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2 posts from March 4, 2013

March 04, 2013

Fewer LTs on the market, but solutions still available to Dolphins

The franchise tag deadline has come and gone and two offensive left tackles were designated as practically untouchable by their teams.

Ryan Clady in Denver and Branden Albert in Kansas City are two of the eight players carrying the franchise player tag now.

So both are effectively off the free agent market for teams searching for OT help of any kind and LT help in particular.

That helps Dolphins LT Jake Long.

A market that two weeks ago seemed loaded with potential LTs is thinner now thanks to the franchise designations and the New York Giants wisely locking up LT Will Beatty to a five-year, $38.75 million deal last week.

(Stop for a second and recognize that Beatty, a better player than Long lately, got a deal averaging $7.75 million per year. And Long wants a deal around the $10-11 million per year mark. Hmmm.)

Anyway, that leaves Long, Atlanta's Sam Baker and New Orleans's Jermon Bushrod as the most viable free agent LT prospects -- assuming none re-sign with their current teams before the March 12 start of free agency.

Considering multiple teams, including Arizona, St. Louis and Chicago, might be searching for experienced LTs in free agency, that should help the players that hit the market.

But we are still a long way from believing that free agency will be a boon for Long.

First of all, both Baker and Bushrod had better seasons than Long last year, although it was by a wide margin for Baker and only marginally so for Bushrod. Secondly, the draft is full of solid left tackle prospects.

And then there is this little-recognized fact:

The right tackle market in free agency is loaded with talent. Seriously.

Cincinnati's Andre Smith, New England's Sebastian Vollmer, and Minnesota's Phil Loadholt all enjoyed excellent seasons last year. All will hit free agency barring new deals with their current teams. Smith, I will grant you, comes with a buyer beware tag. Just saying.

The draft also has mutliple viable right tackles that probably aren't suited for LT.

What does that mean?

It means if the Dolphins continue to balk at paying a premium for Long -- a wise move -- they can solve their tackle issues a different way.

They can keep second-year player Jonathan Martin at left tackle and sign one of the above mentioned right tackles as an offensive line upgrade that will come much cheaper than Long. They can draft a left tackle, probably in the first round, and find themselves paying much less for a younger player than what Long is demanding. Or they can move Martin to left tackle and draft a right tackle -- probably in the second or third round -- and let that stand as the cheapest way to address the need.

There is more than one way to skin a gato. (Yeah, I speak Spanish).

And unless I miss my guess, the Dolphins are considering all of those along with the idea of getting Long back.

 

Starks to be Dolphins franchise player ... what that means

The Miami Dolphins intend to place the franchise tag on defensive tackle Randy Starks.

It is not a surprise. Indeed, it is the only logical move the team could make as the team's other looming free agents -- Sean Smith, Brian Hartline, Jake Long -- either would have been too expensive to tag or can be easily replaced this coming season if they play elsewhere.

Starks will be on the books for up to $8.4 million. That comes directly off Miami's salary cap space, which is now around $37 million. That is still enough to tender restricted players, sign draft picks and sign or re-sign a full complement of free agents.

A note: Did I mention Sean Smith is not Miami's franchise player? Seems that so-called report that said Smith would be tagged was as erroneous as I've been telling you.

Anyway, there will be fallout from the Dolphins action today.

First, Starks is not happy. He didn't want a one-year tag. He wants a multi-year contract. He may still get it as the two sides can continue to discuss such a deal, but much of his leverage is effectively removed because free agency is no longer a viable option.

Secondly, expect Jake Long and Sean Smith to hit free agency. The club has talked with both players and that has led to, well, no deal with either. Both players have a very high regard for themselves (which is good) while the team has a more realistic regard for them (which is also good). In plain English that means both Smith and Long expect to make much more in the open market than the Dolphins have been discussing.

The market is the tiebreaker. The players will go into the market to determine their value. The Dolphins want both back but at their price. The players want their price. I would say the chances of Long returning to Miami are much better than Smith.

Smith is eager for the start of free agency so that he can "get paid," according to a source. That is his priority. He doesn't as much care where he plays as he does about being paid playing there. The Dolphins believe they can replace Smith with a comparable if not better player either in free agency (more expensive) or the draft (much, much less expensive).

I would say cornerback is a major need for the Dolphins now as they traded away their best cornerback, Vontae Davis, last year and are about to lose the other starter of the tandem Davis once crowed was the best in the NFL.

Long?

He doesn't want to take a pay cut. And considering he made $11.2 million last year, that's saying something. The Dolphins meanwhile are looking around the NFL and seeing that the price for outstanding left tackles is more in the $8-$9 million annual range. Assuming that goes up a little bit, I'd say it's probable the market will have to determine Long's worth.

The Dolphins still want Long back -- probably moreso than they want Smith back. They see Long as a quality player whose play falters when he gets injured. They see Smith as an inconsistent player even when healthy.

On Hartline, the sides continue to talk. Agent Drew Rosenhaus is nothing if not persistent. Hartline wants to remain in Miami and believes he has a chemistry with quarterback Ryan Tannehill. But he also wants $6 million per season.

Obviously, the Dolphins have so far resisted this price point. Both sides at this point believe something can get done before the start of free agency.

It is possible the Dolphins might decide paying $8 million for another, more accomplished wide receiver such as Greg Jennings is better than paying $6 million to Hartline. The Dolphins are almost certain to chase Mike Wallace as their top free agency target, as well.