MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — In 2023, the Miami Dolphins spent more on the cornerback position than any team in the NFL.
The total? A whopping $58.8 million, per Over The Cap.
And yet the corners with the most and fourth-most playing time during the regular season were an oft-exposed nickelback who went undrafted in 2022 and a failed former first-round pick who didn’t have a job until Jalen Ramsey got hurt in training camp.
It’s easy to pick on those players — Kader Kohou and Eli Apple, who logged 938 and 547 defensive snaps, respectively.
But the truth is, their shortcomings were more a reflection of a high-risk, high-reward plan that went awry.
A Look Back at the Miami Dolphins’ 2023 Cornerbacks
The plan for this fall, as you might remember, was for Xavien Howard and Jalen Ramsey to lock down the perimeter and Kohou play the slot, with rookie Cam Smith ready to step in if needed.
Fast forward nine months, and Kohou was the only one of those four to play more than 70% of Miami’s defensive snaps.
Ramsey and Howard both missed significant time with injuries — Ramsey early in the year, Howard late.
And yet Smith, the second-round pick from April, couldn’t sniff the field, buried in Vic Fangio’s doghouse because the rookie, in Fangio’s words, needed to get better at “assignment, technique, execution, know-how.”
So, as the Dolphins enter an offseason of uncertainty — most specifically, involving Howard’s future — they might have to use a high draft pick on the position yet again.
Smith spoke to reporters Monday, two days after the team’s playoff loss to the Chiefs — a game for which he didn’t even dress.
Smith acknowledged that he didn’t love his role in 2023 but didn’t rip Fangio’s decision to put him in mothballs.
“[The message was] just kind of making sure that I stayed the course,” Smith said. “In the end, I feel like it was kind of a good thing for me just making sure that I stayed down and kind of learned from everybody that was around me.
“I had some of the best vets in the world in front of me. So just kind of learning from them, picking their brain every day. It was just kind of best for me. But at the same time, I was frustrated; I was not feeling the whole situation at first, but in the end, I feel like it worked out great for me.”
Not to be argumentative, but that’s not the full story.
Here’s what’s missing:
Smith couldn’t even beat out undrafted rookie Ethan Bonner for playing time. Bonner was active in the Wild Card Round instead of Smith and even had productive snaps on defense when Apple left the game briefly due to injury.
Speaking of Apple, he’s the one Dolphins cornerback whose play exceeded his paycheck in 2023, even if that isn’t saying much.
Apple signed for a hair over the minimum back in the summer, and while he had his ups and downs, his passer rating against (91.4) was better than that of Kohou (131) and fellow starting DBs DeShon Elliott (140.8) and Jevon Holland (99.3).
“I think I showed a lot of good things,” Apple said. “Of course, I’m confident in my abilities and always gonna continue to work to be the best athlete and be the best player that I can be and contribute wherever I can. So, I think I showed that for the most part.”
While Apple, as of Monday, hadn’t spoken to the Dolphins about a possible return in 2024, they could do a lot worse for a No. 4 or 5 cornerback.