Dolphins’ secondary, offensive line most impacted by free agency

Nolan Carroll will be a nice complement to Brent Grimes, who recently re-signed with Miami, but the cornerback is expected to test the free agent market.

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Re-signing Brent Grimes represented an encouraging start to the Miami Dolphins’ offseason.

Grimes, the Pro Bowl cornerback, signed a four-year deal reportedly worth $32 million ($16 million guaranteed) on Monday.

But the veteran was the not the only key free agent among the Dolphins, who opted not to use their franchise tag before Monday’s deadline.

With the NFL salary cap to be $133 million in 2014, Miami will have space — reportedly nearly $40 million under the cap — to be a major player in free agency for a second straight year.

Free agency begins a week from today. Until then, new Miami general manager Dennis Hickey can re-sign any of the team’s own players seeking new contracts.

Here’s a look at the key free agents among the 2013 Dolphins.

CB NOLAN CARROLL

Carroll started 12 of 16 games last season, largely due to Dmitri Patterson’s season-long groin problem. He had three interceptions and 47 tackles (43 solo) and ranked fourth in the NFL allowing receptions on just less than 48 percent of passes thrown his way.

Reason to keep: Carroll, 27, remains in his prime. Based on last season, he would be a nice complement to Brent Grimes on the other side.

Reason to let walk: Although he played well in 2013, there’s no guarantee Carroll would repeat that next season. Plus, last year’s draft picks Jamar Taylor and Will Davis should be ready to contribute.

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Prediction: Reports say the Dolphins have interest, but Carroll wants to test free agency. Sounds like he’ll be elsewhere in ’14.

T TYSON CLABO

The former Pro Bowler struggled in 2013. He started the season at right tackle, but was replaced midway by Jonathan Martin after allowing eight sacks in the first six games. He returned to his starting spot after Martin left the team amid the much-publicized bullying scandal.

Reason to keep: The Dolphins need four players to join center Mike Pouncey, the only offensive-line starter under contract. And Clabo did play better during the season’s second half.

Reason to let walk: The nine-year veteran is 32 and coming off a subpar year.

Prediction: A stand-up guy, he wasn’t implicated in the Ted Wells report. Clabo probably won’t return, unless new line coach John Benton thinks he can help the vet return his to younger form.

S CHRIS CLEMONS

Clemons, 28, had 92 tackles (62 solo) and an interception in 2013, when he was an important leader on the field at strong safety.

Reason to keep: Reliable in coverage, Clemons was ranked as the league’s 19th-most efficient safety in 2013 according to Pro Football Focus. He had the ninth-best coverage grade out of 86 qualifying players at the position.

Reason to let walk: He had only four interceptions and forced two fumbles in five years with Miami. Not exactly playmaking statistics.

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Prediction: Reports say Hickey might be looking for an upgrade, and the Philadelphia Eagles reportedly are among the teams interested in Clemons. Sounds like he’s goner.

G RICHIE INCOGNITO

Speaking of goners, there’s Incognito. He’ll find it hard to find a job with any team, let alone the Dolphins, after being a primary focus in the bullying scandal. Incognito was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team following Jonathan Martin’s harassment allegations and missed the season’s second half.

Reason to keep: The only reason to even consider bringing back Incognito is the team’s great need on the offensive line. After all, he is a former Pro Bowl player.

Reason to let walk: He was the primary instigator in a locker-room culture that came under scrutiny by an independent investigator and brought much negative attention to the team.

Prediction: Will not return.

G JOHN JERRY

The former third-round pick from Mississippi has started 33 straight games for the Dolphins. He allowed five sacks and 16 quarterback hurries in 2013.

Reason to keep: The aforementioned offensive line’s needs, as well as Jerry’s durability, make him an intriguing option. At 27, the guard should have several years left.

Reason to let walk: Pro Football Focus rated him the league’s 67th-best run-blocking guard last year, and Miami needs to significantly improve its running game. He also had battled weight issues his entire career.

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Prediction: Mentioned by name in the Wells report, Jerry likely has played his last game for the Dolphins.

TE DUSTIN KELLER

Keller left the rival New York Jets and signed a one-year free-agent deal last year. It was assumed he’d play a huge role in the offense, and appeared to be developing a nice rapport with quarterback Ryan Tannehill before suffering a season-ending knee injury in the preseason.

Reason to keep: He’ll surely be motivated and could come relatively inexpensively as he tries to return from the knee injury. Made impressions as a quality guy with good locker-room presence in his brief time.

Reason to let walk: The emergence last season of Charles Clay reduces the need for a staring tight end on the grocery list. There’s no guarantee Keller, who’ll be 30 in September, can return to his previous form post-injury.

Prediction: The Dolphins would love to have the player that seemed to be rounding into form before blowing out his knee. Can see them signing Keller to a team-friendly deal.

T BRYANT McKINNIE

McKinnie was acquired in a trade with Baltimore on Oct. 21 and immediately became the starting left tackle. He played fairly well with the Dolphins.

Reason to keep: The former Miami Hurricanes star has said he wants to finish his career with the Dolphins. He’s 34, but the offensive line’s needs keep him in play.

Reason to let walk: The 12-year veteran is on the downside of his career. Joining the Dolphins motivated him for the last year’s second half, but would it do the same for an entire season?


Prediction: The only reason McKinnie might return is to plug a hole on the line short term. Miami likely will target another free agent — Kansas City’s Branden Albert? — to protect Tannehill’s blindside. Still, McKinnie would offer insurance. Could be a fit.

DT PAUL SOLIAI

A key member of the defensive line’s interior, Soliai missed one game due to a knee injury and was knocked out of another with a hurt ankle. He finished with 19 tackles (15 solo), a sack and a forced fumble in 2013.

Reason to keep: Soliai is 30 but has less wear and tear than some players his age because he has been a starter just the past five years. He also improves the Dolphins’ ability to stop the run.

Reason to let walk: Might be better suited to play nose tackle in a 3-4 defense. (The Dolphins use a 4-3.)

Prediction: After Miami re-signed Grimes, it was rumored the Dolphins might use the franchise tag on Soliai. Those reports proved false. Soliai’s agent Tweeted it was "time to move on" on Monday. Is it a negotiating ploy? Perhaps, but it appears Soliai is leaving town for a lucrative deal.

DT RANDY STARKS

Starks played in all 16 games (14 starts) after sitting out the spring’s organized team activities to protest being hit with the team’s franchise tag. He had 36 tackles (13 solo), with 4 sacks and a forced fumble.

Reason to keep: Pro Football Focus graded him fifth-best defending the run and eighth-best rushing the passer among defensive interior linemen. Probably the Dolphins’ best interior lineman against the run.

Reason to let walk: At 30, Starks has played in 14 or more games each of the past 10 years — that’s a lot of snaps. Jared Odrick’s return to his college position of defensive tackle could help cope with the departure of Starks, Soliai or both.

Prediction: Much talk so far has centered on Grimes and Soliai — we haven’t heard much about Starks. Hickey could be focused on going younger, but there’s a chance Starks returns at a price pleasing to both team and player.

FINAL THOUGHT

The Dolphins likely will look at external free agents and the draft to rebuild their offensive line and perhaps add a running back or linebacker. Miami could help itself by re-signing Soliai or Starks.

You can follow Charlie McCarthy on Twitter @mccarthy_chas or email him at mac1763@bellsouth.net.