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Hartline, Gibson, Garner, Finnegan...Who Next for the Dolphins?

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With Free Agency just across the horizon, NFL teams are purging their rosters in order to bring in free agents. But here lies the difficulty – which Dolphins player will be cut next, and when?

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The Miami Dolphins have plenty of work to do this offseason in order to make the playoffs next year.  Part of that job will be trimming dead weight around the team in order to replenish the roster with players that can make an impact day one.  Of course, this won't happen overnight, and may take several stages.  Lets check out how the Dolphins might approach their cuts below.

Immediate Cuts

*Cortland Finnegan - $5.475m cap savings

Dannell Ellerbe - $5.56m cap savings

*Nate Garner - $1.65m cap savings

Cutting Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson late last week means the Dolphins are anywhere between $7m and $10m above the salary cap.  Remember, teams don't know for sure what the exact salary cap will be, although many speculate it will be in the $143 million range.  If, as many Media outlets will suggests, the Dolphins want to attract good quality starters early in free agency, it's only a matter of time before they immediately release a few players from their contracts.  Cortland Finnegan is the straight-forward option, followed by Dannell Ellerbe and Nate Garner.  Many will point to the fact that Ellerbe can be released at June 1.  However, the Dolphins may want some flexibility when it comes to June 1 cuts, of which this will be discussed further below.  Nate Garner has been a good servant for the Dolphins for a number of years with his ability to provide quality depth at a number of positions.  Unfortunately Garner had an injury-plagued season last year, and now may be the time to look for cheaper options that can be developed.  Releasing these three players will save the Dolphins $12.685m, putting them at the $20m and $23m range.

*UPDATE - News broke this afternoon that Cortland Finnegan and Nate Garner both got released from their contracts.

Wait and See

Shelley Smith - $2.75m cap savings

Randy Starks - $5m cap savings

Earl Mitchell - $4.5m cap savings

Voices have swirled around the Dolphins camp that they are prepared to give Shelley Smith one more season, or at least a chance to compete in camp.  However, if the Dolphins can get good value in the second, third or fourth round, and they perform better than Smith, he may be gone.  At present I feel it's highly unlikely the Dolphins spend big money on a guard, but don't discount a cheaper veteran on a short-term contract if one becomes available. With a contract yet to be worked out with Jared Odrick, it seems unfathomable that the Dolphins would cut Randy Starks or Earl Mitchell just yet.  But good news for Dolphins fans - Odrick tweeted a picture of Mike Tannebaum in the airport lounge coming back from a benefit gala in New York.  Just the fact that Odrick felt the need to tell the world about this could suggest he's close to signing a deal.  Once this happens, either Starks or Mitchell could be the next to go, with Starks the favourite due to his age and declining play on the field.

Post June 1 Cuts

Philip Wheeler - $200k cap savings before June 1 / $3m after June 1

Mike Wallace - $2.5m cap savings before June 1 / $6.9m after June 1

Philip Wheeler is a goner.  His play on the field does not justify the $26 million contract that he received.  But cutting him now will only save the Dolphins $200k.  The Dolphins will wait until post June 1 to save the team $3 million.  With Hartline and Gibson gone, it would be brave to let Wallace go.  Considering letting him go now will save the team only $2.5 million, the Dolphins may wait until after the draft and free agency, before cutting him, and saving $6.9 million in the process.  Personally, the Dolphins should give him another year.  I find it strange Dolphins fans criticise a player that caught 10 touchdowns last year.  He may also be a more tradable player next year with only two years left on his contract.

Restructure

Brandon Fields - $3.903m cap number / $3.508m savings

Mike Pouncey - $7.438m cap number & savings

Reshad Jones - $7.76m cap number / $6.76m savings

No, Miami should definitely not cut these players, but should restructure their contracts.  Fields could be a candidate for the chopping block, and his play did falter somewhat at times last season, but he should be a player that we can re-sign to a longer term deal and shave off around $2 million in cap space.  Reshad Jones and Mike Pouncey are the same.  The Dolphins could save around $4-6 million this year by restructuring these deals.

Concluding Thoughts

It's clear much work needs to be done by Tannebaum (yes, I said that name instead of Hickey) and company during the next week before free agency starts. The Dolphins should not be hasty and cut most of the players prior to free agency, however.  As the team brings in players, then other players can be released from their contracts.  It's a process - the only question is, who will go next?

Do you agree with the above assessments?  Who do you think will go next?  Will any of these players stay on the team?

Alex Parish is an Associate Editor at The Phinsider. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @AlexParish89.