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3 posts from March 12, 2014

March 12, 2014

Randy Starks contract a win for Dolphins

The re-signing of Randy Starks was a win for the Dolphins because it brings back a two-time Pro Bowl player who happens to play a position of need (until he signed his name on the contract) for the Dolphins.

It was also a win for general manager Dennis Hickey and Executive vice president of Football Administration Dawn Aponte -- who are working the contract for Miami -- because the deal they got seems beneficial for the Dolphins.

The reported deal of two-years worth $12 million is a mirage.

Oh, it might be worth that $6 million per year annual average if Starks maxes out and actually sticks around for the two seasons because there are $1 million in incentives each year -- in 2014 and 2015.

But the deal is actually for a total of $10 million with $5 million guaranteed in the form of the $2 million signing bonus and his $3 million base salary this coming season. The other $5 million comes in the form of 2015 base salary.

What does that mean?

Starks, 30, is really only assured of being with the team in '14. If for whatever reason his play drops off or, God forbid, he gets hurt, or the Dolphins simply want to go in a different direction, the team can cut the defensive tackle next year and save $4 million in cap space even while carrying $1 million in dead money.

And because there is no triggering mechanism that would force the Dolphins to make a decision on Starks next offseason, they could carry his contract through training camp 2015 before making their final decision on his future.

I suppose Starks understood all this when he met with the media Wednesday and didn't exactly do cartwheels over signing the deal.

“I mean it feels really good," he said. "It could be worse, I could be out on the street, but for the most part I’m glad to be back. I’ve been in this organization for six years and I think I’m established here. I’m just happy to be back."

The reason Starks is glad to be back "for the most part" is because he clearly expected a bigger payday in perhaps his last big bite of the contract apple. A league source tells me Starks' representation was talking about a $7.5-million-per-year-plus salary for Starks before free agency began.

Obviously, that never materialized. So Starks was sort of forced to go back to the Dolphins, who had balked at his initial asking price and told him to go shop himself in the market.

"I had options out there, but like I said this is where I want to be," Starks said. "I want to finish my career here, and I think this two-year deal gives me a chance to do that.”

Hickey on Starks return, Revis rumors, Dolphins future

Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey said he is "optimistic" the Dolphins will be able to re-sign defensive tackle Randy Starks on Wednesday, meaning the Dolphins defensive tackle position could be resolved soon.

"We're talking and negotiating to his representation," Hickey said after the Dolphins introduced both Branden Albert and Earl Mitchell as their new free agent additions. "Dawn Aponte is up there right now and we're talking. We're optimistic and we'll see how that happens. We'll let you know."

Obviously the deal is not yet done as has been reported elsewhere. But the Dolphins are going well down that road.

[Update at 3:10: The Starks deal is now done. He agrees to a 2-year deal that pays a maximum of $12 million.]

Hickey did nothing to douse the smoke to any rumors the Dolphins will be interested when/if cornerback Darrelle Revis is released from Tampa Bay and becomes a free agent.

While the New England Patriots are mentioned prominently among teams that will chase Revis, it must be noted Hickey was prominent in the Bucs' chase for Revis a year ago when they traded for him.

"I'm not going to comment on players on other team's rosters," Hickey said about Revis.

Hickey would not say if adding more free agent offensive linemen -- the Dolphins have voids at both guards and right tackle -- would continue to be a free agency focus. "The priority is always good players," he said.

"We always look at value. That's what we've done so far and that's what we're going to continue to do. We're trying to get the best 53-man roster.

Hickey obviously feels good about what the Dolphins are today and what they can become by the time this offseason is over.

"We're confident we're going to build or are in the process of building a championship team," he said. "We're going to keep adding pieces and keep developing the pieces that are already here. We feel we have a quality team and we'll keep adding to that trying to get the best 53 man roster."

On Ben Tate ... run defense ... need for more upgrades

In the last two days, the AFC East has seen the departure of Antonio Cromartie from the Jets, Jairus Byrd from the Bills and Aqib Talib from the Patriots. So until Darrelle Revis is cut by Tampa Bay today and decides whether to go to the Patriots or not, the airways promise to be kinder to Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Doesn't matter.

My column in today's Miami Herald says the Dolphins need to improve the ground game -- on both sides of the football.

Yes, the Dolphins signed Brandon Albert to their left tackle job (press conference today) and agreed to terms with defensive tackle Earl Mitchell on Monday. But that better be a start rather than a finished work.

With all due respect, the Albert signing replaces Jake Long one year later. It doesn't make everything better. He's not by himself getting the Dolphins to the playoffs. The Mitchell signing may or may not be an upgrade over Paul Soliai.

So the Dolphins have to giddyup and do more to make their rushing attack and poor run defense -- neither of which was even remotely close to mediocre last year -- a team strength rather than an obvious weakness.

They're not getting Austin Howard. He's gone to the Raiders. Howard will reunite with his former New York Jets offensive line coach who is now the Raiders OL coach -- Tony Sparano.

So ... Zach Strief, please.

[Update: The Dolphins have shown interest in Strief but at this point there is no further movement on the issue. Stay tuned as I work to get more. No visit is planned at this point. Strief wants to return to the Saints.]


He's 30 and will be 31 in September. I get it, that's not what the Dolphins like to do. So get him for two or three years if possible. Geez.

I give you compelling examples of how improving the running game and run defense can help a cellar dweller become a playoff caliber team and how a good team goes to a championship right here.

And I give you one name that could go a long way in helping the Dolphins improve their rushing attack ... Ben Tate.

The Dolphins have shown lukewarm interest in Tate, I'm told. Not surprisingly, most NFL free agent running backs don't exactly break the bank these days. Donald Brown, for example, signed a three-year deal for $10.5 million Tuesday night.

Tate might get more. But not necessarily a ton more.

So why not?

By the way, Dolphins new offensive line coach John Benton should be able to give the Dolphins a solid report on Tate's practice habits, on his affect on the locker room, things that in the wake ofthe Wells report are important to the Dolphins.

Use that information.

If not Tate, would it kill the Dolphins to check in on LeGarrette Blount?

He is a known player to Hickey, who was in Tampa when Blount played for the Bucs. Yes, he knows Blount punched that kind while at Oregon and another one as a rookie while with the Titans. But I imagine he also knows Blount can return kickoffs because he runs a 4.5 in the 40 and is a LOAD at 248 pounds. Blount is a career 4.7-yard-per-carry back.

Blount has seven 100-yard rushing games since 2010 -- as a part-time player. The Dolphins have had a player turn in a 100-yard rushing games only nine times since 2010.

On another front, there is no way the Dolphins don't need to keep addressing the run defense that has gotten progressively worse the past two years ... from No. 3 in 2011 to No. 11 in 2012 to a disappointing and unacceptable No. 24 last season.

Losing Randy Starks (might happen, might not as team has an offer in for him) and Paul Soliai (to Atlanta for a reunion with former coordinator Mike Nolan) while adding Mitchell doesn't exactly scream upgrade. It suggests holding your ground while paying less for the players involved.

But it is not a certain upgrade.

More must be done.

Maybe on Day Two of free agency.