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Where (if anywhere) the Miami franchise tag belongs

Monday was the first day NFL teams could designate any of their own unrestricted free agents with the Franchise tag. The Dolphins did not use the tag Monday but perhaps they might use it in coming days or weeks.

And whom the Dolphins might opt to use the Franchise tag on (if anyone) is up for debate, depending on what media outlet you subscribe to. If you subscribe to the Salguero media outlet, you don't know whether the Dolphins will use the tag or not.

But you know for certain it will not be on cornerback Sean Smith.

I've said it. Repeated it. Yelled it from the highest mountains multiple times even as other outfits are saying otherwise. Again, one last time, the Dolphins do not currently plan to use the franchise tag on Sean Smith.

Having said that, there are other options:

Jake Long.

Randy Starks.

Brian Hartline.

Reggie Bush.

Chris Clemons.

Okay, so there are options but only one or two are even within the realm of logic and only one seems financially feasible.

It's not Brian Hartline. Why pay him $10.3 million guaranteed for one year when you can get him right now for $18 million over three years and maybe less? It's not Reggie Bush. The Dolphins are in take-it-or-leave-it mode with Bush. He'll be able to sign with Miami at a bargain or test the market -- up to him.

Chris Clemons, meanwhile, would be cheaper to get in a multi-year deal but if not, the draft has plenty of good safeties.

Jake Long? How many times do we have to go over this? The Dolphins want him. And he wants to play for Miami. But he also wants a truckload of cash while the Dolphins want to minimize the risk of paying him big money and getting an injury-prone, diminishing player in return. Yes, that is the reason signing him to a one-year deal is borderline logical. It keeps him in Miami's uniform. It does not create another need for the team.

But it costs. Tag rules say a player must pay the average of the top 10 salaries at a position or 120 percent of the player's final contract year salary, whichever is higher. For Long that means 120 percent of $12.8 million cap number from 2012. That means Miami would have to commit $15.36 million to Long and knock that amount off its salary cap space.

The Dolphins can afford it. They have more salary cap space saved for the start of the 2013 league year than every NFL team save the Bengals and Cleveland Browns. (Wow, that's an amazing sentence to write.)

The Dolphins have approximately $44.9 million, barring signing of their own free agents.

But are the Dolphins willing to use around 29 percent of the cap space they've worked to save on Jake Long? In a year offensive tackles are plentiful in the draft and free agency? That would be a hard pill to swallow. And what if that glut of talent on the market drives the price down on Long? It's a good bet the team might want to take.

That brings us to Starks. He would cost the Dolphins approximately $8.3 million to franchise. Yes, that is also a steep, steep number. But consider that Miami tagged Paul Soliai two years ago for $12 million and it seems like something of a bargain.

Starks is a more complete player than Soliai and more decorated because he's been to the Pro Bowl two of the last three years and at two different positions. He's not a player the Dolphins should want to lose.

But when you consider Starks wants around $8-$10 million per year on a long-term deal, paying the low end of that for one year seems plausible when you also consider everything.

What are the considerations? Well, Starks did fade at the end of the season. It was probably partically due to the fact he missed multiple weeks of practice and was troubled personally by the passing of a loved one, but there's no surety in that. It could also be something else. Starks also will be 30 this coming season. That's around the time some interior line players start to fight injuries.

So if the Dolphins are unsure about Starks' age, if they are worried about his late-season drop in productivity but are also concerned about losing a valuable player to free agency and adding another item to their list of needs, then they might have to seriously consider the franchise tag.

The tag keeps Starks in Miami. It is used on a good player. It is used to protect the team against losing a player but also against committing too long a contract to that player.

Things to consider.

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