Reporting Tim Kephart
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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – When the clock strikes 4 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, 32 NFL teams will open up their checkbooks for the start of unrestricted free agency. The annual spending fest will be tempered to a degree as teams wait on one man to make a decision, Peyton Manning.
Since three teams are presumably still in the race for Manning, Denver, Miami, and Arizona; those three teams will largely be on the sidelines when free agency begins. Only after Manning picks his next team will those teams be able to start moving on to other players.
The salary cap for the NFL was set Monday at $120.6 million. Since it’s a hard cap, all teams must be under the salary cap, with no exceptions.
For the Dolphins, they have between $14-$16 million to spend on free agents and the draft before restructuring any contracts or releasing any players. The Fins could clear up a lot of space by restructuring the contracts of Karlos Dansby, Brandon Marshall, and Jake Long.
But so far, nothing has leaked out of Dolphins camp about any possible restructurings to help give the Fins more room to maneuver under the cap.
The Dolphins have a few main areas to focus on in free agency and the 2012 NFL Draft. Specifically, the Fins need a right tackle or right guard, defensive ends to rush the passer, a third cornerback, and an athletic tight end.
The right tackle/guard position shouldn’t be hard to fill during this offseason. Star right tackle Eric Winston became available Monday after the Texans released him, while former first round pick Levi Brown is also available.
The NFL Draft also has several potential stars at guard and tackle that will be available when the Dolphins are ready to pick in the first round.
Defensive ends that can rush the passer are at a premium in the NFL, which will likely price the top free agent pass rusher, Mario Williams, well out of the Dolphins’ price range. Williams is likely to command a huge contract and could end up in Chicago or Seattle.
The Dolphins can attack pass rushers in the draft as well, though there may not be one in the first round that grades out to the eighth overall pick.
The Fins can attack the cornerback position through either the draft or free agency, given that the cornerback will likely be the third corner in the lineup behind Vontae Davis and Sean Smith.
When it comes to the tight end position, some of it is just going to be luck as to where the Fins end up drafting. There’s no star tight end in the draft this year, but several good tight ends should be available in the late first to early second round of the draft.
But, much of this again will require a decision from Peyton Manning. If Peyton tells the Fins he wants to come here; he could bring center Jeff Saturday, wide receiver Reggie Wayne, and tight end Dallas Clark, or some combination thereof with him to the Fins.
Any one of those players could vastly change the course the Fins decide to take in free agency. But until Manning makes a decision, or at least begins to eliminate teams, many cities will be at the mercy of a quarterback who hasn’t thrown a pass in a game in more than a year.