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Sometimes expensive now is cheaper later

Today's pages of the Miami Herald include my first column since returning from vacation. It's about good news and bad news. It's about the Dolphins being lucky and yet unlucky. It's mostly about money.

My column is about the dilemma Paul Soliai will present the team when the lockout ends.

Soliai, you see, is now considered an outstanding and valuable player. No wonder he's Miami's franchise player, a designation that carries with it a $12.476 million guaranteed salary.

That's wonderful because it means somehow Soliai's value has climbed so far that he is no longer the immature kid that was probably on the roster's margins a couple of years back. He's no longer considered a player with big potential that also had brought big disappointment.

Soliai is a starting nose tackle and a behemoth of a man that would get bigtime money in free agency if he were available. I guarantee you if Soliai hit free agency the Washington Redskins would be in line to sign him. I think the Denver Broncos would be also interested because GM Brian Xanders thinks very highly of Soliai.

So the Dolphins move to put the franchise tag on their good player was wise.

But ...

It would have been more wise to simply sign Soliai to a multi-year deal. Like, back in October or November.

So why didn't that happen?

The Dolphins apparently didn't believe their own evaluations. Even as Soliai was playing well once he was thrust into the starting role, the club was apparently wary that it was a mirage. The club was not certain that Soliai's level of performance could last until the end of the season and obviously into 2011 and beyond.

So the club proceeded cautiously in negotiations. Unfortunately for the Dolphins, agents do not proceed cautiously. Soliai's price was rising quickly with each passing week. And the price that hovered around $4 million a year in early November kept rising and rising.

But the Dolphins, perhaps cautious that Soliai was on a contract push and could not be trusted long-term, didn't keep pace with an impressive contract offer that could have enticed the player to sign a long-term deal.

That cautious approach protects the team's interest if the player is indeed a one-year wonder or suddenly falls off the performance table at the end of the year. But Soliai played better as the season progressed. And he rejects the idea he's a one-year wonder. He believes the light bulb has come on and this is the player he'll be going forward, maybe even better.

And now his price tag, the neighborhood of which is mentioned in my column, is seriously expensive. What the Dolphins could have bought at a bargain in October and early November is now up to three times pricier.

The Dolphins allowed Soliai's value to outgain their offers instead of getting even or just ahead of that value. So they had to catch up with a burdensome franchise tag tender that accounts for 10 percent of their salary cap.

And, as the column says, negotiations for a multi-year deal will not be easy.

So is all this hindsight?

Of course it is! As an outsider, that's all I can offer. But the Dolphins should be better than dealing with hindsight. They had their own internal evaluations of Soliai's play. They should have known what they were seeing happen on the field.

If their evaluations were saying Soliai was playing at a very high level, their contract offers should have improved dramatically. If their evaluations were saying Soliai wasn't play at the kind of level his agent was selling, the team should have stuck to its negotiating guns.

It is obvious the former is the correct scenario because, again, the Dolphins felt Soliai was so valuable, they tagged him as their franchise player. So if he was so valuable, why didn't they just get ahead of the process and pay him in November?

He would have been much cheaper to sign then.

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