NFL free agency is off and running, and we're keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2021 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from our experts. The new league year began March 17, meaning free-agent signings could be made official after that. The first round of the 2021 NFL draft begins April 29 on ESPN.
The Miami Dolphins have active in free agency, signing 14 players in the first week, but unlike in 2020, those players were added primarily to fill important depth roles instead of core players on record-setting contracts. The biggest splash came late in the week when the Dolphins addressed their need for offensive playmakers, signing wide receiver Will Fuller V, who will be the starting speedy deep threat this offense has long needed.
Miami has found temporary solutions at center (Matt Skura) and backup QB (Jacoby Brissett). The biggest need left is at edge rusher, a position the Dolphins have added depth (Vince Biegel, Brennan Scarlett) but lack a true difference-maker to complement Emmanuel Ogbah and Andrew Van Ginkel. Long-term solutions at edge, running back, center and wide receiver are top positions the Dolphins could target in the 2021 NFL draft where they have four top-50 picks including the No. 3 overall pick.
Here's a breakdown of every 2021 NFL free-agent signing by the Dolphins, and how each will impact the upcoming season:
Will Fuller, WR
What it means: The Dolphins have made their biggest splash in free agency thus far by adding Fuller, who brings speed and big-play ability for an offense in need of both. He immediately slots in the starting lineup opposite DeVante Parker, providing a nice duo with differing skills. It was painful at times to watch Tua Tagovailoa throw to a depleted receiver group, and Miami made its biggest step yet in adding playmakers for him. This could go from one of the NFL's slowest offenses to an explosive one if the Fuller move is coupled with drafting another top-end receiver like DeVonta Smith, Ja'Marr Chase or Jaylen Waddle.
What's the risk: Injuries are the biggest risk with Fuller playing just 53 of 80 games a pro, and he's only played more than 11 games in a year once in his five seasons. The Dolphins already have two other top receivers who have bouts with injuries -- Parker and Preston Williams -- so it's a risk to bet on them to stay healthy. Partly because of those injuries, Fuller hasn't had an 1,000-yard season. The risk with Fuller is mitigated somewhat by it being just a one-year deal. The second worry is that Fuller was suspended in 2020 for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances, and he'll have to serve the final game of that suspension in Week 1. He has to prove that was a one-time mistake. His skills and potential are tantalizing, but there is some downside.
Jacoby Brissett, QB
What it means: The Dolphins have a new backup QB and a good one in Brissett, who has started 32 games in his five-year career. Tua Tagovailoa is the Dolphins' starter, something the team has reiterated multiple times this offseason, but Brissett provides significant value as a potential mentor for the young QB who can also win a game if something happens to Tagovailoa. Brissett can also be a short-yardage and goal-line runner, a role he filled with the Colts. With Ryan Fitzpatrick leaving to be the starter for the Washington Football Team, the Dolphins had to put resources into a strong backup QB.
What's the risk: Brissett is getting good guaranteed money for the role, so the only risk is if he never sees the field and the money doesn't go to good use. One never knows good insurance will be needed. Fitzpatrick was perhaps the most beloved guy in Miami's locker room, so it's a tough task to fill his shoes, but early reviews are Brissett should be a good addition on and off the field.
Matt Skura, C
What it means: The Dolphins have a new starting center ... for now. This isn't the big upgrade move some were hoping for with Corey Linsley (now with the Chargers) and David Andrews available, but it falls in line with many of the Dolphins' moves this free agency in adding value. Skura has been the Ravens' starting center for much of the past four seasons, but lost his job in November because of poor snapping. He's tough, physical and ranked fourth in ESPN's pass block win rate, so there is upside if he can figure out the snapping issues.
What's the risk: Skura doesn't appear to be a long-term answer and it's unclear if he will be an upgrade over 2020 starter Ted Karras. It's never a good sign when a center has a snapping issue. With Andrews available, it's certainly a risk for Miami to go with a cheaper, less certain option. This is a position that still needs to be upgraded, and it's ideal Miami has four picks in the top-50 of the 2020 draft because that means it could still draft his replacement.
Justin Coleman, CB
The former Detroit Lions cornerback has signed a one-year deal with the Dolphins.
What it means: The Dolphins continue to add depth and competition for value prices. Coleman comes in to compete for the starting slot cornerback role, a spot filled by Nik Needham last season with up-and-down results. Coleman was considered one of the NFL's best slot cornerbacks two years ago when he signed a big deal with Detroit, but he didn't work well in the Lions' system. He reunites with Flores, who was his secondary coach in New England from 2015 to 2016.
What's the risk: Cornerback is the Dolphins' deepest position group with two highly paid starters in Xavien Howard and Byron Jones, coupled with 2020 first-round pick Noah Igbinoghene, so it's worth wondering if the money could be better allocated. It would be a disappointment if Igbinoghene isn't able to fill the No. 3 and slot cornerback role given the resources spent on him. Coleman did not play well last season, so Miami is counting on a bounce back year.
Adam Butler, DT
What it means: Miami continues to beef up its strong position groups, this time adding depth to a stout defensive line with Butler. It's another former Patriot who played with Flores in New England -- so familiarity remains a common theme during this free-agency period. Butler should replace Davon Godchaux, who left for a bigger deal with the Patriots, as a rotational defensive tackle who has some pass-rush ability and can play multiple positions on the line.
What's the risk: Once again, the Dolphins are spending their dwindling salary-cap space on depth moves instead of impact playmakers. The fact the Patriots preferred to pay more money for Godchaux instead of re-signing Butler is a bit alarming, but Flores does have familiarity with Butler, who provides more pass rush ability.
Robert Foster, WR
The Dolphins have signed the veteran wide receiver to a one-year deal.
What it means: The Dolphins signed a receiver! Foster is in the competing-for-a-roster-spot category more than an immediate offensive solution. He's a speedy receiver who has averaged 20.1 yards per catch in limited opportunities over three NFL seasons. It's another low-level depth signing for Miami, which is looking to add competition, and there's no guarantee Foster makes the final roster with a crowded receiver room. He did play his final season at Alabama with Tagovailoa, so he has a familiar face to throw to in training camp.
What's the risk: Foster wasn't tendered as a restricted free agent by Washington, a team that needs receivers, showing that Miami shouldn't count on him to be a contributor in 2021. It's a tease for Dolphins fans, who are awaiting a big splash signing, that the first receiver addition is a fringe roster candidate who will be playing on his fourth NFL team, but adding competition and depth has been the story of free agency thus far for the Dolphins.
Adam Pankey, OT
The veteran backup returns to the Dolphins on a one-year deal.
What it means: Pankey wasn't tendered as a restricted free agent but was brought back at a lower salary. He will be given a chance to win the same role he had last season as an eighth or ninth offensive linemen. Miami continues to use the first few days of free agency to fill depth roles.
What's the risk: No significant risk here unless Pankey is expected to fill a significant role in the 2021 season. The early look is that he will compete for a roster spot at the back end of the offensive line depth chart. He played as a reserve in four games last season, but headed into Year 5 he's not much of a high-potential prospect.
Malcolm Brown, RB
What it means: The Dolphins added competition for their backup, but they seem even more likely to select a running back in the first two rounds of the draft with Alabama's Najee Harris and North Carolina's Javonte Williams as top options. Brown has been productive as a powerful, versatile rotation back in L.A. and he enters the Dolphins' rotation with Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed. Brown is a good depth addition who can pass block, catch and fill a short-yardage role, which is needed with two smaller backs.
What's the risk: The Dolphins added band-aids at running back with Jordan Howard and Matt Breida last season, and it was a big bust. They can't afford to do that again in 2021. Brown is a good depth addition, but he hasn't topped 420 rushing yards in his six-year career, so this clearly isn't an answer at the position. This puts pressure on Miami to select a clear feature back early in the draft and teams rarely like to be handcuffed into needs heading into the draft.
Miami signed the former Carolina Panthers punter to a one-year deal.
What it means: The Dolphins have a new punter. Palardy takes over the role for Matt Haack, who becomes a free agent after four years in Miami. The Dolphins clearly felt they could upgrade and/or save money at the position with the move. It does leave open the possibility of the Dolphins adding a rookie via the draft or undrafted free agency to compete with Palardy.
What's the risk: Palardy tore his ACL last July and didn't punt during the 2020 season. The injury is the biggest risk here with a little unknown if he will return to the same level of play. Palardy hasn't had great numbers in terms of punting average or net punting average, so it's unclear if this will be a significant upgrade.
Vince Biegel, LB
Biegel agrees to terms on a one-year deal to return to the Dolphins.
What it means: It's a chance for Biegel, 27, to bounce back on a low-risk, prove-it deal after tearing his Achilles in the 2020 offseason. If healthy, Biegel will provide valuable depth as a backup edge rusher and special teams player. Biegel was one of the brightest and most positive influences on a bad 2019 Dolphins team, and now he'll get a chance to be that player on a good 2021 team.
What's the risk: It's always a risk to count on a player coming off a torn Achilles -- one of the most serious injuries in football. It's no guarantee Biegel will return as the same player, but some of that risk is mitigated based on low-end value of the deal, which will require Biegel to earn his roster spot. There's more potential reward here than there is risk.
Cethan Carter, FB
The Dolphins have signed fullback/tight end/special teams player to a three-year deal, a source confirms to ESPN.
What it means: The Dolphins are prioritizing special teams on Day 1 of free agency by adding Carter, who should be a core special teams player in Miami like he was in Cincinnati. He's also a potential versatile offensive depth player, who can play fullback and tight end.
What's the risk: There's not much risk in a low-end signing like this. Three years is a bit hefty, but the guarantees won't be significant. The Dolphins do have established three tight ends who should make the roster in Mike Gesicki, Adam Shaheen and Durham Smythe, so they might be a little heavy at tight end/fullback. Cethan's main value will be on special teams.
Brennan Scarlett, LB
The Dolphins are signing a one-year deal with the former Houston Texans linebacker.
What it means: The Dolphins keep loading up on depth signings as they build the edges of their roster. Scarlett, like the Vince Biegel re-signing, adds a player who likely fills a backup outside linebacker role while playing special teams -- if he makes the roster. It's a bet on familiarity with Scarlett, who becomes the fifth player the Dolphins have acquired this week from the Texans or Patriots, both of whom have run similar defensive schemes.
What's the risk: None of the Dolphins' moves so far have significantly addressed their pass-rush issues, and Scarlett likely won't either. He has a career-high of 3 1/2 sacks in his five NFL seasons and no sacks in 11 games (four starts) last season. Unless a major signing is still coming, Miami seems set on waiting until the draft to make a big move toward upgrading the pass rush.
Mack Hollins, WR
The Dolphins announce they have re-signed the wide receiver and special-teams gunner.
What it means: It's the return of the Mack! The Dolphins continue their pursuit of adding free-agency depth by re-signing Hollins, who was one of the team's top special teams players last season as a gunner. He's a reserve wide receiver who caught Ryan Fitzpatrick's no-look heave that led to the wild win against the Raiders in 2020. With more receiver help coming in draft, Hollins' roster spot likely isn't guaranteed but competition is the theme here.
What's the risk: Not much. This deal won't be for much money, and the Dolphins always prioritize special teams. Hollins' most important value comes on special teams, but he was a good, fun personality for the locker room, too.
Duke Riley, LB
The Dolphins are signing a one-year deal with the former Philadelphia Eagles linebacker.
What it means: Another candidate to fill a backup linebacker role, a room that needed to be replenished after losing Kamu Grugier-Hill and potentially Elandon Roberts in free agency. Riley was a special-teams captain in Philadelphia, and he will likely play a significant role there. On defense, he specializes in coverage, so he could be a candidate to fill Grugier-Hill's snaps. He started eight games (13 played) for the Eagles last season, notching 55 tackles and an interception.
What's the risk: Not much downside here on a small contract, though it's worth wondering if some of these spots could have been filled by rookies. Riley is a proven special-teams player, but the Dolphins could still use more high-end upgrades on the front seven, particularly at pass-rusher.
Elandon Roberts, LB
The Dolphins have re-signed the linebacker to a one-year deal.
What it means: The Dolphins return a fan favorite in Roberts, who has a lot of old-school linebacker in him with physicality, aggressiveness and run-stuffing ability. He started 11 games in 2020 in that role, but likely returns this season as a reserve who can add important depth while playing special teams.
What's the risk: Roberts suffered a significant knee injury in Week 16 that will likely hold him out of most, if not all, of offseason workouts. There's no guarantee he will return for Week 1 at this point, so he should be looked at as more of a bonus re-signing rather than a player Miami knows it will count on. Roberts' most impactful contribution might come in the second half of the season.