Randy Starks or Paul Soliai, let the debate begin


Over the next several weeks, the Dolphins will have a tough decision to make on the defensive line. That is to figure out which player to keep – Randy Starks or Paul Soliai. The chances of the Dolphins keeping both are extremely slim – both will command big money on the big market and the Dolphins simply have too many other holes to fill. In addition, Jared Odrick now plays DT and did a very good job in 2013. Which one should they take? Let’s dive in and analyze the two players.

Paul Soliai, who is now 30 years old, was drafted by the Dolphins in 2007. Since that time, he has 160 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. With that, he averages 22.85 tackles per season, 0.64 sacks per season, and 0.28 forced fumbles per season. Let’s take a closer look and review each of his seasons.

He struggled to get anything going in 2007 and 2008, only racking up 3 tackles each season with 0 sacks. He was not ranked by PFF in the total tackles category. In 2009, he showed huge improvement with 25 tackles and a forced fumble. He was ranked 59 out of 68 defensive tackles in total tackles.

In 2010, he started 14 out of 16 games and racked up 39 tackles and had 2 sacks. In terms of total tackles, he ranked 21 out of 69 defensive tackles in the NFL. In 2011, he started 12 of 16 games and had 27 tackles. That season, he ranked 41 out of 63 defensive tackles in the total sacks category.

In 2012, he started all 16 games and had 29 tackles and 1.5 sacks. He ranked 40 out of 65 defensive tackles in total tackles. In 2013, he started 15 games and had 34 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 forced fumble. Out of 67 defensive tackles that played this past year, he ranked 34in total tackles.

That’s an average ranking of 39 out of 66 defensive tackles over a period of years. That means he is better than 41% of the remaining defensive tackles that were ranked by PFF in total tackles during that time. This essentially makes him below average if you’re taking just total tackles into account.

Obviously, being a defensive tackle is a lot more than that but there are so many stats that are not accounted for, such as how many double-teams he drew, how many times he hurried the quarterback, how many times he brought the running back down behind the line, etc. The Dolphins have these stats but the national stats services do not.

With that said, let’s take a look at Randy Starks and see how his numbers compare to Soliai.

Starks, who is also 30 years old, was drafted by the Titans in 2004 and came to the Dolphins in 2008. To make things easy in terms of comparison, we will only evaluate Starks since 2007. Since that time, he has 241 tackles, 26 sacks, and 1 forced fumble. That means he has averaged 34.43 tackles per season, 3.71 sacks per season, and 0.14 forced fumbles per season. Already, his numbers are better than Soliai but let’s take a closer look and review each of his seasons.

In 2007, he started in 4 games and had 16 tackles with 0 sacks. He was not ranked among defensive tackles by PFF that season for total tackles. In 2008, he started in 4 games and had 29 total tackles with 3 sacks. He was rated 73 out 106 defensive ends in total tackles.

In 2009, he broke out and started in 16 games while racking up 56 total tackles and 7 sacks. He was ranked 8 out of 108 defensive ends in total tackles. In 2010, he started in 16 games and had 30 total tackles and 3 sacks. He was rated 56 out of 105 defensive ends in total tackles. In 2011, he started in 15 games and 34 tackles and 4.5 sacks. He was rated 45 out of 107 defensive ends in total tackles.

In 2012, he was moved to defensive tackle he started in 16 games and had 27 tackles and 4.5 sacks. He was ranked 46 out of 65 defensive tackles in total tackles. In 2013, he started in 14 games and had 49 tackles, 4 sacks, and 1 forced fumble. He was ranked 16 out of 67 defensive tackles in total tackles.

Since Starks played defensive end up until 2012, the averages are a little off. However, since 2007, he has an average ranking of 40 out of 93 defensive ends/tackles. That means he is better than 57% of the remaining defensive tackles/ends that were rated by PFF in total tackles. This puts him above average.

As I mentioned above, there are so many more things that happen during a game that goes towards the overall grade of a player. With that said, Pro Football Focus has Starks ranked the best interior defensive lineman entering free agency. He has a grade of 28.8 for this past season – highest of any free agent on the defensive line. On the other hand, Soliai has a grade of 11.1 for this past season – which is good for 9th out of 55 players on the defensive line.

So, who should the Dolphins re-sign and who should the Dolphins let go? It’s a tough decision. While Starks has better numbers, he also has more mileage on his legs than Soliai. He’s been playing since 2004 and after a while, that can take a toll on you. Soliai has only been playing since 2007. It’s also nice to be able to say you signed a player to a long-term extension that was drafted by your team.

It will also come down to the locker room dynamics. We all know Joe Philbin wants high character guys on his team and guys who come to play football. When Randy Starks was demoted out of the starting lineup last year, he pouted and even gave the sideline the middle finger during the season opener against the Browns after making a tackle. Does that sound like a Philbin guy? Unfortunately, no.  Those factors could very well possibly be the nail in the coffin.

With that said, so many things that are not seen on the surface will be taken into account and it’s hard to see where the Dolphins go with this. If it were based strictly on numbers, this would be easy as Starks should be the one that is re-signed. Unfortunately, it’s not that cut and dry.

Making things a little more interesting is the fact that David Canter, agent for Paul Soliai, said on Fins Radio last night that he fully expects Randy Starks to leave Miami. Canter believes that he will receive a multi-year contract worth over 20 million total with about 7 million per year. If those numbers are true, which they are probably are considering Canter is well-involved in the free agency process, that would be a little too much for me taking into account his age and the fact that he’s already been playing for seven years.

In the end, my gut tells me that Starks is indeed let go and Soliai is brought back to the Dolphins. While his numbers are a little less than Starks, his character and work ethic will most likely decide who the Dolphins re-sign. We’ll see how this all shakes out over the next few weeks. It will be interesting!

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  • Brad

    Just looking at what we need and who else we have on the roster, it tells me that Soliai is the guy we should reup. We need run stuffers, and that’s exactly what Soliai is. We have a guy in Odrick who not only played well for us last season, but also does a lot of the same things that Starks does. in the end, Starks is expendable because we have another guy on the team that does the same things, and may be able to do them better. Not to mention, he’s younger and cheaper than Randy. We have a guy to develop behind Soliai in AJ Francis that could become really good for us, but he’s only entering his second season and needs time before we could commit to him. It’s easy to me. Reup Soliai and let Starks walk.

  • Matt Cannata

    I agree! Starks has more than double the amount of Soliai has in his career. His time is ending soon. Sign Soliai for a 3-4 year deal while developing a DT behind him.