The Miami Dolphins are expected to re-sign one of the NFL‘s best interior defensive lineman on Wednesday by agreeing to a multiyear contract that will reportedly pay Randy Starks around $6 million per season.
It was a forgone conclusion in the minds of many that the Dolphins would be parting ways with Starks this offseason and that Paul Soliai would be the defensive tackle rookie GM Dennis Hickey retained. That thinking primarily stemmed from the projected price tag of both players. As a two-down defender, Soliai was thought to be the cheaper choice, whereas Starks was forecast to demand top dollar.
That’s not the way the market played out, though. Soliai was swooped up by the Atlanta Falcons for $32 million over five years — a massive contract for a lineman who only played 45 percent of Miami’s defensive snaps in 2013. Meanwhile, Starks was on the field for about 64 percent of said snaps. Needless to say, the Dolphins were able to bring back the more versatile tackle.
Pro Football Focus’ metrics confirm that sentiment. As the site’s eighth most efficient pass rushing defensive/nose tackle, Starks produced the sixth most quarterback hurries at the position with 30 in 2013. Soliai was able to push the pocket on occasion, but only graded as the 24th-most efficient pass rusher on the interior and tallied a mere nine hurries.
Starks is no specialist, though. Not only is he one of the league’s most productive interior rushers, but he’s also one of the league’s stoutest run defenders. Pro Football Focus actually slotted him as the fifth most efficient run stuffer among interior defensive players this past season. His 35 stops, which primarily consisted of wrapping up a ball carrier near or behind the line of scrimmage, were the seventh most. While Soliai is considered a double-team commanding force, he wasn’t as good against the run as Starks in 2013, finishing 16th in the category according to Pro Football Focus and registering 16 fewer stops than his counterpart.
Starks and Soliai are different players with different strengths. The former wreaks havoc with penetration while the latter is more adept at holding the point of attack. That means Soliai is able to create opportunities for other defenders as well and that his run grade doesn’t necessarily do his effectiveness justice. Also, Soliai has less tread on his tires with seven accrued seasons compared to Starks’ 10. But Starks is only 16 days older and is coming off of arguably one of his best seasons as a pro. There’s no reason why Starks can’t play out the duration of his deal at a high level.
Choosing between Starks and Soliai was said to be one of Hickey’s most difficult decisions during his first year on the job. With the way free agency played out, though, the decision turned out to be an easy one. The Dolphins were able to retain the better pass rusher, the better run defender, the more versatile and the cheaper of the two.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.