Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero: Answers lead to questions for Miami Dolphins

The rest of the country is thinking about spring training or March Madness. South Florida is waiting for the NBA playoffs to start so it can get really serious about the Heat. And in the meantime …

NFL free agency kicks off Tuesday!

It’s that time of year when the Dolphins can compete for another offseason Super Bowl title. Fans can get excited about the grand possibilities of Dennis Hickey building an offensive line, rebuilding the interior defensive line, and maybe adding a play-making safety, or perhaps upgrading the linebacker corps.

If the Dolphins general manager gets really bold, maybe he signs a running back, too.

Why all the possibilities?

Because the Dolphins have spent much of the past decade unable to get definitive answers to their lingering questions even when they’ve thrown multiple draft picks or gobs of money at the issues.

Offensive line? It has been an ongoing problem even though the past two Dolphins head coaches, including Joe Philbin now, cut their teeth as offensive line coaches. The Dolphins have spent the past decade building their offensive line — including in 2009 when they invested $156 million in the unit.

That big investment, including using the draft’s first overall pick on an offensive lineman in 2008, has yielded only one starting lineman, Mike Pouncey, on today’s roster.

The safety spot? It has been a decade since the last Dolphins safety (Brock Marion) was voted into the Pro Bowl.

The linebacker upgrade? That was supposed to happen by getting Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett in free agency and then by signing Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler in free agency. Yet the problem persists.

You want to know why the Dolphins have been mediocre?

Problems don’t get solved when they are addressed.

The Dolphins defense, you might recall, is supposed to be strong up the middle because of the linebacker signings and the signing of safety Reshad Jones and the focus on defensive tackles the past couple of years.

But that middle of that defense is actually not a strength for the unit and with tackles Paul Soliai and Randy Starks about to hit free agency, the middle of Miami’s defense might actually be getting softer.

Both Soliai and Starks played well in 2013 and both would like to return. But when the weekend began, both were as far along on a contract with other teams as they were with the Dolphins.

Both began talking to other teams Saturday, as NFL rules allow, but because their talks with the Dolphins over the past year have yielded no results, both to varying degrees see Miami more willing to pay new players than players who have been on the team.

The Dolphins have not made either Soliai or Starks an offer because they understood both expect more money than the team is initially willing to pay.

When the weekend began, Starks was wanting as much as $1 million more per year than the Dolphins were willing to pay. Soliai expected nearly $1.5 million more per year than Miami was willing to pay.

So the Dolphins decided not to make an offer at all so as to not offend either player.

Starks wasn’t necessarily offended because he has been a free agent before and has moved to another team before. He understands it’s a cold business. Soliai is more emotional and considers loyalty and history important in the negotiation process.

So Soliai, wanting to return to the Dolphins, has been disappointed the team hasn’t rewarded his past loyalty — he took less money to stay with the Dolphins in 2011 — by at least engaging with him, offering him a contract as a starting point to a negotiation.

What does this all mean?

The Dolphins, wanting to keep at least one of the two players, might lose both unless they make a charge before Tuesday.

If Soliai and Starks both bolt, add the defensive tackle spot as a need the Dolphins must address in free agency.

That still won’t decrease the need to address the offensive line, another building block for the team.

Last year around this time, Miami was trying to pay — but not overpay — to keep left tackle Jake Long. This year, the team is again trying to pay but not overpay for a left tackle with Oakland’s Jared Veldheer, Kansas City’s Branden Albert and Baltimore’s Eugene Monroe all poised to hit the market in earnest Tuesday.

About Monroe: He seems like the best fit for Miami. He’s good but not great. His run blocking is inconsistent and obviously did little to keep the Ravens from being No. 30 in rushing last season.

But he’s only 26. He’s a very good pass blocker, which is a big deal to the Dolphins because they gave up a franchise-record 58 sacks last season. And Monroe is a quiet, consistent homebody, which is something the Dolphins are closely monitoring in the wake of the Ted Wells report findings.

The Dolphins have a need and Monroe is a very good fit.

Monroe’s agents, already in contact with the Dolphins this weekend, will be looking to hit the $10 million per year contract mark. It could go higher if the bidding between the Dolphins and Cardinals and some surprise team such as the Buccaneers gets heated.

But most people around the league expect Monroe will be a Dolphin before the end of the week.

You know what a signing like that or anyone close to that is going to do? Yes, it should help the offensive line.

But it won’t fully fix the problem.

The Dolphins still need a couple of guards and a right tackle to actually field a starting offensive line. It probably won’t all be done in free agency, but expect much of it to be addressed there.

The Dolphins on a shopping spree for offensive linemen? Yes, we’ve seen this before.

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