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After NFL Draft, Miami Dolphins still have a problem left to tackle

After nine draft picks over three long days, Jeff Ireland woke up Sunday morning with, more or less, the same hole at offensive tackle as he had a week ago.

Ireland vowed to upgrade the offensive line in the draft, and tried to make good on that pledge by taking Dallas Thomas in Round 3. But although Thomas is versatile, he’s projected more as a guard than a tackle.

And so, if the season started today, the Dolphins’ starting tackles, presumably, would be the same duo that closed out the 2012 campaign: Jonathan Martin on the left side, and Nate Garner on the right.

The good news for Ireland: The season doesn’t start for another four months. And he still has options.

The long-rumored Branden Albert trade never materialized draft weekend. The Chiefs and Dolphins never could agree on compensation.

That might be because Ireland has a logical — and far cheaper — candidate still at his disposal.

The Dolphins have kept alive a steady dialogue with Eric Winston throughout the process, and a league source said Sunday that we should know in the near future if a deal is a real possibility.

Winston, who was Kansas City’s other starting tackle a year ago, has been on the market since his release in late winter.

He made an official visit to Dolphins camp in March, but never received a contract offer to his liking.

But with Miami’s options dwindling in what is seen as an all-in year for the franchise, things could heat up again soon.

When asked late Saturday whether he planned to pursue a veteran tackle, Ireland was coy.

“We’ll see,” Ireland said. “I’m not going to tell you my plans, but we’re going to continue to tweak the roster where we feel like we need to do that.”

What Ireland didn’t need to say: He valued Dion Jordan far more than he did Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson, even though the latter would have filled a hole, and the former was more of a luxury.

When Ireland packaged a first- and second-round pick to move from No. 12 to third last Thursday night, he could have taken Johnson, viewed by some as the tackle with the most upside in the draft.

Was the move the right one? The players’ performance in coming seasons (not to mention Ryan Tannehill’s ability to stay upright this fall) will determine that.

Furthermore, the Raiders used the second-round pick they got in that trade (42nd overall) on Menelik Watson, an offensive tackle whom the Dolphins had worked out privately.

And when the Dolphins were on the clock at 54, they took cornerback Jamar Taylor (who without doubt filled a need, too) instead of a tackle such as Terron Armstead, who went in the next 20 picks.

They did draft Thomas in Round 3, but Dolphins coach Joe Philbin wouldn’t commit to a position for the University of Tennessee lineman, except saying he would work on the left side to start.

Still, if there was any concern about the tackle position, it was hard to tell Saturday.

“I like the additions we’ve made,” Philbin said. “It’s been a thorough process. We’ve got a long way to go, but I like the composition of the football team at this point in time.”

• Monday marks the first time this spring that Dolphins coaches are allowed on the field to work with veterans in the voluntary offseason workouts program. The team is permitted to conduct individual instruction and drills, but contact and helmets are prohibited.

“I know we are excited about coaching these guys,” Philbin said. “They seem to be a hungry group, they want to be good.”

• A.J. Francis, a defensive lineman from the University of Maryland, is believed to be among the undrafted free agents signed by the Dolphins. Fellow Terrapin Randy Starks announced the acquisition on Twitter.

NFL teams can carry a maximum of 90 players on their roster until the first round of cuts, which comes late in training camp. Unsigned draft picks don’t count against the 90.

• Guard Richie Incognito waded into the gun-control debate on Twitter on Sunday, coming out in favor of longer waiting periods.

“I agree we need way more gun control in this country,” Incognito wrote. “I love to hunt. I own many guns. I just feel that it is irresponsible to point to random acts committed by looney tunes to help bolster either side of the argument.”

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