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The Miami Dolphins have many big decisions to make this offseason. One of the biggest ones has apparently been made. The team will not be using the franchise tag on star defensive tackle Christian Wilkinsaccording to NFL Media. He's now set to become an unrestricted free agent and test the market. 

Miami must clear $31.6 million in cap space before March 13 while facing a number of key players potentially leaving for free agency.

The 13th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft is the latest Dolphins defender to be looking for a new home. Miami's cuts of four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard and edge rusher Emmanuel Ogbah are projected to save the team over $30 million in cap space. The Dolphins signed Wilkins' running mate on the defensive interior, Zach Sieler, to a three-year, $30.75 million extension last offseason, but the former first-round pick appears to not be getting the same kind of courtesy the former seventh-round selection did.

Wilkins, 28, is hitting the free agent market at the perfect time, after the best year of his five-season career. He nearly matched his career sack total from his first four seasons (11.5) in 2023 with a career-high 9.0. Wilkins was one of six defensive tackles to register at least nine sacks last season joining Pro Bowler Justin Madubike (13.0), All-Pro Chris Jones (10.5), Sieler (10.0), Ed Oliver (9.5) and Kobie Turner (9.0). 

Christian Wilkins career





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With the Dolphins doling out high-dollar deals to wide receiver Tyreek Hill (four years, $120 million), edge rusher Bradley Chubb (five years, $110 million), left tackle Terron Armstead (five years, $75 million) and acquiring cornerback Jalen Ramsey via trade (five years, $100 million, Miami appears to not have room for Wilkins in the budget. That doesn't even factor in the looming extension for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who is entering 2024 on the final year of his rookie deal.

Since Wilkins is most likely headed elsewhere, let's take a look at some potential landing spots for the veteran defensive tackle. 

Chicago Bears

Bears general manager Ryan Poles all but said quarterback Justin Fields is up for grabs via trade at the NFL Combine on Tuesday. With Chicago likely selecting 2022 Heisman Trophy winner and USC quarterback Caleb Williams first overall in the 2024 NFL Draft, the time clock resets contractually for the Bears at the game's most valuable and expensive position. 

That means they have room to spend elsewhere. They enter free agency with $66.6 million in effective cap space, the fourth-most in the entire NFL according to The Bears had the best run defense in the NFL last season, allowing 86.4 rushing yards per game, and Wilkins could enhance that figure as he earned a 71.5 run defense grade via Pro Football Focus, the ninth-best in the NFL among defensive interior linemen to play at least 500 snaps in 2023. Justin Jones, Chicago starting defensive tackle last season, is an unrestricted free agent, but he didn't add much to their pass rush. 

Wilkins could help the Bears remain stout against the run while enhancing their ability to harass quarterbacks, one of Chicago's biggest areas of need. Their team quarterback pressure rate of 31.2% ranked as the third-worst in the NFL in 2023, and their 30 team sacks were the second-fewest in the entire league. 

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts have money to spend, $66.1 million in effective cap space -- the sixth-most in the NFL this offseason per -- as well as a glaring need to improve at stopping the run. Indianapolis surrendered 123.8 rushing yards per game in 2023, ranking 24th out of the league's 32 teams. 

Wilkins is one of the NFL's 10 best run-stuffing defensive tackles, and he could also juice the Colts pass-rush unit that generated a 32.3% quarterback pressure rate, the seventh-lowest figure in the league last season. Having Anthony Richardson entering just his second year of his rookie deal allows the Colts to have the ability to throw some cash around to supplement the rest of their roster, and Wilkins would be a sound investment given the team's needs. 

Las Vegas Raiders

The Antonio Pierce era has begun in Las Vegas, and the former NFL linebacker would certainly like to see better results along his defensive front in 2024. The Raiders ranked 21st in run defense in 2023, allowing 118.5 rushing yards per game. Despite having three-time Pro Bowl edge rusher Maxx Crosby, a one-man wrecking crew, Vegas generated a below average quarterback pressure rate of 35.1%, 18th in the NFL. 

Wilkins could help address both areas.