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Free Agent Targets by Position for the 2020 Miami Dolphins

Travis Wingfield

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“We can do anything we want. Whether it’s free agency or the draft, we’ve positioned ourselves where we can do anything, or get whatever player we feel that will help us as soon as possible.” – Chris Grier, September 17, 2019

After a pair of home drubbings to kick off the 2019 season, the Miami Dolphins’ brass felt it necessary for newly appointed Executive Vice President Chris Grier to answer questions from the media. Questions about where exactly this team — a team that had lost those two games by a combined score of 102-10 — is going.

Grier spoke with clarity. He spoke with consistency to the message relayed to the masses when Stephen Ross cleaned house on New Year’s Eve. Miami’s empowered General Manager discussed the irrefutable offers made by Houston and Pittsburgh that sent promising young players in Laremy Tunsil and Minkah Fitzpatrick out of town.

The most revealing aspect of Grier’s availability, and the lone detour from the discussions of the grand plan to acquire many draft picks, was his proclamation about free agency.

“We’ll build very aggressively,” Grier said when asked if the front office will wait until the team is more established before spending big on the open market. “We’re not going to sit here on a bunch of money or anything.”

The pile of money accounts for roughly $150 million — fun coupons, as it were. With proverbial “road work” signs plastered throughout the roster, here are the best options at each position for Miami to explore.

Scheme fit, possibility of the player exiting his current team, resources the draft has to offer, and market value were all examined carefully when constructing this list. (Some data points provided by Pro Football Focus).

Quarterback: None

With Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen under contract next season, the need to support the imminent highly-drafted quarterback with a veteran can be handled in-house. Rosen certainly provides more upside on the field, but Fitzpatrick’s knowledge of the scheme and the league would better prepare the rookie for Sundays.

Rosen’s upside and significantly cheaper contract will probably outweigh the mentorship that Fitzpatrick can offer. The best case scenario would probably be to retain Fitzpatrick and peddle Rosen for a draft pick as close to the one the team gave up for him last April.

Running Back: Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers
Previous Contract: UDFA Rookie Deal, $557K APY
Market Value: $5M APY (Dion Lewis, Duke Johnson deal)
Why He Might Be Available: Melvin Gordon’s return

Melvin Gordon’s holdout didn’t bear any fruit, but he’s back in the building and the Chargers could become incentivized to extend his contract. If they are, Ekeler likely hits the open market. His fit in the offense is seamless. The Dolphins want to pump the ball to the backs in the passing game, utilize the screen and feature backs that can pass protect.

On top of a 96% catch rate, six touchdowns, and an average of 6.13 yards per touch (10th in football) through four games, Ekeler is 9th in first downs via the rush, and hasn’t allowed a hit on his quarterback this season in pass protection. He leads all tailbacks in receiving yardage and total touchdowns.

According to Pro Football Focus, Ekeler is 26th among all backs in yards after contact average. He runs with exceptional balance and finishes runs with attitude. His lateral agility and elusiveness keeps the playbook open between all man and zone schemes.

He was a three-time academic All-American in college, and his testing numbers at his pro day were through the roof. Ekeler checks every box the Dolphins look for in a player.

Wide Receiver: Emmanuel Sanders, Denver Broncos
Previous Contract: FA Deal worth $11M APY
Market Value: $10M APY, short-term (Tyler Boyd deal)
Why He Might Be Available: Antiquated scheme, no quarterback in Denver

Sanders turns 33-years-old in March, I’m perfectly aware. As the Dolphins are currently constructed, they need a technician of a route runner to run the inside routes and exploit linebackers and zone coverage. Devante Parker and Preston Williams are the trees on the outside, and the current production from the slot has been nil.

Sanders still gets it done with nuance. He’s a technician that attacks leverage and blind spots to uncover early in the pattern. Chad O’Shea wants to go empty from a variety of personnel packages, primarily 11 (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs). In that look, Sanders can draw two-way-go matchups inside and provide Miami’s rookie quarterback with a veteran security blanket.

Health has been a problem, but Sanders is back with a vengeance this year. He’s catching 67.6% of his targets for 13 yards per reception. His 2.04 yards-per-route-run mark ranks 21st among receivers with 20 targets this season.

Tight End: Mo Alie-Cox, Indianapolis Colts
Previous Contract: UDFA Rookie Deal, $525K APY
Market Value: $1.5M APY (Darren Fells deal)
Why He Might Be Available: Jack Doyle, possible re-signing Eric Ebron

Alie-Cox comes cheap because of the dying nature of his position. Inline blocking tight ends aren’t at the epidemic level of the fullback yet, but the money the league pays for those services would suggest it’s heading that way.

The 270-pound tight end is PFF’s 16th-graded run blocker and 8th-graded pass blocker among tight ends. In this offense, juxtaposition at tight end is vital. Durham Smythe has a role on the team, but if the front office wants to double down on hand cuffing Mike Gesicki (who I believe is a big part of the future plans), Alie-Cox is a logical option to be that link.

Offensive Tackle: George Fant, Seattle Seahawks
Previous Contract: Re-signed One-Year, $3.1M APY
Market Value: $3M APY (D.J. Fluker deal)
Why He Might Be Available: Already paying Duane Brown, playing sixth OL behind Brown and Germaine Ifedi

Not the marquee name you were looking for, certainly, but Fant falls in line with the Dolphins prototype at the position. He’s big, he’s long, and he has the athletic profile to grow into a dominant NFL tackle.

The wide wingspan (not accurately available online) is in line with Miami’s signings this offseason, but the athleticism is what sets him apart. Fant jumped 37 inches vertically, and 109 inches in the broad jump at his pro day. He blazed a 4.83-second forty-yard sprint in that workout as well.

Fant is a former basketball play still developing his game in year-four in the NFL. He’s the ball of clay that Miami can sign as competition at either tackle position. If he loses the job, he’s an adept swing tackle that can come onto the field in heavy personnel (sixth offensive lineman).

Offensive Line Interior: Brandon Scherff, Washington
Previous Contract: First-Round Rookie Deal, $5.3M APY
Market Value: $14M APY (Highest paid guard, Zack Martin)
Why He Might Be Available: Dan Snyder

Nobody wants to play in Washington these days. Reports are that, despite the club’s offer to Brandon Scherff, the two remain far apart from an agreement to extend Scherff’s stay in the nation’s capital.

Scherff is going to get paid, that’s what happens when top-shelf players hit the open market. If Joe Thuney shakes free in New England he’ll be the preferred option, but it sounds like the Patriots have no intentions of letting him escape.

With Scherff, the Dolphins would be getting the game’s premier run blocking right guard. The Iowa product plays with power. He offers enough lateral movement skills to bring that sheer strength out on the edge. He’s not the smoothest bender or pass protector, but he gets the job done.

Allowing a sack and three pressures through four games, a down-year for Scherff in pass protection would still be better than anything Miami currently has at the position. In 2018, Scherff surrendered one sack and just one additional hit on the Washington quarterbacks. He committed only two fouls, though it should be mentioned he only played 503 snaps.

The eight games Scherff missed last season brought his career total to 11 out of a possible 68. Scherff calls the torn pectoral “a fluke,” but he’ll have to prove that with a clean bill of health this season. He missed Giants game with an ankle injury, but is set to return this Sunday against the Patriots.

Defensive Edge: Efe Obada, Carolina Panthers
Previous Contract: International Pathway, $570K APY
Market Value: $3.5M APY (Barkevious Mingo deal)
Why He Might Be Available: Backup in Carolina, only 70 snaps this year

It’s time for Miami to start reaping the rewards of the development of other programs. Obada, a product of the NFL’s International Pathway Program, is a perfect fit for the edge position in this Dolphins defense. At 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds, he has the size to take on the outside gap in the run game, but also the explosiveness to win one-on-one pass rush situations.

With 35 5/8” arms, Obada displays the heavy hands that Patrick Graham and Marion Hobby prefer from their defensive linemen. He’s off to a slow start this year in the production department, and his playing time is a big reason for that. Obada has played only 70 snaps, but the strides he’s made against the run from last year are tangible.

Obada is certainly on the budget end of this position group. Jadeveon Clowney would be the real prize, but the Dolphins can’t spend top-of-the-market money at every position. Obada did apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks 14 times last season on just 108 pass rush reps.

Defensive Interior: Adam Butler, New England Patriots
Previous Contract: UDFA Rookie Deal, $557K APY
Market Value: $5M (Malcolm Brown deal)
Why He Might Be Available: Talent and production all over the defense, especially the DL

Adam Butler is one of the many examples of the New England model at work. He arrives as an undrafted free agent, gives the club three years of production, and then departs to beef up the Patriots compensatory cupboard.

Butler checks many of the boxes Miami wants on the interior defensive line. Most importantly, he’s already playing in the same scheme he’d transition to upon signing in Miami. He’s contributing in both phases (run and pass) in his third season. Butler has already racked nine QB pressures (3 sacks) and nine run-stops.

Without an invitation to the combine, Butler had to dazzle scouts at his pro day, and boy did he. He’s not the most impressively built player, or the fastest, but his 7.5-second three-cone time would’ve been second best in 2017 in Indianapolis. Those quick feet make him an ideal sub-package interior rusher.

With one pressure every 10 pass rush snaps, and nearly a run-stop every other running down, Butler might be driving his price to steep levels on the DT market.

Linebacker: Kyler Fackrell, Green Bay Packers
Previous Contract: Re-signed one-year deal, $2.1M
Market Value: $3.75M (Markus Golden deal)
Why He Might Be Available: Green Bay has three OLBs in the top 16 for pay rate (Smith, Smith, Gary).

After a career-year in 2018, Fackrell has been relegated to backup duty in Green Bay. Giving way to high-priced free agents Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith, Fackrell has been reduced to a 30% player (down from 58% last season).

When Miami hired Patrick Graham, one could assume he would bring the 3-3-5 bear package that the Packers regularly run. One of the focal points of Graham’s linebacker’s corps in Green Bay was Fackrell defending the edge and rushing the passer.

Fackrell has nine pressures this season on just 37 pass rush snaps. He’s built similarly to Kyle Van Noy, and he could fill that considerable missing piece to this Dolphins defensive adaptation of the New England scheme.

Last year, Fackrell had 23 quarterback pressures (13 hits, 10.5 sacks) and 27 run-stops. He misses to many tackles, but the tape shows a player that can do his job within the scheme and provide pressure — that’s worth a lucrative free agent deal.

Cornerback: Byron Jones, Dallas Cowboys
Previous Contract: First-Round Rookie Deal, $2.2M APY
Market Value: $13.5M APY (A.J. Bouye deal)
Why He Might Be Available: Too many mouths to feed in Dallas

The job that Brian Flores had in mind for Minkah Fitzpatrick isn’t a carbon copy of what Jones would do in Miami, but his versatility is what Fitzpatrick was billed to be as a college prospect. Jones, a corner by day, safety by night, is one of the best defensive backs in football.

Presently a perimeter cornerback, Jones ranks 19th in yards per coverage snap among all corners with at least 75 coverage reps. He’s allowing just 50% completion rate and just 5.5 yards per pass. He has four stops in the running game, and his time at safety will showcase how good he is defending the run — he has just one missed tackle this season.

He fits the prototype with length, long-speed, agility, and the ability to move all over the formation. Nearly exclusively a corner this year, and in 2018, Jones primary position in 2017 was free safety. He only played 396 snaps at that spot and was in the box or in the slot for an additional 313 snaps.

In this defense, a scheme that requires safeties to come down and cover, and asks everyone to support in the run game, there isn’t a better fit than Byron Jones.

Safety: Vonn Bell, New Orleans Saints
Previous Contract: Second-Round Rookie Deal, $1M APY
Market Value: $8.5M APY (Malcolm Jenkins, Tony Jefferson deals)
Why He Might Be Available: Too many mouths to feed in New Orleans

Miami can finally get out of the awful Reshad Jones contract after this season without a severe, punitive cost. After that, the club could opt to offer Bell a similar deal and get better production from the position. Fulfilling the Patrick Chung role in the defense, Bell is as instinctive and diverse between man and zone coverage. He plays with the alpha mentality that changes the temperature in the locker room.

He’s not the fleetest of foot, but condensing his responsibilities and tasking him with tight-ends, robber coverage, and restricting him to the hook zones and flats can mitigate that shortcoming.

Bell was PFF’s third-highest graded run defending safety last season. He racked up 29 run-stops and 82 total tackles. This year, he’s the belle of the ball — number one on PFF. He’s on track to top those 29 stops (8 in the first 4 games), and he’s already matched his pass breakup production from last year.

His lack of ball production could give Miami a discount, and they’ll need to pair him with a rangy free safety, but there’s an immediate fit in this scheme.

Free agency, in the NFL, is a year-long courting process. Despite all the tampering rules and restrictions, it’s the job of the agent to gage the market for his client, and you can bet that’s currently underway. In this exercise, I spent roughly $65 million. Granted, Miami won’t be able to sign everybody, but this gives you an idea of the prototype they’ll shop for at each position, and how the team can manage its budget in this imminent spending spree.

Chris Grier promised to be aggressive, to attack the many holes on this roster with free agent cash and draft picks. These players listed above all fit a need with a ready-made plan in place to get production out of every single one should they put pen to paper in Miami.

None of this is a guarantee; it’s an inexact science. The only guarantee is that this team will look almost unrecognizable from the one we’re watching in 2019. And to take that a bridge further, the roster will be entirely unidentifiable from the final year of the Adam Gase regime.

I get the sense that’s just fine with Dolphins fans.

@WingfieldNFL

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    SS

    October 3, 2019 at 3:52 pm

    You spent money where I think they will…CB and G. And, I believe a relatively modestly priced interior DL that is a scheme fit is just what the dr. ordered. Could be cuz I just saw him against us, but Ekeler would be a great fit.

    If they’re following the Pats blueprint, I think they’re willing to spend $$ on CB, as in their scheme being able to manage WR well enables the front 7 to be more effective than their collective talent might suggest.

    Paying big bucks for a guard might not be the Pats way, but if we’ll be starting a young QB and not Tom Brady, I’m not sure we have the luxury of developing 5th rounders and UDFA on the interior OL right now. That may be more of an option in a couple years.

  2. Avatar

    Daniel meehan

    October 15, 2019 at 11:56 am

    Travis, I love your optimism but I subscribe to Armando Salquero,s take that we will have trouble attracting free agents.We won’t be able to attract free agents until TUA shows them he can play.

  3. Avatar

    Chris Gaddis

    December 19, 2019 at 3:20 am

    I love some of the suggestions. I’ve always rated Ekeler and think he could work in Miami. Other guys I would love to see Miami going for include Derrick Henry to be a pure RB or someone like TJ Yeldon who could fulfill the same role Ekeler would. Plus Yeldon isn’t getting used up in Buffalo and only has 1 year left on his deal. Needs to work on the fumbles. Could always try making a play for OJ Howard with Rosen up as a trading piece if we want another TE who has good rapport with Fitz until we develop the QB we likely draft. Would happily see Tua come and sit for a year until healthy.

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Miami Dolphins

Dolphins Waive TE Michael Roberts

Chris Kowalewski

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As the doors of the Dolphins’ training facility open to the newly signed rookie class, they close for another former Miami-hopeful after an active weekend of roster moves.

The Miami Dolphins have today waived TE Michael Roberts.

Roberts began his NFL career in 2017 out of Toledo as a 4th round pick of the Detroit Lions, possessing ideal measurements (6’5”, 265lb) for a playmaking TE.

A shoulder injury in December 2018 cut short Roberts’ time in Detroit and he was waived by the Lions following a failed physical as part of an attempted trade with the New England Patriots and subsequently waived quickly again after being picked up by the Green Bay Packers.

Roberts underwent reconstruction of the injured left shoulder in August 2019, having struggled both physically and mentally as his career path veered away from his dreams. Signed by the Dolphins in February 2020, it was hoped that Roberts could revive his NFL career in Miami’s TE room, competing with Durham Smythe for the TE2 spot behind Mike Gesicki.

At only 26 years old, it remains to be seen whether the young TE will be able to regain full health and return to the game, but the craziness of 2020 only puts further hurdles in his path as training camp rosters are reduced across the league to 80 players in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Don’t expect Brian Flores and his staff to sit on their hands when it comes to competition – 2019 highlighted on a regularly churning roster of names being given a chance to succeed – and this approach is expected to continue at certain positions. As such, Saturday’s news that former Chicago Bears’ TE Adam Shaheen had been acquired by the Dolphins ensures that healthy competition can continue to spread through the roster, and proves the willingness of the front office to give chances to promising players who may not have achieved during their first NFL stop.

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Miami Dolphins

In A Perfect World, Tua Tagovailoa Doesn’t Start a Single Game

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

If everything goes right, Tua Tagovailoa isn’t going to start a single game for the Miami Dolphins in 2020.

Nope, you didn’t misread that last sentence. Tua Tagovailoa riding the bench is the best thing that could happen to the Miami Dolphins this season, and if you think otherwise, then you haven’t been paying attention to what Brian Flores has been preaching since his arrival.

The obvious factor everyone is taking into consideration is the health of Tua’s hip. And while that definitely plays a part, it has minimal affect on his playing time. You see, barring a trade, Tua is the third-best quarterback on the roster right now.

Combine his inexperience, a COVID-restricted offseason, and that pesky hip injury, and it’s safe to say our questions have already been answered.

The Better Player Plays

With this team, it’s no secret that playing time is awarded based on a player’s performance both in games and during practice. It doesn’t matter where you were drafted or how much money you’re making, if you aren’t better than the athlete next to you, you aren’t playing.

In fact, didn’t we just go through a very similar situation last year when the Dolphins acquired Josh Rosen from the Arizona Cardinals for a 2nd-round draft pick?

We all assumed that Ryan Fitzpatrick was keeping the seat warm until Rosen – a top-10 draft pick one season prior – was ready, but when Flores had the opportunity to simultaneously give a young quarterback experience and tank for Tua, he did neither. Instead, opting to (nearly) sabotage the opportunity to draft Tagovailoa and win as many games as possible with Fitzpatrick.

Rosen has much more upside than Fitzpatrick, but he couldn’t muster more than 197 snaps under center last season.

Just like that, the culture was set. Flores wasn’t fucking around – it was win at all costs, and the players bought in. One season later, that mantra certainly hasn’t changed.

Tua has more talent and better quarterback traits than Fitzpatrick and Rosen (probably combined), so there’s no arguing which quarterback we want to build a franchise around, but who is going to win the team more games this season?

I don’t doubt that Tua is a football genius that will pick up a playbook quickly, but knowing your plays and executing against an NFL defense are two completely different things.

Fitzpatrick has been in the league for 15 years while Tua has been in the league for 14 weeks; there is A LOT Tua has to learn before he can make the kind of reads Fitzpatrick can instinctively make after 139 starts in the NFL.

Josh Rosen may not evolve into an elite, franchise-saving quarterback, but he’s not terrible either. Two years of experience and a season-worth of starts (16) under his belt gives him an instant edge over Tua. The only thing that levels Rosen with Tagovailoa is they’re both learning Chan Gailey‘s offense for the first time – and for Rosen, this would be his 4th different offense in the past 4 years.

Otherwise, Rosen already has a rapport with the coaching staff, the medical staff, all of the workers in the building, and the receivers on this roster. In other words, he’s comfortable in his surroundings while Tua is trying to get acclimated to a brand new life.

There are going to be growing pains and a learning curve – two things we admittedly need Tua to experience in order to evolve. But the question becomes, when can Miami afford to experience those “opportunities”? Certainly not if they believe they are…

Playoff Bound

The Miami Dolphins – and most importantly, Brian Flores – believe they are in a position to make a legitimate playoff run.

Scoff however much you’d like at the notion that this team, one year removed from being “the worst team in the NFL”, is on a cusp of making a playoff appearance, but don’t tell anyone in the Dolphins’ organization that you think that.

A remastered secondary, a veteran presence among the front-7, an entirely new offensive line, and real, productive running backs means the Dolphins are all-but-guaranteed to improve on their 5-11 record.

In fact, the only thing holding them back from a legitimate playoff run is the quarterback position.

Ryan Fitzpatrick has won more than 6 games as a starter just once in his career, and Rosen only has 3 wins to his name (none as a Dolphin). If the team falters, it’s because these two quarterbacks couldn’t carry a well-built football team to the playoffs.

And that’s where the disappointment of another lost season is met with hope for the future. It won’t be until the Dolphins are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs that the team will trot Tua Tagovailoa out onto the field.

Waiting until so late in the season checks off every single box you need. It gives him time to:

  • Learn his way around the NFL
  • Understand the playbook better
  • Observe the game from the sideline
  • Gain chemistry with his receivers

Oh, and it also helps ensure that his hip is healthy, because…

I’m Sure He’s Healthy…

Being stuck inside during an international pandemic may have made it seem like a lifetime ago, but it’s only been three short months since we all clamored to a 14 minute video of Tua Tagovailoa throwing scripted passes; our eyes inexplicably glued to a man’s hips, unscientifically judging whether or not he was healthy. Try explaining that one to your significant other.

While we are all thrilled with recent medical reports and first-hand accounts from the quarterback himself, it would be downright idiotic to mess around with a hip injury.

The only reason Tua Tagovailoa was available at the 5th-overall pick was because of the uncertainty surrounding his hip, those concerns don’t suddenly disappear just because he’s on your roster and we’re excited to see our prized possession play.

Let his hip heal and let him practice against a secondary that includes Xavien Howard, Byron Jones, Bobby McCain, Brandon Jones, Noah Igbinoghene, and Eric Rowe. He’s going to learn just how quickly throwing lanes close and how tight they are to begin with.

Don’t convince yourself that Tua has to start games this rookie season to be the elite quarterback he’s projected to be. Patrick Mahomes started one game his rookie year. Aaron Rodgers didn’t start until his forth season in the NFL. If all of the hype is real, then his career will be just fine.

The plan isn’t to count moral victories, but to win football games – and Tua Tagovailoa gives the Miami Dolphins the best chance to do that for the foreseeable future. But for now, Ryan Fitzpatrick is your starting quarterback, and until Josh Rosen relinquishes the job as backup, it won’t be Tua’s until 2021. Mission Accomplished.

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins Trade for Tight End Adam Shaheen

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

After a breakout 2019 campaign, it looks like Mike Gesicki will have some competition.

According to Pro Football Talk, the Miami Dolphins have traded a 2021 6th-round pick to the Chicago Bears for tight end Adam Shaheen.

A former 2nd-round pick (2017) out of Ashland University (Division II), Shaheen excelled during the combine, which led to an increase in his draft stock. The Bears jumped at the opportunity of molding a raw prospect, and selected Shaheen with the 45th pick in the draft. He was the 5th tight end taken in the draft that year, well above where he was originally projected when he declared for the NFL.

Though the Bears were optimistic, it seems Shaheen hasn’t lived up to his draft status. After three seasons, Shaheen has 26 receptions for 249 yards and 4 touchdowns. His playtime has diminished from 239 offensive snaps in 2017, to 160 in 2018 and 174 in 2019; with injuries playing a part the past two seasons. For comparisons sake, Durham Smythe had 482 offensive snaps last season alone (Shaheen has 573 for his career).

Shaheen became expendable after the Bears drafted Cole Kmet in the 2nd-round of the 2020 draft and signed Jimmy Graham to a 2-year contract earlier this offseason. With 8 tight ends on the Chicago Bears roster, you know something had to give. And from the perspective of a Bears’ fan, receiving any compensation for a likely roster cut is rewarding enough.

Trading a 6th-round pick means Shaheen is a favorite to win one of the backup tight end spots, should the Dolphins keep 3 on their roster.

It’s unlikely that Shaheen is a possible replacement for Smythe, as Shaheen is meant to be a receiving threat more than an in-line blocker, but there is so much untapped potential with Shaheen that it’s hard to guess what the Dolphins will receive from him.

We assume Mike Gesicki will continue to grow, but behind him, the cupboard is pretty barren. Shaheen adds much-needed depth to a tight end room that currently includes Smythe, Michael Roberts, Chris Myarick and undrafted rookie Bryce Sterk.

 

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