Several months after undergoing spinal fusion surgery in the wake of a neck injury early last season, Dolphins linebacker Koa Misi still has not been cleared by doctors to return to football activities, leaving his football status in question.
Misi saw a doctor in the past two weeks and plans to see one again before the start of camp in late July, according to a source. He remains hopeful about being cleared to play this season, but it’s impossible for anyone to know when he will be cleared.
Misi, 30, originally hoped to be cleared for football activities in May, but that did not happen and he was not on the field during the team’s offseason program that ended last week.
Doctors, following this type of procedure, do not clear professional athletes to return until pain and symptoms have subsided.
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Peyton Manning underwent the same procedure earlier this decade and rebounded to play several years, leading the Broncos to a Super Bowl victory before retiring after 2015.
The Dolphins and Misi were very optimistic he would play this season, so much so that the Dolphins decided to keep him with a restructured contract instead of releasing him.
Misi’s salary was reduced from $4.1 million to about $2.1 million, with $1.15 million of that amount guaranteed this season. His cap hit was reduced from $4.8 million to $2.8 million.
“He wants to be here and he wants to have a chance to compete with the guys that we have on our roster,” coach Adam Gase said earlier this offseason. “If he’s healthy and able to contribute for us, it’s a big plus for us because he is a good player.”
After re-signing linebacker Kiko Alonso and luring free-agent linebacker Lawrence Timmons away from Pittsburgh, the Dolphins opted to keep Misi instead of making an aggressive offer to sign Pro Bowl linebacker Zach Brown, who had interest in the Dolphins but subsequently signed with Washington on a one-year deal that could be worth up to $4.65 million.
Brown’s 149 tackles for Buffalo last season ranked second in the league behind only Seattle’s Bobby Wagner.
The Dolphins last week also eschewed signing former Jets standout linebacker David Harris, who took a two-year, $5 million deal with New England. Dolphins executive Mike Tannenbaum drafted Harris when he worked for the Jets.
Miami drafted linebacker Raekwon McMillan in the second round, and McMillan, Neville Hewitt and Mike Hull would compete to start if Misi isn’t cleared by the start of the season.
If Misi’s healthy, he would compete with the others for playing time alongside starters Alonso and Timmons.
After being drafted in the second round in 2010, Misi had 4.5 sacks during a promising rookie season, but hasn’t played a full season since.
He missed four, two, one, five and three games over the next five seasons before missing 13 last season. He had 22 tackles in three games in 2016 before going on season-ending injured reserve.
The Dolphins like Misi’s energy and his ability to stop the run, and that’s the primary reason why the Dolphins decided not to part ways.
“I don’t know,” Gase said when asked earlier this month about a timetable for Misi’s return. “We’re not there yet. When you see him start running around or something, then I’d say we’re close.”
But Gase said Misi will need to change one aspect of his tackling.
“We’ve gotta make some adjustments there,” he said. “The fact is that the guy wants to be here and we’re gonna give him an opportunity to compete for a spot. I don’t see any harm in that. He’s a guy I like being around.”
But for now, everything remains in a holding pattern.
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