Reporting Tim Kephart
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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – As the Miami Dolphins look to build a roster to win consistently in the NFL, one thing the Dolphins have plenty of this offseason is salary cap space.
The Dolphins have between $82 and $84 million committed to the 2013 NFL salary cap. Assuming the cap is around $122 million, the Dolphins will have upwards of nearly $45 million in salary cap space as the team looks to improve in 2013.
According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the only teams with more salary cap space than the Dolphins are the Cincinnati Bengals ($51 million) and the Cleveland Browns ($46.1 million). The Sun-Sentinel said 10 teams are over the salary cap, with the Dallas Cowboys having the largest overage at $148 million ($26 million over the cap).
However, all of the Dolphins salary cap space will not necessarily go to signing big name free agents during the offseason. The Fins have to make decisions on many of their own free agents including Jake Long, Anthony Fasano, Reggie Bush, Randy Starks, and others.
The Dolphins may be inclined to let Bush test free agency, despite two solid seasons in South Florida. The running back position has been devalued in the NFL and it may not be fiscally sound to give Bush as much as he may want with so many other holes on the roster.
For Long, who is reportedly seeking a large contract extension, the Dolphins have to weigh cost versus risk. Long hasn’t been able to finish a season the last few years due to injuries. When he’s healthy, he’s one of the top tackles in the league, but he’s rarely been healthy for long stretches.
The Dolphins have Jonathan Martin in house who played left tackle at Stanford and filled in for Long when he went down with an injury late last season. Long may test free agency if he and the Dolphins can’t reach a deal, which looks like it may be the case with just a few weeks before free agency begins.
Defensively, cornerback Sean Smith was good, but not great last season and is eligible for free agency in March. Smith’s contract parameters will likely determine if he stays in Miami. If Smith wants to be paid like a top cornerback, the Dolphins may let him jump into free agency.
Along the defensive line, Randy Starks will almost certainly hit free agency. The Dolphins can slide Jared Odrick in to replace Starks along side of Paul Soliai. That would open up the defensive end position opposite Cameron Wake to either a free agent, draft pick, or second-year pro Olivier Vernon.
When it comes to the wide receiver position, the Dolphins may try to keep Brian Hartline after his breakout 2012 season. Assuming the Fins can re-sign Hartline, it would still leave the team needing at least two solid receivers heading into next season.
Among the top free agent receivers are: Dwayne Bowe, Mike Wallace, Greg Jennings, Wes Welker, and Danny Amendola.
Bowe is talented, but has had issues with the coaching staffs in Kansas City. Wallace is a solid route-runner and great deep threat, but fell out of favor last year in Pittsburgh. Amendola is a slot-receiver, which the Dolphins already have in Davone Bess.
Jennings, though older than Bowe and Wallace, has previously played for Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin when both were in Green Bay. If Jennings still has enough left in the tank for a few more years, he may be the Dolphins’ top pick. If the Fins don’t pursue him, it could mean trouble for Jennings.
Finally, the free agent tight end class has several intriguing possibilities for the Dolphins. Fred Dvais and Jared Cook are more dynamic receivers while Martellus Bennett could be a total package after a career rebirth last year as a member of the New York Giants.
When it comes to the NFL Draft, the Dolphins own five picks in the draft’s first three rounds (1 in the first round, 2 in the second, and 2 in the third). Needless to say, the Dolphins can go in a lot of different directions in the draft.
CBSSports.com has Miami taking a receiver in the first round, either Cal’s Keenan Allen or Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson. Walterfootball.com has the Fins looking at Texas safety Kenny Vacaro in the first round.
The Dolphins could also look at the offensive and defensive line in the first round, but both positions are fairly deep in the current draft.