NFL Combine 2013: Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland on Ryan Tannehill, Brian Hartline, salary cap rollover

USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Ireland of the Miami Dolphins spoke with the media at the NFL Combine. He was asked about re-signing his team's free agents, the team's young quarterback, and the freedom the league's new salary cap rules have given him.

The NFL latest collective bargaining agreement allows teams to roll over unused cap space from one season to the next, and that means the Miami Dolphins will have plenty of extra cash to spend. Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland talked about what that money allows him to do on Thursday at the NFL combine, according to nfldraftscout.com.

Check out Dolphins blog The Phinsider

The Dolphins are among the teams with the most cap room in 2013, and with a newly-implemented cap floor, they will have to spend. Ireland said the new rollover rules take some of the pressure off with contract negotiations, because the cap room that was going to be used isn't lost:

What you don’t spend in one year rolls over to the next. It’s good because certain players you’re trying to get done in the current year, you can’t get that person done, so you can use that money in the next year.

All that cap room means the Dolphins should have the flexibility to re-sign some of their top performers and hit the free agent market in hopes of upgrading. With a young quarterback trying to get acclimated to the NFL, Miami would do well and surround him with talent.

The Dolphins used their top-10 draft pick last season to grab Ryan Tannehill in hopes of finding a franchise quarterback. Miami watched as other rookies, particularly Russell Wilson (who was drafted in the third round), excelled and Tannehill had struggles. Ireland acknowledged that there is work left to be done with Tannehill, but believes that the talent is there:

As I’ve said before, Ryan’s got 35, 36 games under his belt as a starting quarterback combined from a college and pro career. And you’d normally like to have 35 games under your belt as a graduating senior so I still think there’s a bunch of upside left in Ryan’s potential. I like what I see so far. I love his intangible makeup. I love his athletic skill set. We have a long way to go. He knows that. But he can get a lot better. I’m very confident in that.

One of top players that Miami would likely want to keep around is wide receiver Brian Hartline, who had a breakout season in 2012. The fourth-year wideout caught 74 passes for 1,083 yards and a touchdown, nearly doubling his production from the previous season.

With Tannehill trying to work through struggles, it will be important to keep one his safety nets around. Ireland wasn't specific when asked about Hartline, but did say that if a deal were to get done, it would happen soon:

As it relates to anyone in particular I’m not really going to address how our negotiations are going at this point. But it’s important to get the guys that we’re trying to get back, it’s important to get those guys done certainly before the 8th, there’s no doubt about it.

Re-signing Hartline obviously is just one of many things that the Dolphins would need to do to contend in the AFC East. Miami does have the cap room to at least give it a shot as they join the rest of the division in chasing the New England Patriots. Ireland said the Dolphins need to make up "five games" between themselves and the Pats.

That's a lot to do in one season, but improvement from a young quarterback and the cap room to bring in some expensive free agents could make the jump a little easier.

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