The Miami Dolphins will not have a complete overhaul of the defensive tackle position this offseason.
Their two primary starters, Randy Starks and Paul Soliai, hit the open market when free agency opened on Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET. According to Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald, the Dolphins re-signed Starks to a two-year, $12 million contract on Wednesday.
The Randy Starks deal is done. He's returning to Miami, at two years, $12 million.— Barry Jackson (@flasportsbuzz) March 12, 2014
Spotrac.com indicates that Starks' average salary of $6 million per year places him among the top 10 highest-paid defensive tackles in the league.
With just a two-year commitment to the 30-year-old, this contract should be considered a win for the Dolphins depending on how the guaranteed money breaks down. They get to keep one of their most talented free agents and addressed a need with an in-house player who knows the system.
Starks left the Tennessee Titans and signed a five-year, $20.05 million contract with the Dolphins in 2008. The Dolphins hit him with the franchise tag at the end of that deal (2013) and paid him $8.45 million for his services.
The value of his new contract is far below what the Dolphins paid for him last year.
Shortly before losing their best gap-plugging defensive tackle, Adam Schefter of ESPN noted that the Dolphins signed Earl Mitchell from the Houston Texans to a four-year, $16 million deal. He'll be expected to get into the backfield as a penetrating, one-gap-style defensive tackle.
|Player||Snaps||Run||Pass rush||Pass cov||QB Hu||QB Ht||QB Sk||Productivity||Stuff %|
Source: Pro Football Focus
Where Soliai is a much bigger presence against the run, Pro Football Focus (subscription required) indicates that Starks makes his presence felt more frequently against the pass.
Starks has drawn criticism for his run defense at times, but PFF's numbers reveal that Starks is still the sixth-best run-stuffing defensive tackle on a per-snap basis.
With Starks, Mitchell and Jared Odrick at defensive tackle, the Dolphins have a strong rotation for the 2014 season. They will soon have questions at the position yet again, though, as Odrick is set to hit the open market in 2015.
Perhaps this sets up a situation where Odrick's trajectory at the end of the 2014 season will determine whether or not he is kept.
Once that decision is made, the Dolphins could let Starks' contract expire after the 2015 season to avoid having too many resources allocated to the defensive tackle position. That would then set up a starting defensive tackle tandem of Odrick and Mitchell following the 2015 season.
In re-signing Starks, the Dolphins ensured that they will not have to let those plans enter their minds for at least one more year.
With a defensive line that features Starks, Odrick and Mitchell in the middle, along with a rotation of Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon and Dion Jordan at defensive end, the Dolphins' front four figures to be one of the league's most fearsome in 2014 and beyond.
With the signing, the Dolphins can now turn their attention back to priority No. 1: the offensive line. There are still holes to fill at left guard, right guard and right tackle before the 2014 season begins, but there's plenty of time and the draft is still ahead.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.