Some time after 4 p.m. Tuesday, Ndamukong Suh will sign on the line.
Barring a remarkable reversal, the Dolphins will make Suh, the coveted defensive tackle and prize of this year’s free agent class, the highest-paid defensive player in league history.
But there’s plenty of suspense left as free agency finally, officially opens Tuesday. The No. 1 unresolved issue: Will the Dolphins’ top free agent pickup from 2013 — Mike Wallace — get the chance to be Suh’s teammate?
The answer: Even Wallace doesn’t know for certain, but his return for Year 3 in Miami appears more and more likely.
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Wallace, the dynamic wide receiver who was infamously benched for the final half of the last game of the season, is due $9.9 million this fall. And although many speculated his high cap number and locker-room issues guaranteed he’d be gone, readers of the tea leaves are increasingly convinced that he will be back.
Wallace has buried the hatchet with Ryan Tannehill. He’s open to returning. And most importantly, his salary — once viewed as an albatross — is actually in line with what the top free agent receivers are getting this offseason.
Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas both will earn nearly $13 million this year under the franchise tag. Randall Cobb will get $10 million annually to stay with the Packers. Jeremy Maclin will likely receive an even bigger contract from the Chiefs.
The Dolphins might have had interest in any or all of those players. But each ended up elsewhere, and Miami doesn’t want to end up without weapons. The Dolphins have already cut Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson and could lose Charles Clay to the Bills. (Hartline agreed to a two-year, $6 million contract with the Browns.)
Suh’s reported six-year, $114 million contract will force the Dolphins to make plenty of tough choices. They ultimately couldn’t afford both Suh and Jared Odrick, who NFL.com reported will sign with the Jaguars for $7 million annually.
Odrick and Clay were the two pending free agents that executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum said he wanted to keep, but Jacksonville’s offer was too sweet.
Odrick, the dependable defensive tackle, becomes the sixth consecutive first-round pick to leave the Dolphins without a second contract.
Randy Starks, likewise, could find himself with a new address. Starks, who regressed late in the 2014 season, is owed $5 million in base salary this year. The Dolphins would get that same amount in cap relief if they cut him.
And the Dolphins will probably need a new punter after notifying Brandon Fields that his time with the team is likely over.
If Fields doesn’t accept a significant reduction in pay (he’s due to earn $3.5 million, second most of any NFL punter), he will be cut, the team told him recently. Fields’ 46.3 yards per punt was his lowest average since the 2010 season.
But none of this should be taken to mean that the Suh deal has paralyzed the Dolphins.
They can absorb Wallace’s $12.1 million cap commitment and still go out and acquire talent. They will just have to do so economically.
They’ve made their big splash at Barneys. Now it’s time to shop at Kohl’s.
The Dolphins need a starting safety and are one of six to eight teams with significant interest in Chiefs defensive back Ron Parker.
Cut three times before finally catching on with Kansas City, Parker would make sense for the Dolphins financially — even if the market for defensive backs has spiked. Parker can play both corner and safety; opposing quarterbacks completed 61.9 percent of their passes for four touchdowns last year.
The Dolphins have also reached out to cornerbacks Patrick Robinson and Robert McClain, along with safety Da’Norris Searcy. None would likely break the bank.
And thanks to Suh, the Dolphins could even benefit from a talent boomlet not unlike what happened with the Heat after LeBron James signed.
Suh’s ability to elevate the ability of his teammates could be enticing for free agents who don’t cash in this year. For second- or third-tier linebackers who are left with little more than a one-year, “prove-it” contract, they might believe that playing alongside Suh would maximize their ability — and their value.
So in a way, the Dolphins might get a return on their all-in investment as soon as Suh signs his contract Tuesday.