The wide receiver market is apparently set.
It happened Monday when the Kansas City Chiefs signed Dwayne Bowe to a contract that profootballtalk.com reports is worth $56 million over five years. That's an $11.2 million per season average and that includes $26 million in guaranteed money.
That's now the starting point for a top 5 receiver considered to be a team's No. 1 pass option.
It is also happening at the Dolphins practice facility and South Florida as the agent Drew Rosenhaus and the Dolphins are negotiating a new deal for wide receiver Brian Hartline. Hartline wants to stay in Miami. General manager Jeff Ireland holds him in high regard and wants to keep him.
And as I wrote Monday on this blog, the price point is $6 million per year on average. That's apparently what a good No. 2 wide receiver will cost in this market.
And so the market is set.
Why is this important?
Well, because if you've been paying attention you understand the Dolphins aren't done shopping. They will chase Mike Wallace in free agency. They will chase Mike Wallace in free agency. Here, let me say it one more time as I've been saying it since January, the Dolphins will chase Mike Wallace in free agency.
His agent will argue that Bowe's deal was something of a hometown discount done with one team and no other suitors. Wallace will have multiple suitors.
So Mike Wallace will cost more than what Dwayne Bowe cost the Chiefs. He considers himself a top 5 wide receiver in the NFL and because so many teams need a guy with his skill set, somebody is bound to agree with that assessment.
That means the Dolphins must be prepared to climb the money mountain well past the $11.2 million per year plateau to get Wallace. And they must be prepared to not only make him one of the NFL's highest-paid receivers, but also the club's highest paid player.
Obviously this deal won't reach the top of the mountain set by Calvin Johnson ($18 million per year) or Larry Fitzgerald ($16 million per year) but Wallace's deal will conservatively come in around $12-$13 million per year when this is all done.
(Peanut gallery: But Mando, that's too expensive for the Dolphins. They only have $36-$38 million in salary cap space and about $5 million of that must be held in reserve for the draft.)
Thank you, gallery. But the Dolphins have plenty of cap space to afford Wallace.
To understand that you have to look at the breakdown of Bowe's contract. His salary cap cost for 2013, for example, will be $4 million. His cap cost for 2014 will be $12 million. His cap cost for 2015 will be $14 million and his cap cost the final two years of his deal will come in at $13 million unless the team does something different.
Looking at this example, you see that a contract similar to Bowe's would easily fit within the Miami cap structure in 2013. A $4 million cap hit is nothing. Dimitri Patterson is slated to cost the Dolphins $4.6 million against the cap in 2013 and he is unproven in Miami. Karlos Dansby and Randy Starks will cost the Dolphins twice that amount against the cap and I assure you they will not score 6-10 TDs per season as Wallace might.
So the first-year cost is not only acceptable but inviting.
Obviously, the real hit comes after the first year. Wallace would be Miami's most costly player against the cap. But again, comparing to Miami's cap structure, it fits because the quarterback is still cheap, the $12 million hit you accepted for carrying Jake Long is no longer on the books, and Starks won't be carrying that $8.45 million cap charge from the franchise tag next year.
I will say this: Assuming the talks yield a deal with Hartline as the present arc of negotiations are heading, the Dolphins are likely to add only one more expensive wide receiver. The idea of re-signing Hartline and adding both Wallace and Greg Jennings (who will fall somewhere between Hartline and Wallace on a per season basis) is likely out of the question.
The Dolphins are expected to speak to Jennings, but he would be a fallback position if the Dolphins cannot land Wallace. He wouldn't come in addition to Wallace and Hartline unless the Dolphins are willing to go on the cheap for everything else.
Back to the point: The issue of adding Mike Wallace this year is moot if you're worried whether the Dolphins have enough cap space. They have more than enough with plenty left over to do other business.
But it will get expensive down the road. That apparently is the price of doing business in free agency.