It’s setting up to be a wild offseason for the Miami Dolphins once again. Despite being the most aggressive franchise in free agency last offseason — which backfired when Mike Wallace, Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler all had disappointing campaigns — the Dolphins are expected to be one of the league’s biggest spenders for the second year in a row.
Left tackle Branden Albert will almost assuredly agree to a contract that pays him nearly $10 million per season to protect quarterback Ryan Tannehill‘s blind side. But that move, or a similar one with a similar player, has been forecasted for months. Something moderately unexpected leaked on Sunday night. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Dolphins are among those teams who have expressed “real interest” in free agent safety Jairus Byrd.
Byrd is one of the hottest names on the market and is said to be asking for $9 million per season. With Chris Clemons expected to entertain offers from other clubs, the Dolphins have a void to fill at free safety.
Clemons was solid in 2013 and graded as one of the NFL’s most reliable coverage safeties, but he’s relatively one-dimensional and rarely produces a game-changing play. GM Dennis Hickey has met with free agent Louis Delmas to potentially replace Clemons, but Delmas suffers from chronic knee problems — a red flag to say the least.
There is some debate regarding whether or not the Dolphins should nab Delmas or re-sign Clemons. One makes more plays while the other is more consistent. There is no debate when Byrd enters the equation, though — at least not from a talent standpoint. He’s one of the best safeties in the entire league and would instantly equip Miami’s secondary with the potential to become an elite group.
In 73 career games, Byrd has produced 22 interceptions for an astonishing rate of nearly one pick every three games. By comparison, Clemons’ four career interceptions have only equated to one pick ever 18 games.
Many defensive backs who possess a knack for making plays on the football are risk takers. Byrd is known to cheat in coverage, but he’s still as reliable as they come in center field. Pro Football Focus slotted Byrd as the league’s seventh-most efficient coverage safety in 2013 — impressively dependable for such an aggressive player.
It’s fairly obvious that Byrd would be a substantial upgrade at the safety position. But should the Dolphins really invest another $9 million per season at safety?
At just over $7 million per year, Reshad Jones is the fifth-highest paid safety in the league. Making Byrd the highest paid safety would put the Dolphins on the hook for over $16 million every season, exceeding the Seattle Seahawks‘ star safety duo of Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, who are considered the top tandem in the game, by nearly $6 million annually.
The Dolphins might have ample cap space to sign Byrd and still add another offensive lineman and a defensive tackle in 2014. But future seasons might not offer as much cap flexibility if the Dolphins continue to splurge in free agency every spring.
Hickey must land another offensive lineman in addition to Albert and either retain Paul Soliai or Randy Starks or find an adequate replacement(s) for the two. Failing to fulfill either requirement would put the Dolphins in a bind come May’s draft, forcing Hickey to select players based on need rather than talent.
With that said, Byrd could be too tempting of a talent to pass on. The thought of Byrd continuing to play at the elite level he has for his entire career, Jones returning to his 2012 form, when he was Pro Football Focus’ third-overall safety, and Brent Grimes consistently erasing the opposition’s No. 1 receiver at cornerback is a scary thought for any offense. Considering that the NFL is a pass-happy league, the Dolphins’ defense would be as qualified as any to emerge as one of the game’s most stingy units.
Byrd to Miami isn’t the pipe dream it may seem to be either. Another free agent safety who may or may not be in the know is even predicting it:
If Ryan Clark is on to something, the Dolphins may not only be legitimate suitors, but the front runners to land Byrd.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.