With Tua Tagovailoa's option picked up, Dolphins focus on free agency

MIAMI -- It wasn’t the most pressing issue for the Miami Dolphins this offseason, but it was arguably the most prevalent for fans: What would the team do with Tua Tagovailoa’s fifth-year option?

The deadline to exercise a fully guaranteed team option was still two months away when the team reportedly told the fourth-year quarterback they would do so Friday, locking him into a $23.4 million salary when it kicks in during the 2024 season.

Picking up Tagovailoa’s option received the most attention, but the Dolphins have made major moves over the past week to clear salary cap space before the league year begins Wednesday. They went into the weekend $25.2 million under the cap, according to Roster Management System data. They also plan to designate cornerback Byron Jones as a post-June 1 cut, which will save the team another $13.6 million.

Now that its starting quarterback is taken care of, here’s what’s next for Miami:

Find a running back

The Dolphins have exactly one running back on their roster prior to the start of free agency -- backup Salvon Ahmed. They’ll need to add starting-caliber talent and depth to the room.

Two big names are rumored to be available via trade in the Minnesota VikingsDalvin Cook and Tennessee TitansDerrick Henry. After restructuring the contracts of Tyreek Hill, Terron Armstead and Bradley Chubb, Miami can afford to take on the salary of Cook or Henry, but will the Dolphins be willing to part ways with the necessary capital to get them to South Florida?

The San Francisco 49ers traded a second-round draft pick, a third-round pick and two fourth-round picks to the Carolina Panthers for Christian McCaffrey in 2022, so expect Cook or Henry to fetch similar compensation.

Pending free agents include Miles Sanders, Rashaad Penny, Kareem Hunt or last year’s leading rushers in Miami, Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr.

“We’re very open to those guys coming back,” Dolphins general manager Chris Grier said recently at the scouting combine. “Obviously, they’re free agents, and that’ll play a part of it, but we’d be very excited to have them back.”

Extend DT Christian Wilkins

He’s not a free agent, but Wilkins is entering the final year of his rookie deal and was arguably the Dolphins’ best defender last season.

The former No. 13 overall pick set career highs in tackles and tackles for a loss last season, and Miami wants him in South Florida long term.

“Christian, ever since we drafted him, has done nothing but get better each year. He is a tireless worker, as we’ve talked about,” Grier said. “You guys have heard me talk about how he works around the building. He’s in every day. He’s still in during the offseason. I’ve seen him around more than anyone. He loves the game. He loves our organization. We love him. We’d like to have him here for a long time.”

Spotrac lists his market value at $61.3 million over four years, but don’t be surprised if the Dolphins exceed that amount with their homegrown star and captain.

Make one big splash

It’ll be another season before Miami has to shell out big money to Tagovailoa if they agree to a long-term extension after the 2023 season, so they don’t need to pinch pennies quite yet.

That doesn’t mean this offseason should be full of reckless spending, but the Dolphins have cleared enough space to go after one of the top free agents on the market.

Several names fit at least minor needs: Cornerbacks Jamel Dean and James Bradberry could fill the void left by Jones’ release -- although the former will be among the highest-paid cornerbacks this offseason.

One potential big name to watch is Buffalo Bills safety Jordan Poyer, who teased his interest in joining the Dolphins on his podcast last month. He has a home in Fort Lauderdale and would fit nicely alongside Jevon Holland in defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s system. He doesn’t necessarily represent a need, however, as the Dolphins do have Brandon Jones coming back from a torn ACL.

The San Francisco 49ersMike McGlinchey and Kansas City Chiefs' Orlando Brown Jr. are the top tackles available, although the Dolphins still seem high on 23-year-old Austin Jackson, who spent most of last season sidelined with an ankle injury.

“Austin was playing really good. He was the one we were talking about all preseason, and then he gets hurt Week 1 on kind of a fluke thing,” Grier said in January. “Then he comes back and [has the] same injury, which is a one in a million thing. Again, he’s still young, a lot of upside, needs to keep developing.”

Most of the Dolphins’ moves this offseason will add depth to an already competitive roster, but they have room for at least one major splash as they look to take the next step as legitimate Super Bowl contenders.