By all accounts, the Dolphins want to keep Charles Clay.
But they should know — it will cost them.
The market for Clay, a tight end set to hit free agency in a few weeks, likely starts at $6 million annually, according to a league source.
That would put him in the range of Baltimore’s Dennis Pitta and Carolina’s Greg Olsen — which would make sense, if teams believe that 2013 was a true reflection of Clay’s ability, and not his injury-plagued 2014.
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Clay caught 69 passes for 759 yards and six touchdowns in 2013, and seemed poised for even greater heights the year after. But a knee injury severely limited his production the first half of the season, and his numbers dropped. Clay still caught 58 passes for 605 and three scores a year ago.
By way of comparison, Pitta signed a five-year, $32 million contract before the 2014 season — with a body of work comparable to what Clay has put together. Pitta’s best season came in 2012, when he caught 61 passes for 669 yards and seven scores.
As for Olsen, he had a career year in 2014, surpassing 1,000 yards. But he got paid by the Panthers in 2011 without ever catching more than 60 passes.
The Dolphins have expressed an openness to bringing Clay back, but it’s unclear if they would be willing to dig that deep into their pockets for him.
They are already close to the roughly $143 million salary cap, but are expected to clear up a significant amount of space by cutting aging or underperforming veterans.
And there already appears to be a market for Clay. The Buffalo News reported that the Bills are “taking a hard look” at Clay.
As for the player himself, he said late in the 2014 season that he wants to spend his entire career in Miami.
“When you turn on the film and watch me, you know you’re going to get somebody who plays hard every play,” Clay told the Miami Herald at the time. “You’re going to get somebody who’s tough, who’s going to fight, things like that. Stuff like that goes unnoticed when you look at the stat sheet, but that’s something you want in all the players on your team, someone who’s going to go out there and give it your all, and they’re not just worried about what their numbers look like.”