Wednesday morning update: After not making an offer to Randy Starks between last April and Tuesday afternoon, the Dolphins re-engaged with Starks' agent last night, and the sides were finalizing a new contract on Wednesday morning, according to a source.
3 p.m. UPDATE: The deal is done. Starks re-signed for two years, a deal that can be worth as much as $12 million. But not all of that is guaranteed.
Re-signing Starks gives Miami a solid three-tackle rotation with Jared Odrick and Earl Mitchell. Pro Football Focus ranked Starks seventh among all d-tackles last season.
Dolphins tidbits as the free agency gates swing open:
### The Dolphins assuredly upgraded at left tackle (Branden Albert) and safety (Louis Delmas), but there are questions about their strategy at defensive tackle (Earl Mitchell is very likely in, though he hasn't signed yet; Paul Soliai is out), and all three newcomers have both strengths and blemishes.
The good news on Delmas: He makes more impact plays (five sacks, six picks in 65 career games) than departing Chris Clemons (1.5 sacks, four picks in 72 games). Delmas allowed only 43.8 percent of passes thrown against him to be completed last season (14 for 32), which was best in the league among all safeties.
The bad news: When he’s burned, he’s burned badly, because he takes poor angles at times. The 14 receptions against him in 2013 averaged (gulp!) 22.4 yards, worst in the league. He missed 13 combined games with knee problems over 2011 and 2012; he played in every game last season but missed a lot of practice time because of his knees.
The good news on Albert (SKIP OVER THESE TWO PARAGRAPHS IF YOU READ THE LAST POST): He relinquished just four sacks in 555 pass rushing chances last season, which is exceptional, and allowed the fewest quarterback hurries (13) of any tackle who played nearly that much. Over the past three years, he has consistently ranked in the top 12 among all tackles in pass blocking.
The worrisome news? Though he graded out very well as a run blocker in 2010 and 2011, he was slightly below average last season (40th of 76), per PFF.com. He has had back problems in the past, but the Dolphins believe that’s a non-issue now. His nine penalties last year were among the most per snap among tackles.
The good news on the 6-3, 300-pound Mitchell: At 26, he’s four younger than Starks and Soliai. He was highly coveted. ESPN’s Bill Polian ranks him as the fifth-best free agent at any position in the entire class. He has pass rush potential; PFF insists he had four sacks last season (NFL.com credits him with only 1.5) and ranked him 26th of 69 tackles as a pass rusher.
ESPN’s Scouts Inc. says Mitchell “has become a real inside force and one of the most productive penetrators in the NFL at generating consistent inside pressure. He is a much better athlete than most guys who play his position, and his effort is outstanding. He is a one-gap penetrator with good quickness and really works to finish the play. He is young and will only get better.”
The bad news: PFF ranked him 57th of 69 against the run in 2013. And overall, PFF rated him 51st among tackles last season, compared with seventh for Starks, 13th for Jared Odrick and 20th for Soliai.
### The Dolphins presented Soliai with a last-minute two-year, $11.5 million offer, with only the first year guaranteed. What’s more, Soliai was given only a 24-hour window to accept Miami's offer after receiving it last Friday. He got a much better deal from Atlanta (five years, $33 million, $14 million guaranteed).
### Besides Mitchell (who will be paired with Odrick), the Dolphins want to add another defensive tackle. [WEDNESDAY UPDATE: Now we know it will be Starks.] They have inquired about several who have been both starters and reserves, including Cam Thomas (San Diego) and Terrence Cody (Baltimore). They called about pricey Tyson Jackson, who signed with Atlanta.
### The Dolphins are exploring the right tackle market and are interested in several, with free agents Austin Howard (he and the Jets couldn’t come to terms Tuesday afternoon) and Breno Giacomini (Seattle) on their radar. [UPDATE: Howard agreed to terms with Oakland late Tuesday night, according to ESPN. And Giacomini will visit the Jets.] New Orleans' Zach Strief is the best free agent right tackle available and certainly not out of the question for Miami. But he would be pricey.
### The Dolphins missed out on two of their preferences at guard: Rodger Saffold (who got more money -- five years, $42.5 million -- to sign as a tackle with Oakland) and former Bronco Zane Beadles (Miami made a good offer, but Jacksonville bid more at five years, $30 million).
But the Dolphins have expressed interest in several free agent guards who are still available, including former Dolphin Wade Smith (16 starts for Houston last season, rated 59th of 81 guards by PFF/ four sacks allowed) and former Packer and Cardinal Daryn Colledge (rated 39th of 81 guards, two sacks relinquished for Arizona last season).
They also have shown interest in Evan Dietrich Smith, who was PFF’s eight-ranked center last season but also has experience at guard, where he would presumably play if Miami signs him. Dietrich-Smith plans to visit Tampa Bay, but Miami has inquired.
### Running back is not a priority for the Dolphins, but Dolphins executive Dawn Aponte called Tuesday to check in with the firm that represents free agents Ben Tate, Toby Gerhart and Donald Brown. All three had very good per-carry averages last season, and any of those or several others are possibilities at the right price. [UPDATE: Gerhart agreed to terms with Jacksonville tonight, per NFL Network. And late tonight, Donald Brown agreed to terms with the Chargers, according to NFL Network.]
### Cornerback Dimitri Patterson was cut only after declining the Dolphins’ offer to take a pay cut from his $5.4 million salary. But Patterson likes Miami and the sides haven’t ruled out a return at a lower price. Meanwhile, cornerback Nolan Carroll --- who wants starter’s money --- was scheduled to visit Buffalo on Tuesday night.
### New GM Dennis Hickey advocated that Tampa draft linebacker Dekoda Watson, so it’s no surprise that Miami has inquired about Watson, who took his first free agent visit to Jacksonville on Tuesday.
### With the Joe Philbin connection, the Dolphins have shown interest in one former Packer (receiver James Jones, according to draftinsider.com), but not another (they haven’t called on tight end Jermichael Finley, who’s visiting Seattle).
COUPLE OTHER ITEMS
### Partly because of his defense, guard Toney Douglas has really grown on this Heat coaching staff after Heat people were lukewarm initially…. It’s surprising and could even be perceived as disrespectful that Miami kept guard DeAndre Liggins, who’s on a 10-day contract, active for Monday’s game while leaving James Jones inactive and thus in a suit. Jones said he hasn’t asked Erik Spoelstra for an explanation, and Spoelstra hasn’t given him one. “It’s not necessary to explore,” Jones said. “He has his reasoning. I trust him.”…
When Dwyane Wade --- the only shooting guard in history to average at least one block per game in his career --– blocked 6-10 Drew Gooden on Monday, it marked the 143rd time he has blocked a shot of an opponent at least six inches taller. Remarkable.
### As of Tuesday morning, MLB hadn’t ruled out fining Red Sox owner John Henry for his tweet that the Marlins should apologize for their regular season lineup. MLB doesn’t like owners taking shots at other teams. In 2009, Henry was fined $500,000 for suggesting that several teams (the Marlins were implied as one of them) were pocketing revenue-sharing money.