The Miami Dolphins have several players eligible to receive the franchise tag (as well as the one-year contract extension that comes with it), but the team has not decided who will get it.
One thing is certain: general manager Jeff Ireland is prepared to use the franchise tag. "This year there's certainly a likelihood that we could use it," he told the Miami Herald on Thursday at the annual NFL Combine in Indianapolis.
LT Jake Long, WR Brian Hartline, RB Reggie Bush, DL Randy Starks, and DBs Sean Smith and Chris Clemons are among the free agents who could be franchised this offseason. Under the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, teams are allowed to tag one unrestricted free agent as a franchise player per offseason (the deadline to apply the tag this year is March 4).
The tag binds the player to a one-year deal with the team provided certain conditions are met (notably, salary). Some franchise tags cost more than others, so while franchising Long would lock in a $15.5 million salary, compared to just over $8 million for Starks.
Speaking of Starks, Ireland hinted strongly that he could be the recipient of the franchise tag. "It's very important to have Randy back if we can get it done," Ireland said. "The fact of the matter is we have a very good defensive line and keeping that intact is a focus of mine.
The Dolphins do want to keep Long, just not at a $15.5 million price tag. The Herald reported that the team has been in talks with Long's agent, with Ireland calling it "a complicated negotiation." If the team cannot iron out an extension before March 9, other teams will be allowed to negotiate with Long.
The Dolphins have over $45 million in cap space, so they should be able to keep the free agents that Ireland wants this offseason. But the team is also reportedly looking at top free agents on other teams as well, particularly at wide receiver.
The Herald said Pittsburgh's Mike Wallace and Green Bay's Greg Jennings are among the Dolphins' targets, but either would be expensive. Ireland could not mention players on other teams by name under NFL rules, but did say Thursday, "There's not a ton of bargains out there, especially if you're playing at the top of the market."