The Miami Dolphins were able to retain one of their marquee free agents of the 2014 offseason on Wednesday, reaching an agreement with defensive tackle Randy Starks on a two-year contract.
CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora reported the news and indicated that the deal was worth a total of $12 million, and the Dolphins' official Twitter account captured Starks as he put pen to paper:
Randy Starks agrees to terms with Dolphins on a 2yr/$12M deal— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) March 12, 2014
Starks shared his thoughts about returning to Miami in a press conference when his contract was finalized, expressing that the Dolphins have one of the NFL's best defenses:
Starks: "I've been a part of this organization for six years, and I'm glad to be back."— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) March 12, 2014
Starks on the contract: "It gives me a chance to finish my career here."— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) March 12, 2014
Starks: "I think we're one of the top defenses in the league."— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) March 12, 2014
Retaining Starks became especially important for new general manager Dennis Hickey when he lost a key player in defensive tackle Paul Soliai, who signed with the Atlanta Falcons on Tuesday, per NFL Network's Albert Breer. There is a minimal amount of depth across the Dolphins' defensive front, and losing Starks would have been borderline catastrophic.
Hickey felt confident that Starks would stay in South Beach earlier on Wednesday, though.
"We’re optimistic," said Hickey, per Chris Perkins and Keven Lerner of the Sun-Sentinel. "Randy, we’ve been negotiating with his agent and representation. Dawn Aponte (Dolphins executive vice president/business administration) is upstairs working on that. We’re optimistic. We’ll see how that happens. We’ll let you know."
Starks is a nimble player in the trenches who has a record of generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks and finishing the play off with a sack. The 30-year-old has twice been named to the Pro Bowl in his six years with the Dolphins, and he's registered no fewer than three sacks each season in that span.
But he's also a big asset when teams try to run the ball on Miami. Pro Football Focus highlights how valuable Starks was to the defense in 2013:
Miami FA Randy Starks was our 8th highest graded pass rusher and 5th highest graded run defender amongst DTs. Good all round play in 2013.— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) March 10, 2014
Considering the unit finished 24th against the run and was in the middle of the pack in the league versus the pass, it's a bit scary to wonder what would have happened if not for Starks' strong all-around play.
How do you feel about the Dolphins retaining Randy Starks?
It's safe to say Starks was a big part of that, but Hickey didn't exactly break the bank to keep him. Perhaps there are concerns about how Starks will fare without the 6'4", 340-pound Soliai engaging blockers next to him on the inside. The Dolphins did add former Houston Texans nose tackle Earl Mitchell in free agency to compensate for the loss of Soliai, as reported by The Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson, via the National Football Post.
Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has to be pleased that Starks is returning to the fold because of his unique athleticism for his position. Re-signing Starks also came at a bargain considering how well he played last season and how much money other teams could have offered him on the open market. It seems the dynamic defensive lineman was encouraged enough by the addition of Mitchell and the general direction of the organization to remain in Miami.
There is plenty of talent on the Dolphins' defense, but locking up Starks to set the tone up front is critical to the team's success as the 2014 campaign approaches.