On every NFL team, there’s usually a handful of accomplished veteran players at risk of being purged as the calendar trudges toward NFL cut-down day Aug. 31. But that’s even more the case with these rebuilding Dolphins, who appear intent on investing in youth and retaining promising fledgling talent.
Among the positions where established Dolphins veterans are at risk:
▪ Receiver: Among Allen Hurns, Brice Butler and Isaiah Ford, there’s a decent chance one could stick as a sixth receiver. But it’s difficult to fathom more than one making the 53-man roster, barring injuries.
Only $500,000 of Hurns’ contract (which is worth up to $3 million with active-roster incentives) is guaranteed, and he’s had a quiet preseason, playing the fewest snaps of all available receivers against Tampa Bay and catching three passes for 24 yards in preseason.
The size of his contract (including the $2.5 million base) likely works against him, with contracts becoming fully guaranteed Sept. 3. And now Hurns is out with an undisclosed injury. Hurns would earn $31,250 for every regular-season game in which he is on the team’s active roster ($500,000 maximum).
Butler has has had some good moments in preseason (five catches, 51 yards) and his $805,000 non-guaranteed deal is cheaper than Hurns’ contract.
And Ford, set to earn $570,000 if he makes the team, is the cheapest of the three and received a lot of first-team work last week with injuries to three veterans. The former seventh-round pick, who has appeared in one regular-season game, has two catches for 20 yards in preseason. Special teams will factor into this decision.
▪ Offensive line: With Brian Flores on Monday giving a vote of confidence to a lineup including Jesse Davis at right tackle, it’s clear that Jordan Mills — who began the offseason as the starting right tackle — is at serious risk. Only $1 million of Mills’ $3 million salary is guaranteed.
Though Chris Reed lost his starting guard job after the change in offensive line coaches, his versatility, ability to play backup center and ability to step in at guard if one of the projected rookie starters struggles are three factors that give him a good chance to stick. And he’s relatively cheap at $1.7 million.
Beyond Mills, veterans with NFL experience who appear in serious jeopardy of being purged: Kyle Fuller and Will Holden. And Zach Sterup needs a strong close to preseason.
▪ Tight end: The Dolphins aren’t going to give up on Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe a year after drafting them, and Nick O’Leary has been the best of the tight ends in preseason. That leaves a potential fourth spot between Dwayne Allen and Clive Walford.
Allen has been slowed by a knee injury since May and played only seven snaps Friday. But Allen started that Tampa Bay game (with O’Leary) and it would be surprising if the Dolphins dumped Allen — their projected starter at the position — even though Walford has had some good moments (three catches, 44 yards in preseason).
▪ Linebacker: Sam Eguavoen’s emergence and Jerome Baker’s evolution — and the fact Miami is expected to play three linebackers less than half the time — have left Kiko Alonso and Raekwon McMillan in a tenuous position. McMillan obviously is not going to be released, but his playing time likely will be impacted.
Alonso’s standing is less clear, with a club source declining to assure that he will definitely be here this season. Cutting him would save almost no cap space but would come with substantial cash savings.
Releasing Alonso would carry $8.2 million in dead money and just a $25,000 cap savings but would save Miami $4 million in cash, per overthecap.com.
But if Miami can trade Alonso, there would be $1.3 million in dead money and $7 million in cap savings. Finding a trade partner might be difficult, though, because the team acquiring him would be responsible for the entire $6.5 million base salary, including the $2.5 million guaranteed in March.
Alonso and McMillan remained out Monday with undisclosed injuries.
Chase Allen, who has been injured throughout camp, has an uphill climb to make the 53. The Dolphins are still trying to determine what they have in two recent additions: former Jaguars linebacker Nick DeLuca (started Friday and was solid against the run while struggling in coverage) and former Chiefs player Terrance Smith.
▪ Defensive line: Two established NFL players, Adolphus Washington and Akeem Spence, could be competing for one job, unless Miami keeps five defensive tackles. Washington was very good Friday, with five tackles. Nate Orchard (two sacks in preseason) would help himself further with a strong close to preseason.
▪ Defensive backs: Veterans Tyler Patmon and Maurice Smith, former sixth-round pick Cornell Armstrong and second-year corner Jalen Davis are among those in serious jeopardy.
▪ Long snapper: A decision looms on highly-regarded rookie Wes Farnsworth’s bid to unseat 15-year veteran John Denney.