniel’s first year. The ex-Saints mainstay has been one of the league’s better tackles when available, though injuries have stuck with the veteran since his New Orleans exit. Pro Football Focus has graded Armstead as a top-20 tackle in eight of the past nine seasons. The advanced metrics website placed Armstead 16th in 2023.

Armstead missed seven games last season and four in 2022. He has never played 16 games in a season and has missed 59 contests over the course of his career. Armstead landed on IR due to a knee injury and dealt with multiple knee maladies during his second year in Miami. He later missed time because of quad trouble but was available for the Dolphins’ stretch run — on an O-line ransacked by injuries once again. The Dolphins lost Connor Williams and Isaiah Wynn for the season and saw Robert Hunt miss seven games due to a hamstring injury. Armstead played nine of the Dolphins’ final 10 games last season.

Miami extended right tackle Austin Jackson in December, but the former first-round pick is not tied to a top-tier tackle contract. The Dolphins are on the verge of seeing their equation change with a Tagovailoa extension, with Jaylen Waddle also extension-eligible now. While their tackles are tied to veteran deals, neither is on a top-10 pact at his respective position. Armstead’s $15MM AAV checks in 13th among left tackles; Jackson’s $12MM number is 11th at RT.

The Dolphins have questions at other O-line spots, with each of their three interior starters last year — Wynn, Williams, Hunt — due for free agency next month. But they will attempt to round out those spots with the expectation Armstead will still anchor the unit.

2024 NFL Franchise Tag Candidates

A valuable tool for teams to keep top free agents off the market, the franchise tag has been in existence since 1993. This week brought the opening of the 2024 tag window. Clubs have until 3pm CT on March 5 to apply tags. As the Giants’ situation showed last year, most of the tag-related business comes near the close of this window. Teams will continue to work toward re-signing their respective tag candidates, thus preventing a lofty franchise tender from hitting their cap sheet.

The legal tampering period opens March 11, with the new league year (and official free agency) starting March 13. Once a player is tagged, he has until July 15 to sign an extension with his respective team. Absent an extension agreement by that date, the player must play the 2023 season on the tag (or go the Le’Veon Bell/Dan Williams/Sean Gilbert route, passing on guaranteed money and skipping the season).

High-profile free agents remain weeks away from hitting the market. As PFR’s tag recipients list shows, a handful of players are prevented from taking their services to free agency each year. This year looks to present a few more tag candidates compared to 2023. With a handful of teams determining if they will need to use the tag to prevent a free agency path, here are the players who figure to be tagged or at least generate conversations about being franchised ahead of the March 5 deadline:

Locks

Josh Allen, OLB (Jaguars)
Tag cost: $24MM

GM Trent Baalke did not leave much suspense when he addressed Allen’s future last month. The veteran exec said the 2019 first-round pick will be a Jaguar in 2024, indicating the team would use its franchise tag if necessary. The Jaguars do have Calvin Ridley as a free agent, but the team would owe the Falcons a 2024 second-round pick if it extended the wide receiver’s contract before the start of the league year. The second pick sent to Atlanta will only be a third-rounder if Jacksonville lets Ridley hit free agency. It makes more sense for Jacksonville to circle back to Ridley after allowing him to test the market. An Allen tag effectively ensures that will happen.

Timing his sack breakthrough well, Allen registered a Jags-record 17.5 during his contract year. The five-year Jaguar has combined for 55 QB hits over the past two seasons and ranks top 10 in pressures over the past three. The tag regularly keeps top edge rushers from hitting free agency, and the 26-year-old pass rusher — while obviously wanting to be paid what he’s worth — expressed a desire to stay in Jacksonville long term.

The Jags have regularly unholstered their tag during the 2020s, cuffing Yannick Ngakoue in 2020 and then keeping Cam Robinson off the 2021 and ’22 markets. The team kept Evan Engram out of free agency last year. Robinson signed an extension in 2022, and the Jags re-upped Engram last July. The Ngakoue situation could be notable, as the edge rusher became disgruntled with the Jags and was eventually traded to the Vikings that summer. No signs of that level of trouble are brewing with Allen yet.

Jaylon Johnson, CB (Bears)
Tag cost: $19.8MM

Johnson is likely to become the first franchise-tagged cornerback since the Rams kept Trumaine Johnson off the 2017 market. The Bears are the most recent team to tag a corner, using the transition tag to cuff Kyle Fuller in 2018. They will almost definitely follow suit with Johnson, who has been rumored to be tagged for several weeks. A Ryan Pace-era draftee, Johnson expressed his desire to stay with the Bears ahead of his contract year. With that platform campaign producing some twists and turns, that price has gone up significantly.

After unsuccessful in-season extension talks, the Bears gave Johnson an 11th-hour opportunity to gauge his trade value. The Bears did not alert teams Johnson, 24, was available until the night before the Oct. 31 deadline. Although the Bills and 49ers engaged in talks about a trade, the Bears held out for a first- or second-round pick. Nothing materialized, which will likely come up during the team’s talks with Johnson. The Bears then extended trade pickup Montez Sweat, leaving Johnson in limbo. But the former second-round pick stuck the landing on an impact season. He is firmly in the Bears’ plans, and the team holds more than $66MM in cap space — plenty to squeeze in a tag onto the payroll.

Pro Football Focus’ top-graded corner in 2023, Johnson displayed a new gear that has made him worthy of a tag. Finishing with four interceptions and allowing just a 50.9 passer rating as the closest defender, the Utah alum soared to second-team All-Pro status. The Bears, who last used the tag on Allen Robinson in 2021, made no secret of their interest in retaining Johnson and will have a few more months to negotiate with him as a result of the tag.

Likely tag recipients

Brian Burns, OLB (Panthers)
Projected tag cost: $24MM

The Panthers hiring a new GM and head coach classifies this as just short of a lock, but familiar faces remain. Carolina promoted assistant general manager Dan Morgan to GM and blocked DC Ejiro Evero from departing. Burns has been viewed as a likely tag recipient since last season, after negotiations broke down. The Panthers have not offered a negotiating masterclass here, as Burns has been extension-eligible since the 2022 offseason. Since-fired GM Scott Fitterer had viewed Burns as a re-up candidate for two offseasons, but multiple rounds of trade talks boosted the 2019 first-rounder’s leverage.

In what looks like a mistake, the Panthers passed on a Rams offer that included two first-rounders and a third for Burns at the 2022 trade deadline. Carolina then kept Burns out of 2023 trade talks with Chicago about the No. 1 pick, ultimately sending D.J. Moore to the Windy City for the Bryce Young draft slot. Carolina also kept Burns at the 2023 deadline, as teams looked into the top pass rusher on the NFL’s worst team. Burns also saw his position’s market change via Nick Bosa‘s record-setting extension ($34MM per year). The 49ers’ landmark accord came to pass after Burns had set a $30MM-AAV price point, complicating Morgan’s upcoming assignment.

Burns, 25, has registered at least 7.5 sacks in each of his five seasons. While he has only topped nine in a season once (2022), the two-time Pro Bowler is one of the league’s better edge rushers. Given the Panthers’ history with Burns, it would be borderline shocking to see the team allow the Florida State alum to leave in exchange for merely a third-round compensatory pick.

Burns has said he wants to stay with the Panthers; he is unlikely to have a choice this year. The Panthers last used the tag to keep right tackle Taylor Moton off the market in 2021; the sides agreed to an extension that offseason.

Tee Higgins, WR (Bengals)
Tag cost: $21.82MM

Seeing their hopes of capitalizing on the final year of Higgins’ rookie contract dashed due to Joe Burrow‘s season-ending injury, the Bengals look to be giving strong consideration to keeping the Burrow-Higgins-Ja’Marr Chase trio together for one last ride of sorts. The Bengals hold $59.4MM in cap space — fifth-most currently — and structured Burrow’s extension in a way that makes a Higgins tag palatable. Burrow’s deal does not spike into historic cap territory until 2025.

While a future in which Chase and Higgins are signed long term is more difficult to foresee, the Bengals still carry one of the AFC’s best rosters. It is likely Burrow’s top two weapons remain in the fold for at least one more year. Higgins, 25, did not come close to posting a third straight 1,000-yard season. Burrow’s injury had plenty to do with that, though the former second-round pick started slowly. A Bengals 2023 extension offer underwhelmed Higgins, but the Bengals kept him out of trades. A tag will give Cincinnati the option to rent him for 2024. A tag-and-trade transaction is viewed as unlikely, as the Bengals load up again.

How the organization proceeds beyond 2024 will be a key storyline, but the Bengals — who kept Jessie Bates in similar fashion in 2022 — are positioned well to run back perhaps the NFL’s best receiving tandem. While director of player personnel Duke Tobin stopped short of guaranteeing Higgins will be a Bengal in 2024, signs point to it.

Justin Madubuike, DL (Ravens)
Tag cost: $22.1MM

Seeing their defensive coordinator depart and once again facing questions at outside linebacker, the Ravens have the option of keeping their top 2023 pass rusher off the market. They are probably going to take that route. Madubuike raised his price considerably during an impact contract year, leading the Ravens with 13 sacks. While Mike Macdonald was able to coax surprising seasons from late additions Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy, Madubuike drove Baltimore’s defensive engine and will likely be guaranteed a high salary by signing his franchise tender.

Perennially interested in hoarding compensatory picks, the Ravens have regularly let breakthrough pass rushers walk in free agency. This dates back to the likes of Paul Kruger and Pernell McPhee and subsequently included Za’Darius Smith and Matt Judon. The Ravens have only been able to replace Judon with stopgap options — from Clowney to Van Noy to Justin Houston — and again must figure out a solution alongside Odafe Oweh on the edge. Madubuike, 26, proved too good to let walk; the former third-round pick will once again be expected to anchor Baltimore’s pass rush in 2024.

Antoine Winfield Jr., S (Buccaneers)
Tag cost: $17.12MM

We mentioned Winfield as the Bucs’ most likely tag recipient around the midseason point, and signs now point to that reality coming to pass. The Bucs want to re-sign Baker Mayfield and Mike Evans. The bounce-back quarterback’s tender price would check in at nearly $36MM, and because Evans was attached to a veteran contract, his tag number would come in well north of Higgins’ — at beyond $28MM. As such, the Bucs cuffing Winfield has always made the most sense, and after the second-generation NFL DB’s dominant contract year, it would be stunning to see the team let him walk.

The Bucs have let their recent top free agents test free agency, only to re-sign Shaquil Barrett (2021), Carlton Davis (2022) and Jamel Dean (2023). Winfield may be on a higher plane, having secured first-team All-Pro acclaim last season. Davis and Dean have never made a Pro Bowl; Winfield’s productive and well-regarded 2023 stands to separate him. Winfield, 25, tallied six sacks and three interceptions while forcing an NFL-leading six fumbles. This included a pivotal strip of DJ Chark in the Bucs’ Week 18 win over the Panthers, which clinched them the NFC South title.

Winfield will undoubtedly be eyeing a top-market safety extension. Derwin James established the current standard, $19MM per year, just before the 2022 season. Last year’s safety market did not feature big-ticket prices, for the most part, but the Falcons made Jessie Bates (four years, $64MM) an exception. If Winfield were to reach free agency, he would be expected to eclipse that.

The Bucs, who have used the tag three times in the 2020s, should not be considered likely to let Winfield follow Davis and Dean’s path by speaking with other teams. Tampa Bay has used the tag three times in the 2020s, cuffing Barrett in 2020 and tagging Chris Godwin twice. The team eventually re-signed both, and while the statuses of Mayfield and Evans (and All-Pro tackle Tristan Wirfs) create a crowded contract queue, the Bucs will certainly be interested in re-upping Winfield.

On tag radar

Saquon Barkley, RB (Giants)
Tag cost: $12MM

Barkley has said he wants to finish his career with the Giants, and the team will meet with the Pro Bowl running back’s camp at the Combine. But a recent report indicated the team is highly unlikely to tag the six-year veteran a second time. The Giants should not be ruled out from reversing course and keeping Barkley, given his importance to an otherwise low-octane offense, but it appears they are prepared to move on if the talented RB does not accept their extension offer this time around. A host of talented backs await in free agency, though Barkley would likely be the top prize were he to reach the market.

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AFC East Notes: Dolphins, Bills, Pioli

The dominoes continue to fall in NFL coaching circles and that’s certainly the case in the AFC East. The Dolphins made a trio of adjustments to their 2024 staff with two promotions and an external hire.

We learned about a week and a half ago that, after failing to land Miami’s defensive coordinator position, which went to Anthony Weaver, outside linebackers coach Ryan Slowik was set to remain on the team’s staff for next season in a different capacity. Thanks to Charean Williams of NBC Sports, we now know that Slowik’s new position will be as defensive backs coach and pass game specialist. Williams also informed us that assistant defensive backs coach Mathieu Araujo has earned a promotion, as well. Araujo will serve as cornerbacks coach in 2024.

Additionally, we learned today that University of Montana defensive coordinator Ronnie Bradford will be taking the role of senior special teams assistant with the Dolphins for next season, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Bradford has extensive history as an NFL special teams coach, even serving as special teams coordinator in Denver back in 2005, when both Slowik and head coach Mike McDaniel were low-level staffers for the Broncos.

Here are a few other staff updates from around the AFC East:

  • The Bills made a serious addition to their defensive staff with the recent hiring of Scott Booker as their new nickel coach and senior defensive assistant. Booker spent the last four years as safeties coach for the Titans, mentoring one of the league’s best in Kevin Byard. Thanks to ESPN’s Alaina Getzenberg, we also learned that last year’s midseason hire, DJ Mangas, has earned a promotion in Buffalo. After spending the back half of the season as an offensive assistant, he will serve as an offensive quality control coach in 2024. The former teammate and roommate of offensive coordinator Joe Brady joined the team after Brady’s interim promotion last year.
  • Lastly, we learned that the Patriots had finalized their coaching staff today, but changes are still expected in the front office. Now, we know that New England plans to take their time in making the decisions in the player personnel department, but we did throw out a few names to watch for. Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated believes that former Falcons assistant general manager Scott Pioli is another name that could be a factor. Pioli held the Patriots vice president of player personnel position for nine years back from 2002-08, essentially helping to set the stage for the team’s eventual dynasty.

Assessing NFL’s OC Landscape

This offseason showed the turnover that can take place at the offensive coordinator position. As a result of several decisions in January and February, the NFL no longer has an OC who has been in his current role for more than two seasons. Various firings and defections now have the 2022 batch of hires stationed as the longest-tenured OCs.

One of the longest-tenured coordinators in NFL history, Pete Carmichael is no longer with the Saints. The team moved on after 15 seasons, a stay that featured part-time play-calling duties. The Browns canned their four-year non-play-calling OC, Alex Van Pelt, while three-year play-callers Arthur Smith and Shane Waldron are relocating this winter. Brian Callahan‘s five-year gig as the Bengals’ non-play-calling OC booked him a top job.

The recent lean toward offense-oriented HCs took a bit of a hit of a hit this offseason, with five of the eight jobs going to defense-oriented leaders. Callahan, Dave Canales and Jim Harbaugh were the only offense-geared candidates hired during this cycle. But half the NFL will go into this season with a new OC. Following the Seahawks’ decision to hire ex-Washington (and, briefly, Alabama) staffer Ryan Grubb, here is how the NFL’s OC landscape looks:

2022 OC hires

  • Ben Johnson, Detroit Lions*
  • Mike Kafka, New York Giants*
  • Wes Phillips, Minnesota Vikings
  • Frank Smith, Miami Dolphins
  • Adam Stenavich, Green Bay Packers
  • Press Taylor, Jacksonville Jaguars*

Although this sextet now comprises the senior wing of offensive coordinators, this still marks each’s first gig as an NFL OC. Three of the six received HC interest this offseason.

Johnson’s status back in Detroit has been one of the offseason’s top storylines and a development the Commanders have not taken especially well. The two-year Lions OC was viewed as the frontrunner for the Washington job for weeks this offseason, and when team brass did not receive word about Johnson’s intent to stay in Detroit (thus, waiting until at least 2025 to make his long-expected HC move) until a Commanders contingent was en route to Detroit for a second interview, a back-and-forth about what exactly broke down took place. Johnson should be expected to remain a high-end HC candidate next year, but Dan Campbell will still have his services for 2024.

Kafka interviewed for the Seahawks’ HC job, and the Giants then blocked him from meeting with the NFC West team about its OC position. Rumblings about Kafka and Brian Daboll no longer being on great terms surfaced this year, with the latter yanking away play-calling duties — given to Kafka ahead of the 2022 season — at points in 2023. Taylor may also be on the hot seat with his team. Doug Pederson gave Taylor the call sheet last season, and Trevor Lawrence did not make the leap many expected. After a collapse left the Jaguars out of the playoffs, the team had begun to look into its offensive situation.

2023 OC hires

  • Jim Bob Cooter, Indianapolis Colts
  • Nathaniel Hackett, New York Jets*
  • Mike LaFleur, Los Angeles Rams
  • Joe Lombardi, Denver Broncos
  • Todd Monken, Baltimore Ravens*
  • Matt Nagy, Kansas City Chiefs
  • Drew Petzing, Arizona Cardinals*
  • Brian Schottenheimer, Dallas Cowboys
  • Bobby Slowik, Houston Texans*

Only nine of the 15 OCs hired in 2023 are still with their teams. One (Canales) moved up the ladder, while others were shown the door following that organization canning its head coach. The Eagles were the only team who hired an offensive coordinator last year to fire that staffer (Brian Johnson) after one season. Nick Sirianni fired both his coordinators following a wildly disappointing conclusion.

Hackett may also be drifting into deep water, given what transpired last year in New York. Rumblings of Robert Saleh — who is on the hottest seat among HCs — stripping some of his offensive play-caller’s responsibilities surfaced recently. This marks Hackett’s fourth chance to call plays in the NFL; the second-generation staffer did so for the Bills, Jaguars and Broncos prior to coming to New York. After the 2022 Broncos ranked last in scoring, the ’23 Jets ranked 31st in total offense. Hackett’s relationship with Aaron Rodgers has largely kept him in place, but 2024 may represent a last chance for the embattled coach.

Of this crop, Monken and Slowik were the only ones to receive HC interest. Neither emerged as a frontrunner for a position, though Slowik met with the Commanders twice. The Texans then gave their first-time play-caller a raise to stick around for C.J. Stroud‘s second season. Stroud’s remarkable progress figures to keep Slowik on the HC radar. Monken, who is in his third try as an NFL OC (after gigs in Tampa and Cleveland), just helped Lamar Jackson to his second MVP award. The former national championship-winning OC did not stick the landing — as Jackson struggled against the Chiefs — but he fared well on the whole last season.

Schottenheimer is on his fourth go-round as an OC, while Lombardi is on team No. 3. The latter’s job figures to be more secure, being tied to Sean Payton, compared to what is transpiring in Dallas. With the Cowboys having Mike McCarthy as the rare lame-duck HC, his coordinators probably should not get too comfortable.

2024 OC hires

  • Joe Brady, Buffalo Bills*
  • Liam Coen, Tampa Bay Buccaneers*
  • Ken Dorsey, Cleveland Browns
  • Luke Getsy, Las Vegas Raiders*
  • Ryan Grubb, Seattle Seahawks*
  • Nick Holz, Tennessee Titans
  • Kliff Kingsbury, Washington Commanders*
  • Klint Kubiak, New Orleans Saints*
  • Brad Idzik, Carolina Panthers
  • Kellen Moore, Philadelphia Eagles*
  • Dan Pitcher, Cincinnati Bengals
  • Zac Robinson, Atlanta Falcons*
  • Greg Roman, Los Angeles Chargers*
  • Arthur Smith, Pittsburgh Steelers*
  • Alex Van Pelt, New England Patriots*
  • Shane Waldron, Chicago Bears*

The 49ers do not employ a traditional OC; 16 of the 31 teams that do recently made a change. Most of the teams to add OCs this year, however, did so without employing play-calling coaches. This naturally raises the stakes for this year’s batch of hires.

Retreads became rather popular. Dorsey, Getsy, Moore, Van Pelt and Waldron were all OCs elsewhere (Buffalo, Chicago, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Seattle) last season. Smith will shift from calling the Falcons’ plays to running the show for the Steelers. Dorsey, Getsy and Van Pelt were fired; Moore and Waldron moved on after the Chargers and Seahawks respectively changed HCs. Moore and Smith will be calling plays for a third team; for Moore, this is three OC jobs in three years.

Coen, Kingsbury and Roman are back after a year away. Kingsbury became a popular name on the OC carousel, having coached Caleb Williams last season. This will be his second crack at an NFL play-calling gig, having been the Cardinals’ conductor throughout his HC tenure. This will be Coen’s first shot at calling plays in the pros; he was Sean McVay‘s non-play-calling assistant in 2022. Likely to become the Chargers’ play-caller, Roman will have a rare fourth chance to call plays in the NFL. He held that responsibility under Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco; following Harbaugh’s explosive 2015 49ers split, Roman moved to Buffalo and Baltimore to work under non-offense-oriented leaders.

Grubb, Holz, Idzik, Pitcher and Robinson represent this year’s first-timer contingent. Grubb has, however, called plays at the college level. Robinson is the latest McVay staffer to move into a play-calling post; he was a Rams assistant for five years. A host of teams had Robinson on their OC radar, but Raheem Morris brought his former L.A. coworker to Atlanta. Pitcher appeared in a few searches as well, but the Bengals made the expected move — after extending him last year — to give him Callahan’s old job.

* = denotes play-calling coordinator

Dolphins Will Not Retain Renaldo Hill, Sam Madison; Team To Hire DeShawn Shead

Renaldo Hill left his post as Chargers DC to rejoin former boss Vic Fangio in Miami. With Fangio determining he was not a good fit in South Florida, leading to a quick return to Philadelphia, the Dolphins have since changed plans.

As Anthony Weaver transitions to his role as Dolphins DC, Hill will not be in the equation. Neither Hill nor Sam Madison will be part of Weaver’s defensive staff, per the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson. Fangio kept Madison, a former Pro Bowl cornerback in Miami, in place as cornerbacks coach.

A Dolphins safety from 2006-08, Hill had coached under Fangio with the Broncos. The Chargers hired the two-year Denver assistant to be their defensive coordinator in 2021. Brandon Staley retained play-calling duties on that side of the ball during his Los Angeles tenure, and when Fangio accepted the Dolphins’ lucrative DC offer in 2023, Hill made the interesting move to leave a DC post for a position coaching role. The Dolphins employed Hill as their DBs coach. This marked the longtime assistant’s second tour of duty with the franchise; the Dolphins had Hill in place as assistant DBs coach in 2018 under Adam Gase.

The Chiefs had Madison in place as their corners coach from 2019-21; he returned to Miami to work under then-DC Josh Boyer in 2022. A 1997 Dolphins second-round pick, Madison spent nine seasons with the team. He collected All-Pro accolades in four of those years, signing a lucrative extension in in 2000. Madison, 49, will be in search of a new team moving forward.

Miami has since replaced Hill with Brian Duker, according to NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero. While the Dolphins are also making Duker their pass-game coordinator on defense, he will make a lateral move after serving as the Lions’ DBs coach under Aaron Glenn. Duker took over as Detroit’s DBs coach following the midseason firing of Aubrey Pleasant in 2022. The Lions gave Duker more help in 2023, via the additions of several free agents and second-round pick Brian Branch. But Duker’s unit lost C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Emmanuel Moseley early. The Lions also made tweaks to their secondary this season, accounting for Branch’s rise and the struggles of cornerback Jerry Jacobs.

Additionally, the Dolphins are hiring DeShawn Shead from the Seahawks, per Bleacher Report’s Jordan Schultz. Although Shead’s role is not yet confirmed, the Seahawks had the ex-Legion of Boom supporting-caster in place as their assistant DBs coach from from 2021-23. It is certainly reasonable to expect Shead, 34, to work in that capacity under Duker in Miami. After an ACL tear during a Seahawks 2016 divisional-round loss to the Falcons sidetracked Shead’s playing career, he eventually found his way to coaching for his former team. The Pete Carroll favorite will follow the longtime HC off Seattle’s staff.