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Ronnie Brown's contract plus Sparano's words

It had been widely reported that Ronnie Brown is a free agent after this season, but I kept looking at numbers sent to me by a source that insisted the Dolphins running back had originally signed a six-year and not a five-year contract.

So today I decided to go straight to the source and end the little mystery. And now we have an interesting (at least to me) answer.

It turns out Brown signed a contract that was for five years plus an option year when he was the second-overall selection in the draft in 2005. And according to Brown himself, the option is tied to whether the NFL and players reach a new collective bargaining agreement prior to the 2010 season. Currently, the CBA is scheduled to expire after the 2010 season with that season being an uncapped year.

"The way it works," Brown told me, "is if they reach a new agreement, this is my last season under contract and I become a free agent. If they don't come to an agreement for 2010, I'm under contract to the Dolphins for another year. I have to play another year under the old contract because it becomes a six-year contract."

So if the players' union and the NFL do not reach a new collective bargaining agreement, Brown's option kicks in and he is scheduled to make a $5 million base salary in 2010. Brown is scheduled to make $3.608 million this season.

And once again, if the union and league work out a new CBA, Brown becomes a free agent able to sign with any team he wants, he said. So I asked Brown if he's been keeping abreast of the news of the labor negotiations because the stuff directly impacts his status?

"I haven't thought about it a lot for the most part," Brown said. "I worry more about things I can control. I mean, I'd obviously like to stay here. I like it here. The way I see things is if I continue to care of business, everything else will take care of itself."

Brown's status is unique because he might or might not be in a contract year. That affects talks between his agent and the team -- which obviously are not very heated right now. And it might affect the manner in which some players are motivated.

"A lot of time that's where guys put a lot of pressure on themselves," Brown admitted. "I just want to go out and improve on a daily basis and I think the main goal is to stay healthy for the whole season. If you're healthy and you can go out and improve each week, everything else will take care of itself."

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Today marked the final day before Thursday's nationally telecast preseason game that coach Tony Sparano talked to the local media. 

Sparano said Chad Pennington will start the game against Tampa Bay and play through midway in the third quarter. Backup Chad Henne would play about one-and-a-half quarters to finish the game. The starting offensive line, Sparano said, will play three quarters. Pat White is apparently not scheduled to play.

Sparano confirmed the Dolphins have still not settled on a starting receiver opposite Ted Ginn Jr. "It's still uncertain to me right now," he said. "It's starting to clear up a little more for me, but it will take a little more time."

Well, the clarity is apparently coming from rookie Brian Hartline, who started the Carolina game. Hartline has continued working with the first unit in base offense and with the first unit in the three-wide package that also includes Davone Bess and Ginn.

Sparano said the fourth and fifth receiver on the roster "have to be special teams players." Obviously, Patrick Turner, Brandon London, and Hartline have been playing special teams. Greg Camarillo, by the way, cut his teeth on special teams before earning playing time.

Speaking of special teams, Sparano said you will probably see Bess, Ginn and Hartline returning punts against the Buccaneers. Ginn, Cobbs and perhaps Lex Hilliard will be returning kicks.

Hilliard will work on special teams regardless of whether he returns kicks or not. It is the way he either makes this team or not. So far, Hilliard has carved a roster spot for himself. That can change. But in game one against Jacksonville, Hilliard did a "tremendous job on special teams," according to Sparano. In game two against Carolina, Hilliard "did a nice job. He kind of made a few mistakes but it was a million miles an hour."

Still speaking of Hilliard, Sparano said coaches will "put a bunch on his plate," with the starting special teams units this week so they can see him against Tampa Bay's starting special teams unit. And, of course, Hilliard's likely to get some carries also.

Hilliard is clearly more in than out as far as a roster spot goes. How he plays Thursday determines if he stays that way.  

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