Branden Albert has vaulted to the top of the Miami Dolphins’ wish list, and Rodger Saffold isn’t too far behind.
That’s according to multiple sources briefed on the Dolphins’ free agency thinking, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The news came Saturday, the first day that front offices could begin talking to representatives of pending free agents currently on other teams.
Either of them would help fill the team’s most glaring need: offensive line. Poor performance and the team’s bullying scandal raises the possibility that Miami will go into the 2014 season with an entirely new starting five up front.
Baltimore tackle Eugene Monroe remains an option for the team, which allowed a franchise-worst 58 sacks in 2013. Miami reached out to his representation within the first hour allowed Saturday.
The Dolphins also have interest in Jared Veldheer, who became available after the Raiders chose not to hit him with the franchise tag last week. The Dolphins have talked about the parameters of a possible contract with the former third-round pick, sources say.
Miami already has made a run at Albert once, but then-general manager Jeff Ireland balked on a draft-weekend trade last spring because he and the Kansas City Chiefs couldn’t agree on terms. Ireland is now gone, but the Dolphins’ desire to sign Albert — who lives in Miami in the offseason — remains strong.
Albert, the 29-year-old left tackle out of the University of Virginia, also is expected to draw strong interest from the Cardinals.
Arizona also will be in the running for Saffold — who’s four years younger than Albert. Saffold, a former second-round pick, played his first four years with the Rams. Ideally, the Dolphins would sign both Albert and Saffold, and move the latter to guard.
The pool of possible offensive guards deepened Saturday when the Buccaneers cut Davin Joseph. Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey was a key member of Tampa Bay’s front office when Joseph was drafted.
Although teams can’t put pen to paper until the league calendar turns over at 4 p.m. Tuesday, teams could legally enter into talks with players on other rosters at noon Saturday.
But for the Dolphins, their reality at defensive tackle came into focus long before the league-sanctioned “tampering” window opened.
All indications are the Dolphins are poised to lose both Paul Soliai and Randy Starks — who have anchored the middle of the defensive line for the last half-decade.
There has been no progress on a new deal for Soliai, and signs are his time with the Dolphins is coming to an end.
The same can be said for Starks, who as of Saturday morning had not received a contract offer from the Dolphins. The talented Starks is headstrong — the middle finger he flashed at the Dolphins’ bench in the 2013 opener is proof of that — and many around the league believe that he’s not a personality fit with Miami coach Joe Philbin.
Soliai and Starks are two of 12 Dolphins set to become unrestricted free agents Tuesday. If both leave as expected, the Dolphins almost certainly would pursue a starting defensive tackle in the coming days.
The top available options are the Cowboys’ Jason Hatcher, the Bears’ Henry Melton and the Packers’ B.J. Raji.
The Dolphins also must also find a starting safety and possibly upgrade at linebacker, tight end and running back.
The leading candidate at safety appears to be Louis Delmas, previously of the Detroit Lions. Delmas visited Dolphins headquarters after his release late last month, and the two sides have begun contract negotiations, although a deal is not considered imminent.
They have roughly $34 million in salary cap space, putting them in position to be among the most aggressive players in free agency.