Breaking Down Miami Dolphins' Franchise-Tag Decisions

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Breaking Down Miami Dolphins' Franchise-Tag Decisions
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

As the NFL offseason gets underway, one of the first decisions the Miami Dolphins have to make will be what to do with their franchise tag.

They've used the tag in two of the past three seasons, and the main question this year doesn't seem to be if they will use their tag, but rather who they will use it on.

Among their nearly 20 free agents, there are four that stand out as possible franchise-tag options, all of whom are on the defensive side of the ball.

Cornerback Brent Grimes, safety Chris Clemons and defensive tackles Paul Soliai and Randy Starks all warrant consideration for a franchise tag.

While Grimes is certainly the leading candidate to get tagged, it doesn't hurt to take a look at the other options as well.

As much as the Dolphins' front office is doing, let's break it down and take a look at the pros and cons of franchising each player.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

 

Chris Clemons

One of the most consistent players on the Dolphins defense, Clemons played in all but nine snaps all season in 2013.

Pro Football Focus also rated him as the second-best player in coverage for Miami, behind only Grimes.

In man coverage, Clemons was thrown at 21 times, allowing 11 catches for two touchdowns, one interception and one pass defended. Opposing quarterbacks recorded just an 82.8 rating when targeting him.

The Dolphins secondary needs stability, and Clemons brings just that.

However, while he is a solid player, he's far from a superstar. He's also not worth the $8.1 million salary the team would be forced to pay him next season if he was franchised.

The Dolphins would love to have Clemons back, but the team would be much better suited to offer him a long-term extension than overpay him for one season.

J Pat Carter/Associated Press

 

Randy Starks

Playing under the franchise tag in 2013, Starks put up one of the best seasons of his career.

Pro Football Focus rated Starks as the seventh-best defensive tackle in the NFL (out of 69 players), recording four sacks, six quarterback hits and 30 quarterback hurries.

He registered pressure on the opposing quarterback once every 10 snaps, an impressive number for a defensive tackle.

He also played stellar run defense, recording 48 total tackles, 31 of which came at or behind the line of scrimmage.

Based off of his play in 2013, Starks is certainly worthy of a franchise tag.

However, the problem is that after getting tagged last year, that price would now swell to $10.14 million to tag him this time around.

This makes it very unlikely that he returns under the franchise tag, and once he gets out on the open market, it's tough to imagine the Dolphins being able to afford him. 

Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

 

Paul Soliai

Despite the fact that Soliai is the same age as Starks—they both turned 30 in Decemberhe has three fewer NFL seasons under his belt.

This likely makes him the Dolphins' No. 2 priority to retain in the offseason and a definite possibility for a franchise tag. 

Soliai was franchised in 2011 and hit the open market in 2012 before signing a two-year extension with the Dolphins.

The 6'4", 340-pound defensive tackle out of Utah played very well in 2013, especially against the run, as he recorded 19 of his 24 tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage.

He also recorded two sacks, nine quarterback hurries and three quarterback hits, playing on about 60 percent of the team's snaps.

If the Dolphins can agree to a long-term deal with Brent Grimes, then Soliai could be tagged for $9.2 million.

If they can't, Soliai will likely hit the open market, and it will be up to the Dolphins to bring him back on a long-term extension. 

 

Brent Grimes

In the end, the Dolphins' franchise-tag decisions start and end with Grimes.

Playing on a one-year, prove-yourself deal in 2013, Grimes answered the call as the team's defensive MVP.

Getting thrown at 98 times, he allowed 59 catches while recording a team-high four interceptions and defending 16 passes on his way to earning a spot in the Pro Bowl. 

Of the 61 cornerbacks in the league who were targeted at least 70 times, Grimes was the only one to not allow a touchdown pass.

When throwing at Grimes, opposing quarterbacks had just a 66.3 rating, and Pro Football Focus ranked him as the second-best cornerback in the league behind only Darrelle Revis.

In a perfect world, Grimes will re-sign long term with the Dolphins without having the team resort to paying him $11.3 million in 2014 with the franchise tag.

However, we don't live in a perfect world. So, if an extension doesn't get done, Grimes will almost certainly get tagged, even though he told The Miami Herald's Armando Salguero that it's a move that nobody wants.

You can bet that the Dolphins will be working hard right up until the March 3 deadline to get a deal done with Grimes. 

Signing him to an extension ensures the team's best defensive player will be back for a couple more seasons and opens up the possibility for the team to tag one of their other free agents.

But if a deal can't get done, the team's decision becomes very simple, and all roads for the franchise tag lead right back to Grimes.

 

Andrew Tornetta is a Miami Dolphins featured columnist. Check out his B/R archive and follow him on Twitter @AndrewTornetta.

All franchise-tag numbers are courtesy of NFL.com Media's Albert Breer, per a report by NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal. Unless otherwise noted, all advanced stats were obtained via Pro Football Focus' premium section (subscription required).

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