Will the Miami Dolphins re-sign all of their core special teams free agents?

Miami Dolphins safety Walt Aikens celebrates after Miami’s win in Atlanta. He’s a core special team contributor. And he’s also a free agent.

DAVIE — Walt Aikens has one tackle on defense for the Miami Dolphins this season.

But anyone who has studied the film of Miami’s special teams would notice #35 all over the field, on every unit.

After four seasons with Miami, Aikens has emerged as a core special teamer. But he’s one of four pending unrestricted free agents who the Dolphins can also describe that way, including Michael Thomas, Damien Williams and Terrence Fede.

So, who does special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi pound the table for? How much money can Miami afford to invest to keep, especially players like Aikens and Thomas, whose most important value is on special teams?

“Overall, you’re seeing more and more teams keeping special teams core players,” Dolphins special teams coach Darren Rizzi said Thursday. “You look at our division, alone. If you look at the Patriots, you look at us, you look at the Bills, you look at the Jets, there’s going to be four to five players on the roster that probably aren’t going to play a whole lot of offense or defense, if any, and they’re going to be core special teamers.”

Williams has also been a key contributor on offense, so that decision would figure to be more costly.

But putting the right price on a player like Thomas, who has been Miami’s special teams captain, and one of the very best special teamers in the NFL for several years, is not easy.

It will only take one other team to believe he’s worthy of long-term deal in excess of the $1.8 million he made this year, and Thomas could be gone. Aikens, who made $794,000 this year, would come in at a lower price.

“I think the world of all four of those people, so obviously that’s more of a question for next week as we start to evaluate,” Rizzi said. “I think that all of those guys have been very productive in their own way this year and other years.”

Rizzi’s research indicates each NFL team keeps or adds about four or five players they consider special teams dynamos. Even if they are not penciled into to play offensive or defensive downs, their contributions are essential.

Aikens told Hal Habib of the Daily Dolphin: “My film is my resume. I feel like I put enough good stuff out there on film to have a job next year. I love Miami. I got drafted here. This is my first home in the NFL. Hopefully it’s my last. I’d love to be here, for sure, but we’ll see how everything goes.”

Rizzi recalled several special teams players that he really fought hard to keep on the roster.

“Marlon Moore, Patrick Cobbs, Jason Trusnik,” Rizzi recalled. “Whether or not they were going to play on offense or defense at that point, I thought, was a little bit irrelevant.”

Of course, no player can or should keep all of their free agents. If one or more of these players depart, Rizzi believes it’s his most important job to groom the special teams skills of youngsters such as Senorise Perry, De’Veon Smith, Chase Allen, Torry McTyer and Maurice Smith.

“I think that’s probably the most important job of a special teams coach,” Rizzi said. “I really do. I believe developing young players that come into your building into special teams core players, especially at those positions – defensive back, linebacker, running back, wide receiver – developing those young players that haven’t done it before, I don’t know if there’s a more important job for a special teams coach.”

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