The NFL's franchise tag window is open; what that means for Dolphins, Christian Wilkins

David Furones, South Florida Sun-Sentinel on

Published in Football

The NFL’s window for teams to designate players for the franchise tag began Tuesday, and for the Miami Dolphins, that decision primarily revolves around defensive tackle Christian Wilkins.

NFL teams have until 4 p.m. March 5 to place one of two types of franchise tags or the transition tag on a player. Miami has several players from last season’s team as impending free agents, but Wilkins would be the top candidate to be tagged.

Wilkins, 28, went to the negotiating table with the Dolphins last training camp as he was set to play the 2023 season under the fifth-year option of his rookie contract. With the two sides unable to reach an agreement, he played out the year at the $10.75 million figure, and now he’s bound for a much larger payday as he hits free agency for the first time in his career.

Wilkins, a foundational piece to the Dolphins’ last rebuild as their first-round pick in the 2019 draft, has been a steady, reliable run defender up front in five seasons, and in 2023, he added the interior pass rush to his game. Collecting nine sacks last season, which doubled his previous career high, it only makes him a more expensive piece now than he was last offseason.

“He bet on himself after a summer of negotiations where we made a couple offers and one we felt very good about, was fair — and he and his representation said as much — but we couldn’t close that gap at the end,” Dolphins general manager Chris Grier said at an end-of-season news conference in January.

“So he bet on himself, and it paid off for him. I’m very happy for him. So we’ll stay in communication and see where this ends up, but he earned the right to be a free agent. Again, I’m happy for him. We drafted him here, developed him here, and he’s the type of person we’re looking for. So we’ll see what happens.”

Ideally, if the Dolphins bring back Wilkins before his services are available on the open market in free agency in mid-March, it’s on a long-term contract at a reasonable price early in the duration of the deal. That way, Miami can still find room to operate as it must get out from a projected $52 million over the 2024 salary cap.

But if an agreement cannot immediately be reached, the Dolphins don’t have to allow other teams to get their shot at Wilkins. Placing him on a franchise tag, which essentially keeps him on board for one high-priced season, is a team decision, and once tagged, Miami and Wilkins can still negotiate an extension.

There are three tender options: non-exclusive franchise tag, exclusive franchise tag and transition tag.


The non-exclusive franchise tag is most common. The figure that the player is paid for the season is the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position over the past five years. The tagged player can negotiate with other teams, but his current team has the right to match any offer or receive two first-round draft picks as compensation if he signs with another club. That’s a high price to pay, on top of offering the player a lucrative contract.

The exclusive tag is valued higher — the top five salaries at the player’s position for the current year instead of past five years — but outside teams cannot negotiate with the player. The exclusivity raises the pay.

The transition tag is lower as it’s the average of the top five salaries at the position over the past 10 years. The original team can still match an offer sheet, but there is no compensation to that tagging team for losing the player.

Tagging Wilkins likely comes out to a figure just north of $20 million in 2024. It’s burdensome for a Dolphins team that’s already projected to be $52 million over the salary cap as things presently stand. The average annual value of a long-term contract Wilkins is probably requesting is also probably a tad more than $20 million.

The Dolphins defense is undergoing a mild makeover under new defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver, but the new coach, a former NFL defensive lineman himself and, most recently, Baltimore Ravens defensive line coach, certainly wants Wilkins on his unit.

“I love coaching good players, and obviously he is one of them,” Weaver said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. I know that he’s positioned himself, obviously, for a huge payday, and as an ex-player, I completely understand the business of the league. I love Christian and would love to have him, but man, we’ll see.”

Wilkins sat out team portions of last August’s training camp while demanding a new deal before he ultimately put the negotiations on the backburner to play out the 2023 season.

The Dolphins last used the franchise tag in 2022 on tight end Mike Gesicki, and before that in 2018 on wide receiver Jarvis Landry, before trading him.

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