Tuesday is Decision Day, not just for the country, but for the Miami Dolphins.
That’s when, after weeks of speculation, we’ll finally learn if the Dolphins will franchise Olivier Vernon, or let him reach free agency.
No one knows for sure what they’ll do.
But here’s a good hint: The Dolphins see keeping Vernon is a cornerstone of their free agency plans, and that much of what they do in the coming weeks depends on how much keeping Vernon will cost. That’s according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the franchise’s thinking.
If the Dolphins indeed are determined to keep Vernon, who would be the most coveted pass-rusher in free agency should he get there, they really have just two options:
▪ Use the franchise tag on Vernon before Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline at a cost of $15.7 million, as the NFL Players Association announced Monday.
▪ Work out a long-term deal that would spread out the salary-cap pain over the length of the deal.
Granted, there is one additional option: the transition tag, which would cost the team just $12.7 million in 2016 -- assuming no one else steals Vernon away.
It happened last year with Charles Clay, who negotiated a five-year, $38 million contract with the Bills despite being transition tagged by the Dolphins. The tag granted the Dolphins the right to match the deal, but they ultimately did not.
Industry insiders estimate Vernon would secure a long-term deal that pays between $12 and $14 million annually, should he hit the open market.
The Dolphins know all this -- and must weigh how much they want to limit their ability to address other holes with how much they need Vernon.
Vernon is a success draft story for a franchise with few of them in recent years. Vernon, a third-round pick in 2012, has 29 sacks in his first four seasons, including 7.5 last year. He added 61 tackles and 20 quarterback hurries.
Those aren’t huge numbers, but Vernon was the team’s only real pass-rushing threat after Wake tore his Achilles tendon midway through the season.
The market is expected to be hot for Vernon, especially since Broncos star Von Miller will almost certainly receive the franchise tag on Tuesday. With Miller presumably off the market, Vernon would likely be the No. 1 defensive end on the open market.
The Dolphins last used the franchise tag in 2013, when defensive tackle Randy Starks received the designation.
One possible -- but unlikely -- resolution to the situation is this: the Dolphins tag Vernon on Tuesday, then trade him to another team. But that scenario includes a lot of moving parts, not the least of which is Vernon would likely have to agree on a contract with his new team before a team is completed.
▪ Jarvis Landry will present Piper High School student Nicole Emrick with the $1,000 grand prize from BankUnited for winning a financial literacy essay contest.