With a huge amount of cap space and needs to address everywhere on the roster, the Miami Dolphins were very active in free agency in 2020.
Circumstances are a bit different this year, but the Dolphins still figure to try to use that avenue to further bolster their roster.
With that mind, we'll periodically examine pending unrestricted free agents around the NFL who either have been linked to the Dolphins or certainly would make sense as potential targets.
We continue this series with a look at Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton.
Hilton is 5-10, 183 and was born Nov. 14, 1989 in Miami and went on attend Miami Springs High and Florida International University. He was a third-round pick of the Colts in the 2012 NFL draft. He had a base salary and cap number in 2020 of $14.5 million, according to overthecap.com.
Hilton finished the 2020 season with 56 catches for 762 yards (13.6 average) and five touchdowns. It was his second consecutive season with less than 800 receiving yards after never finishing with less than 861 in his first seven years. Hilton is a four-time Pro Bowl selection with five 1,000-yard seasons, topped by a high of 1,448 yards (on 91 catches) in 2016. His last 1,000-yard season came in 2018 when he had 1,270 on 76 receptions.
HOW HE FITS
We discussed the Dolphins wide receiver corps in our free agent look at JuJu Smith-Schuster and how that player would help as a slot receiver. What Hilton would bring is the deep threat, an element that was badly missing in 2020.
No, Hilton isn't quite as proficient and explosive as he was a few years back, but he still would be better in that role than anyone currently on the roster.
As he did with Smith-Schuster, ESPN writer Bill Barnwell predicted in a story on the top pending free agent wide receivers that Hilton would sign with the Dolphins, although in his case he projected a one-year deal.
"T.Y. Hilton said before entering the final year of his contract in 2020 that he wanted to be a 'Colt for life' and his next deal would be the last of his career. The four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver also expressed confidence that he would bounce back from 2019, when he missed six games due to injuries and caught a career-low 45 passes for 501 yards and five TDs. He had played hurt for half of 2018, too, so the first key was to stay healthy.
"But Hilton, who turns 32 in November, couldn’t blame being hurt for low numbers again. He missed only one game, yet produced just 56 receptions for 762 yards and five TDs. It’s not that he’s necessarily washed up — Hilton’s best game against Houston, a team he’s owned throughout his nine-year career, was reminiscent of past glory as he caught eight passes for 110 yards and one TD. That snapped a streak of 21 games without 100 yards receiving. But that was against a bad defense. He didn't show up like that on a consistent basis. That translates to reduced value on that final contract for a player who was paid $14.54 million last season.
"The Colts have several players at the end of contracts, so as much as they would like to bring back Hilton, it has to be at the right price. If he was worthy of an extension, he would have received one by now. The Colts paid center Ryan Kelly just before the season and defensive tackle Grover Stewart in November. Hilton’s 9,360 receiving yards rank third in Colts history behind Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. He’s also fourth in franchise history with 608 catches. But he’s no longer the deep-threat playmaker demanding double teams. He’s more of a possession receiver capable of a big game now and then."
THE BOTTOM LINE
The connection between Hilton and the Dolphins may be logical given that Hilton is in the fourth quarter of his NFL career and he's from Miami, but that doesn't mean the Dolphins will be overpaying for his services.
Truth is, no team around the NFL is likely to give Hilton anywhere near what he made in 2020 and the appeal of playing for his hometown may give the Dolphins an advantage — remember that he stayed in Miami for his college career after starring at Miami Springs High.
From the Dolphins standpoint, bringing in Hilton even on a one-year contract could bring some spark to the passing game because while, yes, he's not the same deep threat he once was, he still had three catches of 40 yards or more last season. That was two more than the entire Dolphins wide receiver corps, which produced Preston Williams' 47-yard catch against the 49ers and nothing else longer than 35 yards (also Williams).