Armando Salguero

Miami Dolphins want to keep Ja’Wuan James. Whether that happens is up to him

Ja’Wuan James holds advantage over Miami Dolphins
Ja’Wuan James holds advantage over Miami Dolphins

It’s not a fire sale, folks.

The Miami Dolphins would like to keep Ja’Wuan James and have offered their starting right tackle a contract they hope he signs before the start of free agency on Wednesday.

But there’s a catch.

If James is going to remain with the team that selected him in the first round of the 2014 Draft, it’s going to be on a deal that is fair to both sides and might be smaller in comparison to what he might get in free agency.

This is how it works:

The Dolphins currently have a $9.3 million fifth-year option on James. That means he is tied to the team for 2018. Neither he nor his agent can speak to or negotiate a contract with another team during the current open negotiation period that began at noon on Monday for all pending free agents.

His agent also cannot discuss a trade with any other team.

What James and his camp can do is continue to negotiate a deal with the Dolphins. They have been doing that because James has told multiple teammates he’d like to remain with the Dolphins. He was very eager to be drafted by the Dolphins in ‘14 and his love for the team, the region and his teammates has not changed.

He wants to be a Miami Dolphins.

It’s just that the Dolphins are asking him to prove it, much the same way they did with free agents such as Kenny Stills last year. Stills turned down bigger contracts with other teams to re-sign with the Dolphins.

The deal Miami presented James, which league sources declined to disclose, may be below what James can get on the open market in free agency. We don’t know this for sure because James hasn’t been able to test the open market or legally discuss the matter with other teams.

But it’s estimated that a lack of viable starting right tackles would make James a popular player if he’s in free agency.

The Dolphins want to sign James to a deal rather than keeping him on the option because he’s currently costing them $9.3 million against the cap for that option. The Dolphins cannot afford that cap number for James and would terminate the option, letting James walk, if no other solution is found.

So that’s where the contract they’ve presented James comes into play. That contract would lower the cap hit for James significantly.

That puts the ball in James’s court. Does he accept a contract from Miami that cuts the team’s cap cost, pays him, but probably doesn’t overpay him at the level he might get in free agency? Or does he reject the offer of a Miami contract?

If James ultimately rejects Miami’s contract offer, he will likely become a free agent. The Dolphins will likely terminate his option for cap reasons and the player will be free to speak with and sign with another team.

It’s an interesting matter.

The Dolphins have made an overture to keep James but not an enormous one. James has said he wants to stay but we will soon see if he actually means it.

Hanging in the balance is the obvious unknown for James of a potential big payday in free agency or the sure thing with the team he’s said he wants to stay on.

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Related stories from Miami Herald