There’s a persistent drumbeat that makes fantasy analysts go “wow that would be awesome.” It involves the Miami Dolphins shoring up their running back room by signing Aaron Jones to a big free agency deal. People love this because they are tired of the Miami Dolphins’ running back situation. Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed, Matt Breida, and Jordan Howard made for a complicated and overfull running back room in 2020. It’s enticing and sexy to think about the Dolphins sweeping away all that flotsam and jetsam and slamming a stud running back into their place.
But, can the Dolphins do this? Should the Dolphins do this? Let’s take a look at the often-proposed Aaron Jones to the Dolphins marriage. Would it work out for all parties involved?
First, can the Dolphins do this? Per Overthecap, they’re sitting at about $32 million in cap space (following cutting Kyle Van Noy). They also currently have 3.5 running backs under contract (Myles Gaskin, Patrick Laird, Salvon Ahmed, and Lynn Bowden… who accounts for the 0.5 RB). These four players carry a combined $3.33 million cap hit for 2021. In contrast, they paid Jordan Howard $4.75 million guaranteed to play 68 snaps last season. That’s a decent running back room without expending a lot of cash to pay them. But should the Dolphins outlay the huge cash payment to get Aaron Jones?
Let’s see what an Aaron Jones contract probably looks like by looking at other top-of-market contracts. Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry, Alvin Kamara and Ezekiel Elliott signed contracts for an average of 5 years for $69.5 million ($26.1 million guaranteed). That is shockingly close to what I think an Aaron Jones contract looks like. Let’s give him about $15 million guaranteed, and spread the rest of that cash out across the five years of the deal. This gives us an Aaron Jones contract of 13.9 million dollars and a 2021 cap hit of $16.1 million. That’s the price of a top-of-market running back in free agency. Obviously, there’s more in there (workout bonus, roster bonus, etc) that can change this number. But ultimately, I am not a cap guru, or else I’d be in a front office somewhere.
That $16.1 million chews up about half of the Miami Dolphins’ 2021 cap space, leaving them with $15.97 million to sign additional free agents and their rookie class. That’s eminently doable with the cap machinations we see from NFL front offices in this regard.
But, should they? I ran down the current outlay for the RB room; less than Jordan Howard had to be a short-yardage back last year. But, you sort of get what you pay for here, as the Dolphins’ RBs ranked thirteenth in yardage last year, and Jordan Howard’s insane stat lines dragged down their efficiency metrics.
Still, that running back room has some potential; Gaskin played just ten games last year due to an IR stint and a COVID-IR stint, but he averaged 97.2 yards from scrimmage when he played, split pretty evenly between about 58 yards on the ground and about 39 yards through the air, on 14 rush attempts and 4 catches per game. He played well for the Dolphins, there’s no other way to put it. When Ahmed had his chance, it was also wheels up; he was the lead back in weeks 10, 11, and 15 and averaged 97 yards per contest.
With two running backs producing like that, you would think the offensive line played a big part of that. It didn’t; Pro Football Focus ranked them 28 out of 32 offensive lines, thanks to three rookies playing at least 700 snaps, and playing like rookies. In reality, Gaskin escaped the offensive line by turning pretty good pass-catching chops into fantasy gold, ranking first in running back yards per reception and third in catch rate. It’s simply a situation of getting some seasoning and some solid role stabilizing to turn Gaskin and Ahmed into a formidable one-two punch in that backfield.
Ultimately, I don’t think Aaron Jones-to-Miami is in the cards. It just doesn’t make a ton of sense for the Dolphins to suddenly have one of the most expensive running back rooms. Their current crop of backs played very well when given defined roles. Ultimately, I believe Jones will go elsewhere in 2021. He will have his pick of the litter with a ton of teams with a lot of cap space. The Dolphins likely turn to a consolation prize running back in a deep and varied RB free agency field.
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