7:32 AM EDT, October 11, 2012
There are some tough but common-sense decisions to be made for the Dolphins as they move forward with their sizeable salary-cap space and impending free agents. Hereís a five-step plan I expect to be put in place
1. Sign cornerback Sean Smith. The Dolphins should be working on his contract right now. Heís at an impact position and has shown in the past two games against Arizonaís Larry Fitzgerald and Cincinnatiís A.J. Green the kind of player he is. The risk is he wasnít this player last year. In his contract year, heís focused. Will he stay that way? You have to hope so and pay him big. The cost? Cortland Finnegan signed a five-year, $50 million contract ($26.5 million guaranteed) as a free agent with St. Louis this off-season.
2. Slap the franchise tag on left tackle Jake Long. He wonít like this. No player wants a one-year deal, even if itís for big money ($12 million to $15 million). The idea is you canít keep opening up important holes on your roster, but youíre not sure you want to sink so much money into any left tackle, much less one with some injury concern. This is good middle-ground for the Dolphins to walk. You donít lose a great talent like Long. And you donít sink the seven-year, $84-million deal ($44 million guaranteed) that Cleveland gave Joe Thomas. You sing him for next season and push the larger decision off a year.
3. Sign receiver Brian Hartline. Another deal that should be in the works right now. Hartline isnít a No. 1 receiver Ė you need to get into the end zone more for that Ė but heís shown heís instrumental for moving forward. Itís hard to gauge just who he compares to contract-wise, but an idea would be Pierre Garcon, who signed a free-agent contract in the off-season with Washington for five years and $42.5 million ($20.5M guaranteed).
4. Let Randy Starks walk. Tough to say that considering how well heís playing and he only turns 29 this season. But defensive tackle isnít a premier position, the Dolphins have depth on the defensive line and the idea would be to draft and develop another Starks. If Starks wants to take a Dolphin-friendly deal, that's another matter. Jeff Ireland played this smartly last year, letting DL Kendall Langford go to St. Louis (four-year, $24 million - $12M guaranteed) while re-signing Paul Soliai for two years, $12 million.
5. Decide on Reggie Bush this off-season. Heís your best playmaker on offense. But running back, while an important position, isnít one to overpay for. Bush was signed for two years and $10 million. That sounds about right in re-signing him, assuming the rest of this season plays out accordingly.
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