The Dolphins’ summer of discontent is now officially a summer of misery.
For the second time in a week, they presumably lost a starter for the season to a major knee injury.
Last Thursday, it was Ryan Tannehill.
This past Thursday, it’s Raekwon McMillan, who injured his right knee before he even played a single NFL defensive snap. An MRI on Friday confirmed what the Dolphins feared the night before: McMillan’s ACL is torn and needs season-ending surgery.
McMillan, the second-round pick out of Ohio State, was injured when he collided with teammate Deon Lacey while covering a punt in the first three minutes of Miami’s preseason opener. It was McMillan’s first and, as it turned out, only snap of the game and his entire rookie season. It was a freak accident; McMillan got injured when he banged knees with Lacey.
He left the Dolphins’ locker room on crutches, with his right knee immobilized by a brace.
Suddenly, a position of strength is threadbare. Koa Misi is out for the season with a major neck injury, and now this.
In the past two weeks, the Dolphins have also lost guard Ted Larsen for an extended period with a torn biceps muscle, and running back Jay Ajayi remains out with a concussion.
And they still have an entire month before the regular season even begins.
The free agent market for linebackers isn’t great.
Options include Donald Butler and Kelvin Sheppard, who both have played for the Dolphins, as well as Rey Maualuga, Brandon Spikes and Daryl Washington. Stephen Tulloch would be a logical fit considering his ties to defensive coordinator Matt Burke, but he might be content as a retiree.
Then there’s this: While the Dolphins lost a middle linebacker, they don’t necessarily need to replace McMillan with one. The flexibility of veterans Kiko Alonso and Lawrence Timmons means that they could pick up an outside linebacker and move one of their existing guys inside.
Take, for instance, Mychal Kendricks, who requested a trade from the Eagles in the offseason, only to have that request denied. Kendricks wasn’t happy with his role in 2016, but Philadelphia would probably demand a hefty price to deal the 26-year-old.
But the sense among those in the know is that if the Dolphins — or any team — offers the right value, Philadelphia would at least listen.
And with Mike Tannenbaum’s long history of dealing, nothing can be ruled out. The Dolphins do have assets the Eagles might want — a bunch of talented wide receivers. Philadelphia dealt Jordan Matthews to Buffalo on Friday as part of a blockbuster series of trades around the league.
Yet some think the Dolphins will simply wait until Sept. 2. That’s when more than 1,000 players will hit the waiver wire as teams make cuts ahead of the league’s 53-man roster deadline.
In the meantime, the job seems to belong to Mike Hull, a key special teams contributor who filled in on defense last year after a string of defensive injuries ravaged the Dolphins. Hull is undersized, and he struggled at times shedding blocks Thursday night after McMillan went down.
Burke could also turn to Neville Hewitt or even Lacey, a former CFL star who signed with Miami in the offseason. Lacey was on the field for 53 snaps on Thursday, the most of any defensive player.
Miami Herald sportswriters Armando Salguero and Barry Jackson contributed to this report.