The Dolphins made the first of what will be a flurry of personnel decisions on Sunday when they agreed to a new contract with defensive lineman Zach Sieler.
Several dozen other decisions await, including how to trim their roster from 90 to 53 by Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline; whether to increase their trade offer for Colts running back Jonathan Taylor; and whether to up their offer to potential 2024 free agent Christian Wilkins.
Sieler agreed to a three-year deal that could be worth up to $38 million and includes $20 million guaranteed, including a significant signing bonus, according to a source. He’s now signed through 2026.
Sieler, who missed Saturday night’s preseason game with a minor injury, will get an immediate increase in pay from the $2.5 million he was due to earn in the final year of his contract.
Sieler, last season, had 70 tackles (including seven for loss) and tied a career high with 3.5 sacks. He had 36 pressures (in 575 pass rushing snaps), which ranked 23rd among all interior defensive linemen.
Pro Football Focus rated him 22nd among 125 interior defenders last season, including eighth against the run. Per Pro Football Reference, he played 77 percent of the Dolphins’ defensive snaps, up from 52 and 46 the previous two seasons.
Sieler ranked fourth among snaps by defensive linemen, behind Crosby, Wilkins and Aidan Hutchinson, according to Pro Football Focus.
Sieler, who skipped several voluntary May and June practices in hopes of landing a contract extension, is the first of the team’s 25-plus potential 2024 free agents to sign an extension.
The Dolphins also have been hoping to complete a contract extension with Christian Wilkins, who sat out 11 on 11 work in practice and the past two preseason games in hopes of securing a longterm deal. He’s due $10.7 million this season in the final year of his contract.
But there has been a fundamental difference between the sides about whether he should be paid among the top few defensive tackles in football. The Dolphins value the production (98 tackles last season), run defense and durability, but his sack and tackle for loss numbers (11.5 and 33 over four seasons) have impacted the monetary value that the team puts on him.
Meanwhile, the Dolphins and Colts have remained in touch on a possible trade for disgruntled running back Jonathan Taylor, a 2021 All Pro and the NFL’s rushing champion that year. Miami and Indianapolis have discussed potential trade packages, but the Dolphins are not believed to be offering a first round pick in exchange.
The Dolphins have serious interest, but seem disinclined to move past a certain undisclosed point in trade negotiations.
The Colts have given Taylor a Tuesday deadline to find a trade partner, but that has been described as a loose deadline. If Taylor remains on the team on Tuesday night, the Colts will either need to move him to the 53-man roster or keep him on the physically unable to perform list.
Though there is friction between the Colts and Taylor because of the team’s unwillingness to offer him a new contract, it’s possible that Indianapolis could keep him if its trade demands are not met.
Amid all of this is the NFL’s looming roster deadline. League rules could complicate some of the Dolphins’ decisions. Among them:
▪ The injured reserve rule: By league rule, players who go on injured reserve before the team sets its 53-man roster on Tuesday must miss the entire season or reach an injury settlement with a team to be eligible to play again this season.
So even though several Dolphins have been slowed by injuries - including Jaylen Waddle, Brandon Jones, Terron Armstead, De’Von Achane, Robert Jones, Da’Shawn Hand and Eric Saubert - any of those players must be kept on the initial 53 to be eligible to return and play this season.
The same applies with cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who is out until at least November after knee surgery.
And that list now also includes defensive back Elijah Campbell (who left Saturday’s game with a knee injury and was on crutches) and running back Salvon Ahmed, who left Saturday’s game after taking a hard hit.
Waddle, Brandon Jones, Armstead, Achane and Ramsey thus will assuredly be on the initial 53. It’s a far tougher call with Robert Jones (knee), Hand (lower body) and Saubert (lower body injury).
Injured players who are on the initial 53 man roster can then be moved to the injured reserve list. Those players must spend four games on IR before being eligible to return.
During a single season, a team can bring back as many as eight players who are placed on injured reserve, provided they are on the initial 53-man roster at 4 p.m. Tuesday. But those players must miss at least four games after they’re then moved to IR.
Players released with injury settlements - which could be something in play with Saubert - could always be re-signed by Miami when they’re healthy.
Waddle is expected to be ready for Miami’s Sept. 10 opener at the Chargers, and Armstead hopes to be.
▪ The PUP list: In order for a player to be eligible to return from the PUP list and play this season, he must be on the PUP list from the start of training camp.
That applies to one Dolphins player - cornerback Nik Needham, who has been sidelined since Achilles surgery last October. He’s the only Dolphins player now on the PUP list.
The Dolphins can shift Needham to the reserve/PUP list, and he would be eligible to return after a minimum of four games if he’s healthy. He would not need to count on the initial 53-man roster.
Because tight end Tanner Conner was removed from the PUP list last week, the Dolphins cannot place him back on the PUP list and have him play for them this season.
With Conner, their options are limited to keeping him on the 53-man roster or releasing him. He played in Saturday night’s preseason game.
▪ The vested veteran rule: Any players with at least four years of experience have their contracts fully guaranteed for the entire season if they’re on a team’s roster during the first week of the season.
That rule often motivates teams to cut fringe veteran players before the final cut-down on Tuesday but then re-sign them after Week 1 if needed.
Players who would seem at risk in the next two days, partly because of that rule, include Hand; tight ends Saubert and Tyler Kroft; receiver River Cracraft; cornerback Keion Crossen and perhaps running back Myles Gaskin and linebacker Malik Reed.
Receiver Daewood Davis, who left Saturday’s game on a stretcher after taking a hard hit, will return to South Florida on Sunday after being released from a Jacksonville area hospital, the team said. The team announced late Saturday night that he has movement in his extremities, allaying concerns after he lay motionless on the ground for several minutes after a Jaguars defender hit Davis’ head when he tried to catch a pass.
As a result of Davis being taken off on a stretcher, the teams agreed to end Saturday’s preseason game with 8:32 remaining in the fourth quarter.