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How the Miami Dolphins are positioned for another free agency splash in 2021 offseason

Stephen Ross had one significant frustration during first decade as the Miami Dolphins owner — and, no, we’re not talking about the lack of winning seasons.

We’re talking about restrictions on spending money.

We’re talking about the NFL’s salary cap.

Ross, a billionaire many times over, has often said if the NFL had no salary cap, the Dolphins would be the best team money could buy.

“It’s tougher, as I’ve always said, to win in the National Football League than it is in business because of the rules the league has in place on spending with the salary cap,” Ross has said many times.

“If there weren’t a salary cap, our team would look a lot different.”

On other occasions he has told reporters not to worry about the Dolphins being unable to spend money on players or facilities or anything else necessary to help the cause of winning.

“The money won’t be a restriction, if that’s what you’re asking,” he has said.

Well, Ross has put his money where his mouth this offseason as the Dolphins lead the NFL in free agency spending at approximately $250.8 million in new contracts that includes approximately $150 million in guaranteed money.

And the amazing thing is next year the team can come close to doing it again.

The expected dramatic spike in next year’s NFL salary cap has left the Dolphins in the enviable position of not only building the roster through free agency and the use of 14 draft picks this offseason, but being in position for something of a repeat next offseason.

The Dolphins, you see, are currently scheduled to enjoy between $60 million to $79 million in salary cap space next year, depending on where the NFL sets its 2021 salary cap — with the bottom of that estimate ranging in the $215 million range.

The NFL cap this season is $198,200,000.

Salary cap experts say the league’s cap in 2021 will likely rise significantly based on the likelihood television contracts, many of which are slated for renewal, will spike as networks compete for the NFL’s always popular product.

One report even had the 2021 cap potentially rising to $240 million, although this estimate seems high.

The ample anticipated cap room next spring will happen in spite of the fact several of Miami’s top free agent pickups this month will see a rise in their cap hits in their second year with the team.

Linebacker Kyle Van Noy’s cap hit will go from $6.05 million this season to $15.5 million in 2021. Offensive guard Erik Flowers’ cap number will jump from $5 million to $12 million, while cornerback Bryon Jones’ number will rise from $14 million to $17 million.

The Dolphins’ 18 highest 2021 cap hits (plus Michael Deiter, who’s 20th on the list, one behind Kalen Ballage) is scheduled to account for $131.4 million in 2021 cap space.

That group includes Van Noy, Flowers, Jones, Xavien Howard ($13.5 million 2021 cap hit), DeVante Parker ($11 million), Shaq Lawson ($9.3 million), Emmanuel Ogbadh ($7.5 million), Bobby McCain ($7.1 million), Eric Rowe ($5.1 million), Jordan Howard ($5 million), Jakeem Grant ($4.7 million), Jesse Davis ($4.6 million), Christian Wilkins ($4.2 million), Allen Hurns ($3.6 million), Josh Rosen ($3 million), Clayton Fejedelem ($3 million), Jerome Baker and Durham Smythe ($1.1 million apiece) and Dieter at $1 million.

What helps with next year’s cap is several key contributors are still on low-money rookie deals, including Wilkins, Baker and Preston Williams ($853,000).

The Dolphins must decide in the months ahead to extend potential 2021 free agents Davon Godchaux and Raekwon McMillan. Either would take up some of the $60 million to $79 million in expected ‘21 space.

Agent Drew Rosenhaus, who represents Godchaux, recently tweeted the player, telling him “You’re next.”

But the bottom line is this: Because of the spike in the salary cap, the Dolphins will still have ways to upgrade the team again next spring — with nine draft picks (including two in the first round and two in the second) and another treasure chest of cap space.

And, yes, Ross will likely be willing to spend.

As he always has been.

This story was originally published March 25, 2020 10:04 PM.

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