The expected roster purge is officially underway with the Miami Dolphins.
Although not surprising, the most interesting Dolphins developments during my vacation last week were cutting veteran receivers Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson. The two moves will save Miami more than $6.5 million in cap space to pursue other free agents. It is just the beginning of several roster cuts the Dolphins expect to make in the next few weeks.
Hartline and Gibson combined for 68 receptions, 796 yards and three touchdowns last season. But their projected salaries didn’t match their production.
So who is next to go in Miami? Here are five candidates to keep an eye on:
1. LB Dannell Ellerbe
2014 stats: Two tackles
2015 cap number: $9.85 million
2015 salary: $8.45 million
Analysis: I do not see any way Ellerbe survives this offseason's roster purge. The Dolphins need cap room, and releasing Ellerbe would provide plenty of it. The team can save more than $8 million by making this cut. Ellerbe played in just one game last season before suffering a season-ending hip injury. In addition, former backup Jelani Jenkins stepped in and led the Dolphins in tackles. Miami can sign two solid players for Ellerbe’s $8.45 million salary next season.
2. CB Cortland Finnegan
2014 stats: 44 tackles
2015 cap number: $6.475 million
2015 salary: $5.475 million
Analysis: Although I liked a lot of what Finnegan brought to Miami last season, it just doesn’t make financial sense for the team to keep him at this high a salary. It’s doubtful the Dolphins, who need to slash salary, would continue to pay Finnegan starter money next season. A possible compromise would be for Miami to ask Finnegan to take a pay cut to stay on board. If not, it’s time to turn the page and allow younger corners such as Jamar Taylor and Will Davis more opportunities to step into a bigger role opposite Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes.
3. LB Philip Wheeler
2014 stats: 45 tackles
2015 cap number: $4.4 million
2015 salary: $3 million
Analysis: Wheeler had another poor season with the Dolphins last year. Wheeler struggled defending the pass and stopping the run and has not lived up to the $26 million contract he signed in 2013. This may be the year Miami cuts the cord with Wheeler and admits its mistake. He is not a good fit for Miami’s defense.
4. OL Nate Garner
2014 stats: 10 games
2015 cap number: $1.816 million
2015 salary: $1.65 million
Analysis: Garner is a survivor and has been a valuable backup in Miami for years. He is versatile and can play all five positions on the offensive line, which is rare. However, Garner suffered injuries last season and his $1.65 million salary may be a little too rich for the Dolphins at this stage. The Dolphins can find cheaper ways to build depth on the offensive line via the draft.
5. DT Randy Starks
2014 stats: 28 tackles, 4.5 sacks
2015 cap number: $6 million
2015 salary: $5 million
Analysis: Releasing Starks is not an easy decision for Miami. He’s been stout and reliable for a long time. However, Starks finally showed signs of wearing down in the second half of last season. He was one of several problems with Miami’s run defense down the stretch. Can the Dolphins pay Starks $5 million this upcoming season? The bigger question is, can Miami find a better starting defensive tackle for $5 million or less? Tough call.