At this time last year, the Miami Dolphins were trying to decide whether they needed to keep defensive tackle Randy Starks or Paul Soliai, as it appeared there was no way to work out deals for both of the former Pro Bowlers. Soliai found his way to the Atlanta Falcons, while Miami brought back Starks on a two-year, $10 million contract. A year later, Miami has to make a decision on what to do with Starks this offseason.
In 2014, Starks had a $4 million salary cap number, which jumps to $6 million in 2015. The Dolphins need salary cap relief, especially if they want to target any free agents this year, and Starks' contract could be a large step in finding that space. If he were to be released, Starks would save the Dolphins $5 million this year.
Since joining the Dolphins for the 2009 season, Starks has been a key part of the defensive line. He earned his first Pro Bowl selection in 2010 as a 3-4 defensive end, then was again selected in 2012 as a 4-3 defensive tackle. He had not missed a game with Miami until he was forced to miss the team's game in London this past season due to a back injury, a stretch of 99 straight games played. In seven years with the Dolphins, Starks has played 111 games, starting 96 of them, with 30. 5 sacks, 4 interceptions, 16 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble, 4 fumble recoveries, and 153 tackles.
Last year was a down here for Starks, and his age could start to be a concern; Starks will turn 31 during the season next year. Starks seemed to be slowed throughout the second half of the year, with the back likely as a contributing issue to the fall off in his level of play. According to ProFootballFocus, Starks was the 42nd ranked defensive tackle in the league last year, behind both of Miami's other two primary defensive tackles, Jared Odrick (19th) and Earl Mitchell (36th).
The Dolphins' run defense disappeared late in the year, with teams able to run straight up the middle of the defense. That used to be Starks' strength, and it is at least concerning that he was not able to stop it. Does it mean Miami is ready to move on from the defensive tackle? Maybe not, but it probably does mean they are ready to move on from his $6 million cap number. Restructuring his contract may be the best option for Miami, but it will be up to Starks on whether he is willing to take a pay cut this season.
Miami needs the salary cap space, one way or another, and Starks could be one of the top targets to provide that relief. The Dolphins have a lot of interesting decisions coming, as they position themselves for whatever they want to do in 2015. Starks is clearly among those.