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Free agency issues first entree on Hickey plate

These are fascinating times to be a Dolphins observer. (Maybe not so fascinating to be a fan because you find yourself cringing a lot, but you get the drift). The team is starting anew, at least with a new general manager. And that GM, Dennis Hickey, has to hit the ground running because the free agency period begins in earnest March 11.

(Teams will be allowed to enter into negotiations with the agents for pending unrestricted free agents on March 8 but contracts cannot be signed until 4 p.m. on March 11).

So by that time, Hickey needs to have his Ps and Qs straight on what Dolphins pending UFAs he wants to keep and which he'll let enter the market.

It's a big decision because the Dolphins have 18 players out of contract for 2014. Of those 11 are UFAs. And of those, seven were starters.


The eight starters?

Cornerback Brent Grimes, cornerback Nolan Carroll, safety Chris Clemons, defensive tackle Randy Starks, defensive tackle Paul Soliai, right tackle Tyson Clabo, right guard John Jerry and left tackle Bryant McKinnie.

You can argue that both Soliai and Starks are not starters because Jared Odrick was in the mix for multiple games, but I think anyone would agree Soliai and Starks are starter caliber. Also, tight end Dustin keller, an UFA for 2014, was a starter when he blew out a knee in the preseason but I'm not counting him as a starter because he obviously did not fill that spot in 2013. Also, Richie Incognito, another 2014 UFA, was a starter for much of last season but was suspended thus is not considered a starter here. He will not return to the Dolphins by order of owner Stephen Ross.

Welcome to the Dolphins, Dennis! Your entire starting offensive line save center Mike Pouncey is hitting free agency. Three quarters of your starting defensive backfield is also hitting free agency.

Handle it.

Oh, and while you're at it, two outstanding starting-caliber defensive tackles are possibly hitting free agency. You almost definitely cannot sign both because, well, that would require a huge salary cap commitment. Neither are going to come cheap because aside form being good, marketable players who'll be in demand, both Starks and Soliai went through 2013 somewhat peeved they didn't get a contract extension. So they're not going to give the Dolphins a huge discount -- certainly Starks is not. Soliai may come cheaper because he loves South Florida and really, really doesn't want to leave.
But his agent, David Canter, will try to make it as hard as possible for Soliai to accept a hometown discount by drumming up as much interest for his client as he can because, well, he also was peeved an extension wasn't done in 2013.

And then there's the issue of Brent Grimes. He's not only a starting cornerback but your best starting cornerback. He went to the Pro Bowl. He loves South Florida. But he also is not going to accept the $5 million per year deal he took on a prove-it basis in 2013.

Grimes stayed healthy and played well after missing all of 2012 with an Achilles' injury. So now he wants to get paid.

The problem is Grimes will be 31 in July and most teams do not offer four- or five-year deals to corners on the long side of 30. Are you going to do that with Grimes?

What's that, you say? Franchise tag?

That might be your only recourse. It would lock up Grimes for another year while the Dolphins young cornerbacks (Jamar Taylor and Will Davis) either prove they have it or don't have it. But it's going to cost.

The 2013 franchise tag for a cornerback was $10.6 million. That's quite a chunk. Yes, the Dolphins will approximately $35 million in salary cap room if you include the carryover. But are you ready to use roughly one-third of that room on one player?

We're sure you'll figure it out.

Miami's unrestricted free agents

DT Randy Starks

DT Paul Soliai

CB Brent Grimes

CB Nolan Carroll

G Richie Incognito

TE Dustin Keller

RT Tyson Clabo

FS Chris Clemons

G John Jerry

LT Bryant Mckinnie

LB Austin Spitler

WR Marlon Moore

Miami's restricted free agents

CB R.J Stanford

G Danny Watkins

OT Will Yeatman

QB Pat Devlin

Miami's exclusive rights free agents

WR Armon Binns

LB Jonathan Freeny