How the Miami Dolphins Can Best Spend Stephen Ross' $40 Million

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How the Miami Dolphins Can Best Spend Stephen Ross' $40 Million

The stars have aligned for the Miami Dolphins to have their best offseason in recent memory.

That's fitting, because this could be their most important offseason in recent memory.

With roughly $40 million in cap space and five draft picks in the first three rounds, Jeff Ireland has plenty of ammunition to address the team's biggest needs in 2013 while also building for the future.

 

Re-Sign Brian Hartline

The New York Jets royally screwed up Mark Sanchez's development, in part because they failed to keep familiar targets around him, allowing key receivers like Jerricho Cotchery and Braylon Edwards to walk away in free agency. As Ryan Tannehill gets ready to make a leap from his first to his second year, the Dolphins must make things as comfortable and familiar for him as possible.

Hartline may not be a great No. 1 receiver, but that's not what he's supposed to be. Also, he won't have to bear that burden if the Dolphins approach this offseason as I will lay out.

Hartline is a solid Z receiver with the ability to run underneath routes and create yards after the catch. He can also move to the slot and do some work over the middle of the field. He isn't bursting with athletic ability, but he knows how to get open.

Against the Jaguars in Week 15, he settled into a soft spot in zone coverage with four other defensive backs around him, and because he was aware of the coverage, he was open for the scrambling Tannehill.

Receivers like that are of great value to a young quarterback, and Tannehill will be all the better with a familiar target to help him make that next step.

According to news aggregator Rotoworld, Hartline is looking for a decent contract this offseason.

It's believed Hartline wants roughly $33 million over five seasons, indicating he's pinpointed Laurent Robinson's five-year, $32.5 million contract as a negotiating baseline.

Would Hartline be worth that?

He wasn't that far off from Robinson in any area besides touchdowns, but he had more targets, receptions and yards. Much of what earned Robinson his big contract, though, was his knack for the big play (evidenced by the higher yards per catch) and scoring ability.

Hartline should come down a bit from his demands, and knocking off less than one million per year off his original desire for $6.6 million per year doesn't seem like too much to ask.

Estimated cost for 2013: $5.8 million

 

Target Mike Wallace

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Wide receiver may or may not be the biggest need this offseason for the Dolphins, but it's certainly the position earning the most attention and will likely be the one that earns the highest expenditure.

There have been three names primarily connected to the Dolphins: Greg Jennings, Dwayne Bowe and Mike Wallace. Of those three, Wallace makes the most sense.

The connection to Jennings is obvious from head coach Joe Philbin's time as the offensive coordinator of the Packers, but that's about where the positives end. There are concerns about Jennings' durability with injuries having sidelined him for 11 games the past two seasons; that being said, he missed just four games the first five years of his career.

There are also questions about whether he could be as dominant with a quarterback not called Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball.

If the Dolphins were concerned enough with Brandon Marshall's character makeup to jettison him for two third-round picks, they'll be even more wary of Bowe. Don Banks of Sports Illustrated said, "many teams are wary of Bowe's decreased effort level after he earns a big payday."

By targeting Wallace, the Dolphins could give their offense the vertical threat it sorely lacked last year. Rotoworld thinks it would take in the neighborhood of $10 to $11 million per year to get Wallace to join a team. 

Wallace and Greg Jennings are the receivers linked to Miami the most, but it seems they prefer to re-sign free agent Brian Hartline and have Wallace play opposite him as the field-stretching deep threat. If a deal can't be worked out with Hartline, we could easily see the Dolphins go after both Wallace and Jennings to line up with Davone Bess in three-wide sets. 

Adding Wallace would really blow the doors off that "red zone" analogy used by Mike Mayock during the 2012 season.

Estimated cost for 2013: $10-$11 million

 

Use the Franchise Tag on...Randy Starks

Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
Between Jake Long, Sean Smith, Reggie Bush, Randy Starks, Brian Hartline and Chris Clemons, the Dolphins have plenty of candidates for the tag.

Only one makes sense: that would be Starks.

For Long, it would cost $15.4 million. For Smith, it would cost over $10 million.

While moving on from Long might seem like a foolish move, giving big money to a left tackle who is already wearing down might be an even more foolish decision. It is said that Long is seeking top dollar among left tackles. If the Dolphins can get him to come down from that demand a bit, and a little closer to his actual value, they could still reach a feasible agreement. 

But with so many other options available in free agency and the draft, the Dolphins are not pigeonholed into tagging Long. The Dolphins wouldn't be sunk even if they move right tackle Jonathan Martin to the left side and promote Nate Garner to a starting role on the right side.

As for Smith, there are conflicting reports. The Palm Beach Post reports he expects to be tagged, while The Miami Herald reports he will not be tagged, "period." There have been continued reports that the two sides are not close on terms for a long-term deal, either.

Like with Long, if the Dolphins can get Smith to see his true value instead of what he wished it to be, they would be able to strike a deal. Smith may be the best cornerback on the roster, but that doesn't make him worth top-flight cornerback money.

The Dolphins could easily work out a long-term deal for Hartline that would make a lot more sense than tagging him. They would like to bring Bush back on a discount deal, so giving him a boatload of money doesn't make much sense.

That pretty much leaves Starks. At $8.3 million, Starks would be less expensive than defensive tackle Paul Soliai was on the franchise tag back in 2011 (roughly $12 million).

The Dolphins will need to work out a long-term deal with Starks at some point, unless they want to face the prospect of completely turning over their starting defensive tackle spot within the span of 12 months when Soliai also becomes a free agent.

Starks' level of play also makes the price tag the most reasonable. 

Estimated cost for 2013: $8.3 million

 

Extend Reshad Jones

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With one year left on Jones' rookie deal, the Dolphins could use this opportunity to get out in front on one of their most important offseason decisions of 2014.

Jones is already becoming one of the top safeties in the NFL, so why not pay him as such? He's only set to make $1.36 million in 2013, while safeties like Roman Harper and Dawan Landry will pull in $5 million more than that.

Sometimes, these things can come back to bite you, but Jones is ascending and he's young. Get him on a three-year extension that makes him a Dolphin through the age of 27. That will also work out favorably for Jones because, assuming he's still playing to his potential, it will give him another opportunity to cash in.

Very rough, completely baseless idea of what this might cost for 2013: $6.1 million

 

Total 2013 Expenditure: $31.5 million

This is just one path the Dolphins could take in free agency, but certainly there are other ways they could choose to go with their money.

First things first, understand that cap figures this time of year are fluid. The Dolphins do not have exactly $40 million to work with—some people think it's more ($44.9 million, per The Miami Herald) and some think it's less (38.5 million, per ESPN).

Also understand that while my extremely rough figures have added to $31.5 million, that doesn't take into account the fact that some of those deals could be frontloaded to get the bulk of the damage out of the way early, to take advantage of some of that cap space.

The Dolphins will also need to save a little bit of money to sign their plethora of draft picks.

With that, no matter what the Dolphins do in free agency, the offseason fun will have only just begun.

 

Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless otherwise specified, all quotes are obtained firsthand or via team press releases.

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