The Dolphins won’t go into free agency with a glaring hole at the most important position on defense.
Andre Branch is coming back in 2017.
Branch, just over 24 hours before he was set to reach the open market, agreed to a long-term contract to remain in Miami.
NFL Network first reported the deal — and the terms: three years, as much as $27 million.
That’s a hefty raise over 2016, when he signed a one-year, $2.7-million deal with Miami.
But the Dolphins probably didn’t have much of a choice.
Had Branch left, the Dolphins would have been in a world of hurt at edge rusher. The best options — Chandler Jones, Jason Pierre-Paul, Melvin Ingram — were all retained by their own teams.
Now, the Dolphins can add a journeyman in free agency and draft on in the top three rounds and be comfortable entering the season. The draft is rich at the position.
Branch had his best professional year at the best possible time. He had a career-high 49 tackles and tallied 5.5 sacks, beating out Mario Williams for a playing time.
Last year, Williams was the high-priced signing in the offseason. Now, it’s Branch.
He hinted at the move on Twitter just hour before news broke, and then confirmed it later.
“We just getting started. The new Miami #FinsUp,” he wrote.
The Dolphins need help, much more of it, on defense. They ranked 30th in run defense in 2016 (allowing a staggering 140.4 yards per game) and were tied for last in yards per carry allowed (4.8).
When asked at the NFL Scouting Combine last week how the Dolphins were going to fix that, Adam Gase replied:
“I’d like to say up front but we’ve got a pretty good front. So we’ve got to make sure we do a good job with our linebackers. We’ve got to make sure that we’ve got our safeties healthy and those guys have got to be huge contributors to what we’re going to do. We’ve got to get some more guys to help [LB] Kiko (Alonso) out. We’ve got to keep him healthy. I think that front four is pretty good as far as what we have right now.”
It got even better on Wednesday.