Dolphins keep starting defensive line intact by retaining Andre Branch

Andre Branch was rewarded by the Dolphins for his solid 2016 season with a three-year, $27 million contract. Brad Penner/USA Today Sports

The Miami Dolphins agreed to terms with veteran defense end Andre Branch, who played on a one-year deal in 2016 to prove his worth to a new coaching staff.

He was consistent and had a solid year with 49 tackles and 5.5 sacks, enough to convince the team to bring him back.

Terms: Three years, $27 million.

ESPN 150 rank: No. 138

Grade: The Dolphins get a B-minus for retaining Branch. He is not a big name from a national perspective, but his return was important to the Dolphins. Branch showed a consistent motor and eventually replaced former Pro Bowler Mario Williams in the starting lineup. Branch is proof the Dolphins value their own free agents after a 10-6 season.

What it means: The Dolphins scratched a big need off their list by filling their hole at defensive end in-house. With Williams cut and Branch close to becoming a free agent, Miami was facing a task of filling a starting role opposite Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake via the draft or free agency. Branch provides Miami continuity on the defensive line, with all four starters (Wake, Branch and defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Jordan Phillips) returning for 2017.

What's the risk: The $9 million-per-year price tag was higher than expected. But with the increased cap, players around the league have been getting higher-than-usual salaries this offseason. Branch is a solid player, but not a dynamic defensive end. He's an average pass-rusher who never has had more than six sacks in a season and has 19.5 for his career. The Dolphins know what they are getting in Branch, who can consistently produce 50-tackle, five-sack seasons. He doesn't have many glaring weaknesses, but he's also not exceptional at any particular skill. Miami would be wise to still draft a defensive end with a higher ceiling.