The Dolphins' top free-agent priority next offseason could be the same player they franchised in February — NT Paul Soliai.
With Sept. 20 being the deadline to sign franchised players to long-term deals, it appears Soliai will continue to play the 2011 season on his $12.476 million franchise tender and will test the free-agent market next offseason.
"From Day One, the Dolphins have never really made a big push to get a multi-year deal done," Soliai's agent David Canter told PFW. Canter said he began his push to get a long-term deal done for his client over a year ago, but the team's stance on Soliai playing 2011 on a one-year deal this season hasn't changed.
Soliai had a breakout campaign in 2010 as the nose tackle in the Dolphins' 3-4 defense. He didn't start the season opener, but stepped in after Jared Odrick's injury moved Randy Starks to end. Soliai had two sacks and eight tackles for loss, and was the top-rated 3-4 nose tackle against the run according to Football Outsiders, allowing just 1.1 yards a carry. Through two games this season, Soliai has four tackles and a QB hit.
The Dolphins were not going to re-sign RBs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams and they gave OG Richie Incognito an extension, making Soliai the team's clear-cut top priority to re-sign, which is why they tagged him. Now, the organization might have to do it again if it wants to keep Soliai in Miami in 2012.
"Paul's extremely excited about the chance to get to test the market," Canter said. "He has the utmost respect for (Dolphins owner) Stephen Ross and pride in the teal and orange. He wants to be a Miami Dolphin, but he knew that (a long-term deal) was unrealistic from the start."
Soliai has struggled with his weight during his career, but entered camp in good shape, listed at 355 pounds to start the season.
"I just think we need to see where he's at, what he's been doing for the past four months," GM Jeff Ireland told the Miami Herald back in July.
The concern over his weight fluctuating and whether or not the '10 season was a fluke could be a reason no long-term deal was reached before the lockout, but Soliai stayed in shape during the spring and he has made it clear he wants to stay in Miami.
"I love it here," Soliai told the Miami Herald this month. "I started my career here. I want to end it here. That's not really my decision. But I want to do my part. I intend to keep moving forward. I'm not taking any more steps back."
A tenuous offseason for the front office that saw Ross court Jim Harbaugh to be the team's new head coach, then give Ireland and head coach Tony Sparano two-year deals, could also factor in the team's reluctance to sign Soliai long-term.
The Dolphins will take the hit against the cap this season, as the two sides did not see eye-to-eye on Soliai's value. The team does have a pair of D-linemen who have the versatility to play nose — Starks and Tony McDaniel — but neither is a true 3-4 nose tackle like Soliai.
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