Miami Dolphins not expected to use franchise or transition tag on impending free agents

·4 min read

Tuesday was the first day that NFL teams can begin using the franchise tag or transition tag and they have through March 9 to do so, but don’t expect the Miami Dolphins to use the expensive route to retain a free agent this offseason.

The Dolphins have 13 players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents when the NFL’s new business cycle starts on March 17. But none of them are likely to get the franchise or transition tag, which pays the selected player an average of the highest-paid players at their position.

Franchise tag figures are based upon the top-five salaries at each respective position, while transition tag figures are based on the top 10. For instance, the franchise tag for a cornerback is $15.2 million per season while the transition tag is $13.2 million. Most teams wait until the last possible day to use the franchise or transition tag, unless they are trying to ward off other bidders.

The Dolphins have 18 impending free agents, but one (offensive lineman Adam Pankey) is a restricted free agent, and another four (cornerbacks Nik Needham and Jomal Wiltz, linebacker Calvin Munson and quarterback Jake Rudock) are exclusive rights free agents, which means the team can give them one-year deals for the NFL minimum and hold onto their rights in 2022 as restricted free agents.

Miami’s most attractive unrestricted free agents will be punter Matt Haack, veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, center Ted Karras, and defensive tackle Davon Godchaux, a four-year starter who suffered a biceps tear in October that ended his season.

The transition tag for a punter is $4,382,000, and placing it on Haack, whose 39.9 career net average is the best in Dolphins history, would give Miami an opportunity to match any offer the four-year veteran receives. But the odds of a team paying Haack $4 million annually in an offseason where half the league doesn’t have the salary cap space to even sign their 2021 draftees because of the salary cap’s projected drop of $20 million are slim.

The transition tag for offensive linemen is projected to be $13.1 million a season, which is four times what Karras made last season when he signed a one-year deal worth $3 million with the Dolphins.

Defensive linemen have a $14 million franchise tag, and $11.4 million transition tag, and that’s too steep a price for Godchaux, who has averaged 3.4 tackles a game in the 52 games he’s played (42 starts), and recorded three career sacks and one forced fumble.

That’s why the Dolphins will likely let all four hit the free-agent market because of their expected salary demands, and the possibility that they can address each position with a draftee, who will be significantly cheaper.

Tailbacks Matt Breida and DeAndre Washington, receivers Isaiah Ford and Mack Hollins, offensive tackle Julien Davenport, linebackers Elandon Roberts, Vince Biegel and Kamu Grugier-Hill, and Kavon Frazier are the team’s other unrestricted free agents. All those players likely fit into the $1-3 million a year salary range.

The last time Miami used a franchise tag was in 2018 with receiver Jarvis Landry, who the Dolphins subsequently traded to the Cleveland Browns days later for a fourth-round pick in 2018 and a seventh-round pick in 2019. Miami turned those two draft picks into tight end Durham Smythe, who was selected in 2018, and Myles Gaskin, who was drafted in 2019.

Before that the Dolphins used the transition tag on defensive end Olivier Vernon in 2016. But Miami rescinded it eight days later to sign Mario Williams after Vernon agreed to a five-year, $85 million contract with the New York Giants.

The Dolphins placed the transition tag on tight end Charles Clay in 2015, which gave Miami the right to match any offer. But the Dolphins declined to match the five-year, $38 million deal he signed with the Buffalo Bills, letting him leave to join a division rival without compensation.

Before that Miami used the franchise tag to retain defensive linemen Randy Starks and Paul Soliai, and both signed the tag, which forced Miami to guarantee those salaries.