Unless something drastic happens, it appears Sean Smith's time as a Miami Dolphin has come to an end.
Smith is an unrestricted free agent as of March 4. The fourth-year cornerback and the team are reportedly not close to a new contract. Despite the gap in figures, the Dolphins have said they will not use the franchise tag on Smith. So, that means, either the Dolphins and/or Smith will have a change of heart when it comes to contract talks or Smith will be a free man in two weeks.
Smith is considered one of the best potential cornerbacks on the market this offseason. Joining names like Charles Woodson, Brent Grimes and Aqib Talib, Smith is one of a handful of cornerbacks who will be offered some serious cash in a couple months.
After the Dallas Cowboys gave Brandon Carr a new contract, as well as the Tennessee Titans re-signing Jason McCourty, Smith has gauged his value at about $8-$10 million per season. If the Dolphins were to give Smith a contract in that range, he'd be one of the highest paid players on the Dolphins.
Here's the real question: Do the Dolphins even want Smith back?
The Miami Dolphins can afford Sean Smith and $8 million more on the salary cap next season. In fact, they could afford 5 1/2 Sean Smiths at that rate. The Dolphins have $77 million committed to the team in 2013. That's $44 million under the salary cap.
With $44 million free, money isn't a problem. Sure, the Dolphins need to re-sign Jake Long to top-tackle money, but they'll still be left with a large chunk of that $44 million intact. Also, how much are they going to give Reggie Bush and Brian Hartline? Will either be back in 2013?
Money, right now, is no problem for the Dolphins. So they must really not want Smith back with the team.
Does he have attitude problems? Is Smith a distraction in the locker room? Is he not a team player? These are all possible.
Or, the Dolphins know he's not a top-tier cornerback who should demand that kind of money. Maybe it's just time for the Dolphins and Smith to part ways. Another general manager might want to give Smith $8 million per season. But odds are the Dolphins know Smith well enough not to give him $8 million per season.
The Phinsider doesn't think Smith is a "franchise" player:
Smith is inconsistent at best, being able to shut down some of the game's best wide outs one week, only to get torched repeatedly the next week. It is hard to see him as a "franchise" player, but the team could hit him with the tag, then try to negotiate a deal with a lower salary cap number.
Wherever the problem lies, there is a discrepancy somewhere. But it seems like the Dolphins, regardless what the problem is, won't have Smith back next season.
So what will the team look like then?
Richard Marshall, who the Dolphins signed to a three-year, $16 million contract before 2012, should be back and healthy next season. Marshall played in just four games for the Dolphins after finding a blood clot in his back. Marshall, if healthy, can provide a stable presence in the secondary. Before 2012, Marshall hadn't missed his game since he entered the league in 2006.
Nolan Carroll will also be back next season. Carroll replaced Marshall when he went down. In 10 starts, Carroll recorded 47 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and no interceptions. The Dolphins will pay Carroll just $677 thousand next year.
But no one should be surprised if the Dolphins use their money to improve their secondary in free agency. They might not want to give Smith $8-$10 million per season, but would they do that for a player like Talib or Grimes? After being released last week, Woodson would be a great fit to help mentor a young secondary. But you'd have to think Woodson would want to go to an immediate contender to try to win one more Super Bowl. However, that doesn't mean the Dolphins won't try to be the highest bidder.
The Dolphins may draft a cornerback to replace Smith. In the latest SB Nation NFL mock draft, Dan Kadar has the Dolphins drafting a wide receiver with the No. 12 overall pick. But anything between now and April could change. If the Dolphins don't bring back Smith or sign an impact free agent, they'll need to add depth somehow.
Potential first-round cornerbacks available are Alabama's Dee Milliner, who is considered the best cornerback available in the draft, and Florida State's Xavier Rhodes, who checks in at 6'2, 217 pounds.
For the Dolphins to draft either at No. 12, Milliner would have to slip and Rhodes would likely be a stretch at that spot. The Dolphins may be able to get Rhodes in the second round if he slips.
An older SB Nation mock draft has Milliner going No. 13 overall to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- one spot after the Dolphins.
Regardless of what the Dolphins do in the draft, it looks almost certain Smith will no longer be the face of the secondary.