Autumn has been unkind to the Dolphins the past four years, but the springs might have been worse.

The slights are well-known. No thanks, Jeff Fisher said. Jim Harbaugh did the same. And Peyton Manning? He barely granted the team a meeting.

Yet here we are, once again, as general manager Jeff Ireland hunts this year’s white whale.

Hundreds of players will officially become free agents at 4 p.m. Tuesday, but none has captivated the attention and imagination of fans (and perhaps even some Dolphins officials) as Mike Wallace.

For the third consecutive offseason, the Dolphins are buyers. They swung and missed the past two years.

But this March, there’s hope — and dare we say confidence — that the Dolphins brain trust will get it right.

The Dolphins have been active in the three-day negotiating window with other teams’ free agents and their own. Beginning Tuesday afternoon, the talks become real with Wallace, among others.

The Miami Herald learned late Monday that the Dolphins remain in the running for cornerback Sean Smith, who in recent days has been linked to several other teams — including the Patriots, Buccaneers and Cardinals. The prevailing sentiment has been that Smith will leave for another team, but a source close to the situation said that is not necessarily the case.

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