MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Miami Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland will use the team’s franchise tag on a player this season, but hasn’t said who it will be, according to CBS4 news partner the Miami Herald.

Ireland spoke to the press in Indianapolis Thursday as teams descend on the city for the annual NFL Scouting Combine. Ireland has several key personnel decisions by March 4, which is the deadline to apply the franchise tag on a player.

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The franchise tag allows a team to retain a player’s rights for a season by offering the player a guaranteed contract worth the average of the top five players at that position in the NFL. The average salary makes the decision a little easier for Ireland.

The Dolphins have three pending free agents who may get the franchise tag: cornerback Sean Smith; defensive tackle Randy Starks; and left tackle Jake Long.

Tagging Smith would cost the Dolphins more than $10 million, but Smith isn’t an elite enough cornerback to justify that high of a cost. Long, as a former number one overall pick at left tackle, would command a salary north of $15 million for the franchise tag.

While Long has played at an elite level in the past, over the last two years, he hasn’t finished the season healthy. He’s also coming off a torn triceps injury one year after tearing his biceps. Long is reportedly seeking more than $10 million a season as well.

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“There’s a lot of things that you normally don’t have in that particular case, some of the details I don’t want to get into, but it’s just a complicated negotiation,” Ireland said.

That leads the speculation for the usage of the franchise tag to Starks. The two-time Pro Bowler would cost the least of the three players and give the Dolphins stability along the defensive line, which is key to Ireland.

“We have a pretty good idea where we’re going with it, but things could change daily, hourly,” Ireland said. “It’s very important to have Randy back if we can get it done. The fact of the matter is we have a very good defensive line and keeping that intact is a focus of mine. I don’t want to let that strength become just average.”

The Dolphins defensive line would return next season completely intact if Starks is tagged. It would feature Cameron Wake and Jared Odrick/Olivier Vernon, and Stark and Paul Soliai at defensive tackle in the Fins’ 4-3 scheme.

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