The Dolphins accomplished a major goal this week by getting down under the salary cap and retaining defensive tackle Tim Bowens in the process.<P>It took some maneuvering to get this accomplished, but the end result made both parties very happy.<P>

In keeping Bowens, the Dolphins were able to hang on to a key piece of their defensive puzzle.

While the Dolphins were prefer not losing any of their defensive free agents — Lorenzo Bromell, Kenny Mixon, Brian Walker and Brock Marion, who was released on Thursday — it was Bowens who was the most important player to keep because of his ability to stop the run and free linebacker Zach Thomas to do what he does best: run around and make a lot of tackles.

The Dolphins actually wound up cutting Bowens on Thursday, just before he was due a roster bonus of $1 million. But hours later, Bowens was re-signed to a five-year deal that includes two option years (the club's).

The deal could be worth a total of $15.1 million, and included a $3 million signing bonus.

"It came down to us wanting Tim and Tim saying, 'I want to be a Dolphin and see if I can get the Dolphins to the Super Bowl,' " said Coach Dave Wannstedt. "He's a big part of the success we've had."

As for Marion, his release was considered a given because he would have counted $4 million under the cap.

The Dolphins are hoping to re-sign Marion, and he has indicated a willingness to return, but first he wants to see what kind of deal he could get in the open market.

Marion also was a free agent last offseason, but he re-signed with the Dolphins in June after finding little interest in his services.

Also on Thursday, the Dolphins released wide receiver O.J. McDuffie, a move which came as somewhat of a surprise considering the two sides reportedly had agreed to a restructured deal.

But McDuffie's agents added language to the contract that the Dolphins didn't want included, and they decided to cut him. The move saved $2.7 million against the cap.

McDuffie is said to be contemplating legal action against the Dolphins based on the initial diagnosis of the toe injury he sustained during the 1999 season, but it's uncertain whether he added language to the contract dealt with that issue.

As is the case with Marion, the Dolphins will continue to talk with McDuffie's representatives and aren't opposed to bringing him back.

But McDuffie sat out all of last season as he continued to rehabilitate his ailing toe, and it's debatable how much of a factor he could be if he returns.

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