With NFL free agent signings beginning today and the Miami Dolphins looking to sign a new defensive tackle or two to take the place of the outgoing Paul Soliai and Randy Starks, the team faces a quandary in that the best two available free agents at the position are… Paul Soliai and Randy Starks. On paper, Miami’s most logical course of action seems obvious: re-sign one of its own two free agent defensive tackles and call it a day. But the dollars and personalities involved dictate that the Dolphins may ultimately to have settle for a free agency downgrade at the position or turn to the draft.
Soliai and Starks are both thirty years old, suggesting that their skills will decline before the end of any multi year contract. Soliai has evolved into a solid defensive tackle, but with other NFL teams expected to break the bank in order to acquire his services, Miami would have to overpay in order to retain him. Starks is more affordable and still has a couple good years in him, but clashed with the coaching staff last season to the point that he ended up giving the middle finger to his own sideline after notching a sack. While amends could be made with Starks, the Dolphins may instead be more tempted to pay Soliai whatever he’s asking for.
Those asking how the Dolphins could have failed to lock up Soliai to a contract extension before the end of the season may find their answer in the fact that longtime general manager Jeff Ireland was dismissed at season’s end. Instead of signing Soliai, he offered a mid-season contract extension to underperforming linebacker Koa Misi instead. That leaves newly minted general manager Dennis Hickey with the task of cleaning up that and several other roster conundrums.
Turning to the draft for a younger replacement at defensive tackle is troublesome because the team needs at least three new starters at offensive line, not all of which can be filled via free agency, along with a starting running back and a blocking tight end. Hickey must also decide how to address the linebacker position, as last year’s new arrivals Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe contributed little. Cutting either player this offseason would be difficult from a salary cap perspective. And even if another linebacker is added, the top available free agent linebacker right now is Karlos Dansby – who was released by the Dolphins a year ago due to a clash with the coaching staff.
It’s a familiar tune which may have also contributed to the departure of other team leaders like Reggie Bush and Jake Long a year ago, leaving Hickey with the dual task of not only filling the holes created by Ireland’s roster mismanagement, but also of finding new players who fit with head coach Joe Phiblin’s seemingly narrow parameters for what constitutes a suitable personality or leadership style for a player.
Still, the Dolphins are strong at defensive end with Pro Bowler Cameron Wake, rising starter Jared Odrick, and last year’s high draft pick Dion Jordan, although the latter has yet to produce consistently. The team simply needs to address its defensive tackle situation in order to shore up the D-line as its most talented position. But if Miami finds itself outbid for Soliai and decides Starks isn’t a fit, it may have to settle for the fact that its best option at defensive tackle may be whichever player gets cut by the team that signs away its own two DT starters.