SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
The way several of the Dolphins’ impending free agents are playing, the cost of retaining them is growing more costly by the day. That figures to consume much of their $50 million in 2013 cap space, though they still can add a quality veteran or two from outside if they manage their cap shrewdly.
The Dolphins privately have expressed interest in re-signing Jake Long, Randy Starks, Sean Smith and Brian Hartline, and have told Reggie Bush’s agent they will be in contact. Anthony Fasano and Chris Clemons also will be unrestricted.
A quick look at the top free agents and where they stand:
### Not only has Long, 27, allowed three sacks in four games, but Pro Football Focus ranks his run blocking fourth-worst among 71 tackles, which seems too harsh. But he is expected to seek a contract similar to Joe Thomas’ seven-year, $84 million deal with Cleveland ($12 million), and there's a good chance he gets it because he’s still considered among the top handful of players at a premium position.
Miami would use the franchise tag on him if necessary (which would result in a one-year salary of $15 million), but prefers to work out a long-term contract, which would lessen his cap hit and avoid this being an issue again in 2014.
### The Dolphins expect Smith, 25, to ask for a deal similar to the five-year, $50 million pact that Dallas gave Brandon Carr and St. Louis gave Cortland Finnegan. The Dolphins obviously hope to sign him for a few million a year less, perhaps along the lines of Carlos Rogers’ four-year, $31 million 49ers deal.
Smith’s size, speed and steady growth will make him a coveted commodity, considering the value placed on cornerbacks. He has allowed only 41.7 percent of passes thrown against him to be caught – best in the league among cornerbacks targeted at least 30 times.
All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald sought out Smith after Sunday’s two-interception game to tell him what a good job he’s doing. If the Dolphins do a longterm deal with Long, it’s conceivable they could use the franchise tag on Smith, which is expected to be worth about $10.7 million for cornerbacks.
### Hartline, 25, is leading the league in receiving yards and on pace for 100 catches and 1820 yards. Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson – whose career followed a similar arc – signed a three-year, $13 million extension last Oct. 2 just a month into a break out season. If he keeps this up, Hartline should do better than that, perhaps $5 million a year, according to one prominent agent with no affiliation to Hartline.
Consider the Jaguars gave five years and $31.5 million to Laurent Robinson after his breakout 54-catch, 858-yard season with Dallas. Washington gave Pierre Garcon five years, $42.5 million after a 70-catch, 947-yard season with the Colts, but Garcon had high production over several years.
"I want to be in Miami," Hartline said.
### Starks is just 28, has three sacks and been an integral part of the league’s stiffest run-defense. An agent with no ties to Starks expects he will command a deal higher than Kendall Langford’s four years, $24 million with the Rams or Brodrick Bunkley’s five years, $25 million with the Saints. Starks is superior to both.
### If Bush maintains his sterling per-carry average (5.5) with a heavy workload, he could go from earning $4.5 million to perhaps $6 million, perhaps more in a shorter deal. Marshawn Lynch, who ran for 118 more yards than Bush last season but had a lower per-carry average (4.2 to 5.0) got $7.7 million annually from Seattle (four years, $31 million) and is just one year younger than Bush (26).
But it’s vital Bush stay healthy to maximize his value. The franchise tag for running backs will likely be about $8 million.
How much of a cap hit would be to keep all five? That’s impossible to know, because of how contracts can be structured. For example, Carr’s cap hit for Dallas is $3.2 million in 2012, $16.3 million in 2013. But if the Dolphins need to use the franchise tag on Long, the five players – if they all re-sign – could cost well above $30 million against the cap.
Those expecting a Dolphins free agent spending spree on marquee names from other teams probably will be disappointed. Joe Philbin mentioned last week how Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson helped mold him and said: “In my time in Green Bay, I don’t really remember us acquiring offensively a free agent of note. Their big thing was developing our own players.”
With the cap expected to top $121 million, the Dolphins have $71 million committed to 36 players for 2013, led by Karlos Dansby’s $8.6 million cap hit, Paul Soliai’s $7.9 million and Richard Marshall’s $5.8 million. Dan Carpenter ($3 million cap hit) would seem at risk. Tannehill remains a bargain at $2.8 million.
Miami also has $1.5 million in dead money for 2013, more than two-thirds of that for Vontae Davis. And it will cost at least $5 million to sign the 2013 draft class.
### One Dolphin said third-round pick Michael Egnew has had trouble remembering the plays; another was skeptical about his longterm chances.
### Agents for kickers have been calling the Dolphins, hoping they will replace Carpenter. Among them is former Farleigh Dickinson kicker Michael Barnard, who tried out for the Eagles earlier this year. On a YouTube video showing him making a 66-yard field goal, Barnard says: "I consistently kick field goals over 63 yards daily, with a long of 68. I will break the NFL record of [63 yards] in a game."
But Miami have not brought Barnard in and didn’t bring in any kickers for tryouts Tuesday, the big day for NFL auditions. If Carpenter keeps struggling, the Dolphins likely would consider whichever kicker the Chargers eventually release - Nick Novak or Nate Kaeding. “I haven’t been hitting the ball badly,” Carpenter said. “It’s just not going in the hole.”
### With Marshall's back issues, it’s time Jimmy Wilson starts playing like the Dolphins say he can. Wilson has allowed six of seven passes thrown against him to be completed for 73 yards…. Dolphins players think highly of offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, but there has been private questioning of some play calls, including three passes deep in Dolphins territory while protecting a lead against the Jets.
### Even if the Marlins offer Giancarlo Stanton a longterm contract, he said he isn’t sure he would take it. He said he would like to be here, but hasn’t decided philosophically whether to test free agency after 2016. “It will depend on what’s on the table.” He will get a huge raise after 2013, when he becomes arbitration eligible.
### How much did spacious Marlins Park hurt the power hitters? Stanton hit a homer every 9.6 at bats on the road, but one every 15.4 at home. If he hit them at the same rate at home, he would have finished with an absurd 45 (instead of 37, which ranked seventh in baseball) in just 124 games. That would have led the majors, topping Miguel Cabrera's 44. Logan Morrison and John Buck homered twice as often on the road. But Marlins pitchers allowed fewer homers at home… The Marlins not only finished next to last in baseball in runs scored (ahead of only Houston), but their .244 average was worst in franchise history, even worse than the .248 in their 108-loss season (1998).
### We hear that beyond making decisions about what free agents to pursue, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria's involvement in personnel has been so extensive that it even included sending multiple players to the minors. But there's no indication that Loria will pull back on his involvement in baseball decisions.
### Chris Bosh, who made only 66 of 228 three-pointers during nine seasons (29 percent), said he will take more this season after shooting 7 of 13 on threes in the 2012 playoffs. He loves the idea of exasperating opposing centers that have to come out and guard him… Ray Allen marvels at how many elite three-point shooters Pat Riley has assembled here, noting Miami “could field half the field” in the NBA’s three-point contest. In post-practice shooting competitions, “I’m not a shoe-in to win and that’s something I love.”
### One high-level UM official, on UM losing two athletic directors in two years: “We don’t want to hire people to use us to get to the next level, but we can’t stop it. We have to bring in someone who will stick around, but how do you guarantee that? Shawn Eichorst got $973,000 [per year] from Nebraska and we’re not going to pay that. We’re a private school. We pay above average, but we’re not paying crazy prices.”
UM people are fuming about Eichorst leaving after less than 18 months -- more so than after the departure of Kirby Hocutt, whose his wife wasn’t happy here, according to friends. Hocutt was more well-liked than Eichorst by UM people; Eichorst's aloofness rubbed many the wrong the way. But UM people thought Eichorst would be in it for the long haul and were caught off guard by the fact he even interviewed at Nebraska a month ago.
### PLEASE SEE our last post for postscripts and analysis of UM's loss to Notre Dame on Saturday night.