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The curious case of Charles Clay

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The Miami Dolphins have a decision to make with regards to tight end Charles Clay.

Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Since entering the NFL as a sixth round selection by the Miami Dolphins in the 2011 NFL Draft, Charles Clay has developed into a major contributor for the Miami offense. Intially described as an H-back, Clay seemed to be used more in the position's role as a lead blocker than in its tight end, receiving threat version as a rookie. He has developed his play every year he has been in the league, however, and is now one of the top options for quarterback Ryan Tannehill whenever the now-tight end is on the field.

That's where the "curious" side of the discussion about Clay enters. Clay had a down year this season, in no small part due to multiple injuries. He seemed slow and never really got into a rhythm. He did not play in two games, and was targeted on passing plays just 84 times, compared to 102 targets in 2013. He finished the season with 58 receptions for 605 yards and three touchdowns, all good statistics, but below the expected level for a man fans call "Big Play Clay."

Clay is a free agent in March unless the Dolphins re-sign him between now and then. The question will be, how much money will he want, and how much will the Dolphins be willing to spend? CLay's rookie contract, which concluded with the end of this past season, paid him an average of $538,000 per year for four seasons. His highest salary was this past year, at $1,431,00, with an additional $28,000 counted against the salary cap for his prorated signing bonus. Clay's contract made him the 101st highest paid tight end in the league, based on average salary per year.

Dion Sims, Miami's second string tight end, is the 67th with an average salary of $656,888 per season. Arthur Lynch, who spent his rookie year on the injured reserve list, is making $602,825 per season. Former Dolphins tight end Michael Egnew's one-year furtures contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers is worth $585,00, which would make him the 82nd highest paid tight end.

Clearly, Clay is under-paid. He had the 12th most receptions and 14th most receiving yards for a tight end in 2014, despite the injury issues and missed games. Correlating those stats to his salary, Clay lands about where former Dolphins tight end Anthony Fasano is on the listing of tight end salaries, at about $4 million per season.

What may make this a little more curious is, Clay can probably make more money if he hits the free agent market. There will likely be demand for Clay, who has been listed as a "sleeper" among this year's free agent class. If the Dolphins let Clay hit the market, hoping to match any offers he receives, they could quickly find themselves priced out of the bidding.

It might make more sense for Clay to wait and see what offers are out there. It might make more sense for the Dolphins to lock up Clay as quickly as possible.

Whatever happens this offseason, Clay's situation is going to be an interesting one to watch.