Miami Dolphins: Paul Soliai

The NFL released its 2014 preseason schedules on Wednesday. The Miami Dolphins will try to use the exhibition season to work out any issues before the real games begin.

Here are some early preseason storylines to keep an eye on in Miami:

Week 1 at Atlanta Falcons

Analysis: This will be an interesting preseason opener for several reasons. First, the Dolphins get to face former teammate and defensive tackle Paul Soliai in his Atlanta debut. Soliai was a longtime starter in Miami before the team let him walk this year in free agency. He signed a $33 million contract with the Falcons and is expected to anchor the middle of Atlanta’s defensive line. Despite limited snaps, Soliai will be motivated to do well against his former team. On the flip side, Week 1 of the preseason also will mark the return of Dolphins Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes to Atlanta. Grimes spent six years with the Falcons before signing with Miami in 2013. He will play against his former team for the first time.

Week 2 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Analysis: New Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey spent 18 years with the Buccaneers. He has a lot of ties there and will return to Tampa Bay as the Dolphins’ lead man. Hickey had a hand in picking a lot of players on Tampa Bay’s roster.

Week 3 vs. Dallas Cowboys

Analysis: Things are always interesting when the high-profile Cowboys come to town. This doesn’t happen often in Miami. It’s also important because it’s the third preseason game. The Dolphins and Cowboys will play their starters for about three quarters of this game in preparation for the regular season. It should be the most competitive preseason game of the summer.

Week 4 vs. St. Louis Rams

Analysis: The Rams have several interesting ties to Miami in the preseason finale. Former Dolphins No. 1 overall pick Jake Long will make his first return trip to Sun Life Stadium, although most starters won’t see much playing time. Long played five years with the Dolphins before signing with St. Louis as a free agent in 2013. New Dolphins free-agent signings Cortland Finnegan and Shelley Smith are former Rams, as well. St. Louis head coach Jeff Fisher also has an interesting tie to Miami. Three seasons ago Fisher was Dolphins owner Stephen Ross’ top choice to become head coach. Fisher took his time choosing between Miami and St. Louis and ultimately picked the Rams. Miami wound up hiring Joe Philbin after Fisher turned the Dolphins down.
The Miami Dolphins were busy during the first week of free agency. But they also have been careful not to overspend.

Miami had plenty of player movement recently by adding Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert, defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, safety Louis Delmas and cornerback Cortland Finnegan. The Dolphins also cut cornerback Dimitri Patterson, traded right tackle Jonathan Martin and let defensive tackle Paul Soliai and cornerback Nolan Carroll walk in free agency.

The end result is Miami still has plenty of flexibility remaining this offseason. As of Wednesday morning, the Dolphins have $19.186 million in cap room left, according to updated NFLPA records. That’s enough money to make several solid signings to fill the Dolphins' remaining holes. Miami is still searching for a starting guard, right tackle and running back.

Here is a look at the salary-cap situation throughout the AFC East:
The Jets have the most cap room in the AFC East. It is somewhat surprising that they haven’t made many major moves thus far. But one could be coming soon at the quarterback position.

New England has the least cap room remaining after signing Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis to a one-year, $12 million contract. That ate up much of New England’s cap this offseason. The Dolphins and Bills still have flexibility to get some quality players in free agency if they choose.

Free-agency review: Dolphins

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
[+] EnlargeBranden Albert
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesBranden Albert should help stabilize Miami's porous offensive line.
Most significant signing: Left tackle Branden Albert is clearly the biggest free-agent addition to the Miami Dolphins' roster this offseason. Miami paid handsomely. Albert is making $47 million over the next five seasons. However, it was a signing the Dolphins needed to make after allowing a franchise-record 58 sacks in 2013. Miami needs to know if young quarterback Ryan Tannehill is the long-term solution, and the Dolphins can't determine that if Tannehill spends too much time getting hit and laying on his back. Albert, who made the Pro Bowl last year, should buy Tannehill more time next season protecting the blindside.

Most significant loss: The Dolphins' haven't suffered any debilitating losses in free agency. But if I had to pick the biggest loss to this point, it would be starting defensive tackle Paul Soliai. He was a homegrown talent as a former fourth-round pick. Soliai worked hard to become a one-time Pro Bowler, but the Dolphins didn't want to spend too much to keep him. He signed a $33 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons. The Dolphins lessened the loss by signing Earl Mitchell ($16 million) and bringing back Randy Starks ($12 million) at more affordable rates.

Biggest surprise: It was the worst-kept secret in sports that Jonathan Martin could not return to the Dolphins following last year's high-profile bullying scandal. But what was a surprise was how quickly the Dolphins were able to ship Martin to another team and at least get some value in return. Miami traded Martin to the San Francisco 49ers on the first night of free agency for a conditional late-round pick. San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh, who coached and recruited Martin at Stanford, felt he could make the most out of the former second-round pick. The list of suitors was not long, and the Dolphins were fortunate to get something instead of an outright release.

What's next: The Dolphins did most of their big spending on positions such as left tackle (Albert), defensive tackle (Mitchell, Starks) and cornerback (Cortland Finnegan). Now, look for Miami to bargain hunt to see if it can fill any remaining needs on its roster. The Dolphins still have two starting jobs available on the offensive line at right tackle and guard. They could also use another threat at running back to boost their 26th-ranked rushing attack from last season.
The Miami Dolphins had a strong first week of free agency. There was a lot of player movement in Miami, which also included a trade for embattled offensive tackle Jonathan Martin to the San Francisco 49ers.

Here is an updated free-agent scorecard for the Dolphins:

Who’s in
Who's out

First-year Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey continues to put his stamp on Miami’s roster. The defense certainly is more physical in the secondary with the additions of big hitters Delmas and Finnegan. Hickey also made two moves to help fill holes on the offensive line with Albert at left tackle and Smith at guard.

Overall, it looks like the Dolphins got better during the first week of free agency. But well-defined holes still remain.
The Miami Dolphins are just getting started one day into NFL free agency. But let’s take an early look at what Miami and new general manager Dennis Hickey have done so far to the roster:


Hickey is clearly putting his stamp on the roster. Longtime Dolphins such as Soliai, and free agents Randy Starks and Chris Clemons did not have the same value to the new GM as they did with former general manager Jeff Ireland. Meanwhile, Martin had to go.

The Dolphins are just getting started in free agency. But you can start to see the plan taking shape for Miami this offseason.
Tuesday marked the end of an era for the Miami Dolphins and defensive tackle Paul Soliai. He was drafted seven years ago by the Dolphins and developed into a solid starter and a Pro Bowler.

However, Miami and Soliai parted ways after the Atlanta Falcons swooped in with a five-year, $33 million contract. The Dolphins were not interested in offering Soliai that kind of money.

Soliai made a statement Tuesday evening thanking many in the Dolphins organization, including teammates and his position coach. But Soliai interestingly failed to mention his former head coach (Joe Philbin) or defensive coordinator (Kevin Coyle) in Miami.

Here is the full statement from Soliai via his wife’s Twitter account:
"I had an incredible experience playing for the Miami Dolphins and leave behind many great friends and teammates. I along with my wide, my entire family, and everyone at the Paul Soliai Foundation wanted to than all the Dolphins fans for an amazing seven years there. I also want to thank the previous staff for drafting me out of Utah in 2007 and welcoming me into the NFL. I especially wanted to thank defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers for his guidance, friendship, and for making me a better player and man. Thank you again, Paul Soliai."

It's curious that Soliai would mention his position coach without also crediting the two main coaches above Rodgers. It feels like a slight and perhaps a clue that Soliai wasn't all that happy with the way he was treated by Philbin and Coyle on his way out of Miami.
Free agency is just a few days away and the Miami Dolphins have plenty of money to spend.

Let’s open the Twitter mailbag and answer your questions.

ESPN NFL analyst Bill Polian put together multiple playoff teams and a Super Bowl winner with the Indianapolis Colts. This year, Polian put together a free-agent tracker Insider for that rates the top players.

Polian had some interesting thoughts on pending free agents for the Miami Dolphins. Here are several that stood out:

Player/position: Chris Clemons, safety

Polian's grade: B

Polian's comment: "Though Clemons often aligned to the strong side for the Dolphins' defense, he is a capable free and strong safety who has been highly productive against the run. He has good production as a deep-field pass defender and has the ball skills and route recognition to handle the middle of the field. A sufficient man-to-man coverage player who also adds special-teams value, Clemons is a starting-level safety."

Walker’s thoughts: I believe Polian overrated Clemons. It also was curious that Polian had Clemons rated higher than Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes (B-), who had a career year in 2013. Clemons is a sure-tackler and good in run support, but he often struggles defending tight ends and slot receivers over the middle. Clemons is Miami's top-rated free agent this year, which I disagree with.

Player/position: Randy Starks, defensive tackle

Polian’s grade: B-

Polian’s comment: "A veteran coming off a year in which he played with the franchise tag, Starks is a starting defensive tackle who can play on three downs with his ability to defend the run and rush the passer. He has good interior quickness to be a one-gap shooter and disrupt plays in the backfield."

Walker’s thoughts: Polian is spot on with Starks, who at 30 is still a productive player. Starks should get interest in the open market with his ability to rush the passer. He has 36.5 career sacks, which is solid for an interior defensive lineman. There’s a chance Starks and the Dolphins are heading for a mutual parting of ways.

Player/position: Paul Soliai, defensive tackle

Polian’s grade: C

Polian’s comment: "A rugged, stout run-defender, Soliai stands tall and wide at 6-foot-4 and 340 pounds. He has a fire-hydrant build and is difficult to move at the line of scrimmage. He can handle double teams and help to build a wall in run defense."

Walker’s thoughts: I would put Soliai in the same grade range as Starks, despite both being different players. Soliai is a specialist; he stuffs the run and is difficult to move. I assume Polian's low grade was the result of his lack of pass rush and often coming off the field on obvious passing downs.

Free-agency primer: Dolphins

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: DT Randy Starks, DT Paul Soliai, S Chris Clemons, G Richie Incognito, G John Jerry, OT Bryant McKinnie, OT Tyson Clabo

Where they stand: The Dolphins are expecting major turnover on their offensive line this offseason. Four starters -- Incognito, Jerry, McKinnie and Clabo -- are unrestricted free agents; most are not expected to return after Miami set a franchise record with 58 quarterback sacks allowed and were 26th in rushing. Incognito and Jerry were both involved in Miami’s high-profile bullying scandal. McKinnie and Clabo are older veterans at the end of their careers. So the Dolphins will look to get younger at offensive tackle. Starks and Soliai are solid defensive tackles who could get interest on the open market. Clemons is an average safety who has starting experience.

What to expect: Incognito and Jerry are as good as gone. Both were cited in the 144-page Ted Wells report. The Dolphins will let them go elsewhere in order to distance the franchise from that ugly scandal. Miami has plenty of cap room and will look to spend it at offensive tackle. Free-agent tackles like Eugene Monroe and Branden Albert could be high priorities. If the Dolphins can land one of them, that rules out a return for McKinnie. The defensive tackle position is interesting. Miami may aim to bring back Starks or Soliai, but nothing is guaranteed if neither player is signed before March 11. There is a chance the Dolphins could lose both players and need a contingency plan.
Free agency begins in five days for the Miami Dolphins and the rest of the NFL. Defensive tackles Paul Soliai and Randy Starks can become unrestricted free agents next Tuesday

Will any of this change in the next few days?

Soliai and Starks have been significant contributors for the Dolphins over the past several seasons. Soliai has been a full-time starter the past four years in Miami and made the Pro Bowl following the 2011 season. Starks has been in Miami since 2008 and made the Pro Bowl in 2010 and 2012.

They were part of a rotation with fellow defensive lineman Jared Odrick last season. The group didn’t work well for Miami, despite all three being good individual players. The Dolphins surprisingly were 24th against the run last season and often wore down in the second half of games.

However, Soliai and Starks are good players who should get interest on the open market. Soliai is a natural run-stuffer capable of fitting in the middle of a 4-3 or 3-4 defense, which adds value. Starks is more of a play-making defensive tackle who has 36.5 career sacks.

It’s possible the Dolphins could wait and let other teams set the market with their two defensive tackles. If the price is too high, the Dolphins could let them walk and examine other options. Miami also could try to retain the least expensive of the two.

But time is ticking for the Dolphins at defensive tackle. There is no guarantee Soliai or Starks will return to Miami once they hit the open market. With several days remaining before free agency, it is not too early for Miami to put together a contingency plan via the draft or free agency.

Franchise/transition tags: Dolphins

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
The window has opened Monday for all 32 NFL teams to use the franchise tag on star players. The Miami Dolphins have used the tag two of the past three years, on defensive linemen Paul Soliai and Randy Starks, respectively.

Will Miami utilize the franchise tag in 2014?

I expect the Dolphins to use the exclusive tag on Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes this year. Miami cannot afford to lose its most consistent defensive player from last season and also one of the few proven corners in its secondary. Perhaps the nonexclusive tag is a possibility, considering no team would want to give up two first-round picks for Grimes. The transition tag would be too dangerous, as other teams could outbid Miami for the star corner.

Grimes was phenomenal in 2013 after signing a one-year contract. He tied for the team lead with four interceptions. But Grimes’ coverage was so consistent that opposing quarterbacks often threw to the weaker corner on the other side.

Grimes also showed he could bounce back 100 percent from Achilles surgery in 2012. He made his second Pro Bowl and even got an interception in that game. I asked Grimes at the end of the season if this was his best year, and he said it was.

The Dolphins have a lot of free agents this year. But Grimes is the only legitimate candidate for the franchise tag. The Dolphins will try to work out a long-term extension with Grimes, but the one-year franchise tag is a major bargaining chip in the team’s favor.

Miami would be wise to tag Grimes if both sides cannot reach an agreement soon. There is flexibility with the tag that still allows both sides to negotiate an extension well into the summer. The worst mistake the Dolphins could make is to let Grimes hit the open market on March 11, when there is a solid chance a bidding war could commence and Grimes might not return.

Walker's Fab 40: Nos. 9-12

February, 14, 2014
Feb 14
We continue our rankings of the top 40 players on the Miami Dolphins.

Next up, we take a look at Nos. 9-12.

No. 12: Dannell Ellerbe

Position: Linebacker

2013 stats: 101 tackles, one sack, two INTs

Analysis: Ellerbe led Miami in tackles. But it was mostly an underwhelming year for the Dolphins’ prized free agent. Ellerbe had a tough transition playing middle linebacker of a 4-3 defense. He didn’t make many big plays and the Dolphins were ranked 24th against the run.

No. 11: Randy Starks

Position: Defensive tackle

2013 stats: 49 tackles, four sacks

Analysis: Starks was part of the three-man rotation at defensive tackle with teammates Paul Soliai and Jared Odrick. Starks made the most splash plays of the three, but the run defense struggled overall. Starks had a good run in Miami and still has something left in the tank. But he will be an unrestricted free agent in March and may not return to Miami.

No. 10: Paul Soliai

Position: Defensive tackle

2013 stats: 34 tackles, one sack

Analysis: Similar to Starks, Soliai is an unrestricted free agent and may not return to Miami. The Dolphins will try to keep one of the two defensive tackles. Soliai is the better run stuffer of the two and is hard to move in the middle. But Soliai is not a natural pass-rusher. The Soliai-Starks dilemma will present a tough decision for Miami first-year general manager Dennis Hickey.

No. 9: Charles Clay

Position: Tight end

2013 stats: 69 receptions, 759 yards, six touchdowns

Analysis: Clay was one of Miami’s biggest success stories of 2013. He began training camp as a backup to Dustin Keller. But a season-ending knee injury to Keller opened the door for Clay, and he took advantage. Clay was third on the team in receptions and became a dependable option for Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Clay is entering the final year of his rookie contract and on his way to proving he should be part of Miami’s long-term plans.
The Miami Dolphins have more than 20 restricted and unrestricted free agents this offseason. But only one player can be considered the top priority.

Our latest “Poll Friday” for Dolphins fans was a landslide. Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes was a no-brainer choice as Miami’s biggest in-house free agent. Grimes received more than 90 percent of the vote in one of our most lopsided poll results.

I agree with the majority of Dolphins fans. It is a must that Miami brings back Grimes. He is the one free agent the Dolphins cannot afford to lose.

Grimes has earned a long-term extension. But the Dolphins also have the option to use the one-year franchise tag. It would be surprising if Grimes doesn’t return to Miami in some capacity.

According to Dolphins, defensive tackle Paul Soliai was a distant second in terms of in-house free agents. Fellow defensive tackle Randy Starks was third, and safety Chris Clemons was fourth in our SportsNation poll.
The Miami Dolphins and the rest of the NFL will begin free agency in March. But for the rest of the month, Miami must decide which in-house players it wants to keep.

Miami has more than 20 restricted and unrestricted free agents. That means new general manager Dennis Hickey will have a busy next several weeks.


Which in-house free agent is most important for Miami?


Discuss (Total votes: 4,014)

With that in mind, here is our “Poll Friday” question: Who is Miami’s biggest in-house free agent?

Is it cornerback Brent Grimes? He had arguably his best season in 2013 and made his second Pro Bowl. Grimes could command a nice contract if he hits the open market. But a franchise tag also is possible.

What about defensive tackles Paul Soliai or Randy Starks? Both players got the franchise tag the past two years. Yet, both are free agents in 2014. Will the Dolphins keep one at least of these two players?

Finally, Dolphins starting safety Chris Clemons also is a free agent. Miami will have a big hole in the secondary if he doesn’t return.

Using our SportsNation poll, vote on Miami’s biggest in-house free agent. You can also share your thoughts in the comments section below or send a message via Twitter @JamesWalkerNFL.

Dolphins position breakdown: DL

January, 16, 2014
Jan 16
PM ET’s Miami Dolphins page continues to take a look at their roster heading into free agency.

Next up, we examine Miami’s defensive line.

Under contract in 2014: DE Cameron Wake, DE Olivier Vernon, DE Dion Jordan, DT Jared Odrick, DE Derrick Shelby, DT A.J. Francis, DT Isaako Aaitui

Free agents: DT Paul Soliai, DT Randy Starks

Analysis: The Dolphins have some big decisions to make on their defensive line. Burly defensive tackles Solia and Starks are both unrestricted free agents. The Dolphins were expected to keep one of these two free agents before former general manager Jeff Ireland left the team. However, it’s now unpredictable with a new GM coming on board. The next GM may like Starks over Soliai, or Soliai over Starks, or neither player. Defensive tackle is definitely a position to watch in the offseason.

Walker’s stability meter (1 to 10, 10 being most stable): 5.5