The Miami Dolphins are focusing on the 2019 season, starting to develop their plan for the offseason including free agency and the NFL Draft. While the team is now stuck waiting until after the Super Bowl to hire New England Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores as the tenth full-time head coach in Dolphins history, that does not stop the preparations from general manager Chris Grier and the rest of the front office.
The Dolphins head into the offseason with the fifth-lowest amount of salary cap space in the league, but they have a clear method to quickly create cap space if they choose. Using numbers from OverTheCap.com, Miami currently is $14.0 million under the projected 2019 base cap of $190 million. The only teams with less space than Miami are the Philadelphia Eagles ($14.5 million over the cap), Jacksonville Jaguars ($3.53 million over the cap), Minnesota Vikings ($6.65 million under the cap), and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ($12.2 million under the cap). At the other end of the spectrum, the Indianapolis Colts have the most cap space, with $117.4 million in space, followed by the New York Jets ($93.8 million in space), Buffalo Bills ($83.9 million in space), Cleveland Browns ($82.5 million in space), and the Oakland Raiders ($71.1 million in space).
The league rules for the offseason changes how spending against the salary cap is accounted. During the season, every dollar the team spends on a player’s base salary plus bonuses, as well as the salary of the practice squad, are a part of the cap. During the preseason, training camp, and preseason, the league only accounts for the top 51 salaries for each team. That does not impact the Dolphins right now, as they only have 49 players under contract for 2019, but it will come into play as players are re-signed or once free agency begins.
Dolphins 2019 roster (49 players):
Ryan Tannehill - $26.6 million
Reshad Jones - $17.2 million
Robert Quinn - $12.9 million
Kenny Stills - $9.75 million
DeVante Parker - $9.39 million
Andre Branch - $9.00 million
Albert Wilson - $8.33 million
Kiko Alonso - $8.27 million
Josh Sitton - $7.00 million
Bobby McCain - $6.34 million
T.J. McDonald - $6.00 million
Danny Amendola - $6.00 million
Laremy Tunsil - $3.96 million
Minkah Fitzpatrick - $3.74 million
Charles Harris - $2.96 million
Akeem Spence - $2.50 million
Daniel Kilgore - $2.40 million
Ted Larsen - $2.29 million
Xavien Howard - $1.95 million
Mike Gesicki - $1.50 million
Walt AIkens - $1.40 million
Raekwon McMillan - $1.28 million
Nick O’Leary - $1.1 million
Kenyan Drake - $1.02 million
Jerome Baker - $897,800
Cordrea Tankersley - $849,572
Brice Butler - $805,000
Jakeem Grant - $755,095
Durham Smythe - $728,058
Kalen Ballage - $717,295
Davon Godchaux - $695,487
Vincent Taylor - $683,607
Chase Allen - $648,334
Torry McTyer - $647,500
Matt Haack - $646,334
James Burgess - $645,000
Cornell Armstrong - $599,602
Jason Sanders - $592,800
Jeremiah Valoaga - $570,000
Isaiah Ford - $570,000
Luke Falk - $570,000
Jalen Davis - $570,000
Jamiyus Pittman - $570,000
Quentin Poling - $495,000
Kendrick Norton - $495,000
Connor Hilland - $495,000
Chris Lammons - $495,000
Sam Eguavoen - $495,000
Also factored into the salary cap number for each team is their “dead money.” This pool of money is bonuses already paid or guaranteed base salary in a contract for a player who is released from the roster. This money can come from a player released this year, or after June 1, it can be spread over the current year and the next season. The Dolphins already have three players counting against the 2019 salary cap due to dead money, including the second-half of Ndamukong Suh’s huge dead money number from last year.
Ndamukong Suh - $13.1 million
Leonte Carroo - $175,097
Isaac Asiata - $130,400
The Dolphins could release players to add to the cap space. This could create dead money if there are still guarantees or signing bonus money which needs to be accounted for in the cap, but it would also provide some cap relief for Miami as well.
Potential cap cuts (cap savings at least $1 million):
- Ryan Tannehill - Cap savings: $13.2 million; Dead money: $13.4 million
- Robert Quinn - Cap savings: $12.9 million; Dead money: $0
- Kenny Stills - Cap savings: $4.25 million; Dead money: $5.5 million
- DeVante Parker - Cap savings: $9.39 million; Dead money: $0
- Andre Branch - Cap savings: $7.00 million; Dead money: $2.00 million
- Kiko Alonso - Cap savings: $4.75 million; Dead money: $3.53 million
- Josh Sitton - Cap savings: $5.00 million; Dead money: $2.00 million
- Danny Amendola - Cap savings: $6.00 million; Dead money: $0
- Akeem Spence - Cap savings: $2.50 million; Dead money: $0
- Daniel Kilgore - Cap savings: $2.40 million; Dead money: $0
- Ted Larsen - Cap savings: $1.88 million; Dead money: $416,668
- Xavien Howard - Cap savings: $1.29 million; Dead money: $664,189
- Walt AIkens - Cap savings: $1.40 million; Dead money: $0
- Nick O’Leary - Cap savings: $1.00 million; Dead money: $100,000
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill could be designated a post-June 1st cut, which would spread his dead money over two years. The Dolphins would not see the relief from the cap until June 2, but it would allow him to be off the roster prior to any bonuses he could have triggered into his contract as well. If the Dolphins use the post-June 1 cut option, they would see $18.75 million in cap space created this year, with $7.86 million in dead money this year, then another $5.56 million in 2020.
A post June-1 cut could also be used on Reshad Jones, who would create $15.2 million in dead money this year, with a $2 million in cap space, with another $8.09 million in dead money in 2020 - a scenario not likely to be used, but one which could provide some cap space if Miami becomes desperate at some point this year.
The Dolphins will have several decisions to make as Flores comes to the team and the front office begins making their first moves for the offseason. There is money to be had for the Dolphins, but every cut also means they have to sign someone to re-fill that spot on the roster. This also does not account for players like Cameron Wake, William Hayes, Ja’Wuan James, Frank Gore, MarQueis Gray, John Denney, David Fales, Brandon Bolden, Travis Swanson, Mike Hull, Leonte Carroo, A.J. Derby, Isaac Asiata, and Jesse Davis who are among the team’s soon-to-be free agents as their contracts expire in March. Miami could look to re-sign some or all of those players, potentially using some of the cap space they create.
If the Dolphins were to make all of the moves above - releasing all the players straight out without using the post-June 1 cut - Miami would gain nearly $73 million in cap space. They could also re-work contracts and find other ways to create space - including the $5 million in additional space designating Tannehill as a post-June 1 cut - which could push them toward the $100 million in cap space mark.
But, again, every cut means another player they need to sign.
Miami seems to be focused primarily no building through the draft and looking toward the long term health of the franchise rather than the win-now, free-agency focused team they were over the past several years. If that is truly the case, they will not be looking for big-name free agents to sign, which means they can save some of their cap space this year, rolling it into 2020, or beyond, so they can eventually find the one piece that completes the rebuild they are starting.
The Dolphins’ salary cap situation is not pretty, but it is not a complete mess either. Yes, they are going to have to spend a year resetting it, but it appears that the team can quickly rebound.