The Dolphins have a three-year, $27 million deal in place to retain free agent defensive end Andre Branch, NFL Network reported this afternoon.
The exact parameters of the agreement are unknown, but Miami has accomplished one of its main offseason goals. Keeping Branch solidifies a defensive line that features him and Cameron Wake on the outside, plus four-time all-pro tackle Ndamukong Suh in the middle. Jordan Phillips is currently in line for the other defensive tackle spot.
Branch, 27, signed with the Dolphins last year after four underwhelming seasons in Jacksonville. He and Wake took over as starters in Week 6 and totaled 17 sacks.
“We want Andre back,” general manager Chris Grier said last week. “He did a nice job for us. Hopefully we get something done.”
It was Branch’s first time establishing himself as a full-time starter, and he had 5.5 sacks and 49 tackles. He said at the end of the season his inclination was to stay with Miami, but wanted to field outside offers as well.
He played for $2.8 million last season, and Spotrac projected his market value at five years, $36.3 million for a new deal this offseason.
The Dolphins now proceed on two fronts. They need to continue locking up their own free agents that they prioritized coming out of last season and they also must finish filling out their starting defense.
Branch and wide receiver Kenny Stills were the two most significant unrestricted free agents from Miami, and there has been no word on the possibility of Stills re-signing. Both he and the team have been vocal about wanting to work something out, but the Dolphins might not be willing to match what he commands on the open market.
Stills, 24, is a perfect fit in the passing game with Miami receivers Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker. He provided a deep threat in the offense last season and caught a team-high nine touchdown passes, the most of his career. Dolphins coach Adam Gase said last week if the team is unable to keep Stills, he’ll have to retool the offense.
“One day I feel good about it, one day I feel like crap about it,” Gase said of the effort to re-sign Stills. “I hate free agency… Kenny and myself have a very close relationship. The worst thing about the NFL is sometimes that doesn’t matter.”
Defensively, the Dolphins need two starting linebackers and probably a free safety.
They are working on a new contract with restricted free agent Kiko Alonso, who could play inside or outside linebacker. Koa Misi’s future is uncertain because of a neck injury, and the team seems unlikely to bring back unrestricted free agent Jelani Jenkins. Dont’a Hightower is the top linebacker available in free agency, but management has been adamant that will not chase guys who want massive contracts like the ones they gave Ndamukong Suh and Mike Wallace the past few years.
At safety, Pro Bowler Reshad Jones has recovered from his torn rotator cuff and is in talks about an extension. His running mate, Isa Abdul-Quddus, remains in question. Abdul-Quddus suffered a neck/shoulder injury late last season and it remains uncertain whether he’ll play again. That puts Miami in the market for a free safety.
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