There are two people in the Dolphins facility that have huge jobs during the next couple of months. Dawn Aponte will be in charge of crunching the numbers and putting the Dolphins in a position to keep their best players, and let go of those players that have failed to impress, while Dennis Hickey, the General Manager, will need to recruit players in both free agency and the draft that can take the Dolphins to the next level: the playoffs.
All of this will be overseen by a close associate of Stephen Ross, Mike Tannenbaum, an experienced executive who needs to turn this ship around. So far, there's evidence he will be very much hands-on. It was only a few days ago where he was spotted at the Senior Bowl working with the Dolphins scouting department.
As a result, both Hickey and Tannenbaum will have no sentiment when it comes to cutting players in pursuit of success. Many of the free agents signed that signed up to big contracts in 2013 were brought in by former General Manager Jeff Ireland. Tough decisions will need to be made. The front office will have two designated post-June 1 cuts. Lets check out the players who could be walking through the revolving doors both pre and post June 1.
On Sunday, I wrote an article on the hotly contested topic on why Mike Wallace should be cut. Clearly, the fanbase are divided. Should Miami trade Wallace, they'll save around $5.5 million against the cap, but will cost the team $6.6 million in dead money. On the other hand, if he is cut beyond June 1, he will cost $5.2 million in dead money but save the team $6.9 million. Cutting Wallace before the June deadline will only save $2.5 million, but will cost the team $9.6 million in dead money. If Miami can't trade Wallace, don't discount him from staying on this team for one more year.
And here's why Wallace could be sticking around for one more season: Brian Hartline. Hartline will save the team $5.95 million in cap space with $1.4 million in dead money post June 1, while a cut before June 1 will cost the Dolphins $4.2 million in dead money and save $3.1 million in cap space. No wide receiver that scores two touchdowns in a season makes that kind of money money. He'll need to drastically restructure his deal, or be shown the door.
Gibson completes the trio of wide receivers that could be cut. This one is more straight forward. Gibson will cost $1 million in dead money and $3.26 million in savings for the team, regardless of whether he gets released before or after the deadline. This guy could already be packing his bags.
As above, Finnegan will save $5.475 million in cap space and cost $1 million in dead money, both prior or post June 1. Rumors are surfacing that Finnegan may even be on the brink of retirement due to injury concerns. Another veteran on his way out?
Starks is paid like a defensive top tackle, but did not do enough last season. Cutting him anytime now will save $5million and $1 million in dead money. Again, as above, this will be the same post June 1, as well.
Here we have another player who will surely be leaving Miami unless he can restructure his contract. Cutting Ellerbe prior to June 1 will save $5.6 million, but would cost circa $4 million in dead money. However, cutting him after June 1 will only cost the team $1.4 million in dead money.
While Garner is a decent backup and utility player for the Dolphins across multiple position on the offensive line, he struggled with injuries this year. $1.65 million in savings pre June 1 and $166,000 in dead money could mean his days are numbered.
If Wheeler is cut before June 1, he'll cost the team a whopping $4.2 million in dead space and only save $200,000. Cut after, and he saves $3 million with $1 million in dead money.
I'm an eternal optimist and still believe Miami are close to becoming a playoff team. However, for that to happen, dead weight needs to be shifted. It's a no brainer that Ellerbe and Hartline should be post June 1 cuts if they can't restructure their deals. Before June 1, Gibson, Starks, Garner, Finnegan and Garner will all be at risk. Don't rule out Miami looking to trade Wallace either; a tough sell considering his large contract. Wheeler will also be another player that will be difficult to shift prior to June 1, meaning he could also stick around for one more year.
Should all these cuts be made, Miami could potentially save as much as $30 million in cap savings. Considering they are currently $2 million over the salary cap, and taking into account the $5 million needed to sign college players from the draft, Miami could once again be in a position to extend contracts that are due to expire, and still have some room to maneuver in free agency.
Once again, this offseason will be an interesting one.
Alex Parish is an Associate Editor at The Phinsider. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @AlexParish89.