Miami Dolphins

Dolphins put transition tag on Charles Clay, release Cortland Finnegan

Charles Clay caught 58 passes for 605 and three touchdowns last season for the Dolphins despite being plagued by injuries.
Charles Clay caught 58 passes for 605 and three touchdowns last season for the Dolphins despite being plagued by injuries. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Goodbye Cortland Finnegan. Here to stay Charles Clay?

In a flurry of moves Monday, the Dolphins cut Finnegan and slapped Clay with the transition tag, a one-year tender that would make him $7 million in 2015.

By designating him a transition player and not a franchise player, the Dolphins could still lose Clay, an ascendant tight end, to free agency. The transition tag only gives the team the right to match any contract offer Clay receives from another team.

If the Dolphins refuse to match such an offer within seven days, they would lose Clay and get no compensation in return. Clay caught 127 passes for 1,364 yards and nine touchdowns as a starter the past two years.

Clay’s exact salary — $7.071 million — is the average of the 10 highest-paid tight ends in the league. Given the Dolphins’ relatively tight financial situation, they will surely want to sign him to a long-term extension to spread the salary-cap pain out over several years.

Clay was going to be one of the most coveted tight ends on the market and would have commanded a contract that paid him at least $6 million annually. The Dolphins clearly sensed that and protected their asset.

Last week, head of football operations Mike Tannenbaum named Clay and Jared Odrick as two players the Dolphins would like to keep. Odrick, a defensive tackle, will hit free agency on March 10 if a new deal is not reached by then.

But the Dolphins have the space needed to keep them both, thanks to a roster purge that continued Monday.

In a long-expected move, the Dolphins released Finnegan, a veteran cornerback who discussed retirement with the Miami Herald late in the 2014 season.

Cortland said in December that he would “definitely be more surprised” if he returns for a 10th NFL season than if he doesn’t.

“I would love to come back, but I understand the business side of it, too,” Finnegan said in December. “If you have to walk away from it and it’s no more, I can’t be mad. I’ve accomplished every goal I wanted to.”

Finnegan missed roughly a month in 2014 with an ankle injury. And when he did play, he wasn’t particularly effective.

Quarterbacks had a passer rating of 102.1 when throwing at him last year.

If Cortland has played his final NFL game, he leaves a legacy as being a feisty — and at times dominant — defender. He earned all-pro honors with the Titans in 2008, but injuries have derailed each of his past three seasons.

Finnegan said in December that if he would return in 2015, it would be for the Dolphins or no one.

The Dolphins weren’t done Monday. They also parted ways with Nate Garner, a reserve lineman who was sidelined for much of the season with recurring migraines. Garner’s agent, Drew Pittman, told the Herald that his client is still dealing with ongoing issues related to concussions.

The Dolphins have now cut four veterans from last year’s team; Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson were released Friday. The totality of moves leave the team with roughly $12 million in cap space.

The NFL Players Association announced earlier in the day that the salary cap has been set at just over $143 million for this season, but the Dolphins had roughly $7.8 million in leftover cap room from 2014 that carries over into the new league year.

Clay probably wants a long-term deal done as much as the Dolphins. He would get more guaranteed money in a multiyear contract, and Miami seems to be a place he genuinely likes.

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