The Earl Mitchell free agency tour began Monday, as the ex-Dolphins defensive tackle was in Seattle to meet with the Seahawks.
Mitchell, cut last week with one year left on his contract, is a man in demand this week.
If he leaves the Pacific Northwest without a deal, Mitchell has many other options. He has at least three more visits scheduled in the coming days.
The move leaves the Dolphins with a hole at defensive tackle.
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At the very least, they now need a top backup/rotational player at the position, and probably should be looking for a starter. Jordan Phillips has shown flashes in his first two years, but has just 2.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss in his career. He was the 56th-best interior defensive lineman in the league last year, according to Pro Football Focus.
Are the Dolphins counting on Phillips to make a leap forward in Year 3 and become a full-time player? Time will tell.
Also unclear: How much the Dolphins are willing to spend on the position. Defensive end, linebacker and guard seem like more pressing needs, but Miami will have tens of millions in availabile cap space to spend.
Plus, the team could simply wait until free agency and address the position then.
But if the Dolphins are indeed buyers at defensive tackle, here are some options:
▪ Calais Campbell, Arizona Cardinals: Campbell is a hybrid who can play both inside and out on the defensive line. Dolphins coach Adam Gase sang his praises in December even after a low hit essentially ended Ryan Tannehill’s season.
Even at age 30, Campbell won’t be cheap; he might be the most coveted defensive lineman available this year. He’s a stud. Campbell’s 12 tackles for loss in 2016 were tied for 23rd in the league, despite playing a lot of 3-techinique.
▪ Kawann Short, Carolina Panthers: Another elite trench player who simply might be too costly for the Dolphins, who have already allocated $19 million in cap space to Ndamukong Suh in 2017. The Dolphins are probably loathe to write another massive check at the position — or any position, for that matter.
They simply don’t see themselves as one player away from the Super Bowl, and are looking to build depth this year. It’s hard to do that if a sixth of your salary cap is wrapped up in two players who play the same position. It might be a moot point, anyway. The Panthers will probably use the franchise tag on Short, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said recently.
▪ Brandon Williams, Baltimore Ravens: The birds from Baltimore had one of the league’s stingiest defenses last year, and Williams was a big reason why — literally and figuratively.
Williams, who weighs in at 335, was the league’s No. 25 interior defender against the rush, and would help sure up a Dolphins defense that ranked 30th against the run last year (140.4 yards per game). Williams isn’t an elite pass rusher, so that’ll put a cap on his earning potential — which could make him appealing to the Dolphins.
▪ Dontari Poe, Kansas City Chiefs: This could be a player whose name is bigger than his recent production. Poe had one — yes, one — tackle for loss in 2016, and Pro Football Focus ranked him 59th among all interior defenders.
Plus, he wasn’t particularly strong against the run. Still, don’t count out Poe-to-Miami for this simple reason: He’s represented by Jimmy Sexton, who’s tight with Mike Tannenbaum and who also reps Gase, Suh and Laremy Tunsil.
▪ Nick Fairley, New Orleans Saints: The Dolphins have been trying to recreate the Lions 2014 defense for some time now. They’ve got Suh, obviously. They signed C.J. Mosley in 2015. And they hired Jim Washburn, who was Detroit’s assistant defensive line coach in 2014, a year ago.
Mosley and Washburn are both retired now, and the Dolphins haven’t yet found the answer on defense. Maybe it’s Fairley, who spent his first four years in Detroit before stops in St. Lous and New Orleans. The Dolphins probably could get him for the one-year, $3 million contract he signed with the Saints in 2016.