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Cash-flush Dolphins want to close gap with Patriots

INDIANAPOLIS — For the Dolphins and general manager Jeff Ireland, it’s all been building to this.

They have $45 million in cap space and nine picks in the draft.

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A make or break time for the floundering AFC East franchise? Ireland wasn’t willing to go that far — but he knows it’s big.

“I think it’s a very, very important time period,” he said Thursday at the NFL scouting combine. “When you put a lot into getting into the position, we obviously are in a position by design, and so we plan to use some of our money and plan to obviously draft the best players available if we can, and try to address some of the needs and musts that we have on our football team.”

The Dolphins have several of their own players up for free agency -- left tackle Jake Long, running back Reggie Bush, receiver Brian Hartline, cornerback Sean Smith, and defensive tackle Randy Starks, to name a few -- so they’ll have to spend some coin there.

“We know the guys we want back and we know the guys we will potentially go after,” Ireland said. “It’s a strong plan to do a little bit of both.”

Ireland indicated the team will use the franchise tag.

“There’s certainly a likelihood that we could use, but in particular who right now, we have haven’t made that decision,” he said.

Ireland admitted there’s a gap between the Patriots and the rest of the division. Now would be a good time for the Dolphins to close it.

“There’s a gap, certainly, they’ve won the division quite a bit so we have to close that gap,” Ireland said. “I think it was a five-game gap right now on wins and losses, so that’s where the gap is. So we’ve got to close that gap and we plan to do our best job, put our best foot forward getting that done this offseason. Now, whether we can completely close the gap, we’ve got to get back on the field and close the gap on the field.”

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