Kelly: The old versus the new Dolphins. Did Miami upgrade or downgrade from last year’s roster

The Miami Dolphins began this offseason significantly over the NFL’s salary cap, and with a laundry list of starters expected to hit free agency.

The team suffered massive losses when many of those players landed substantial, if not massive contracts from other teams, were forced to purge the roster talent-wise a bit to address the cap, and had to restructure a few contracts to clear cap space.

It was the franchise’s most difficult offseason in years, but none of those challenges prevented the team’s decision makers from assembling a roster that could take last year’s 11 win team further in 2024.

During this player-for-player breakdown we look at all the losses taken and compare them to the replacements added, determining if each unit on Miami’s roster was upgraded or downgraded. heading into training camp, which opens in late July.

DL Calais Campbell for Christian Wilkins: Slight Downgrade

Wilkins is nearly a decade younger (28) than Campbell (37), and is trending up as a player, which is why the Raiders signed him to a contract that will pay him $28 million a season for the next three years. But Campbell, who is a better fit for Miami’s 3-4 defensive scheme because of his versatility, was a member of the NFL’s All-Decade team in the 2010’s and a six-time Pro Bowler who has contributed 105.5 career sacks. At this stage he has forgotten more football than Wilkins knows, but must physically hold up to handle 500-plus snaps.

OG Liam Eichenberg and Jack Driscoll for Robert Hunt: Downgrade

When healthy, which was most of his career with last season being the lone exception, Hunt was a been a pillar of consistency. That’s why the Carolina Panthers gave Miami’s former starting right guard a five-year, $100 million contract, which guarantees him at least $44 million during the next two seasons. Miami signed Driscoll, a backup on the right side of the Eagles offensive line for the past four seasons, to a one-year deal worth $1.8 million hoping that he’d be legit competition for Eichenberg, a 2021 second-round pick who has started 38 games at all five offensive line positions, but has struggled most of his career for one reason or another. This is likely Eichenberg’s last change to prove he’s a legit NFL starter.

ILB Jordyn Brooks and Anthony Walker Jr. for Jerome Baker: Massive Upgrade

Baker, a reliable, consistent and durable starter for the Dolphins for six seasons, signed a one-year deal worth $7 million with Seattle after the Dolphins released him to clear cap space. Brooks, who started 55 of 63 games for the Seahawks the past four seasons, signed a three-year deal worth $26.2 million to serve as his replacement. Brooks appears more physical than Baker, and has better range. Walker, who has started 75 games in his seven seasons, was added for $1.4 million to upgrade depth at inside linebacker.

CB Kendall Fuller for Xavien Howard: Slight Downgrade

Only one NFL defender (safety Justin Simmons) has pulled down more interceptions since 2016 than Howard, a four-time Pro Bowler, who has recorded 29 interceptions in the 100 regular-season games he has played in. Fuller, who is two years younger than Howard, but entered the league at the same time, is more scheme diverse than Howard. He has pulled in 16 interceptions in the 117 games he’s played in his eight seasons, but doesn’t have the reputation as a playmaker that Howard does. Howard’s issue is he has struggled to stay healthy in recent years, and remains unsigned because of the foot injury he suffered in December.

TE Jonnu Smith and Jody Fortson for Tyler Kroft: Massive Upgrade

Smith, who signed a two-year deal worth $8.4 million, has scored 21 touchdowns in his previous seven seasons, and led all NFL tight ends in yards after the catch. He should share the tight end workload with Durham Smythe, the returning starter. Fortson Jr., who has scored four touchdowns in the 19 regular-season games he has played in for the Kansas City Chiefs, has the build and body of a split end receiver, which means he can help in the goal-line areas. He will be competing with Julian Hill for the No. 3 tight end role. Kroft, who was sparingly used last season, remains unsigned.

C Aaron Brewer for Connor Williams: Slight Downgrade

Before Williams sustained his season-ending ACL injury he was Miami’s top-performing offensive lineman, and one of the best centers in the NFL. The knee injury kept Williams from capitalizing in free agency, but he’s supposedly looking for an employer he can rehab with this season. Brewer, a two-year starter in Tennessee, signed a three-year deal worth $21 million, which includes $13.2 million in guaranteed money, to be his replacement. His performance the past two seasons seasons hints the 6-foot-1, 295 pound center is an asset in the run game, but might be a liability in pass protection.

NT Teair Tart and Benito Jones for Raekwon Davis: Slight Downgrade

Tart and Jones, who were each signed to minimum salary contracts by the Dolphins, don’t have the draft pedigree that Davis does. And they won’t earn $7 million a season like the contact Indianapolis gave Miami’s former second-round pick. But Tart and Jones have been just as productive as Davis, who contributed 28 tackles and half a sack in his 498 snaps last season. Tart produced 24 tackles and one sack in 350 snaps, and Jones produced 26 tackles and 1 sack in 567 defensive snaps for the Lions, but neither have Davis’ physique.

OLB Shaq Barrett for Andrew Van Ginkel: Slight Upgrade

Van Ginkel, who signed a two-year, $20 million deal with Minnesota this offseason, was always a glue player in Miami before last year’s evolution into a pass rushing threat who contributed 69 tackles, six sacks and an interception. Barrett, who is three years older at 31, has contributed 59 sacks in the 131 games this two-time Pro Bowler has played in his nine previous seasons. Miami signed him to a one-year deal worth $7 million with the goal of having him hold down the edges until Jaelan Phillips (Achilles) and Bradley Chubb (ACL) are cleared medically.

SS Jordan Poyer and DeShone Elliott: Slight Upgrade

Elliott signed a two-year deal worth $6 million with the Steelers, but the truth is he’s not versatile enough to be a starter in Miami’s new scheme, which relies heavily on the coverage skills of the safeties. Poyer, an 11-year veteran who produced his fourth 100-plus tackle season in 2023, has the range and physicality to do it all. However, there is concern that this 33-year-old, who signed a one-year deal worth $2 million, might have lost a step and is no longer the impactful player he once was.

WR Odell Beckham Jr. for Cedrick Wilson Jr.: Massive Upgrade

Even though Wilson became Miami’s third-most-used receiver last year, contributing 296 yards and three touchdowns on 22 catches, he will still go down in history as general manager Chris Grier’s worst free agent signing to date. Hopefully that won’t be the case for Beckham, who signed a incentive-laden contract that pays a base salary of $3 million. Beckham, who turned 35 receptions into 565 yards and three touchdowns last season in Baltimore, will need to stay healthy to become the complement Miami seeks for Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle.

FS Marcus Maye for Brandon Jones: Massive Upgrade

At one point in his career an NFL team (the Jets) used the franchise tag on Maye to retain his services. But injuries have caught up to this seven-year veteran, who has started all 77 regular-season games played. Jones, whom Denver signed to a three-year, $20 million deal that guarantees him $11 million during the first two seasons, is a decent strong safety, but lacks the versatility and coverage skills that Maye possesses.

Special teams ace Siran Neal for Justin Bethel: Upgrade

Bethel played 12 seasons in the NFL because of his contributions as a special teams performer, and the same applies for Neal, a seven- year veteran who previously served as Buffalo’s special teams ace. Neal is younger (29) and might help the Dolphins on defense as a nickel defender.

Pass rushers Chop Robinson, Mohamed Kamara for Emmanuel Ogbah, Melvin Ingram: Youth movement

Ogbah and Ingram weren’t major contributors on Miami’s defense last year, but they’re accomplished NFL starters, who happen to be at an advanced age. Both remain unsigned. Robinson and Kamara are two draftees whose athleticism and speed coming off the edges helped them shine in college. But the NFL’s a different game, and the rookies must show they can adapt.

WR Malik Washington and Tahj Washington for Chase Claypool and Robbie Chosen: Youth Movement

Claypool, who struggled to grasp Miami’s offense, signed a minimum salary contract with Buffalo this offseason, and Chosen, who bounced on and off Miami’s practice squad all last season, is still looking for an employer. Miami selected both Washingtons in the late rounds of this draft with the goal of developing them, either as talent on the 53-man roster if they can beat out veterans such as River Cracraft, Erik Ezukanma and Anthony Schwartz, or on the practice squad if they don’t get claimed.

CB Cam Smith for Eli Apple: Youth Movement

This is only roster swap that doesn’t feature a newcomer, and it’s hard to justify it as an upgrade considering Miami signed Apple last season because they didn’t trust Smith, and used him ahead of Smith for 545 defensive snaps. Smith, the Dolphins’ 2023 second-round pick, needs to prove he’s more than a special teams contributor this season, becoming the boundary cornerback who backs up Jalen Ramsey and Fuller.

TB Jaylen Wright for Darrynton Evans: Upgrade

The Dolphins traded a 2025 third-round pick to move into the fourth round of this past draft to select the University of Tennessee tailback, whose speed (4.38 time in the 40-yard dash) and contact balance makes him an ideal fit for the wide zone scheme. Evans, who played two games for Miami last season, signed a minimum salary contract with the Buffalo Bills.