Will a deal be reached before the season, or will the Dolphins utilize the franchise tag to lock up DT Christian Wilkins next offseason?
One of the many things I’ve learned in my more than ten years of covering the NFL is that players frequently become emotional when you start talking about their compensation.
When the 2017 season came to an end in a month, I predicted that Dolphins czar Mike Tannenbaum and then-head coach Adam Gase would either shake him down for a pay cut or release the center. This caused Mike Pouncey to lash out at me in the Dolphins locker room in front of other players and the media.
Pouncey, a Pro Bowl candidate, was upset that I even considered included that possibility in the universal, but wouldn’t you know it, the Dolphins took the exact course I had projected.
Let me get to the point.
I’m the biggest advocate for players getting their money, and taking the team for whatever they can when they have their leverage.
I know how one sided the NFL business is, and I typically want to see players win whenever they can.
However, I’m a realist, and a straight shooter, which is why I have to point out when players are approaching challenges to their pursuit of the money.
Dolphins D-line history isn’t encouraging
While it would be the right approach for the Dolphins to extend Wilkins, locking the team captain up, making him one of the foundational pieces to build around for years to come, I have doubts they will.
First of all, the Dolphins have a poor track record of compensating defensive lineman, particularly those they have selected in the draft.
Since Paul Soliai in 2011, when they utilized the franchise tag on the nose tackle, Miami hasn’t re-signed a defensive lineman they’ve selected to a multi-year extension.
Kendall Langford and Jared Odrick were allowed to leave Miami as free agents. After the Dolphins tagged Olivier Vernon, they later took it off because they wouldn’t match the New York Giants’ offer. Davon Godchaux was also permitted by the Dolphins to go with the Patriots as a free agency in 2019.
More than ten years of sparingly using defensive tackles.
All of this is to imply that history does not support Wilkins’ position.
The cost of defensive tackles, which has increased like the cost of used cars during the pandemic, is also not decreasing.
NFL DTs are receiving precedent-setting deals
The Tennessee Titans signed Jeffery Simmons to a five-year, $104.7 million contract this offseason. Because the guaranteed money ends after three seasons, I am only including his next $19.7 million per year salary. Additionally, Simmons might be eligible for $1.25 million in roster incentives ($24,500 per game).
The New York Jets’ five-year, $105 million offer to defensive lineman Quinnen Williams, who signed an extension last week, may have been the richest deal ever for a defensive tackle, but over the next three years, he will still only make $18.5 million annually. This excludes the $53,000 per game roster bonuses worth $2.7 million he can receive over the following three seasons.
Of all the freshly extended defensive tackles, Daron Payne from Washington has the finest contract. Over the first three years of the four-year, $90 million contract, which included a $60 million guarantee, he is earning $22.1 million per season. He may make an additional $1M in per-game roster incentives ($20,000 each game).
Dexter Lawrence, a nose tackle for the New York Giants, will make $18.9 million per season over the next three years as part of a five-year, $100.7 million contract, with the possibility of earning an additional $2 million in per-game incentives in 2024 and 2025 ($58,823 per game).
Ed Oliver took the most team-friendly deal, signing a five-year contract with the Buffalo Bills that is reportedly worth $78.7 million. He’s guaranteed $45 million, and will make $46 million over the first three years if he capitalizes on two $500,000 workout bonuses in 2024 and 2025. That averages out to $15.42 million a season during that three-year span.Oliver can also make another $840,000 in those seasons from per game roster bonuses ($24,705 per game).
Can Wilkins reasonably be considered a franchise?
If you’re doing the calculations at home, the most recent contracts imply that Wilkins’ new deal will pay out between $16 and 19 million in real money over the first three years.
If the Dolphins choose to use the franchise tag, which is expected to cost $20.8 million for defensive tackles, Wilkins would receive $31.5 million over the following two seasons when his fifth-year option ($10.7 million this season) is included.
That amount multiplied by two equals $15.75 million every season. We can round that up to $16 million per season.
That explains why an extension for Wilkins hasn’t been reached yet as the start of training camp draws near and is likely in the range of what the Dolphins are willing to provide.
Just a hunch, but Wilkins would probably prefer to gamble on himself, betting that Miami won’t be able to use the franchise tag on him in 2024 since the Dolphins are anticipated to be $32 million in excess of the cap, than accept a deal that falls short of what his contemporaries are offering.