The next general manager of the Miami Dolphins will have plenty of difficult decisions ahead of him as soon as he takes the job.
Before he can get to the difficult decisions in terms of the draft, he'll have to make some key decisions on 15 free agents, 11 of whom are unrestricted free agents.
The large number of free agents on the Miami Dolphins is a major reason why the team will have so much cap room heading into the 2014 offseason; however, much of the $28 million in cap space will go to retaining some of these players.
Looking at the full list, the question of which players Miami should keep and which it should allow to walk away will be tough to answer, but we will try our best to make a case for the best option for each player.
My suggestion would be to cut the gentleman next to Randy Starks in the picture above and give his money to Starks, so Miami could keep one of the better defensive tackles in the NFL.
But even if Philip Wheeler is released (he likely won't be), Miami will carry $10.6 million of his salary as dead money in 2014, which means it won't be able to spread the savings around to the other players on the roster.
Because of this, Miami knows it will lose either Starks or Paul Soliai. That is a very difficult choice to make, and it is sure to spark some debate in the comments section.
Both players are the same age—they turn 31 within two weeks of each other in December of this season—so only one will likely be kept. My money is on Paul Soliai, as he has less NFL mileage. Soliai was drafted by the Dolphins in 2007, while Starks was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in 2004. He also has provided better overall play.
With that in mind, Miami should regrettably let Starks walk and see what he can get on the open market. If it's competitive enough for the Dolphins to be able to afford him, they should jump into the bidding.
Marlon Moore started off the season with the San Francisco 49ers and then found his way back to Miami halfway through the season when the team needed a wide receiver after Brandon Gibson's injury.
Moore was primarily used in special teams, while Rishard Matthews took Gibson's spot. Moore's work was pretty good, as he amassed six tackles and two forced fumbles in only eight games with Miami.
Because of his special teams work, expect him to get another year in Miami with a fairly cheap deal that should at the very least get him into training camp.
It's rare that anyone would suggest allowing a 26-year-old cornerback to walk after his best season, but remember that the term "best season" is relative with Nolan Carroll.
He did have a good 2013. He started 12 games and recorded two sacks, three interceptions, 12 pass deflections and 43 tackles. But is this the sign of someone trending upward, or is he a one-season wonder?
My vote is the latter, as he has provided four inconsistent seasons. With both Dimitri Patterson and last season's second-round pick Jamar Taylor likely to be healthy going into training camp next season (plus whomever the Dolphins might draft in May), Carroll will likely have to look for a new home in 2014.
Rebuilding the offensive line is going to be a difficult job, as Miami will likely will have to look for four new starters in the offseason.
But one has to ask: Does the scheme have something to do with the woes in 2013?
The best way to determine that would be to see what happens once a new offensive coordinator comes in (hopefully with a new offensive line coach).
Either way, the Dolphins will have to look for new linemen to replace at least two key players, but they might need a one-year Band-Aid for some offensive line positions.
John Jerry provides that Band-Aid and will be relatively affordable, so odds are that we will see him for one more season.
Does Tyson Clabo provide a suitable Band-Aid in the same way that John Jerry does?
Well, his age doesn't work to his advantage, as he is 32, compared to Jerry at 27. And despite his improvement in 2013 after being benched, Clabo's 2013 will go down as his worst season in the league.
If Miami is going to use a Band-Aid at tackle, it will likely be Bryant McKinnie, who played better throughout the season despite being two years older than Clabo. McKinnie is also a free agent.
This is Miami's Band-Aid at offensive tackle.
It's likely that the Dolphins won't be able to draft a marquee left tackle in Round 1 (as opposed to the second and third rounds, where they will find plenty of right tackles), which is why McKinnie should stay.
He also will be cheap for Miami in 2014 and not eat up too much cap room.
I hate having to bring this drama up; however, Richie Incognito would've been an impending free agent even without the scandal and controversy surrounding him and his relationship with Jonathan Martin.
With that being said, he's walking, but not due to his play. He wasn't great in the eight games with Miami this season, but he has been a good player overall in his three-and-a-half years with the Dolphins.
Because he has a track record of being a good player, a team might take a chance on him this offseason.
That team will not be the Dolphins. They want to rid themselves of any reminder of the scandal.
In Slide 1, we mentioned Randy Starks and why the Dolphins would let him walk or at least test the open market.
Paul Soliai, on the other hand, will be a priority.
Although they are the same age, Starks has more three NFL seasons than Soliai, and those miles add up.
On top of that, Soliai has been seen as more of a leader than Starks, based on the fact that at the start of last season, Soliai was a starting defensive tackle alongside Jared Odrick, with Starks coming off the bench.
That tells me everything as far as which player the Dolphins will likely choose going forward.
Miami's secondary needs stability.
That's the reason why they re-signed Chris Clemons last year, and he responded by producing a good season with 59 tackles and an interception while being one of the few who could adequately stop someone over the middle.
Because of his good play (and the poor play of Reshad Jones), expect Clemons to get a decent, more long-term deal from the Dolphins.
This one was tough, and it will be a tough decision for the Dolphins to make.
Dustin Keller didn't have the chance to take the field with the Miami Dolphins, as he hurt his knee during the preseason and was knocked out for the whole year.
This was unfortunate for him, but the silver lining was seeing Charles Clay break out this season. He gave the Dolphins production that Keller might have given them.
Miami needs a tight end who's bigger and better at blocking to complement Clay. Because of that, Miami will draft a tight end and let Keller walk.
Here's a roundup of Miami's four restricted free agents.
Will Yeatman: Keep
The Dolphins have spent the last two years attempting to develop Yeatman as a tackle in the NFL. An injury prematurely ended his 2013 season, and he will likely get one more year to prove himself in Miami.
Danny Watkins: Keep
Miami does need cheap depth along the offensive line, and Watkins at least provides that. Expect him to at least get to camp with Miami.
R.J. Stanford: Walk
Stanford primarily plays special teams, and he's pretty bad at that. He likely won't get any offers while a restricted free agent, and Miami will likely let him walk.
Justin Rogers: Keep
Rogers can practically do Stanford's job on special teams, so expect Miami to keep him at least to have an extra body.
Spitler plays a position that Miami doesn't have enough funds to improve at the moment.
Because of that, he's more valuable to the Dolphins than he would be for any other team.
On top of him playing linebacker, he is also a valuable contributor on special teams, which makes him more valuable for the Dolphins.
He'll stay at least through training camp and likely wind up on the final 53-man roster as well.
In an ideal world, Grimes will re-sign with the Dolphins without having the team to resort to the franchise tag. That would allow Miami to use it on Soliai instead and re-sign Starks, giving the Dolphins enough to fortify their offensive line with at least one lineman through free agency.
We don't live in a perfect world, and the uncertainty at general manager makes it hard to gauge what will really happen—I'm just making educated guesses here after all.
Grimes should be Miami's No. 1 offseason priority in 2014, for he was Miami's defensive MVP. A 60-tackle, four-interception season should prove that.
The secondary was also Miami's biggest improvement, and Grimes was a major reason for that. With Kevin Coyle still in as Miami's defensive coordinator, we know that Grimes will continue to fit the scheme for at least a season.
Despite being 30, Grimes should get a long-term deal in 2014, but since this is make-or-break season for the coaches and the new general manager might eventually have his own long-term plans (and not want to commit too much long-term strategy to someone over 30), Miami will most likely tag Grimes for 2014.