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A Look At the Dolphins' Free Agent Replacements in 2024

A position by position breakdown of the players who departed in free agency, and the additions made that could serve as their replacements
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The old saying is "out with the old, in with the new."

But new doesn't always mean there will be an upgrade.

The NFL isn't the Apple store. You aren't always in position to get the newer, better version of a phone or a computer.

Sometimes the replacement is simply the best you can find, or afford, and that's the situation the Miami Dolphins found themselves in plenty this offseason, having to replace some homegrown talent that got handsomely compensated this offseason as free agents by other teams.

Let's take a look at the players who left, and analyze who their possible replacements could be based on the moves the Dolphins have made during free agency's first full week.

Departing: Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins (Raiders signed him to a 4-year, $110 million deal that featured $57.5 million being fully guaranteed)

Replacements: Defensive linemen Jonathan Harris, Neville Gallimore, Isaiah Mack and Daviyon Nixon 

This quartet of defensive tackles were signed with the hope is that one of them (or maybe two) will be a decent partner to Zach Sieler, helping the Dolphins clog up the middle of the run defense. We never know how opportunity could inspire them. Look at Sieler, who the Dolphins claimed off the waver wire in 2019 after the Ravens tried to sneak him onto their practice squad, and he's blossomed into a top-tier defensive lineman since. However, don't be surprised if Miami uses pick No. 21 or pick No. 55 on a defensive tackle in the 2024 NFL draft.

Departing: Offensive guard Robert Hunt (Panthers signed him to a five-year, $100 million deal that featured $44 million being fully guaranteed)

Replacements: Offensive linemen Liam Eichenberg or Robert Jones 

Hunt was a reliable four-year starter for the Dolphins, which explains why he received a substantial five-year, $100 million deal from the Panthers. Isaiah Wynn, Eichenberg and Jones are all candidates to replace Hunt as the starting right guard, and compete for the vacant left guard spot, especially Wynn, who the Dolphins re-signed this week. At this point I can envision Wynn as the starting left guard and Eichenberg as the starting right guard, the position he explained made him feel the most at home last season.

Departing: Center Connor Williams (Remains a free agent)

Replacements: Center Aaron Brewer 

Brewer has spent the past two seasons cutting his teeth as an NFL starter with the Titans, and the Dolphins are investing in the athletic 26-year-old's upside at center, where he lined up last season. He's praised for his athleticism, which helps him get to the second level in the run game, but needs to do a better job of anchors against pass rushing. The fact that Williams' playing future is uncertain at this point because of the challenges he's had trying to come back from the ACL injury he suffered in December means anyone with starting experience, and a clean bill of health would be an upgrade.

Departing: Inside linebacker Jerome Baker (Signed with Seahawks to a one-year deal that could be worth $7 million)

Replacements: This is one of the two positions (tight end is the other) where the Dolphins clearly upgraded the unit. Linebackers Jordyn Brooks and Anthony Walker are both proven, established NFL starters who bring playmaking, athleticism and leadership to the team. Their presence should help new defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver diversify what his defense can do when it's being constructed, drawn up, because of their versatility.

Departing: Outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel (Signed a 2-year, $20 million deal with the Vikings that guaranteed him $10 million)

Replacements: Pass rusher Shaquil Barrett

Van Ginkel had a career year in Miami, and it led to his relocation to Minnesota, where he'll be reunited with defensive coordinator Brian Flores, who was his head coach in Miami for his first three seasons. Barrett, who contributed 52 tackles, 4.5 sacks and forced three fumbles last season, is an accomplished pass rusher who is seemingly past his prime. The hope is that the 31-year-old has enough left in the tank to carry the Dolphins edge rushing until October, which is when it should be assumed Jaelan Phillips and Bradley Chubb will be cleared to return from last season's catastrophic injuries. However, the Dolphins probably need to add another edge rusher to fill out this unit.

Departing: Nose tackle Raekwon Davis (Signed a 2-year, $14 million deal with the Colts that guarantees him $7 million)

Replacements: Nose tackle Benito Jones 

Jones began his NFL career with the Dolphins, and emerged as the starter with the Lions last year, contributing 26 tackles and one sack in the 567 defensive snaps he played. However, Detroit didn't place a restricted tender on Jones, and replaced him with D.J. Reader in free agency. We'll see if Jones can be a competent replacement for Davis, who also fell short of expectations during his time in Miami.

Departing: Defensive lineman Emmanuel Ogbah (Released, remains unsigned)

Replacements: Defensive lineman Da'Shawn Hand

Ogbah didn't fit into Vic Fangio's scheme, but still contributed five sacks and an interception in his limited snaps. The same can't be said for Hand, who contributed 17 tackles and one sack in the 198 defensive snaps he handled for the Dolphins last season. Because we don't know what type of approach and scheme Weaver will use, it's ideal to have defensive linemen who are scheme-diverse, and that's Hand.

Departing: Tight end Tyler Kroft (Unrestricted free agent)

Replacements: Jonnu Smith and Jody Fortson

Kroft was simply a veteran journeyman hanging onto a roster spot last season. Smith and Fortson have the skill set to diversity the Dolphins offense because they each possess a skill set that was missing from the unit that featured Durham Smythe and rookie Julian Hill last year. Smith is a run-after-the-catch specialist who will help Miami's passing game by threatening the seams of defenses. And Fortson is a high-point catcher who should help the Dolphins offense improve in red zone plays and goal-to-go situations.

Departing: Third receiver Cedrick Wilson Jr. (Signed with Saints for an undisclosed sum)

Replacements: Return specialist Braxton Berrios

Miami's offense struggled last season because all of the receivers weren't capable of stepping up when Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle were hobbled by ankle injuries. The Dolphins definitely need an upgrade here, but re-signing Berrios, who will likely remain the team's top return specialist, should help fill out the receiver unit. More receivers will be added as free agency progresses, and as the team goes through the draft. And maybe Berrios will contribute more in his second season in the offense.

Departing: Safeties DeShon Elliott (Signed with Pittsburgh, terms undisclosed) and Brandon Jones (signed with Broncos for three-years, $20 million, with $11 million guaranteed)

Replacements: Safeties Jordan Poyer and Elijah Campbell

Elliott and Jones, who played together collegiately at Texas, were decent performers for Miami last season, but they each lacked the coverage skills needed to free up Jevon Holland's assignment. Poyer, who has started 117 NFL games in his 11 previous seasons, had that skill set earlier in his career. But this chapter is about the the 32-year-old providing he's still got a couple solid seasons left in his body. Campbell has been a reliable special teams contributor, but he showed last training camp he could do more as a safety before suffering a knee injury that squandered his opportunity to become the season opening starter. Don't be surprised if more options are added to this unit.

Departing: Cornerback Xavien Howard (Released, remains unsigned)

Replacements: Cornerback Kendall Fuller

When healthy, Howard was a force for the Dolphins, containing his side of the field and occasionally defending the opposition's best receiver. It's the reason he has more interceptions 29 interceptions in eight seasons than any other defender in that same time period. But the Dolphins and Howard are moving on, and Miami added Fuller with the intention of making him the boundary cornerback who lines up opposite Jalen Ramsey. Fuller, who has started 93 games, has an impressive resume, and a pedigree as a winner. The belief is that he might be a better fit for the zone concepts Weaver might intend to run in Miami's secondary. The one thing Fuller has over Howard is his injury history and reputation for being durable.

Departing: Cornerback Eli Apple (Unrestricted Free agent)

Replacements: Cornerback Nik Needham

Apple started four of the 10 games he played for the Dolphins, and contributed 46 tackles, half a sack and one interception. But 43 of the 66 passes thrown at a receiver he was covering got completed. It's possible Miami could bring him back, but having a healthy Needham in the fold could provide the Dolphins an opportunity to move on. Needham played sparingly last season because he was coming back from an Achilles injury, but the hope is that he'll regain his old form, becoming a reliable starter again. It's more realistic that he's competition for Kader Kohou, challenging for his old nickel cornerback spot.

Departing: Core special teamer Justin Bethel (Unrestricted free agent) and Keion Crossen (Released, remains unsigned)

Replacements: Cornerback Siran Neal 

The Dolphins struggled on special teams for the final months of the season, but plenty of that had to do with backups who happened to be core special-teamers being called on to replace injured players as starters. Neal, who spent his first six seasons in Buffalo, has a Walt Aikens-like toughness to him that will definitely benefit the Dolphins as a gunner. The Dolphins will certainly need more core special teams contributors, but that can wait till after the draft.

Departing: Swing tackle Kendall Lamm (Unrestricted free gent)

Replacements: Offensive tackle Jack Driscoll

Lamm played admirably as Terron Armstead's replacement for half the 2023 season, but it appears he's either moving on, signing elsewhere, or retiring. That's the best way to explain why Miami added Driscoll, a former Eagles backup, who has experience playing guard and tackle on the right side of the offensive line.