The Miami Dolphins are taking steps Thursday to improve their 2017 salary cap situation while saying good-bye to a couple of big-name players.
The team is releasing starting left tackle Branden Albert, defensive end Mario Williams, defensive tackle Earl Mitchell and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
In cutting Albert, who started 12 games in 2016, the Dolphins are shedding their third-highest salary cap number scheduled for ‘17. Albert was to cost $10.6 million against the cap this season but Thursday’s move effectively saves the Dolphins $7.2 million in cap space.
The Dolphins are not designating Albert as a post-June 1 release, per a source.
Albert, who had been signed for two more years with the Dolphins, played 35 games during his three seasons in Miami. Indeed, Albert never played a full season as he battled assorted injuries, most notably a career-threatening knee injury in 2014. Albert missed four games last year.
Albert’s injuries, cap situation, and good-but-not great performance led to his release. The fact the Dolphins already have a new starting left tackle on their roster also sealed the decision.
Laremy Tunsil, a first-round draft pick in 2016, will be moving into the starting left tackle spot after starting most of his rookie season at left guard. Coincidentally, it was Albert who took Tunsil under his tutelage to help the rookie succeed in the pros.
Albert, who spent the early portion of his offseason traveling, was informed of the team’s decision Thursday. It did not come as a total surprise. The die was cast on this move when the Dolphins drafted Tunsil last year.
The Dolphins decided it was better to cut Albert, 32, than ask him to play left guard because he hadn’t done that since early in his career and the benefit of the salary cap savings was too attractive.
The Dolphins will be looking to add a left guard in free agency or the draft -- although not early in the draft if they can help it.
Albert, signed by the Dolphins as an unrestricted free agent in 2014, was solid for the team last season. But he had his worst game of the season in the playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, when he gave up one sack and failed to identify a blitzer who had a free rush at quarterback Matt Moore.
The Dolphins knew after that game that Tunsil would be an upgrade at left tackle.
The Dolphins are shaking up their defensive line as well with the release of veterans Williams and Mitchell.
The Williams release is not a surprise.
Williams, 32, was set to cost the Dolphins $10.5 million against the cap in 2017 and that was simply too much based on his modest, if not barely visible contribution in 2016.
Williams was signed to fill the void left by the departure of Olivier Vernon to the New York Giants in free agency. The stopgap measure didn’t work because the veteran struggled most of the season -- collecting only 1.5 sacks and even being called out by then defensive coordinator Vance Joseph for needing to “play harder.”
Williams took the public admonition as a professional and did not complain or become disruptive in the locker room. And he did try to play harder. But it wasn’t enough. He lost his starting job to Andre Branch and was even a healthy scratch for three games.
The release of the fourth-highest salary cap hit scheduled for 2017 means the Dolphins save $8.5 million in cap space.
There is also a significant savings in cutting Mitchell. He was scheduled to cost $4.5 million against the cap but with today’s release, the Dolphins save $4 million of that.
Mitchell, 29, was supposed to enter his final season of a four-year deal.
Mitchell spent most of training camp nursing a calf injury. He got healthy enough to play in the regular-season opener and then re-injured the same calf in the game. He spent the next seven games on injured reserve.
The Dolphins needed Mitchell so they assigned him as their lone player eligible to return from the IR list. Mitchell returned and after playing as a substitute three weeks, regained his starting job the final five games of the season. He finished with 17 total tackles.
The Dolphins decided the potential for another 17 tackles season was not worth the $4 million savings of cutting Mitchell.
This moves means Jordan Phillips, entering his third season, is expected to take over as the starter. The Dolphins will need to add defensive tackle help.
Indeed, the Dolphins will once again be addressing the defensive line because defensive end is a desert of talent for the team with only Cameron Wake, who is 35 years old, and Terrence Fede on the team with any significant game experience.
The release of Ekpre-Olomu is not salary cap related. He was signed last season after being cut by the Cleveland Browns because the Dolphins wanted to see if he still had the potential he showed in college at Oregon years before.
The Browns gave up on Ekpre-Olomu after he suffered a significant knee injury before his rookie year. He never played for them and he never played for the Dolphins because Miami came to the same conclusion as the Browns -- that Ekpre-Olomu wasn’t ready to contribute.
The Dolphins waived Ekpre-Olomu injured in August after he sustained yet another knee injury. Because he was not claimed on waivers, he returned to the Dolphins’ injured reserve list.
He is off that list and the team now.
In total on Thursday the Dolphins saved $19.7 million in cap space.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero