Why the Dolphins need Christian Wilkins

MIAMI — There's been a noticeable presence missing from the Miami Dolphins' defense over the past week; on the field, at least.

Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins has not participated in team drills dating to before the team's first preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons on Aug. 12. Coach Mike McDaniel confirmed his hold-in is over an unresolved contract extension that Wilkins says he deserves. Both sides have been in regular contact, and McDaniel says he doesn't believe the situation will spill over into the regular season.

“I really haven’t even concerned myself with that," McDaniel said. "It’s something that when Christian tells me he is ready to go, he’ll be ready to go.

"I’m not worried about anything other than the guys on the practice field each and every day. Very hopeful that things work themselves out, but I try to stay in my lane with coaching the players. I will say he’s been absolutely demolishing individual work.”

Throughout the offseason, Wilkins and the Dolphins have publicly discussed their desire to get an extension done, but they have seen four defensive tackles from Wilkins' 2019 draft class sign lucrative extensions over the past several months. And the underlying issue is each of those four has more sacks and pressures than Wilkins, who has 11.5 sacks and 56 pressures. They include: Quinnen Williams (27.5 sacks, 74 pressures), Ed Oliver (14.5 sacks, 78 pressures), Dexter Lawrence (16.5 sacks, 98 pressures) and Jeffrey Simmons (21 sacks, 81 pressures).

But Wilkins provides value as a run-stopper.

He leads all defensive linemen in run stop win rate (40.8%) since entering the league. And his 290 tackles rank second only to Cameron Heyward (300) among defensive linemen in that same time frame.

Without Wilkins, the Dolphins have Zach Sieler -- one of the league's undervalued players -- and Raekwon Davis, who also offers more as a run-stopper than as a pass-rusher.

“Christian’s a dawg. We need him. We need him to win. There’s no question," left tackle Terron Armstead said. "So he knows what he needs to be ready, to be prepared. He practices and plays harder than anybody I’ve ever seen. You never worry about a guy like him. We need him. The organization knows we need him. I’m pretty sure they’ll figure out something, whether it’s stock options or whatever to get the job done.”

Sieler is comparable to Wilkins in terms of production over the past three seasons, as he's played a crucial role on the Dolphins' defensive line. His run stop win rate (38.2%) and pressures (54) compare favorably to Wilkins' 44.1% and 46, respectively, while playing nearly 400 fewer snaps. He also is an upcoming free agent in 2024 but will likely command less money than Wilkins.

Miami's plan behind Sieler remains to be seen. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio complimented undrafted rookie Brandon Pili -- who is the leader in the clubhouse to make the final roster as the team's fourth interior defensive lineman.

"He’s getting better and better each and every day," Fangio said. "I’ve been pleased with his progress, and he’s definitely in that hunt.”

Fangio added that he isn't concerned with Wilkins' "administrative issue" and believes he'll be ready to go whenever that issue is handled.

Williams, Simmons and Lawrence's contracts all clear an average annual value north of $20 million. It may be difficult for the Dolphins to justify that figure for a player with Wilkins' pass-rush production.

But the Dolphins need Wilkins. Not just because of their lack of depth behind him, but because of the message it would send if they were to not sign a homegrown player and team captain who has done everything asked of him over the past four years. Dolphins general manager Chris Grier has only signed two homegrown players to multi-year extensions since he was promoted to the role in 2016 -- linebacker Jerome Baker and cornerback Xavien Howard.

The latter offered some advice rooted in experience to his teammate, Wilkins.

“Get your money," Howard said. "Get your money. I can’t say anything else, man.”