Better Or Worse: Evaluating the Dolphins Defense After the First Wave of Free Agency

The Miami Dolphins added linebacker Benardrick McKinney on defense but lost veterans Kyle Van Noy and Shaq Lawson among their offseason moves, so how do they compare now to after the 2020 regular season?
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The Miami Dolphins took a more modest approach to this offseason compared to last year, and focused on adding mostly complementary players.

Given the players they gained and lost since the 2020 regular season, it's fair to wonder whether the Dolphins are better or worse now — or somewhere in between.

Let's break it down by position, continuing with the defense.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Offseason moves: Signed DT Adam Butler as an unrestricted free agent from New England ... signed DT John Jenkins as an unrestricted free agent from Chicago ... lost DT Davon Godchaux as an unrestricted free agent to New England

Summary: The moves with Butler and Godchaux essentially became something of a trade given the players switched between the Dolphins and Patriots, and Miami made out in that deal in a pass-rushing sense, though might have lost a little in a run-stopping sense. But then came the signing of Jenkins, who is a bona fide run-stopping specialist. This was good work.

Verdict: Clearly better

EDGE DEFENDERS

Offseason moves:  Re-signed pending UFA Vince Biegel ... signed Duke Riley as an unrestricted free agent from Philadelphia ... signed Brennan Scarlett as a UFA from Houston ... released Kyle Van Noy ... traded Shaq Lawson to Houston.

Summary: The last two moves listed above are the ones that stand out because they involved two players the Dolphins signed to multi-year contracts just last offseason. Van Noy and Lawson got significant playing time on defense and the Dolphins will have to find a way to replace their contributions. Riley and Scarlett could get a shot but both are more known for their special teams work.

Verdict: Worse

LINEBACKER

Offseason moves: Acquired Benardrick McKinney in a trade with the Houston Texans ... re-signed unrestricted free agent Elandon Roberts ... lost Kamu Grugier-Hill as a UFA to Houston.

Summary: This was the flip side of losing Lawson, landing a former Pro Bowl selection in McKinney. This was a very good acquisition that should help the run defense. Re-signing Roberts was a solid move, though it remains to be seen how early he'll be able to contribute in 2021 after his late-season knee injury.

Verdict: Clearly better

SECONDARY

Offseason moves: signed CB Justin Coleman as a free agent ... S Kavon Frazier became an unrestricted free agent (still unsigned)

Summary: The Dolphins have been very quiet at this position in the offseason, and the biggest issue there remains making sure there are no issues with Xavien Howard relative to this contract situation (to borrow a phrase Nick Saban would use). In Coleman, the Dolphins got a veteran who has been very good as a slot corner in his career but has struggled outside, so he very well could end up battling Nik Needham for the nickel corner job. Frazier was a special teams captain in his one season with the Dolphins, but he played only 48 snaps on defense.

Verdict: Better

SPECIALISTS

Offseason moves: Signed P Michael Palardy as a free agent ... lost P Matt Haack as an unrestricted free agent to Buffalo.

Summary: Palardy and Haack have very similar career averages and both are left-footed punters, though this appears a bit of a wash from a talent standpoint.

Verdict: Similar