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.
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.