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Taking a look at the tough decisions the Miami Dolphins need to make on defense

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With free agency just around the corner, the Miami Dolphins will have a few tough decisions to make. For them, that begins on the defensive side of the ball. While we take a look at defense today, we will look at offense tomorrow and figure out just how much the Dolphins can save by cutting a few players with loaded contracts.

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On February 8, the waiver system began for the 2016 season and some teams have made a few minor moves. For the Miami Dolphins, they have only released offensive tackle Jason Fox. However, as we get closer to the free agency period that begins on March 9, we will see more and more transactions being processed. For the Dolphins, that begins on the defensive side of the ball as they have a few players who have high cap numbers, but may not necessarily be worth that kind of money. Let's take a look at possible moves Miami may make with my recommendation added in.

Brent Grimes

This one is tricky because while Grimes has declined over the past year, the fact is that he can still play at a high level. The only problem? He has a wife who isn't afraid to run her mouth. This past season, she blasted almost anyone and everyone, including quarterback Ryan Tannehill. While the coaches and players did the right thing in the media, it for sure impacted the locker room and caused numerous distractions. Will new head coach Adam Gase want to deal with this ticking time bomb they call Miko Grimes or will he cut ties with Brent because of his wife? Grimes can still play in the NFL and I like to look at him as a second cornerback at this stage in his career. It's unfortunate that there are distractions in the background but that's the hand the Dolphins have been dealt.

Grimes has a cap number of $9.5 million dollars in 2016 and he is very unlikely to play in Miami for that number. They will ask him to re-structure and if he refuses, he will be released. By releasing him, the Dolphins will acquire $3 million dollars of dead money but realize a savings of $6.5 million.

Recommendation: Cut ties with Grimes. There are just too many distractions that come along with him and they aren't worth the headache, especially for a rookie coach and rookie defensive coordinator.

Koa Misi

Misi is a solid player but hasn't fully lived up to his full potential, mainly due to injuries that he has suffered every season except his first. In fact, he hasn't completed a full season since 2010! This past season, he had 78 tackles but no sacks. These 78 tackles were the most that he's accumulated in one season, with the second most being 65 in 2012. He is a great person on and off the field and is someone that you don't usually let walk away, but with a new coaching staff, his time may be up in Miami.

He has a cap number of $4.88 million dollars and if Miami releases him, they will only have $1.16 million dollars of dead money and a cap savings of $3.72 million dollars. The only saving grace he may have is that he is versatile and can play any linebacker position.

Recommendation: Misi is a solid enough where the savings I'm getting isn't a good enough return on the dead money. As mentioned, he can play any linebacker position and can fill in anywhere in a pinch. I would keep him and let him compete to remain a starter.

Cameron Wake

Cameron Wake was just getting warmed up when he tore his Achilles against the New England Patriots early in the season. A guy who has never had many injuries in his NFL career, this was a devastating blow to him and the rest of the defense. However, Wake is a fighter and will be back. There is no doubt in my mind that he can get back to the high level of play he was displaying before the injury. In today's NFL, you simply cannot let talent walk away, especially if this person is a model citizen on and off the field.

Wake has a cap number of $9.8 million dollars. If they release him, they will have $1.4 million dollars of dead money but realize a cap savings of $8.4 million.

Recommendation: Ask Wake to re-structure, which he will likely be open to. Although it will add some money onto the back end of his contract, it would be foolish to let a tremendous pass rusher go. Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph wants to build his defense around pass rushers and cornerbacks so letting Wake go would be counter-productive to his philosophy.

Quinton Coples

Coples was brought into Miami with six games left and failed to show up on the stat sheet. To his defense, it is nearly impossible to learn a new system that late in the season so there weren't many opportunities where he could have been successful. The former first round pick of the New York Jets in 2012, he has failed to live up to the expectations that many threw upon him when he was drafted. Some will give him an excuse, such as the fact that he was standing up as a linebacker in a 3-4 defense. For whatever reason, he just hasn't played well enough to make that kind of money.

He has a cap number of $7.75 million dollars heading into the 2016 season. If the Dolphins cut him, they will have no dead money and will save all of the money on his contract.

Recommendation: This one is easy. Cut Coples, but I would try to bring him back with an incentive-laden deal. With a full off-season under his belt in a 4-3 defense with his hands in the dirt, he may be able to finally turn it around in a fresh environment.

Earl Mitchell

Earl Mitchell was a first-day free agent signing of the Miami Dolphins in 2014. His contract, worth $16 million dollars over four years, had $9 million dollars guaranteed. He was coming from the Houston Texans where he played in a 3-4 defense and many thought that he would thrive in a 4-3 style. Thus, his contract was more based on potential than actual production. This past season, he had 22 tackles and no sacks. In 2014, he had 33 tackles and 2 sacks. He tends to get pushed around a lot and doesn't truly fit the bill of big and physical players that Mike Tannenbaum and general manager Chris Grier are looking for.

He has a cap number of $3.5 million dollars and the Dolphins will have $1 million of dead money if they release him. they will earn a cap savings of $2.5 million dollars.

Recommendation: I would part ways with Mitchell. While he knows the system and is a decent back-up in a three-man rotation, he just simply hasn't gotten the job done when given the chance. With Jordan Phillips entering his second year and hopefully with a better work ethic, the Dolphins should look elsewhere to fill the space. The cap savings isn't much, but sometimes it's just best to move on.

Ndamukong Suh

No, there is absolutely no possible way Ndamukong Suh will be cut or traded. That's because if they did, there would be $53.87 million dollars of dead money. However, there has been plenty of discussion about re-structuring his contract to free up more money this season. Let me say that this would be a bad idea. As it stands right now, the Dolphins can get out of his deal with a post-June 1 cut in 2018, where they would only have $5.1 million dollars of dead money and a savings of $17 million dollars. Re-structuring would make it impossible to cut him until at least 2019 or 2020.

By that time, we don't know what kind of situation the Dolphins will be in. What if Gase and Joseph want to eventually move to a 3-4 defense? Suh is not a good fit in a 3-4 and they would only need to be tied to the 4-3 philosophy for just two more seasons if they don't re-structure. What if his play starts to decline? What if he becomes a distraction in the locker room? The Dolphins should bite the bullet this season in the first year of a new coaching staff and look to sign a few free agents here and there and then build through the draft - not kick the can down the road.

Total Savings

If the Dolphins make the moves that I recommended, they would save $16.25 million dollars by cutting Grimes, Coples and Mitchell. That doesn't' include any money from a re-structured contract from Wake. By cutting those three, they would only have $4 million dollars of dead money, which is a net savings of $12.25 million dollars. Figure in Wake's new number after that, and you have yourself enough money to slap the approximate $15 million dollar franchise tag on Olivier Vernon.

This column was written by Matthew Cannata. Follow him on Twitter!