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2 posts from March 4, 2014

March 04, 2014

Dolphins free agency: DT, LB and more; Riley on non-trade; UM, Heat, Luongo chatter

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

Reader note: I'm running the newspaper version of the Wednesday buzz in full on this post. If you read the portion about Randy Starks and Paul Soliai in my 5:30 p.m. post, skip down to CHATTER for fresh material posted at 10:45 tonight

Five days before free agency begins, the Dolphins still have not made an offer to two of their best defensive players, tackles Randy Starks and Paul Soliai.

That’s a risky move that could leave them needing to find two new veteran tackles in free agency, to pair in a rotation with Jared Odrick.

Asked about the likelihood of Starks returning to the Dolphins, his agent, Tony Paige, said Tuesday: “As of now, it’s unlikely because we haven’t received an offer. He’s looking forward to moving on.”

But Paige added Starks “has got nothing bad to say about Miami” and would consider an offer if one comes.

The Dolphins haven’t called Paige since meeting with him at the NFL Combine. At that time, the Dolphins indicated they would keep in touch regarding Starks and had some interest in re-signing him.

Meanwhile, Soliai is prepared to move on but hasn't closed the door on returning if Miami makes a lucrative offer. Soliai had expected to receive a Dolphins offer by now, but the Dolphins have surprised him and others by not making an offer yet to either Soliai or Starks.

“The dialogue between us and the Dolphins remains open and friendly but we are not negotiating anything right now,” said David Canter, Soliai’s agent. “There has been no offer since August.”

Soliai is expected to command more than $6 million per season, and the Dolphins are aware of that. The Dolphins, at this point, do not appear comfortable going that high. In recent days, Dolphins staffers and coaches have told Soliai they want him back. But it’s moot without an offer.

CHATTER

### If the Dolphins do not keep Soliai or Starks, they will push to sign a starter from among a group that includes the Giants’ Linval Joseph, Chicago’s Henry Melton, Baltimore’s Arthur Jones, Dallas’ Jason Hatcher, Atlanta’s Jonathan Babineaux or Peria Jerry, Houston’s Earl Mitchell and Oakland’s Pat Sims and Vance Walker and San Diego’s Cam Thomas. Also available: Minnesota’s Kevin Williams and Fred Evans and the Giants’ Mike Patterson.

### Cornerback Nolan Carroll is expected to test free agency. The Dolphins want to keep him, but he wants to be paid like a starter, according to an official who spoke to the Dolphins’ front office. Miami is reluctant to do that, but a deal could still be reached.

### The Dolphins have decided to move Dannell Ellerbe to outside linebacker (weakside) if they sign middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, who visited the Dolphins on Tuesday and will choose among Denver, Indianapolis, Miami and Tennessee. Jackson, cut by Cleveland last month, will visit the Colts on Wednesday before deciding his next team.

Philip Wheeler, if he sticks around, would compete with Koa Misi at strongside linebacker. Misi is Miami’s best linebacker against the run, which was a deficiency in 2013. Cutting Ellerbe (who is guaranteed $6 million in 2014) and Wheeler (guaranteed $5 million) wouldn't help because their cap hits are the same if they stay or go.

Jackson was below average against the run last season but better than Wheeler, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Among free agent linebackers who were effective against the run, options would include the Patriots’ Brandon Spikes, the Giants’ Jon Beason and Houston’s Daryl Sharpton.

Spikes, expected to move on from New England, would be an upgrade, but he’s not a conformist (he didn’t show up for voluntary workouts last June) and Joe Philbin likes conformists.

Players can speak to other teams beginning Saturday but cannot sign with a new team before Tuesday.

### Among their restricted free agents, the Dolphins made a tender to quarterback Pat Devlin (Philbin likes him; Miami gave him an exclusive rights tender) but not to cornerback R.J. Stanford or tackle Will Yeatman, both of whom thus become unrestricted free agents. Danny Watkins' agent said he didn't expect Watkins to be tendered.

### Heat president Pat Riley confirmed loyalty factored into why he did not pursue a discussed trade with Philadelphia that would have sent Evan Turner and another piece or two to the Heat for Udonis Haslem, a deal that would have given Miami significant relief against the luxury tax next season.

"Family is important," Riley said. "Blood runs deep." Turner was then dealt to Indiana.

"I've given a lot to the organization and made a lot of sacrifices," Haslem said. "They made a sacrifice to me."

### LeBron James entered Tuesday with the best seven-game stretch (37.1 points, 63.7 percent shooting) since Michael Jordan in November 1988. But he scored only three on 1 for 7 shooting in the second half (and 22 points for the game) in Tuesday's loss to Houston, ensuring that Wilt Chamberlain remains the only player in NBA history with consecutive 60-point games (something he did multiple times).... Dominique Wilkins, venting on Twitter about LeBron's 61-point game against Charlotte Monday: "Watch the film. No close outs on D. Doubles were late. Rotations were slow. It was too easy to score. At 54 [years old], I could drop 40 on that D."

### Impressive work Tuesday by Michael Beasley: 24 points, on 9 for 13 shooting, with four rebounds, two assists and no turnovers in 28 minutes. And the Heat was plus-13 with Beasley on the floor. "Everyone notices when he scores, but he was doing some active things defensively," Erik Spoelstra said.

### Ryan Williams, the front-runner for UM’s quarterback job, said his best chemistry is with tight end Clive Walford (out for the spring with an injury) and receiver Rashawn Scott, who said he regrets both the bowl game suspension and a lot of what he has done at UM. Offensive coordinator James Coley said Tuesday he likes "what I see" from Scott this spring. Al Golden spoke of Scott "letting go of immature things" and noted Williams has been a good influence on Scott. With Williams comfortable throwing to him, it's not surprising Williams predicted Tuesday that Scott will have a breakout season this fall....

Early feedback is encouraging on Gus Edwards, who has bulked up and is running with more power but still showing good speed, teammates say....... UM is cautiously optimistic Carol City's speedy Trayone Gray, a potential gem in this recruiting class, will qualify academically and coaches will give him a look at running back before deciding whether to play him there or at receiver. UM sees some Wildcat possibilities with Gray, who played quarterback at Carol City.... UM is using ballyhooed freshman KC McDermott initially at backup left tackle instead of starting right tackle, with Taylor Gadbois getting the chance with the first team on the right side. But McDermott will play some right tackle this spring, Coley said.

### Kudos to Canes right-hander Javi Salas for throwing the 20th perfect game in Division 1 history tonight, a 17-0 win against Villanova. It was the second in UM history; Kevin Sheary had the other, in 1987. And a neat touch: Salas' brother announced tonight's game on campus station WVUM.

### Though Roberto Luongo, reacquired by the Panthers on Tuesday, is 34, what’s encouraging is his goals against average (2.38) and save percentage (.917) this season are both improved over the past two seasons, with each ranking 15th among 40 qualifying goaltenders, well ahead of Florida’s Tim Thomas, who ranks in the low 30s in each. But with Luongo's contract running through 2021-22, age looms as an issue. Only one of the NHL's top 10 goaltenders in save percentage is above age 30....

Luongo has eight years left on a 12-year, $64 million contract, and the Canucks agreed to pay $800,000 of his annual salary. "It's great for our franchise," Panthers GM Dale Tallon said. We're getting a great goaltender, a proven commodity."

5:30 p.m. Dolphins update on Soliai and Starks; Oden out

Five days before free agency begins, the Dolphins still – rather amazingly – have not made an offer to two of their best defensive players, tackles Randy Starks and Paul Soliai.

That’s a risky move that could leave them needing to find two new veteran tackles in free agency, to pair in a rotation with Jared Odrick.

Asked about the likelihood of Starks returning to the Dolphins, his agent, Tony Paige, said today: “As of now, it’s unlikely because we haven’t received an offer. He’s looking forward to moving on.”

But Paige added Starks “has got nothing bad to say about Miami” and would consider an offer if one arrives.

The Dolphins haven’t called Paige since meeting with him at the NFL Combine. At that time, the Dolphins indicated they would keep in touch regarding Starks and had some interest in keeping him.

Meanwhile, Soliai is prepared to move on but hasn't closed the door on returning if Miami makes a lucrative offer. Soliai had expected to receive a Dolphins offer by now, but the Dolphins have surprised him and others by not making an offer yet to either of their defensive tackles. 

“The dialogue between us and the Dolphins remains open and friendly but we are not negotiating anything right now,” agent David Canter said. “There has been no offer since August.”

Is there much of a chance he returns? “That’s up to the Dolphins," Canter said. "If they want to keep him, they know what we believe it will take to keep him. They have an exclusive period through Saturday and can keep coming at us until he signs elsewhere.”

Soliai is expected to command north of $6 million per season, and the Dolphins are aware of that. The Dolphins, at this point, do not appear comfortable going that high.

Dolphins staffers and coaches have told Soliai they want him back. But they have an odd way of showing it, by not making an offer.

Players can begin talking to other teams on Saturday and can sign elsewhere beginning next Tuesday.

### Greg Oden is out for the Heat against Houston tonight, but Erik Spoelstra said he has not had a setback and the Heat is merely resting him on the second night of a back-to-back. Dwyane Wade is back tonight.