Cortland Finnegan expects to play the season’s final three games.
But barring a late change of heart, those will probably be the last three games of his intriguing career.
Finnegan, the Dolphins’ veteran cornerback, would not come out and say Tuesday that he plans to retire in the offseason.
But he did tell the Miami Herald that he would “definitely be more surprised” if he returns for a 10th NFL season than if he doesn’t.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
“I would love to come back, but I understand the business side of it too,” Finnegan said. “If you have to walk away from it and it’s no more, I can’t be mad. I’ve accomplished every individual goal I want to.”
Finnegan, who said he “absolutely” will play Sunday against the Patriots after missing the past four games with an ankle injury, is due $5.5 million in base salary from the Dolphins in 2015.
But he’d cost just $1 million against their cap if he is cut or retires – which means the franchise might make his career decision for him. The Dolphins are already right up against the 2015 projected salary cap, and are expected to jettison a number of high-priced veterans in the months after the season ends.
Finnegan had been playing well in 2014, but suffered a significant ankle injury more than a month ago that has tested both his body and his spirit.
“Getting injured [in that fashion] was nothing I ever had in my past,” Finnegan said. “I got my ankle gator-rolled on the sidelines. Up to that point, I felt like I was progressing. Brent [Grimes] was challenging me to be better, and just play football.”
Finnegan added: “To play opposite of a Pro Bowler and an all-pro like that and not be picked on and hold your own, I was really excited. ‘Man, I can still do this.’ Could a year more with this coaching staff make me blossom? I think so. But again, it’s business.”
Once an on-field bad boy, Finnegan has tempered his image in recent years. He’s no longer ripping the helmets off receivers like he did to Andre Johnson while with the Titans in 2010.
Rather, he’s become a mentor to the team’s young group of corners, including Jamar Taylor – who, like Finnegan, is on track to play in New England Sunday after missing the past few games.
Finnegan has come to enjoy living in South Florida, and “love[s]” playing for Dolphins defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo.
That’s why he said, should he return next year, it’ll be with the Dolphins or no one.
“My family’s established here,” Finnegan said. “I’ve been doing this for so long.”
Plus, it’s not like he needs football financially anymore. He’s got “some nuts stored away” and owns a string of juice bars in Tennessee that will be waiting for him upon retirement.
But he hopes to put that off for at least a couple of more months. His Dolphins still have playoff hopes, however faint, and to get there, they need a healthy and effective Finnegan.
There were plenty of skeptics when the Dolphins signed him to a two-year, $11 million contract in the spring. The one-time all-pro was coming off two disappointing years in St. Louis, and many thought he was done physically.
If nothing else in his short time in Miami, he proved them wrong. Finnegan has surrendered just one touchdown pass this year, and returned a fumble for a touchdown against the Raiders in London.
So would it be a disappointment if this is indeed his final three games as a professional football player?
“No it wouldn’t,” Finnegan answered. “That’s one of those things I tell all of these guys. When you get a chance to do something that you love, and at some point you can just leave on your own terms, it’s really fulfilling.
“I won’t look back at my life or my career and be like, ‘Ah, I miss this,’ because I’ve done it long enough.”