Teams Begin To Trim Rosters, Miami Dolphins Will Soon Enough


Teams around the NFL are starting to make roster moves to get in position for the start of free agency on March 10th or to clear enough cap space to use on their own impending free agents. The next four weeks will be crucial for teams hoping to lock up their own players before they hit the market. The Miami Dolphins are no different.

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In Tampa Bay the Buccaneers have released quarterback Josh McCown and in Indianapolis Laron Landry has been let go. In New York the Giants parted with running back David Wilson. A move everyone expected. The Dolphins will have to start making tough decisions as well and the window to do so closes daily.

Since the end of the season speculation has centered on players like Phillip Wheeler, Dannell Ellerbe, Randy Starks, and Brian Hartline as possible or likely cap casualties. Then there is the talk of Mike Wallace which is entirely a situation of its own, but what about other players who may have played their final games with the Dolphins? Players who could save a little cap money if they are cut.

The list isn’t exciting when you are not talking about names already mentioned but no player is ever truly safe without a new contract in hand. While the offensive line was riddled with injuries last year it may be once again, a focal point of change for 2015.

We will start with Shelley Smith. Smith will only count around $250,00 against the cap if released but over $2 million will be cap savings. Last year Smith got injured and then never really returned to the lineup. While Mike Pouncey played Smith’s guard spot last year, he is no lock to take that spot this year even with Daryn Colledge expected to go to free agency. Smith if healthy could be valuable to the team and his $3 million cap hit isn’t all that much for an offensive lineman who starts, but it is for one who doesn’t. If the Dolphins are not sure Smith can be their right guard answer, they could opt to save the money.

Nate Garner is one of my favorite Dolphins players. Don’t ask me why. I simply like the way he plays and his versatility. That being said, his health has been in decline and he still can’t get into the starting lineup and stay there. Garner is one of those players that could have been a great football player but his body wouldn’t let him. Last year he took himself out of games with severe migraines and ended the season on injured reserve/non-football injury list as a result. Garner will cost the Dolphins $1.8 million against the cap this year but could save $1.65 if they release him. It’s a very small salary for a lineman but Garner has become a lineman that can’t get or stay on the field.

The Dolphins could be looking to have new starters at both guard positions and possibly left tackle if Branden Albert doesn’t return in time for the season. It’s imperative that the team keeps Ja’Wuan James at right tackle so finding a G/LT option in free agency or the draft will be very important. In addition to the above two players who could be released, the Dolphins will also lose the aforementioned Colledge and Jason Fox as well if they are not re-signed. The team is very high on Billy Turner but is he ready for a full time job at one of the guard positions?

There is plenty of money to save at the wide receiver position as well. Forget about Hartline and Wallace but instead look towards the fourth receivers and below.

Brandon Gibson should be a foregone conclusion to being released. He carries a $4.2 million dollar contract good enough for 15th on the Dolphins roster. Releasing him will only carry around $1.6 million in dead money while saving over $3 million. Gibson’s production on the field comes nowhere near his salary equivalent.

Rishard Matthews could also find himself looking for work. His work ethic and on-field penalties have caught the eye of the far more passive Joe Philbin and Matthews has spent a lot of time in Philbin’s doghouse. Matthews will only cost the team around $670k on the season and releasing him will save the team all but $13K of that money but Matthews isn’t a player we see on the field all that often and again, he doesn’t seem to fit the mold of a Joe Philbin type player.

The biggest question heading into this off-season is can the Dolphins afford to gut their wide-receiver group? The draft could hold an answer or two for replacements but they take time to develop and the free agent market this year is not very good or cheap. If the Dolphins value players like Matt Hazel over Matthews we could see that move indeed happen.

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Moving to the defense we start with the defensive line where Earl Mitchell, signed last off-season could be released if the Dolphins opt to pursue another defensive lineman. Mitchell will cost the team nothing in dead money if he is released and will save the team $4.5 million. With questions about Jared Odrick and Randy Starks’ futures however, it seems unlikely Mitchell would be released unless the team landed a run stuffing replacement.

Cortland Finnegan is coming off an injury and it would be a surprise if he were back. He will count only $1 million in dead cap space but save $5.475 million. Finnegan played very well last year but he can’t be relied upon for a full season anymore and the Dolphins need to start looking for long term solutions at the position rather than bandaid fixes.

While there are some players who could save $6-700,000 in cap space if released they would all need to be replaced and barring significant performance issues it’s likely there will be no need to do so. The Dolphins are a young team and many of the lower paid players have yet to reach their ceiling. Those are the support players that you build forward with. Miami needs to find the right mix of support and game changing players to build a winner. It starts with creating cap space and adding the right pieces. The players mentioned above are a start but each comes with the knowledge that a replacement might be more costly.