Miami Dolphins tender 4 exclusive rights free agents

MIAMI (AP) On the eve of free agency, the Miami Dolphins invested heavily in roster stability.

Receiver Kenny Stills and defensive end Andre Branch accepted offers to remain in Miami rather than test the free agent market beginning Thursday.

Stills signed a $32 million, four-year contract, ensuring the Dolphins will keep their best deep threat. He led Miami last year with nine touchdown catches.

Branch agreed to a $27 million, three-year contract, a person familiar with the negotiations said Wednesday. The person confirmed the agreement to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because it had not been announced by the team.

The direction of the Dolphins helped them keep both players. Last season under rookie coach Adam Gase, Miami made the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Stills, a four-year veteran, said he was willing to accept less money to stay.

''I wanted to be back with this team,'' he said. ''I feel like we're building something special, and that's why I'm back.''

Stills ranked third in the NFL last year with an average of 17.3 yards per catch, and Gase had been outspoken in his desire to keep the speedy receiver.

''Our relationship is unique,'' Stills said. ''That's a part of this building being special. He really genuinely cares about us and is looking out for us and wants what is in our best interest. It makes it easy to play for a guy like that.''

Branch was on the verge of becoming one of the top edge rushers on the market in free agency. The five-year pro had 5+ sacks last year, his first with the Dolphins.

He'll again be paired this season with five-time Pro Bowl end Cameron Wake.

''Just getting started,'' Branch tweeted after reaching the agreement.

Defense remains a priority for the Dolphins as they head into free agency. They also need help at linebacker and in the secondary after allowing a franchise-record 6,122 yards last year.

The Dolphins announced one-year deals with four exclusive rights free agents, including center Anthony Steen, who started seven games last year. Also tendered were linebacker Mike Hull, cornerback Lafayette Pitts and tight end Thomas Duarte.

Steen, undrafted as a rookie in 2014, filled in when center Mike Pouncey was hurt last season. Hull and Pitts were valuable on special teams, and Duarte spent much of last season on the practice squad.

Exclusive rights free agents are players with less than three years of experience, and they are unable to negotiate with other teams.

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For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Follow Steven Wine on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Steve-Wine. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/steven-wine

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For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Follow Steven Wine on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Steve-Wine. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/steven-wine

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