The salary cap limit this year will be $130 million, up five percent from $123 million last year. The $130 million figure is higher than what the majority of league executives were expecting with many thinking it would only be three percent higher.
The Miami Dolphins were already going into free agency with the seventh most cap room in the NFL, so in this case, the rich are getting richer. With that said, the Dolphins were expected to use a lot of that money to rebuild their offensive line. One area they weren’t expected to invest a lot of money in was the defensive tackle position. With both Randy Starks and Paul Soliai set to hit the free agent market, it was expected that the Dolphins would only keep only one of those players.
However, with the increase in the cap being higher than what was expected, it likely gives the Dolphins enough money to ink a deal with both players if they so choose.
With that said, should they try to re-sign both players or should they stick to their original plan and only re-sign one of them? Since head coach Joe Philbin and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle have only been around since 2012, we will only evaluate the two players over the past two years because that’s the scheme they will presumably be playing in over the next several years.
Soliai, who is now 30 years old, was drafted by the Dolphins in 2007. In 2012, he started all 16 games and had 29 tackles and 1.5 sacks. He ranked 40 out of 65 defensive tackles in total tackles. In 2013, he started 15 games and had 34 tackles, one sack and one forced fumble. Out of 67 defensive tackles that played this past year, he ranked 34 in total tackles.
Starks, who is also 30 years old, was drafted by the Titans in 2004 and came to the Dolphins in 2008. In 2012, he was moved to defensive tackle where he started in 16 games and had 27 tackles and 4.5 sacks. He was ranked 46 out of 65 defensive tackles in total tackles. In 2013, he started in 14 games and had 49 tackles, four sacks and one forced fumble. He was ranked 16 out of 67 defensive tackles in total tackles.
Obviously, being a defensive tackle is a lot more than that, but there are so many stats that are not accounted for such as how many double-teams each one drew, how many times each one hurried the quarterback, how many times each one brought the running back down behind the line and so forth. The Dolphins have these stats, but the national stats services do not.
With that said, Pro Football Focus has Starks ranked as the best interior defensive lineman entering free agency with a grade of 28.8 for this past season. On the other hand, Soliai has a grade of 11.1 for this past season which is good for 9th out of 55 players on the defensive line.
So, should the Dolphins re-sign both of them? It’s a tough decision. While Starks has better numbers, he also has more mileage on his legs than Soliai. He’s been playing since 2004 while Soliai has only been playing since 2007.
It will also come down to the locker room dynamics. We all know Philbin wants high character guys on his team and guys who come to play football. When Starks was demoted out of the starting lineup last year, he pouted and even gave the sideline the middle finger during their season opener after making a tackle. Does that sound like a Philbin guy? Unfortunately, no. Those factors could quite possibly be the nail in the coffin.
With that said, so many things that are not seen on the surface will be taken into account and it’s hard to see where the Dolphins go with this. If it were based strictly on numbers, this would be easy as both should be re-signed.
In the end, my gut tells me that Starks is still let go and Soliai is brought back to the Dolphins. While his numbers are a little less than Starks, his character and work ethic will most likely give him the advantage at the negotiating table.
Matthew Cannata is a Miami Dolphins columnist for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @PhinManics. Be sure to also add him to your network on Google.