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Dolphins own free agent priority? Paul Soliai

Much of the unrestricted free agent focus surrounding the Dolphins' own players has centered around the offensive backfield in general and running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams in particular.

I would tell you that is probably not the place the Dolphins should be placing their priority.

I would tell you the priority should be on defense. Right in the middle of all the action. At nose tackle.

Paul Soliai.

Soliai, drafted in 2007, is expected to hit free agency once the players' union and the NFL get their act together and agree on a collective bargaining agreement. He will not re-sign with Miami before a new collective bargaining agreement is reached, according to a league source, because he wants to maximize his earning potential and the 30 percent rule makes it hard to do that until after his current contract expires and he becomes a free agent.

So the Dolphins have "zero," chance of re-signing Soliai before he hits free agency, the source close to the player said Tuesday.

What does that mean?

It means the biggest body on the Miami defensive line, the player who started 14 games at nose tackle for Miami last year, will hit free agency assuming the league does not establish a lull period during which current teams have exclusive rights to negotiate with their own players.

I am told if Soliai hits the open market, it will be a free-for-all. He wants to remain with the Dolphins. But he wants to get paid. And there will be interest because there always is for a 355 pound defensive lineman that has proven he can play.

In talks between the Dolphins and agent David Canter, I am told by my source, the Dolphins are being cautious. Canter could not be reached for comment, but I'll keep trying. He is, after all, a weekly contributor on my radio show Armando and the Amigo.

I can understand why no deal has been reached yet. Soliai played better than he has at any time in his career in 2010 so he wants to be rewarded. The Dolphins are almost certainly guarding themselves against Soliai being a one-year wonder because he's been a reserve his previous three seasons.

Thus we have a gap that needs to be bridged.

Soliai was very good last year, tying Kendall Langford for the lead in solo tackles among defensive linemen with 33. He also led all defensive linemen with eight tackles for losses with eight. Bottom line, when the Dolphins lost defensive end Jared Odrick after the regular-season opener and needed to move Randy Starks from nose tackle back to defensive end, Soliai's play made that possible.

I imagine the Dolphins could retry the Starks at nose tackle experiment, but the bottom line is Soliai was more productive than any starting nose tackle the Dolphins have had under their current administration. So they should do everything possible to keep from losing that kind of talent.

There is also an inherent risk for the Dolphins in being overly cautious with Soliai. Unless they get that lull period, they could risk losing him to another team. And the New York Jets could be in the market for a starting nose tackle.

Just saying.

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