As they embark on their rebuilding project, the Dolphins not only need to add players at various positions but also clear out considerable cap space.
According to the NFL Players Association, the Dolphins have just $5.9 million in cap space for next season after several low-money signings during the past two months, including veteran defensive end Tank Carradine, quarterback Jake Rudock and cornerback Dee Delaney. That $5.9 million would barely be enough to sign a draft class, let alone anything else.
In most cases, the Dolphins will carve out more space by releasing players, such as Andre Branch. In some cases, they first will try to trade players, as the Dolphins have been doing with quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
But for some Dolphins players, league rules or stipulations in their contracts probably will compel the Dolphins to act quickly. A look at some Dolphins veterans and contract stipulations obtained by the Miami Herald:
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▪ Tannehill: Because there is no special date in his contract when his 2019 salary becomes guaranteed — veterans without that contract language become guaranteed the second regular-season week — the Dolphins theoretically could hold onto Tannehill until early September and hope a team finds itself needing an experienced quarterback.
But that’s unlikely, because Miami would be helped by the substantial cap space to be created by his departure, and it wouldn’t be fair to Tannehill to hold him hostage. Plus, Miami would be on the hook for his salary if he’s injured. But there is not necessarily urgency to act before players can begin signing with other teams at 4 p.m. on March 13.
If Tannehill stayed on the team for 2019, he would be paid an $18.7 million base salary in 2019, with a $26.6 million cap hit.
If the Dolphins cut him without a post June 1 designation, they would have $13.4 million in Tannehill dead money on its 2019 cap but would have a cap savings of $13.2 million. But if Dolphins release Tannehill with a post June 1 designation, the Dolphins would have $7.9 million in Tannehill dead money on its 2019 cap but would have a cap savings of $18.75 million, with $5.6 million in Tannehill dead money in 2020.
▪ Receiver DeVante Parker: The Dolphins are expected to rescind their fifth-year option on Parker, creating an additional $9.4 million in cap space. That move must be done by early next week; otherwise his contract becomes fully guaranteed on March 13, the first day of the new league year.
▪ Guard Josh Sitton: The Dolphins, barring a change of heart, are expected to part ways with Sitton, and that move likely needs to happen by next week because a $2 million roster bonus for Sitton becomes guaranteed if he’s on the roster the second day of the new league year. His $4.95 million base salary is nonguaranteed.
▪ Receiver Danny Amendola: If the Dolphins move on from the veteran receiver, it would be preferable to do it by early next week, because $2 million of his $5.9 million base salary for 2019 becomes fully guaranteed on March 13. Offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea, who coached Amendola in New England, recently praised him but was noncommittal about whether Miami would keep him.
▪ Defensive end Robert Quinn: The Dolphins would clear out his entire $12.9 million cap hit and $11.8 million base salary by cutting him, which is expected. But it would help to do it by next week because he’s due a $1.12 million roster bonus on the third day of the league year.
▪ Defensive end Branch: Miami would purge his $6.9 million base salary and get $7 million in cap savings (with $2 million in dead money) by cutting him, which is going to happen. But there’s no looming deadline to do it.
▪ Defensive tackle Akeem Spence: He has no date stipulation in his contract, and Miami would slash his $2.9 million salary and save $3.2 million against the cap by cutting him at any time.
▪ Safety T.J. McDonald: If the Dolphins wanted to part ways with McDonald and make Minkah Fitzpatrick a starting safety (which is their long-term preference), that would save only $1.4 million in cap space with $4.6 million in dead money with a post June 1 designation. But there’s no looming deadline, with McDonald guaranteed $3.64 million of his 2019 salary.
▪ Receiver Kenny Stills: There is no indication the Dolphins want to move on, but if they did want to gauge the trade market for him, it would be preferable to do it by late next week, because $1 million of his $7.97 million base salary becomes guaranteed on March 17. Already, $3 million has been guaranteed.
▪ Linebacker Kiko Alonso: There is no indication the Dolphins want to move on, but if they do, keep in mind that $2.5 million of his $6.5 million base also becomes guaranteed on March 17, as is the case with Stills.
The Dolphins tendered their four exclusive rights free agents, thus retaining their rights: guard Isaac Asiata, guard/tackle Jesse Davis, offensive tackle Zach Sterup and defensive end Jonathan Woodard.