The Miami Dolphins cut veteran wide receivers Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson on Friday, a position overhaul that many view as just the beginning of a broader roster purge to come.
Multiple league sources familiar with the team’s thinking believe that Mike Tannenbaum, less than a month into his tenure as the Dolphins’ head of football operations, is working this offseason with at least one eye on 2016 ‒ when the team should be in substantially better salary cap position.
The belief in league circles is that the Dolphins will not be overly active this year in free agency, but will instead use this offseason to get out from the many mistakes of the 2013 offseason, Jeff Ireland’s final go-round as general manager.
The Dolphins handed out tens of millions in guarantees to Hartline, Gibson, Mike Wallace, Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler that spring. They also traded up to take Dion Jordan third overall.
None of these players have panned out as expected ‒ the Dolphins still won just half of their games the last two seasons ‒ and now the bill has come due.
Though Dennis Hickey remains GM and the team insists he has final say of the 53-man roster, all major personnel decisions are at the very least cleared with Tannenbaum, sources familiar with the situation say.
And though Hickey and Philbin are probably in win-now mode ‒ Steve Ross said last month that “Next year, we have to win” ‒ Tannenbaum appears to have more latitude.
Appearing on SiriusXM NFL Radio on Thursday, Tannenbaum might have tipped his hand.
“As Steve has asked us to do, our plan isn’t for the next three weeks,” Tannenbaum said. “It’s for the next three years. We want to be systematic in our approach. We should be fine, not only in the short term, but more importantly, the long term.”
That plan apparently includes jettisoning players not part of the team’s long-term plans.
Hartline, who had 298 receptions for 4,243 yards but just 12 touchdowns in Miami, was due $5.9 million in salary and would have cost $7.4 million against the cap had he been on the team this year.
But given his reduced role in Bill Lazor’s offense ‒ he had a career-low 474 yards on 39 catches in 2014 ‒ there was no justifying that salary.
Gibson was never the same player after tearing his patellar tendon in 2013. He caught just 29 passes for 295 yards and one touchdown.
By cutting Hartline and Gibson, the Dolphins freed up roughly $6.5 million in salary cap space.
“We want to thank Brian and Brandon for their contributions to the organization,” Hickey said. “We wish them the best going forward.”
Still unknown: what the Dolphins plan to do with Wallace. He likewise could be cut in the coming days if the Dolphins cannot find a trade partner. Wallace is due nearly $10 million this season.
The word around the league is there’s a true difference of opinion about Wallace within the team’s braintrust. Philbin, who famously has a no-drama philosophy when it comes to players, is believed to be in favor of letting Wallace go. Hickey, meanwhile, is apparently more sympathetic to keeping him.
Left unclear: What exactly Tannenbaum wants ‒ for both 2015 and beyond.
The Dolphins have far too much talent to be in complete rebuild mode this year. But again, every move the Dolphins makes now will be weighed against what it costs them down the road.
Ryan Tannehill will need a new contract sometime in the next 12 months, but the team is set up to have more than enough future cap space to both accommodate their franchise quarterback and be a major player in 2016’s free agency.