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The Miami Dolphins gained cap space but lost tight end Charles Clay to the Buffalo Bills when they elected not to match an offer sheet worth a reported $38 million over five years.
The Bills submitted the offer sheet the night of March 17 and it took the Dolphins less than two days to make their decision when they could have waited until March 23. The deal is said to include more than $20 million guaranteed and Clay will make $24.5 million over the first two seasons of the contract.
Miami gains $7.071 million by allowing Clay to leave. The Dolphins had placed their transition tag on Clay and had reportedly made a max offer of four years and $28 million.
For comparison, at $20 million guaranteed, Clay would get just $4 million less than Pro Bowl tight end Julius Thomas received in free agency to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and his total compensation of $38 million is only $4 million shy of Rob Gronkowski's potential earnings in New England.
The Dolphins signed former Cleveland Browns tight end Jordan Cameron to a two-year, $15 million contract last week, possibly in anticipation of losing Clay.
Bills tight end Scott Chandler joined the New England Patriots.
Also last week, the Dolphins traded wide receiver Mike Wallace to the Minnesota Vikings hours after acquiring receiver Kenny Stills in another trade with the New Orleans Saints.
The new-look offense for the Dolphins would include Cameron, Stills, tight end Dion Sims, a fourth-round pick in 2013 currently on the roster.
In addition, the Dolphins are taking a look at free-agent wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who was with the San Francisco 49ers.
If Clay signed back with Miami under the transition-tag tender, he would have received the $7.071 million salary for 2015. For only about one million more $8.347 million the Dolphins could have used the franchise designation to retain Clay. In the event of him signing with another team, the Dolphins could have received two first-round picks in return, the type of deterrent that likely would have kept the Bills who don't have a first-rounder in 2015 at bay.
Structuring the offer to Clay with a high salary-cap hit is 2016 was something of a poison pill for the Dolphins. Miami recently signed defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to a free agent deal that includes a $6.1 million salary-cap hit in 2015 but a $28.6 million hit in 2016.
Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, center Mike Pouncey and defensive end Olivier Vernon also will be in the market for new contracts heading into 2016.
Clay, 26, had 58 catches for 605 yards and three touchdowns last season. A sixth-round pick by the Dolphins in 2011 out of Tulsa, Clay enjoyed his best season in 2013, making 69 receptions for 759 yards and six touchdowns.
The Dolphins selected Clay in the sixth round in 2011.