This brings us to the problem. Outside of a quarterback upgrade, the Dolphins are still missing some necessary pieces — offensive line, pass rusher, tight end, receiver and secondary help — to make a Super Bowl run. With roughly $15 million in cap space to work with, General Manager Jeff Ireland's budget is a little tight.
But it could loosen up if Ireland decides to get creative and restructures a few contracts. Considering the Dolphins were one of five teams to spend the least in cash payouts last season, there's plenty of owner Steve Ross' money to play with.
Offensive tackle Jake Long, defensive end Randy Starks, safety Yeremiah Bell and tailback Reggie Bush are all candidates to have their contracts reworked.
Long has two years left on his rookie contact, but he does have an option year that can be voided after the 2012 season.
The four-time Pro bowler has a cap number of $12.8 million this season, and will receive a salary of $11.2 million. The Dolphins could add a few years to his existing deal and pay Long a large bonus that could create as much as $5-6 million in salary-cap space.
However, Long and his representatives would expect a contract that makes him the second-highest-paid, if not the highest-paid offensive lineman in the NFL. That distinction belongs to Browns left tackle Joe Thomas, who received a seven-year, $84 million extension last season, which reportedly paid him $44 million in guaranteed money.
Considering Long is coming off his worst NFL season, one which was plagued by knee and biceps issues, it would not be an ideal time to redo his deal from the team's standpoint considering the Dolphins won't know what they're paying for.
But Starks, Bell and Bush are all entering the final year of their contracts, and all three are viewed as vital pieces moving forward in the Joe Philbin era of the franchise.
If nose tackle Paul Soliai signs elsewhere, Starks, the team's top defensive lineman the last three seasons, would move inside. He's slated to earn $3.725 million in 2012, and has a cap figure of $5 million. However, this 2010 Pro Bowler would possibly seek a raise.
Bell has a $4.3 million salary and a cap figure of $6.2 million. Both are slightly high for a player of his caliber. Complicating Miami's position with Bell is the fact he's a valued leader in the locker room, and has led the team in tackles the past four years. The safety market is also a disaster, both in free agency and the 2012 draft.
Bush's status is a bit murky because the 27 -year-old is coming off his most productive season as a runner, and everyone knows tailbacks age quickly, especially those like Bush who are on the fragile side.
Bush is slated to earn $4.5 million this season, and counts $6 million against the salary cap. A one- or two-year extension at the same rate could convince him to put down roots in South Florida. And doing so could produce a bit more spending cash for the team Ireland will put around Manning or Flynn.