In Mike Pouncey, Randy Starks has more than a teammate and a locker room neighbor. He has a public-relations enforcer.
One could argue that Starks is having the best season of his excellent career. But with the 10th-year defensive tackle, that’s always just part of the story.
Already this season, he has held out of spring workouts, stewed over not starting and flipped the bird to the sidelines after getting a sack. And some — if not all — of these headline-grabbing events have been related to his contract saga.
He’s on a one-year deal and wants a long-term extension. But that’s not happening anytime soon; the Dolphins have not made any overtures about an extension in a long time.
So for members of the media, it’s an unavoidable topic when writing about Starks’ play. But when such a question was posed in the Dolphins locker room Tuesday, Pouncey tried to swat it away.
“Don’t answer it, Starks,” Pouncey instructed.
Starks complied, at least for a while. He talked about how the team’s defensive tackle rotation — with Starks, Paul Soliai and Jared Odrick as co-starters — has kept him fresh.
He talked about his desire to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. And he talked about his goal of tallying double-digit sacks for the first time in his career.
But ultimately, Starks did talk about how he covets the guaranteed money-laden, multiyear deal that has eluded him the past two years.
“I’m motivated,” Starks said when asked to explain his superior level of play this year. “Just like everybody else, I want that long-term contract.”
Added Starks: “I know what’s at stake, but at the same time, our team being successful and our defense being successful season can also help my value.”
Through five games, Starks’ value is spiking.
Despite being on a limited play count, Starks has been a top-10 defensive tackle this season, according to Pro Football Focus.
And with Cameron Wake hobbled the past month because of a knee injury, there’s a case to be made that Starks has been the Dolphins’ best defensive player.
He has been excellent against the run and the pass. And although Starks has only two sacks this season, that stat belies his impact.
He has pressured the quarterback 14percent of the time he has pass rushed, ranking among the best interior defenders in that category.
And he has done all this despite starting just three games and taking, on average, only 46 snaps per game — down 11percent from last season.
“He’s a very good football player,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. “There’s a reason we [moved Odrick to defensive tackle]. We wanted to even out the reps between the guys so we could have better production, more effective guys in the fourth quarter. But he’s a guy who can play both the run very, very well and also rush the passer.”
And behind closed doors, he has been a leader — in his own way. Odrick said he has learned much from Starks, including the powerfully effective way he uses his hands.
And rookie Dion Jordan has learned how to be professional defensive lineman from the veteran.
“What he does is not always pretty, as far as what you see on the stat sheet, but he does a lot that helps out the guys on the back end, or the tackles alongside him,” Jordan said. “You see why he’s an All-Pro.”
Starks has essentially split his snaps between nose tackle and the three technique this year, and said he’s comfortable at both spots.
That versatility should only increase his value even more whenever he gets that next contract — either sometime this fall or early next year.
“I’m not really thinking about that, I’m not worried about that,” Starks said. “I’ll just go out there and try to help the team win. I’m not worried about deals, not worried about any of that.
“You think about it here or there, but it’s not my concern. My concern is going out there and being productive.”
Pouncey would be proud.