Free agency is drawing closer and closer with each passing second. As far as I'm concerned, the offseason does not officially begin until free agency kicks off. The Miami Dolphins, like every other NFL team, will deliver their best pitch to prospective players.
The Dolphins have more wiggle room than the majority of teams in the league thanks to their available cap space. According to the NFL cap tracker at Spotrac.com, the Dolphins have the seventh-most available cap space in the league with $34,611,214 available.
The Dolphins already cleared one hurdle by re-signing Pro Bowl corner Brent Grimes to a new four-year contract. Miami can now focus on re-signing some key players and acquiring new talent to upgrade their roster.
With Grimes locked in, Miami has three other potential re-signs: Paul Soliai, Randy Starks and Chris Clemons.
Soliai and Starks are both set to hit the market. In a perfect world they would both return to Miami, but we sadly do not live in a perfect world. The Dolphins could end up losing both defensive tackles through free agency, but my money is on one of them returning to the Dolphins next season.
If I'm Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey, I let Soliai walk and focus my attention on Starks. The writing is on the wall for Soliai after his agent, David Canter, recently tweeted, "It's been a great 7 years in Miami sadly I think it's time to move on."
Who will be back with Miami next season?
If Starks can be re-signed to a contract that is fairly priced and benefits both parties, then he is a no-brainer. However, the Dolphins should avoid overpaying for his services, especially with this year's draft class having a number of strong defensive linemen.
Bleacher Report's own Garrett Baker brought up the idea of Jared Odrick filling the void left by Starks if a deal is unable to be reached. Bottom line, Starks is a phenomenal talent and would receive a warm welcome back, but the Dolphins have other options.
I look for the Dolphins to negotiate with Starks, but it seems most likely that he lands with Soliai elsewhere.
Chris Clemons will also be playing ball in another city next season. According to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, the Dolphins have already had Detroit Lions safety Louis Delmas down for a visit. Delmas is just 26 years old, a South Florida native and would be an instant upgrade from Clemons.
Former Cleveland Browns linebacker D'Qwell Jackson has drawn interest from the Dolphins, and that interest appears to be mutual. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport (via Chris Wesseling of NFL.com), Jackson will meet with Dolphins officials on Tuesday.
This video shows Jackson's intensity, watch as the LB embarrasses running back Peyton Hillis at the 22-second mark.
Bringing Jackson in would bolster the porous run defense the Dolphins displayed last season. Seeing Jackson in South Beach would likely mean seeing Philip Wheeler on the sidelines more, a change many Dolphins fans would welcome.
Of course the most critical decision facing the Dolphins is how to repair the offensive line. Fortunately, their are several big-time linemen about to hit the market. The three biggest names would have to be Eugene Monroe, Branden Albert and Jared Veldheer.
Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald (h/t ProFootballTalk) reported that the Dolphins hope to land either Monroe or Albert. Of the three targets specified, Albert would be my third choice, but I still see Monroe and Veldheer returning to the Baltimore Ravens and Oakland Raiders, respectively.
Given that the Dolphins tried to acquire Albert last season, I would expect them to make a hard push for Albert and successfully sign the former Kansas City Chief.
At the end of the day, this is all just speculation. One thing is for certain, the Dolphins' biggest needs are O-line, D-line, safety and linebacker.
I personally would like to see a power running back brought in to replace Daniel Thomas, but I will stop short of calling running backs a necessity for the Dolphins. Nobody could have successfully carried the ball behind Miami's O-line last season.
To recap, I think Soliai, Clemons and probably Starks will part ways with the Dolphins. I believe the Dolphins will go on another spending spree and sign Albert, Jackson, Delmas and possibly a RB (LeGarrette Blount?).
Fasten your seat belts; we are just days away from one of the most exciting periods of the NFL offseason. Hopefully 2014 brings a much smoother ride for the Dolphins.