There's a lot going on now around the league. And some of it could very well impact the Dolphins and what they decide to do this offseason.
First of all, on the re-signing of Michael Lehan, I think it's a very good signing for the Dolphins. Lehan will make for a quality nickelback. Last season, mostly as a starter, Lehan had a success rate of 53%, which is surprisingly good. He also averaged just 7.1 yards against per pass, which is also a decent number.
I'm also a fan of how the Dolphins went about structuring the deal. We don't know how much money is guaranteed, but his deal is structured so Lehan will earn $2.1 million in the first year, meaning only $2.85 million remains for years 2 and 3 combined. This provides the Dolphins 2 benefits. First, if Lehan doesn't perform well, he can easily be cut after the season at minimal cost to Miami. Second, it will provide the Dolphins some extra breathing room next offseason if, say, they go on a spending spree this offseason and approach the $116 million salary cap. That kind of flexibility will be invaluable to the turnaround of this franchise. Sure, it's just a simple, low risk signing. But it's a good sign to see that this new regime seems knowledgeable of how to manage the salary cap.
Speaking of cornerbacks, two of the three top corners on the market are no longer on the market. The Raiders have franchised Nnamdi Asomugha and the Seahawks have franchised Marcus Trufant. Asomugha being franchised was expected for a long time. Trufant, though, wasn't as expected and it certainly does sting a bit. Many, including myself, wanted the Dolphins to make a strong push for Trufant once free agency begins. But now the top corner on the market, Asante Samuel, is set to cash-in bigtime. He's really the only true #1 corner on the market now and is very likely going to command at least $10 million per season. And with a number of teams looking for a top corner, it isn't crazy to think he could even approach $12-$13 million per year. Of course, like somebody said in the "comments" of another post, teams can use "creative cap management" techniques to make the contract reasonable to manage cap wise, at least early on in the life of the contract. Regardless, it's going to be interesting to see what the Dolphins plan to do in regards to the secondary this offseason.
Moving along, defensive tackles also got slapped with the franchise tag on Wendesday. Unsurprisingly, the Titans have franchised Albert Haynesworth. A bit more surprising is that the Packers have franchised Corey Williams. This one was a bit of a shock because the Packers already have two other defensive tackles of starting caliber in Ryan Pickett and Justin Harrell. What this means for the Dolphins is that one of their potential free agent targets, 49ers DT Isaac Sopoaga, might be more in demand or at least demand more cash. Considering he's rather unproven, it'll be a risky signing by the Dolphins if they did indeed sign him. However, I do still believe he'd be worth it. But what do Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland believe? That's what we'll have to wait to see.
Speaking of surprises though, the Steelers surprised many on Wednesday by naming OT Max Starks as their "transition" player. The "transition" tag is much different than the "franchise" tag. What it means is the Steelers will have to pay Starks the average salary of the top 10 tackles in the league. However, it's not an exclusive tag. What that means is that another team can sign Starks to an offer sheet, with the Steelers having an opportunity to match. If they do not, though, the Steelers do not receive any compensation. So, theoretically, if another team wants Starks bad enough, they could include a "poison pill" in the contract that will make it almost impossible for the Steelers to match. For example, a team wanting to sign Starks could put a clause in the contract that says "if Starks plays more than 4 games in Pittsburgh in a single season, his entire contract becomes fully guaranteed." In this case, it would be very unlikely the Steelers would match an offer like this, and Starks would be off to a new destination. For the Dolphins, however, I wouldn't put my money on them using a "poison pill" to steal Starks away from the Steelers.
Meanwhile, one player who is yet to be tagged in any way is Ken Hamlin. And, if my info is correct, the Cowboys only have until midnight eastern on Thursday night/Friday morning to tag Hamlin. With it seeming a little more unlikely the Dolphins will be able to secure a top corner through free agency, I'm hoping even more for Parcells, Ireland, and company to sign Hamlin and let him be the "quarterback of the secondary" in Miami as he was in Dallas. We'll know soon enough. And the clock is ticking.
So there's a lot going on now around the league. And with the Combine beginning and free agency getting cranked up in a little over a week (February 29), these are exciting times.
[editor's note, by Matty I] Correction: the deadline to place the franchise tag is 4 pm EST today, not midnight. Time is ticking for Hamlin and the Cowboys...[end note]
Thoughts on any of this below...