By: Jason Sarney
There are only days to go before the 2021 NFL season officially opens and free agency frenzy kicks off. The Miami Dolphins will likely be prime players, and will most assuredly be linked to any rumored available player under the Sun.
It is in their nature, and totally acceptable, for Miami Dolphins Fans to be excited about the prospects of new players joining their team; it’s clearly among the risers in the NFL. For the first time in a long time, there is a zero-negative approach for free agents playing football in South Florida, unless they’re averse to warm weather beaches, tax free income, and being led by one of the brightest young coaches in the league in Brian Flores.
There are marquee names available at wide receiver, arguably the primary offensive position of need for the Dolphins and Tua Tagovailoa; these same names are circulating on social media and Dolphins Nation. We will take a deep dive into the top targets available to general manager Chris Grier once the signing period begins.
I’ll be giving a grade of likelihood to each name, based on a few parameters: Potential contract amount, personality fit for the team, and scheme fit for the offense.
JuJu Smith-Schuster: He is extremely talented and remarkably young for a player heading into his fifth NFL season. He will turn 25 right before Thanksgiving, so this kid at heart will be heading into the 2021 season with a huge payday.
While JuJu is the type of person who is a brand in and of himself, his production has curiously declined in a number of areas since he exploded on the scene as a big play, big yard receiver.
Before going into statistical evidence illustrating a decline on paper, what’s notable is that Ben Roethlisberger was not at the helm for much of Smith-Schuster’s Steeler career. This very well could be a factor in his yearly decline in terms of yards per target.
His shortened routes could factor into his potential as a Miami slot machine, but for a contract in which he would expect, mixed with a “diva-receiver” mentality, I am not confident in him becoming a Dolphin. He will likely be among the top two salaries in free agent receivers, and with Miami having the ability to draft a wide-out at any point in the first round of the upcoming draft, I think an economical play is in the cards for the Dolphins in the FA market.
Allen Robinson: The Chicago Bear receiver could be a victim of a franchise tag situation, and is perhaps the most talented of this year's free agent class at the position. He could very well demand the other of the top two salaries in this market; that combined with the franchise tag potential diminishes the chance he could become a Dolphin.
However, having said that, if the Dolphins do decide to splurge or even decide a potential “tag and trade” with the Bears, (much like the Dolphins did with the Browns and Jarvis Landry), it would not shock me if a deal is made.
Robinson's stats, while inconsistent at first glance, are not a fair judgement of his ability. As everyone knows, lack of quality quarterback play has hurt his catch percentage as well as his overall money-making statistics.
Sure, he only had one double digit touchdown year (14 in 2015), and only hit a high of seven in his other six seasons. Pairing him with a skilled quarterback, specifically one who has the keen ability to hit a receiver quickly and in stride, is the thought process behind potentially acquiring Robinson.
Robinson is coming off a career-high year in receptions with 102, as well as his best full-season catch percentage at 67.5%. To put this into perspective, as a Jaguar he reeled in 52.6% of QB targets, and as a Bear that percentage spiked to 63.9. Imagine what would happen with an accurate quarterback.
Chris Godwin: Coming off a Super Bowl run with Tampa, will Godwin cash in elsewhere, or stick to being a member of Brady’s Bunch? That’s a difficult question to answer, but Godwin will get paid, and he rounds out who I believe will be the top three earners in the 2021 WR free agent market.
A preeminent slot-man, Godwin has spiked his catch percentage each of his four seasons:
He’s another “fit” for Tua and Miami, but are they a fit for Godwin? There’s a potential recruiter in former Penn State teammate, Mike Gesicki, who would love to get his guy back in the same huddle. This, of course just a fun speculation, but imagine the reunion.
Curtis Samuel: In the last few off-seasons the Dolphins front office has surprised many in all areas of team maintenance. Aside from the Tua selection, not many saw the moves in the 2020 Draft as well as in free agency a month prior.
In a similar mindset, the Fins have deviated from the “popular move.” Last season, nobody saw the Byron Jones signing coming. Mix that with a slew of unproven or under-appreciated former top-50 picks in guys like Van Noy, Ogbah and Lawson, and Chris Grier fooled everyone in retrospect.
So don’t be surprised if Miami kicks off free agency with a guy who was one of the top four producing wide-outs per touch last season. Just look at his company:
The Dolphins have also been tipping their hand a tad in the type of player they want. They’re after team oriented, versatile players. Samuel is just that. Able to return kick-offs as well as carry the ball as a rusher (41 carries in 2020), Samuel touched the ball 118 times on offense last season, and ran back 10 kicks. His yards from scrimmage mark of 1,051 gave him a yards per touch of 8.6. With a catch rate of 79.4 in 2020 as well as a creating 39 first downs, he doubled his career output of yards following the reception.
This healthy spike of 4.2 YAC/R (yards after catch per reception) is a massive buying point for Miami and their need for chain-movers.
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This is exactly the metric that should get Fin fans excited, as separation and gaining yards following the reception are massive needs for Miami’s offense if they want to make life easier on Tua.
My favorite stat from Samuel last season was the whopping QB Passer Rating when he was thrown to, which was 109.2. Samuel is a difference maker and could be the key to making Miami’s offense a potent cocktail of confusion.
The Bargain Aisle
Marvin Jones, Jr. – Dark horse, yet smart money play. He has been driving around Miami, campaigning to fans for his services, and why not? When healthy, Jones is a yardage machine. Although not entering his prime, (and the contract will indicate that), his first three seasons with Detroit were very productive. Here was his average season line from 2016-2018
Mind you, that’s three years ago at best, so this production is not expected. Give me 80% of that, with Jones likely entering his final big deal, and this could be a viable secondary outside weapon for Miami.
T.Y. Hilton – Miami-born vet could potentially mentor a young WR corps, on a 1 year deal with an option if he takes a cut to be part of a special run.
The longshot “What?” signing that will indicate a WR at #3 could be likely:
This doesn’t necessarily mean a surprise name isn’t signed, as sometimes NFL franchises like to surprise us all by having the audacity to do something unexpected. This is just a reminder that they in fact have the control over franchise moves, and not bloggers. It’s truly part of the fun of the yearly NFL experience, which is exactly what the sport has become. When you think about it, there truly isn’t a month without a significant milestone in terms of team development and building, and player news and progression, leading into a Summer of training camp. And once Summer hits, it’s a few months to the bliss of NFL games every weekend.