Miami Dolphins S T.J. McDonald aiming for big free agency in 2018

T.J. McDonald has big incentive to play well this year. (Getty Images)

DAVIE—The Dolphins had a lot of reasons to go after safety T.J. McDonald in free agency, despite knowing all along he’d be suspended for the first eight games of the season.

They needed more depth at the position, even if they’d have to wait until at least Week 9 to get it. McDonald is still a starting-caliber safety, and the team just lost one in Isa Abdul-Quddus. And they got him at the negligible price of $1.3 million for one season.

But here’s the strongest basis for Miami’s belief in McDonald: He wants to cash in next year. At 26, he would’ve been a coveted free agent if the DUI-related suspension wasn’t hanging over his head, and this is his chance to put himself in position for a big payday next spring.

“I’ve been a four-year starter in this league and going into my fifth year, this is unfortunate, but for me I’m confident in my ability on the football field,” McDonald said after today’s Organized Team Activity practice. “That’s something I have to reestablish. I understand that. I’m willing to put that confidence in myself to go out there and do what I do for this year and see where it takes me from there.”

In four seasons with the Rams, he totaled four interceptions, 18 pass break-ups and 281 tackles in 53 starts.

McDonald has been with the team throughout OTAs and is allowed to practice and play during the preseason. His eight-game suspension takes effect the Saturday before the opener and lasts through Miami’s Week 8 game at Baltimore. That’s a Thursday night kickoff, which would give him a few extra days to transition back to the active roster before he’s eligible to play the following week.

The way he uses the time between now and then will be a big factor in asserting himself as a desirable free agent. The Dolphins plan to get him a full slate of reps in the offseason and preseason, according to coach Adam Gase.

Once the suspension kicks in, McDonald is not allowed to practice, travel with the team or talk to the media. He can, however, use the facility for training purposes and any team attend meetings and film sessions.

“I still will be able to work out and stay in good shape and stay on top of the film and make sure I don’t fall off in that aspect,” McDonald said. “All the fine details, we’ll see how all that goes. I’ve got a little bit more time to figure all that out. I’m figuring that out now, talking with the coaches, talking with Coach Gase, and we’ll definitely have a plan in place for me to make sure I stay on top of the game mentally and physically.”

While McDonald is viewed as one of the better safeties in the league, he could be way behind by the time he’s cleared to come back. Veteran Nate Allen is the likely starter going into the season and has a chance to impress the staff over the first eight games.

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