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Dolphins rolling in salary cap space for '14

The Dolphins were expecting to have a large bank roll to sign any of their 21 unsigned players (15 unrestricted free agents) players before Thursday dawned. And then several media outlets, led by ESPN, reported the projected salary cap for 2014 is going to be larger than expected.

The figure now commonly believed to be available to clubs when the league year opens March 11?

A tidy $129-$130 million.

And that means barring re-signing some of their own free agents before then, the Dolphins will have approximately $36 million in cap space. That includes over $18 million in carryover from 2013. And that figure ranks the Dolphins in the top 5 among teams with the most cap space.

The Dolphins will lead the AFC East in cap space but Buffalo (approximately $22 million) and the New York Jets (approximately $23.7 million) will also have plenty of cap space. The Jets could actually add another $16 million in space if they cut quarterback Mark Sanchez and receiver Santonio Holmes.

But the Dolphins can create space of their own with roster moves and might do just that.

The Dolphins can gain an extra $5.4 million of cap space by cutting cornerback Dimitri Patterson.

Why, you may ask, would the Dolphins dump a solid cornerback when healthy? Well, because durability is a big deal in the NFL. It is a critical factor in judging players. You can't contribute if you can't play.

And of the 18 possible games Patterson could have played with the Dolphins since being acquired in late December 2012, he has started and finished only four of those games.

So new GM Dennis Hickey and Co. will have a decision to make on Patterson.

All this seems like good news for the Dolphins. Because they don't have a big mortgage on the quarterback spot (like New England, New Orleans, Baltimore and other teams with QBs with big contracts) the Dolphins have tons of maneuverability.

Obviously, they probably should not employ all that maneuverability because if things go as hoped by the organization, Ryan Tannehill will eventually want to join that club of high-priced QBs and, poof, there goes the cap space. So saving up for that possibility might be wise given that teams can carry over space.

But with the new TV contract on the horizon and the bump expected this year from a Thursday night TV deal, Miami suddenly has more room than expected.

And that leads us to this ...

Suddenly the franchise tag for cornerback Brent Grimes is more palatable if the team cannot get him signed to a smart two- or three-year deal that pays him but also insulates the team from him dropping off the performance table based on the fact he's going to be 31 years old at the start of the 2014 season. Most clubs don't want to commit to cornerbacks through their 34th or 35th birthdays.

(It should be noted there may be younger cornerbacks on the market, too.)

Suddenly, re-signing Nolan Carroll, who is a solid third cornerback and good spot starter, to a deal is not out of the question.

Suddenly the radical idea of keeping both Paul Soliai and Randy Starks isn't complete folly. No, it probably won't happen. Both players are shopping their services at the Combine through their representation. Both will have offers whenever free agency begins.

And suddenly the idea of adding an offensive tackle through free agency isn't out of the question. If I were the general manager, I'd weigh chasing an elite and young left tackle -- perhaps Eugene Monroe -- and then handle the rest of my offensive line business in the draft. I would not chase free agent guards until the secondary market because the guard free agent class is ... is ... not stocked. Richie Incognito is among the better ones available so there's that.

Also, please remember, this is a great year for tackles in the draft. There will be starters taken in the third round, that's how good it could be. So no more than one tackle in free agency, please. No high-priced guard in free agency, please.

And if you're going to chase a tackle, chase the combination of the best and youngest -- Monroe, who will be 27 in April.

(Peanut Gallery: But Mando, what about Branden Albert? He was good last year. He's really good. Plus, we've heard of him because of last year's flirtation with trading for him.)

He's 29 years old now and will be 30 in November. He had a fine year but how much of that was contract year excellence? And you remember the issues with the back and so forth, right? So he would not be my top choice. He wouldn't even be my second choice. I think I'd like Anthony Collins of Cincinnati more than Albert.

By the way, it's not possible to know if these players will even be available. Their own clubs can still re-sign them.

I should note here that the Chiefs have the least amount of cap space to re-sign their left tackle of the others we've discussed -- Baltimore and Cincinnati. So maybe Albert will be the only tackle on the market because KC drafted a tackle No. 1 last year.

I suppose there's a chance the Dolphins might throw everyone a curveball and opt to draft their left tackle and sign a free agent right tackle instead. The name you'll hear continually is Michael Oher.

Buyer beware. He hasn't lived up to his "Blindside" reputation the past two years. So one must not overpay based simply on name recognition.

Did I tell you I really like the tackles in the draft?

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