Why the Miami Dolphins Shouldn’t Feel Compelled To Franchise Tag Christian Wilkins

Miami Dolphins general manager Chris Grier shouldn't lose sight of the forest for the trees as the Christian Wilkins free agency situation heats up.

In the case of Christian Wilkins and the franchise tag, just because the Miami Dolphins can doesn’t necessarily mean they should.

Put simply, Wilkins might be a luxury the Dolphins cannot afford at this point, even if he is the defense’s heart and soul.

Miami Dolphins’ Complex Christian Wilkins Decision

The Dolphins, beginning Tuesday, have two weeks to decide whether or not to use the franchise tag on Wilkins, the No. 6 free agent (and No. 2 defensive tackle) on PFN’s Top 100 free agents list.

Tagging Wilkins — at an estimated $20.9 million — would make an already dicey cap situation even worse. The Dolphins are roughly $50 million over the cap, with just three weeks to get their books in order.

MORE: Dolphins’ All-Time Best and Worst Franchise Tag Designations

So it’s entirely possible that the Dolphins let Wilkins get to market and try to win a bidding war with the rest of the league.

Working in their favor? Wilkins is not the only really good defensive tackle expected to reach free agency in 2024. So even if they get outpriced for Wilkins, there should be other options.

All rankings and commentary are courtesy of PFN NFL analyst Dallas Robinson, who compiled PFN’s Top 100 list. 

Potential Dolphins Defensive Tackle Targets in Free Agency

Chris Jones | Kansas City Chiefs

  • Age: 29
  • Seasons: 8
  • Last contract: 1 year, $22.7 million ($22.7 million AAV)
  • Spotrac Estimated Market Value: 3 years, $85.5 million ($28.5 million AAV)
  • PFN Top 100 Overall Ranking: 2
  • Position Ranking: 1
  • Robinson’s Take: Chris Jones staged a holdout before agreeing to a modified one-year deal to play for the Chiefs in 2023. With the franchise tag an unlikely possibility, Jones will hit unrestricted free agency after posting 26 sacks over the past two seasons.
    • He tied for the league lead in pass rush win rate among defensive tackles (20%) while being double-teamed at a higher clip than any other DT.

Justin Madubuike | Baltimore Ravens

  • Age: 26
  • Seasons: 4
  • Last contract: 4 years, $6.4 million ($1.6 million AAV)
  • Spotrac Estimated Market Value: 4 years, $81.3 million ($20.3 million AAV)
  • PFN Top 100 Overall Ranking: 7
  • Position Ranking: 3
  • Robinson’s Take: Justin Madubuike thrived in Mike Macdonald’s defense last season. His 13 sacks were a new career high, as were his 12 tackles for loss and 33 QB hits.
    • A second-team All-Pro and Pro Bowler, Madubuike is a franchise tag candidate. However, the Ravens have let one-year wonders like Madubuike walk in the past, preferring to collect a future compensatory draft pick.

Leonard Williams | Seattle Seahawks

  • Age: 29
  • Seasons: 9
  • Last contract: 3 years, $63 million ($21 million AAV)
  • Spotrac Estimated Market Value: 3 years, $50.2 million ($16.7 million AAV)
  • PFN Top 100 Overall Ranking: 20
  • Position Ranking: 4
  • Robinson’s Take: Dealt to the Seahawks at midseason, Leonard Williams continued to serve as a stout presence on the interior. Williams, 30, put up 5.5 sacks and 16 QB hits between his time in Seattle and New York.
    • He rarely came off the field, playing the ninth-most snaps (884) among defensive tackles. Interested teams might value Williams’ availability and schematic adaptability.

DJ Reader | Cincinnati Bengals

  • Age: 29
  • Seasons: 8
  • Last contract: 4 years, $52.8 million ($13.2 million AAV)
  • Spotrac Estimated Market Value: 3 years, $44.8 million ($14.9 million AAV)
  • PFN Top 100 Overall Ranking: 27
  • Position Ranking: 5
  • Robinson’s Take: DJ Reader might’ve been searching for $15 million annually had he not suffered a torn quad tendon in December. Now, he might have to settle for a one-year, prove-it contract.
    • Reader remains arguably the best run-clogging nose tackle in the league, while he showed more flashes as a pass rusher and pocket pusher before going down in 2023.

Fletcher Cox | Philadelphia Eagles

  • Age: 33
  • Seasons: 12
  • Last contract: 1 year, $10 million ($10 million AAV)
  • PFN Top 100 Overall Ranking: 72
  • Position Ranking: 6
  • Robinson’s Take: Fletcher Cox is an Eagles icon, but the veteran defensive tackle won’t need to leverage his celebrity to earn another contract in Philadelphia.
    • He’s still an incredibly effective defender who — even at age 32 — played more snaps than any other Eagles DT in 2023. If Cox doesn’t retire, another one-year pact in the $10 million range should keep him in Philly.

Grover Stewart | Indianapolis Colts

  • Age: 30
  • Seasons: 7
  • Last contract: 3 years, $22.8 million ($7.6 million AAV)
  • PFN Top 100 Overall Ranking: 81
  • Position Ranking: 7
  • Robinson’s Take: Indy’s run defense struggled while Stewart served a six-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. That ban may slightly alter his upcoming market, but Stewart is one of the league’s top run-lane cloggers.
    • While the Colts might want to bring him back and continue their Stewart-DeForest Buckner tandem, other teams — especially those that deploy light boxes against the run — will be interested in Stewart’s stout presence.

Sheldon Rankins | Houston Texans

  • Age: 29
  • Seasons: 8
  • Last contract: 1 year, $9.6 million ($9.6 million AAV)
  • Spotrac Estimated Market Value: 3 years, $29.9 million ($10 million AAV)
  • PFN Top 100 Overall Ranking: 82
  • Position Ranking: 8
  • Robinson’s Take: Sheldon Rankins looked more like his old self with the Texans this past season than he did with the Jets from 2021 to 2022. The former first-round pick was outstanding against the run and showed off more moves as a pass rusher, collecting the second-most quarterback hits of his career.

Javon Kinlaw | San Francisco 49ers

  • Age: 26
  • Seasons: 4
  • Last contract: 4 years, $15.5 million ($3.9 million AAV)
  • Spotrac Estimated Market Value: 2 years, $10.8 million ($5.4 million AAV)
  • PFN Top 100 Overall Ranking: 86
  • Position Ranking: 9
  • Robinson’s Take: Javon Kinlaw still hasn’t delivered on his first-round billing, but he showed more juice as a pass rusher in 2023 than he ever had in his 49ers career.
    • While he wore down as the season progressed, Kinlaw ultimately played more snaps last year than in 2021 and 2022 combined. He may need to accept a one-year deal to build his value further, but Kinlaw could be trending in the right direction.

Teair Tart | Houston Texans

  • Age: 26
  • Seasons: 5
  • Last contract: 1 year, $4.1 million ($4.1 million AAV)
  • PFN Top 100 Overall Ranking: 89
  • Position Ranking: 10
  • Robinson’s Take: Teair Tart was a versatile pass rusher for the Titans before a contract dispute hindered his relationship with the club. Tennessee waived him in December. The Texans claimed Tart, but he was inactive in three of five games to close the year and played fewer than 30 total defensive snaps.
    • So why is he on our list? Before things went wrong with the Titans, Tart was a powerful force at several spots along the team’s defensive line. He’s stout against the run and has legitimate pass-rushing moves for a 300-pounder.

KEEP READING: Get To Know the Dolphins’ New Defensive Coaches

Miss football? The 2024 NFL Draft is almost here, boss. Pro Football Network has you covered with everything from team draft needs to the Top 100 prospects available. Plus, fire up PFN’s Mock Draft Simulator to put yourself in the general manager’s seat and make all the calls!

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