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Decision 2009: Which impending free agents should the Dolphins re-sign?

The Dolphins re-signed CB Will Allen on Tuesday to a deal that will keep the veteran cornerback in Miami through 2011.  But Allen was just one of a number of key free agents the Dolphins will have next offseason.  It's unlikely that the Dolphins could re-sign all of them.  So the question becomes which to re-sign at all?  In particular, which ones should the front office make a priority now before the 2009 season even begins?

Let's discuss some of the key impending 2010 free agents:

Ronnie Brown
Without question, the key decision that this front office will have to make at some point is whether or not to give Brown the long-term deal that he is probably hoping for.  Brown, who is 27, is now fully recovered from his 2007 ACL tear and says he feels better than he ever has.  Before his injury in '07, Brown was having his best career season and perhaps was the best running back in the NFL - leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage and having a real shot at breaking the NFL record for yards from scrimmage in a single season.  Last year, Brown bounced back from his ACL injury to reach his first career Pro Bowl.  But he admittedly wasn't 100% yet.  Now the Dolphins must decide if they should extend Ronnie's contract now - or at all.

Making things even more difficult is the impending CBA negotiations.  As it stands now, with no new CBA, the 2010 season is an uncapped year.  One of the changes that occurs during such a year is that it would take six accrued NFL season to reach unrestricted free agency - meaning Ronnie would only be a restricted free agent.  The Dolphins could put the highest tender offer on Brown and make any team that signs him surrender two 1st round picks.

Of course, if the front office decides to take the "want and see" approach, there could be a new CBA agreed upon prior to the start of the new "league year" next offseason - which would male Brown an unrestricted free agent.  So banking on an uncapped year is a very risky proposition.

Regardless of all that CBA talk, though, the question I'm posing now is if the Dolphins should sign Brown to an extension prior to the '09 season.  Those in favor would argue that signing Brown now locks up our "franchise running back."   So if Brown has a career year, the Dolphins wouldn't have to give in to his increased demands next offseason.  And we also know how hard it is to find a good running back.  Remember all those seasons during the Marino era and the "post-Marino, pre-Ricky" era?

Those in favor of waiting on extending Brown - or not extending Ronnie at all - would tell you that running backs are easily found.  They'd tell you that Brown will be 28 in December and doesn't have too many years left as a first string tailback.  And they'd tell you Brown will be too expensive and eat up too much cap space.

So how much would it cost to luck up Brown?  That's obviously a key part of all this.  I think that two recent running back deals take center stage here.  Last offseason, Michael Turner signed a 6 year, $34.5 million deal that included $15 million in guarantees.  This offseason, Maurice Jones-Drew signed a 5 year, $31 million deal that included $17.5 million guaranteed.  If Will Allen is worth over $5 million per year over the next 3 years, isn't Brown worth just as much - if not more?

In my opinion, I'd lock him up right now to a 5 year extension - paying him $30 million and keeping him in Miami for the foreseeable future.  He's this team's #1 offensive weapon and I strongly believe he's in for a big 2009 season - one that would probably increase his value if he reached the open market.  Let's get Ronnie locked up now!

Chad Pennington
Pennington's 2 year deal with the Dolphins expires following the '09 season and I don't think the front office has any plans to extend Pennington's deal in Miami prior to the 2010 offseason.  I think that Pennington's play in 2009, the Dolphins' 2009 success, and the development of Chad Henne and Pat White will go a long way towards Pennington's future.  Pennington's willingness to become a backup at some point will likely also play a big role in if he returns in 2010.

But as far as we're concerned here, I wouldn't expect an extension for Pennington this offseason.

Matt Roth
Roth's rookie contract expires following the 2009 season.  But Roth revived his career last year in year one of the "outside linebacker experiment" - setting career highs in tackles and sacks while become a very good run-stopping linebacker.  He did a terrific job setting the edge.  As he enters year two, should the Dolphins make it a priority to re-sign Roth before the season?

This is one that I'd wait on - if you ask me.  I don't think teams will be clamoring to sign him next offseason - though he has become good at what he does.  I'd just want to make sure he doesn't take a step back as a linebacker in 2009.  I'm not opposed to an in-season extension if he's playing well - but I'd be in no rush to give Roth an extension.

Anthony Fasano and David Martin and Joey Haynos
We know that Bill Parcells loves him some tight ends - which is why I bet the Big Tuna is losing sleep every night thinking about the impending free agencies of these three.  The Fins are said to be high on Joey Haynos and they did draft Monmouth TE John Nalbone - a personal favorite of mine.  So this makes for an interesting situation to watch.

I would definitely wait in extending any of these three - especially David Martin's.  Martin played well last year in his role as #2 tight end.  But he wasn't very good in 2007.  So you have to make sure '08 wasn't an anomoly.

Like I said, right now isn't the time to extend these guys.  But if Fasano plays as well as he did last year, I'll be the first one clamoring for the Fins to re-sign the big guy.

Ricky Williams
The Dolphins extended Williams last offseason and Ricky will make $3.4 million in 2009.  Williams has publicly said he plans on playing for just two more years - meaning 2010 could be his last.  He's also made it a point to talk about how much he loves playing for the Dolphins and how he fits in well here.  I'd expect Ricky to return to Miami in 2010 - whether they extend his contract now, during the season, or next offseason.

Davone Bess
Bess is coming off of the second best rookie season in NFL history for an undrafted free agent receiver and is entering the final year of a two year deal.  But Bess would be an exclusive rights free agent next offseason - meaning if the Dolphins tender him a deal, Bess must take it.  So don't count on Bess seeing an extension here in 2009.

Brandon London
London will be a restricted free agent following the 2009 season.  I wouldn't expect a 2009 extension but it will be very interesting to see how London is used, if he steps up, and if the Dolphins tender him next offseason.

Jason Ferguson
Miami's big 34 year old nose tackle will be a free agent next offseason.  But I wouldn't be too worried about him leaving Miami.  Assuming he still wants to play, I don't think Jason would leave Miami.  He likes this coaching staff.  He likes Bill Parcells.  And I'd imagine there wouldn't be too many teams trying to sign a 35 year old nose tackle.  So I wouldn't worry about Jason's impending free agency at all.

Dan Carpenter
That's right - our second year kicker (affectionately known as "DC$") will be an exclusive rights free agent following the season.  If he builds off of his very good rookie season - hitting 21 of 25 field goals, including 10 of 14 from 40+ yards - I'd expect DC to be tendered next offseason.