Miami Herald

Fins’ inside linebacker­s were good, but could changes be coming up?

- BY DANIEL OYEFUSI doyefusi@miamiheral­

The Dolphins got effective play from their inside linebacker duo in the 2023 season. But as Miami looks to take another step and be competitiv­e with the AFC’s elite, could the team look for an upgrade at the position this offseason?

In the seventh of a series of position reviews, the Miami Herald examines the team’s inside linebacker situation. Next up is outside linebacker.


In the last offseason, the Dolphins signed David Long Jr. to an inexpensiv­e deal, pairing him with Jerome Baker to form one of the fastest inside linebacker tandems in the NFL.

Long got off to a bit of a slow start in former defensive coordinato­r Vic Fangio’s scheme, but once he got comfortabl­e he was one of the league’s best run defenders. Baker continued to fill his role as the team’s play caller on the field, but injuries sidelined him for five games, including the loss to Kansas City in the wildcard round.


Jerome Baker: For the first time in his career, he missed extended time due to injury. An

MCL sprain sidelined him for four games late in the season and then he dislocated a bone in his wrist in the regularsea­son finale, which kept him out of playoffs. Baker appeared in 13 games, recording 78 tackles and 11⁄2 sacks.

Baker, who turns 28 in December, is entering the final year of a three-year extension he signed in 2021. He has a cap hit of $14,794,111, the eighth largest on the team, but none of his $10,768,000 base salary is guaranteed.

David Long Jr.: It took some time for him to get adjusted to a new scheme, but he graded out as one of the league’s best run defenders. Long, who arrived in Miami with durability questions after four seasons with the Tennessee Titans, played in every game for the first time in his career and recorded a career-high

113 tackles.

Long, who turns 28 in October,

Jerome Baker

is entering the final year of a two-year deal he signed in 2023. He has a cap hit of $6,710,000.

Duke Riley: He appeared in every game and started six because of Baker’s injury. Riley recorded 42 tackles and a half sack.

Riley, who turns 30 in August, is entering the final year of a two-year deal he signed in 2023. He has a cap hit of $3,085,000 but none of his $2,250,000 base salary is guaranteed.

Channing Tindall: He appeared in every game but played almost solely on special teams. He had 12 defensive snaps and eight tackles.

Tindall, who turns 24 in March, is entering the third year of his four-year rookie contract. He has a cap hit of $1,375,883, but none of his $1,163,628 base salary is guaranteed.

Calvin Munson: The Dolphins signed Munson off the New England practice squad in December for his fourth stint with the team. He appeared in five games in Miami, mainly on special teams, and recorded one tackle. Munson, who turns 30 in December, is an unrestrict­ed free agent.


1. How does Miami handle Baker’s contract?

Since the Dolphins selected Baker in the third round of the 2018 draft, he has been a consistent presence in the middle of the defense. But he has no more guaranteed money remaining on his three-year extension, which has prompted some questions about his future in Miami, especially with the Dolphins projected to be $50 million over the cap.

Miami would save $9 million by cutting Baker, but that would create another hole for the team to fill in the offseason.

A more reasonable solution is for the sides to agree on a restructur­ed deal that lowers his cap hit in 2024 and allows Baker to receive some new guaranteed money.

2. Can the new defensive staff elevate the inside linebacker­s?

Miami’s inside linebacker­s played well in 2023 but struggled in some areas — and maybe weren’t used to their potential in others.

Pass coverage was specifical­ly a facet of the game in which opponents took advantage of the inside linebacker­s. Part of this was due to the high rates of zone coverages the Dolphins played under Fangio, but new defensive coordinato­r Anthony Weaver and his staff have to work on limiting offenses’ effectiven­ess over the middle.

The new staff also could more frequently tap into one of Baker’s greatest skills — blitzing. In 2023, he had just 54 pass-rush snaps in 13 games.

Baker has been at his best when coaches lean into his speed, allowing him to blitz and even playing him as an edge defender in stints. Weaver comes from a Baltimore Ravens defense whose defining trait was its multiplici­ty. Baker could be primed for a bigger role if that carries over to Miami’s defense.

3. Is time running out for Tindall?

In his first two seasons, Tindall has carved out a role as a core special teams player but has yet to make an impact on defense, playing just 21 snaps.

Last year, general manager Chris Grier said he anticipate­d that Tindall’s rookie season would be a developmen­tal year for him, but as he enters his third season, Miami still doesn’t know what it has in the No. 102 overall pick in the 2022 draft.

Tindall acknowledg­ed that it took some time for him to grasp the playbook as a rookie. And it doesn’t help that he’ll be learning his third defensive scheme in as many years. But the Dolphins need young players to step up as they face the fallout of rising cap numbers for their star players. Tindall is among those who need to take on larger roles soon.


The Dolphins likely aren’t in the inside linebacker market unless they part ways with Baker. And although he is the seventh-highest-paid player in the NFL at his position by average annual value, according to Over the Cap, finding a replacemen­t with similar or greater production won’t come cheap.

It’s more likely the Dolphins add players with special teams value as depth, such as the Green Bay Packers’ Kristian Welch or Eric Wilson.

Both primarily played in special teams roles under Joe Barry, the former Green Bay defensive coordinato­r who is now the Dolphins’ inside linebacker­s coach and run game coordinato­r.

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