2017 NFL free agents: Dolphins working to keep Andre Branch

Branch was the Dolphins' best pass rusher other than Cameron Wake. (Getty Images)

Branch was the Dolphins’ best pass rusher other than Cameron Wake. (Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS–Defensive end Andre Branch seems to be hitting his prime, and the Dolphins want in on that.

Branch had the best season of his career last year, teaming up with Cameron Wake, and had great timing for that breakout given that he’s about to become an unrestricted free agent. Branch, 27, started a career-high 11 games and was second on the team with 5.5 sacks. Pro Football Focus rated him the 70th-best defensive end in the league. Beyond his on-field contributions, Branch was a key figure in the Dolphins’ locker room.

“We’ve been in communication with his agent (CAA’s Jimmy Sexton) and we’ve been talking back and forth,” Miami general manager Chris Grier said. “He just wanted to see where the market is, the agent does, so we’re just dealing with it right now. We want Andre back. He did a nice job for us. Hopefully we get something done.”

Grier didn’t answer either way, but it seems to be a near-certainty that the team won’t have a deal in place with Branch before free agency negotiations open Tuesday.

Branch is going into his sixth season and has yet to land a big contract, so it’d be logical to get every dollar he can this year. Spotrac estimates his career earnings at $7.8 million, including a peak income of $2.8 million for Miami last season. Money is usually the deciding factor, but Branch said in January he hopes to stay with the Dolphins.

“It’s probably the most fun season I’ve had in the NFL,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of brothers now that I didn’t have last year. I’m gonna cherish this moment. The brotherhood and camaraderie we had–there’s something there that you don’t run across too much. It felt like family. That’s what (Adam) Gase has brought here. That’s his culture. I hadn’t experienced that before.”

[Dolphins say they’re done being big spenders in free agency]

[Inside the Dolphins: Three good stories from Chris Grier reveal how they make their picks & why this time of year matters so much]

[Linebacker Koa Misi might actually be a factor this season]

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