With Andre Branch deal, Miami Dolphins keep word to keep their own

Miami Dolphins defensive end Andre Branch got paid. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)

Andre Branch may never make a Pro Bowl. He may never become an NFL household name.

But Miami Dolphins fans may remember Branch as the first pending unrestricted free agent that the Mike Tannenbaum-Chris Grier-Adam Gase braintrust locked up in the 2017 offseason.

And that’s significant.

Gase has said he hates free agency. One day he feels wide receiver Kenny Stills is gone. The next he feels he might stay.

But the three leaders of the organization’s 2016 turnaround are on the same page about this: the importance of keeping your own.

Branch was a Dolphin for only one season. But Miami saw enough to know they like what he brought to the table opposite Cameron Wake (even at the reported 3 years, $27 million deal) more than most or all of the free agent defensive ends not franchise tagged before they even got a chance to shop.

Miami knows Branch’s strengths. And weaknesses. And they won’t be blindsided by what he says or does when he reports to camp.

Branch has averaged only 3.9 sacks over five seasons. Since putting on aqua and orange he’s recorded only 5.5 sacks (seems like we’ve seen more of his memorable hip thrusts).

According to Pro Football Focus, Branch is the NFL’s 70th-best edge rusher. This placed him 12 spots behind Mario Williams, who did virtually nothing for the Dolphins last season and was released.

This is because PFF says Williams was must stronger against the run. (When Williams actually played, which wasn’t much).

But Branch did record a career-high 49 tackles last season. And Miami went 9-2 down the stretch when Wake and Branch entered the starting lineup.

And what Branch offers extends beyond statistics. He brings constant energy, both on and off the field. The players feed off of that energy. And although Branch is often goofy off the field, he can be nasty, too, on the field, and that’s contagious.

Miami needs to improve its run defense in 2017. And Branch is not a stellar run defender, but competent enough.

The Dolphins will need to add another depth defensive end in free agency. And it seems almost a guarantee Miami will select a defensive end in the first three rounds of April’s NFL Draft.

Frankly, Miami needed to extend itself just a bit further than it likely wanted to, because of the desperate need at the position.

Repeatedly, the Dolphins have spoken about wanting to retain their own. Later Wednesday, Stills agreed to stay with Miami long-term, too.

Stills and Branch’s situations are similar in that both players want to stay and are wanted by the organization.

That’s a breakthrough for the organization. No longer are the Dolphins an attractive free-agent destination only because of the sunshine and lack of state income tax.

The organization is attractive because it posted a 10-win playoff season. And because Gase has instilled a new, positive, player-first, but with accountability, culture.

And as the Branch signing shows, Miami is keeping its word to do all it can to keep its own.

2017 NFL Free Agency: Top defensive ends for Miami Dolphins to consider

Miami Dolphins bringing back four free agents, including two core special teamers

2017 NFL Draft: Should Miami Dolphins consider charismatic S Jabrill Peppers?

NFL Draft 2017: Miami Dolphins must land one of these dynamic pass-rushers

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