How much would Dolphins pay to keep Charles Clay?

The Miami Dolphins are in an interesting spot next week with starting tight end Charles Clay. Miami placed the transition tag on Clay Monday, which pays Clay $7.071 million for 2015 and allows the Dolphins the right to match any outside offers.

“We have used this option available to us with Charles with the hope that he continues to remain a member of the Miami Dolphins,” general manager Dennis Hickey said this week.

Clay is expected to garner interest. He caught 127 passes for 1,364 yards and nine touchdowns the past two seasons. That should catch the attention of several teams with cap space who are willing to pay for Clay’s services and production.

But here is the bigger question: How much are the Dolphins willing to pay to keep Clay in Miami?

It’s clear the Dolphins value Clay. The transition tag for $7.071 million gives Clay the third-highest base salary among tight ends next season. Only New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski ($15 million) and New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham ($8 million) have higher salaries in 2015.

A team that pursues Clay likely would have to start at $7 million per year and work its way up from there. Would the Dolphins be willing to match $7 million or $8 million per year in a long-term extension to keep Clay? Is Clay worth that much to Miami, which just spend the past week slashing salaries to create cap room and has other needs?

These are questions that will be answered by the Dolphins once free agency begins on March 10.