The Miami Dolphins 2016 season continues this week at Pittsburgh but it is already clear change is coming to the team’s defensive line.
Mario Williams, perhaps the biggest-name free agent acquisition of the 2016 offseason, will not be returning to the Miami Dolphins next season. Williams signed a two-year contract last March and carries the sixth-highest salary cap number on the team this season but he will be waived as a salary cap casualty this offseason, a source tells The Miami Herald.
The move will come before the fifth day of the 2017 league year because if Williams is on the roster that day, the Dolphins must guarantee $3.5 million of his scheduled $8.485 million base salary. Williams isn’t getting the guarantee or the salary from Miami.
That can be no surprise considering Williams steep decline in production and status on the team. A starter the first five weeks of the season, Williams managed only one full sack at Seattle. He then not only lost his starting job, but defensive coordinator Vance Joseph called him out for needing to play harder.
Although Williams agreed with Joseph and stirred no controversy in the locker room over the benching, his production continued to lag. He did not collect a tackle the entire month of December and was finally left on the inactive list in the season-finale against the New England Patriots last Sunday.
Williams, 32 later this month, has spoken of his fight with injuries and has been on the team’s injury report of late, but coach Adam Gase made it clear Williams was in fact a healthy scratch last game.
“I made the decision I wanted to play [Terrence] Fede yesterday,” Gase said on Monday. “We only went with eight defensive linemen, and Fede’s been playing really well. It was really a number’s thing.
“We have nine guys we like. And we have five defensive ends. We like all those guys. It’s hard for me to justify not playing Fede when he gives us something on special teams and the way he’s playing on defense. It’s nothing against Mario. It’s that Fede gives us some snaps on special teams plus he’s a big man who can move, he can run, he can do things on punt return or punt. Once you get some special teams value out of a defensive lineman, that’s good for us. That helps us a lot.”
And as the Dolphins move on to the postseason, the situation may not change barring an unforeseen spike in activity by Williams or a meltdown by Fede in the coming week of practice. That means Williams could be inactive again Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
So, indeed, Williams may have played his final game for the Dolphins.
Even if that is not the case, his first season with the Dolphins will be his last season with the Dolphins.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero