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Miami Dolphins' 2020 NFL free-agent signings: Byron Jones, Van Noy bolster defense

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Dolphins' biggest need remains at QB (0:57)

Cameron Wolfe details the "big splash" the Dolphins made in free agency, making Byron Jones the highest-paid CB in the NFL, then looks to the NFL draft, where Miami should target a quarterback. (0:57)

NFL free agency is off and running, and we're keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2020 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from Bill Barnwell. The new league year begins March 18 at 4 p.m. ET, which means free-agent signings can be made official after that. The first round of the 2020 NFL draft begins April 23.

Here's a breakdown of every 2020 NFL free-agent signing by the Miami Dolphins, and how each will impact the upcoming season:


Byron Jones, cornerback

Jones agreed to terms on a deal that makes him the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL, a source confirmed to ESPN on Monday.

What it means: The Dolphins have invested mega-money at the cornerback position. Miami is now the home for the NFL's top-two highest paid cornerbacks in Jones (five years, $82.5 million) and Xavien Howard (five years, $76.5 million). Jones led the NFL in percentage of targets into tight windows at 50%. He's a strong fit in coach Brian Flores' defense that played man coverage on 61% of the snaps last season, fourth most in the NFL. He also provides insurance for the Dolphins as Howard had a rocky season including another knee surgery and a domestic battery arrest that could leave him open to league discipline. It's a monster move to help improve a unit that was 26th in pass defense in 2019.

What's the risk: The Dolphins are investing $32 million per year into their top cornerbacks, an enormous amount of money for a non-quarterback position. The Dolphins also have a plethora of holes to fill at bigger priority positions along the offensive and defensive lines. Jones is one of the NFL's best cornerbacks, but has two interceptions in 79 games. He hasn't had an interception in 40 consecutive games, so it's worth wondering how much playmaking ability the Dolphins will get out of their investment. They are betting that a healthy Howard coupled with Jones will force teams to pick their poison and give their cornerbacks more opportunities for picks.

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Dolphins beef up defense with Van Noy

Adam Schefter explains how the Dolphins are continuing to pool resources to acquire quality talent like Kyle Van Noy.

Kyle Van Noy, linebacker

Miami agreed to a four-year, $51 million deal with the former New England edge rusher, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter.

What it means: The Dolphins, who entered free agency with the most cap space in the NFL, continued their Day 1 spending by adding a Brian Flores favorite in the former Patriot Van Noy. His versatility will be used at linebacker and as an edge rusher. He will also help further establish the culture and plan that Flores wants as he turns over his defense. Van Noy had a career-high 6.5 sacks last season, which would have led Miami. Alongside fellow Day 1 signee Shaq Lawson, the Dolphins defense, which finished last in sacks (23) and in the bottom-10 in nearly every other category, should be much improved in 2020.

What's the risk: There's always a risk in signing former Patriot players and expecting them to produce the same elsewhere. Flores mitigates that risk a bit because of his time with Van Noy and in New England, but there is a worry that regression occurs. Van Noy also isn’t a true edge rusher -- he has just 15.5 career sacks -- and it’s a big investment for a player who excelled by making the most of how he was used in a particular scheme.


Jordan Howard, running back

The Dolphins have reached agreement on a two-year deal with former the Eagles running back Jordan Howard.

What it means: The Dolphins finally have a new starting running back in Howard who will help them improve the NFL's worst rushing attack in 2019. Howard, 25, is a bruising back with a lot of production throughout his career in Chicago and Philadelphia. Howard has the third most rush yards (3,895) and the seventh most rush TDs (30) since entering the NFL in 2016. He is also one of five players to rush for at least six TDs in the past four seasons. The Dolphins are also expected to be very interested in the top running backs in the 2020 draft. Just a guess, but quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick won't lead Dolphins in rushing in 2020.

What's the risk: Running backs tend to be the riskiest positions to pay a second contract, and we've seen teams quickly regret them. Howard's deal isn't a monster number, which mitigates the risk a bit, but if the Dolphins take advantage of a strong running back draft, he might not have a long run as the Dolphins starter. Howard also missed six games last season with a significant stinger, and didn't resume his full role when he returned. Miami will want to make sure he's healthy.


Emmanuel Ogbah, defensive end

Ogbah agreed to terms on two-year deal worth up to $15 million, his agent Drew Rosenhaus told ESPN's Adam Schefter.

What it means: The Dolphins continue their active free agency period by making their third front-seven addition with Ogbah. This is another move betting on a player with versatility and upside off the edge -- Miami's biggest defensive need. Ogbah will join Shaq Lawson and Kyle Van Noy to add experience, run-stopping ability and pass rush to a front seven in desperate need of all of it. Ogbah's 5.5 sacks in 2019 would have ranked most on the Dolphins in 2019.

What's the risk: Ogbah was largely a disappointment after being a 2016 second-round pick by the Browns. He had a career-best season during his contract year, which is always a little alarming. Ogbah, like Lawson and Van Noy, also isn't a dominant pass-rusher. He also has suffered two season-ending injuries in his four NFL seasons, including a torn pectoral muscle that ended his 2019 season early.


Shaq Lawson, defensive end

The Dolphins have agreed to a three-year, $30 million deal with the former Buffalo Bills edge rusher.

What it means: The Dolphins have a new top edge rusher in Lawson, and a guy who should be a perfect fit for coach Brian Flores' defense. Lawson's 6.5 sacks would have led Miami last season, but his biggest asset might be how complete his game is as far as setting the edge, defending the run and rushing the passer. The Dolphins -- who finished last in sacks (23) and pressures created (122) last season -- continue their pursuit of mid-tier free agents who can fill starter roles with Lawson locked in as a starting edge rusher.

What's the risk: Lawson is unlikely to ever be among the league leaders in sacks. He's never had more than 6.5 sacks in a season, and that was a career-high in 2019. Lawson also has been a part-time player throughout his career in Buffalo with 17 starts in 50 games (including no starts in 15 games last season). Lawson has a high floor as a free-agency signing, but the risk might be in what his ceiling is as a player.

Ereck Flowers, offensive lineman

The Dolphins and Flowers have agreed to a three-year, $30 million contract.

What it means: The Dolphins have found one new starter -- a young, ascending guard -- in their pursuit to fix arguably the NFL's worst offensive line. Flowers should secure a starting guard spot and his career-high 92% pass block rate should help a Dolphins unit that finished last in that category next season. If Miami gets the 2019 version of Flowers or better, then he immediately becomes their best offensive lineman and adds stability to the trenches. The Dolphins will add more offensive linemen in free agency and the draft, but this is a start.

What's the risk: Flowers, a 2015 first-round pick, had a rough start to his career as an offensive tackle with the New York Giants that ended with him getting benched and eventually released. He turned a one-year reclamation season and position switch with Washington into a $10 million per season deal. Miami is betting that it will see the 2019 version of Flowers going forward instead of Flowers, 2015-18. There have been questions about Flowers' play, focus and work ethic from past teammates such as Geoff Schwartz. The hope is Miami did its homework about the Flowers it is getting going forward.

Clayton Fejedelem, safety

Fejedelem, a 2016 seventh-round pick by the Bengals, has agreed to a three-year deal with Miami.

What it means: The Flores-led Dolphins value special teams and leadership, and making a move for a backup safety on Day 1 of the opening negotiating period is a perfect example. Fejedelem is a former Bengals special teams ace and team captain. He likely becomes the replacement for Walt Aikens, the Dolphins' long-time special teams ace who is an unrestricted free agent and wasn't in favor as much with the new coaching staff.

What's the risk: There isn't too much risk in a depth signing as long as the Dolphins don't expect Fejedelem to play a significant role on defense. Fejedelem's skill set translates primarily as a special teams player. If this move means goodbye to Aikens, the Dolphins are getting rid of their two longest-tenured players in Reshad Jones and Aikens.


Ted Karras, center

The former Patriots center has agreed to a one-year, $4 million deal with the Dolphins.

What it means: The Dolphins went back into the Patriots pond to find their likely 2020 starting center in Karras. He's a tough, durable center who replaces former Dolphins center Daniel Kilgore while also weakening an AFC East rival. This is the second likely starting offensive lineman the Dolphins have added in free agency thus far. This one appears to be a short-term fix. The Dolphins will likely still select a center in the NFL draft, along with more O-line additions.

What's the risk: Karras spent the first three seasons as a backup before getting an increased opportunity after David Andrews landed on injured reserve. The Dolphins are betting on an increased and important role for a player who doesn't have a lot of experience doing it. There isn't much upside in his skill set. He's a good locker room guy and a tough player, but he doesn't appear to fix their long-term offensive line issues.


Kamu Grugier-Hill, linebacker

The Dolphins signed the former Eagles linebacker to a one-year deal.

What it means: The Dolphins continue to load up on front-seven talent with Grugier-Hill, their fourth free-agent addition to that unit. He could see his biggest impact on special teams where he was the Eagles captain over the last couple of years. Grugier-Hill also started 16 games over the last two seasons, and could compete for an off-ball linebacker role in the Dolphins' defense this season.

What's the risk: It's a lower-level deal focused primarily on boosting the special teams so there isn't a ton of risk here. Grugier-Hill had surgery on a lower lumbar disc herniation that ended his 2019 season early. He also missed time with a knee injury and a concussion so health will be important while he's a Dolphin.


Elandon Roberts, linebacker

The Dolphins continued to raid the Patriots, signing former New England linebacker/fullback Roberts on Wednesday.

What it means: The Patriots keep flying south to join Brian Flores' Dolphins. Roberts is the third player (Van Noy, Karras) to leave New England and agree to terms with Miami thus far this free agency period. Roberts is also the fifth front-seven addition the Dolphins have made during the period, clearly showing that was a priority. He plays both linebacker and fullback, providing depth at both areas. He's also a core special teams player. Versatility and physicality are his best skill sets, so he's definitely a Brian Flores guy.

What's the risk: Roberts isn't a great coverage linebacker and struggled in that role during his time in Miami. He's best used as a run-stopper and blitzer when playing defense, so his contributions in the modern NFL might be limited. Like all former Patriots, there's a risk that his contributions aren't as impactful outside of New England. But Flores' time in New England, and with Roberts, should mitigate some of that.


Adrian Colbert, safety

The ‪Dolphins bringing back Colbert on a one-year, $1.775 million deal, per his agent Drew Rosenhaus.

What it means: The Dolphins continue to add more defensive talent and depth with Colbert, who was a waiver claim find midway through 2019. He was tendered as a restricted free agent but still returns on a slightly lower number. Colbert should compete for a backup safety spot behind Eric Rowe and Bobby McCain.

What's the risk: The Dolphins have 14 picks so this could have been a role filled via the draft, but they could still another player to this room.