Miami Dolphins news: Dolphins can't afford to botch this offseason

Lackluster free agency classes an issue

Take a trip down memory lane and recall the offseason that followed the Dolphins winning the AFC East division title in 2008.

Much like this offseason a number of the team's top players were free agents and the front office used the majority of the team's resources to re-sign their own players, inking Vernon Carey, Yeremiah Bell and Channing Crowder to lucrative deals they never finished because of declining play.

Miami also signed the best center on the market (Jake Grove) and a proven starting safety ( Gibril Wilson). Both turned out to be busts.

So with the Dolphins projected to have $45-50 million in cap space it would be wise for General Manager Jeff Ireland to not have a repeat of his first spending spree.

Here's a breakdown of Miami's free agent starters, and the team's options.

LT Jake Long ($12.8 salary cap number) – The four-time Pro Bowler is no longer playing like an elite left tackle, but he's still better than half of his contemporaries.

In-house: Rookie Jonathan Martin has spent all but this season as a left tackle, now he's struggling at right tackle (four sacks). Miami likely will have to draft or sign a tackle if Long doesn't return.

The payout: Long hopes to stay in the $10 million-plus salary range. The Dolphins must decide if that salary would be more beneficial going elsewhere.

RB Reggie Bush ($6M) – Bush was on pace to rush for 1,000 yards, but he's cooled off, averaging 3.16 yards per carry the past five games.

In-house: Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller are waiting in the wings behind Bush, who will be 28 next season.

The payout: The free agent market for tailback was dead last season, and considering they age poorly it is hard to envision Bush won't have his salary slashed in half.

DT Randy Starks ($5M) – With 20 tackles, 4.5 sacks and an interception, Starks is on pace for his best season in Miami, and possibly another Pro Bowl berth.

In-house: Starting defensive end Jared Odrick could move inside, but depth is an issue considering Tony McDaniel is also an impending free agent.

The payout: Starks, who turns 29 next month, likely won't break the bank in free agency. A respectable multi-year deal like the one Kendall Langford got from the Rams (four-year, $24 million) is realistic.

WR Brian Hartline (1.434M) – Already with career-highs in receptions (53) and yards (790), he is on pace to contribute 1,264 receiving yards. But he's only scored seven touchdowns in four seasons.

In-house: Marlon Moore and Rishard Matthews have potential, but neither has shown they are ready to start. The Dolphins have made it clear they need to upgrade the position.

The payout: With more dynamic receivers such as Mike Wallace, Greg Jenning, Dwayne Bowe and Wes Welker likely to hit the free agent market don't be surprised if Hartline isn't a priority.

FS Chris Clemons ($1.348M) - Dolphins have invested two season into Clemons as a starter, and it appears he's finally blossoming playing alongside Reshad Jones.

In-house: Jimmy Wilson, Jonathon Amaya and Anderson Russell could have their status elevated, but that would mean Miami's on its seventh safety duo in seven years.

The payout: Whether its free agency or the draft, safeties aren't in tremendous demand, and their play often drops once they've changed systems. So it would be risky to pursue another free agent such as Buffalo's Jarius Byrd.

CB Sean Smith ($851K) – A four-year starter with an elite skill set, makes Smith one of the league's more promising cornerbacks. But he lacks consistency.

In-house: Richard Marshall returns next season, but can the Dolphins get by with a starting duo of Marshall and Nolan Carroll?

The payout: Cornerbacks happen to be one of the NFL's more expensive positions, and even average ones make $4-7 million if they're proven starters. The Dolphins pay Marshall $5.3 million a season and Smith deserves more.

TE Anthony Fasano ($4.375M) – He's having his least productive season from a yards per catch standpoint (7.7), but he's not being emphasized.

In-house: The Dolphins don't have many options because Charles Clay and rookie Michael Egnew are mediocre in-line blockers who have struggled this season.

The payout: Even though Fasano turns 29 next season he's still serviceable. But tight ends like Jared Cook, Dustin Keller would be upgrades, adding a seam threat element to Miami's offense.


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