Franchise-tag numbers might not add up for Miami Dolphins

Miami has until Monday to use the franchise tag on a player and GM Jeff Ireland said that was a ‘likelihood,’ but doing so might result in the team overpaying.

03/03/2013 12:00 AM

03/03/2013 12:45 AM

Nineteen teams utilized the franchise tag in 2012. The Dolphins weren’t one of them.

In 2009, nearly half the league tagged someone. Not the Dolphins.

And as of Saturday afternoon, five franchises had used the franchise designation.

But despite 12 pending free agents set to hit the market next week — and general manager Jeff Ireland’s declaration late last month that there was “certainly a likelihood” the Dolphins would tag someone — all appeared quiet in Davie on Saturday.

There’s still time left — the deadline to apply the tag isn’t until Monday — and perhaps Ireland is waiting until the last moment to maximize his leverage (players usually prefer long-term contracts with a big chunk of guaranteed money up front than playing year to year).

Or maybe it’s part of a bigger trend, an indication that Ireland, for whatever reason, simply doesn’t like using the franchise designation.

Since getting hired in 2008, Ireland has tagged just one player: Paul Soliai in 2011. Soliai pocketed more than $12 million — guaranteed — under the franchise tag. After playing out the one-year deal, he ultimately re-signed with the Dolphins — at half the price.

And, that, in brief, might be why Ireland balks at using the designation, unless it’s absolutely necessary. He preaches value. And there’s not much value in overpaying.

Perhaps with Randy Starks as the lone exception, every Dolphins free agent would likely earn more under the franchise tag than they would command on the open market.

Jake Long is the best example. It is believed that Long wants $10 million a year. The Dolphins appear to have rejected that. So why would they agree to pay him $15 million, which he would earn under the franchise tag?

Ireland has been industrious in freeing up more than $45 million in salary-cap space to use this spring. So why would he give a third of that to a player who, by most appearances, is in decline?

The same argument can be made for corner Sean Smith (whose tag number would be $10.9 million, according to overthecap.com), receiver Brian Hartline ($9.9 million) and running back Reggie Bush ($7.9 million).

That’s why all signs point to Miami using the tag on Starks, if anyone. The defensive tackle franchise number is $8.1 million, which could be in the neighborhood of what Starks, twice a Pro Bowler, would command in free agency.

Compound that with Ireland’s praise of Starks at the NFL Scouting Combine recently — saying, “It’s very important to have Randy back if we can get it done” — and Starks is the most logical (and perhaps only) option.

Repeated messages left with Starks’ agent Tony Paige for comment over the past two weeks have gone unanswered.

Whereas the Dolphins have been slow to tag, others around the league haven’t been nearly so reticent. In fact, a number of potential Dolphins free agent targets already have been taken off the board.

As expected, tackle Ryan Clady (Denver), safety Jairus Byrd (Buffalo), defensive tackle Henry Melton (Chicago) and defensive end Michael Johnson (Cincinnati) all have been tagged. All would fill holes on the Dolphins’ roster.

But as of Saturday, the most important position — receiver — had not been touched. Published reports had the Packers still mulling using the tag on Greg Jennings – Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson said at the combine he’d like to keep Jennings on the team — but had not as of Saturday afternoon.

Kansas City’s Dwayne Bowe (Miami Norland) could also fall in that category, and Steelers receiver Mike Wallace seems destined for free agency.

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