Projecting the Dolphins’ 53-man roster is even more difficult than usual this season because they continue to pursue trades — including one for Houston Pro Bowl defensive end/linebacker Jadaveon Clowney — and figure to be especially aggressive in scanning the waiver wire for help on Saturday night.
Beyond the pursuit of Clowney — who met with coach Brian Flores and Dolphins officials — several veterans (including Kiko Alonso) remain available. As we’ve reported, Miami has never wanted to give up a premium draft choice for Clowney, but players likely would be involved in a Clowney trade. One view on where things stand with Saturday’s 4 p.m. roster cutdown deadline approaching:
▪ Running back: Patrick Laird, Mark Walton and fullback Chandler Cox are clear favorites to join Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage on the 53. Myles Gaskin could be stashed on the practice squad, and Kenneth Farrow’s days appear numbered. The one variable would be if Drake is used in a trade for Clowney, with Houston needing help at running back after Lamar Miller’s season-ending injury.
▪ Wide receiver: A strong case could be made to keep Brice Butler or Isaiah Ford as a sixth behind DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant and Preston Williams. Allen Hurns appears unlikely to make the 53 barring something unforeseen.
But Stills would fill a Houston need at receiver in a potential Clowney trade. If he or another receiver is dealt, it would open another roster spot.
The Dolphins would owe Hurns only $500,000 of his $3 million if they release him. “I feel I’ve performed OK,” Hurns said. “For the most part, I’m [healthy].”
▪ Tight end: Dwayne Allen — who has missed practice all week and played only 14 snaps in preseason — has gone from projected starter to needing to convince the Dolphins he’s healthy enough to be a contributor this season. Nick O’Leary, Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe are very likely to make it, and Chris Myarick could be retained for the practice squad.
▪ Offensive line: Beyond the five starters (Laremy Tunsil, Daniel Kilgore, Jesse Davis, Michael Deiter and Shaq Calhoun), very little appears resolved. Chris Reed likely sticks because he can play backup center and step in at guard if the rookie starters struggle. But there isn’t a single other player who’s not in jeopardy of being cut.
So even if tackles Zach Sterup and Isaiah Prince survive Saturday’s cuts, they will be compared against every tackle placed on waivers this weekend. Kyle Fuller, Michael Dunn, Aaron Monteiro, Tony Adams and Jaryd-Jones Smith face an uphill climb, though Fuller would be a serviceable fifth interior lineman.
The Houston Chronicle reported that Miami refused to trade Tunsil for Clowney, and we’ve also heard the Dolphins are disinclined to do that.
▪ Quarterback: It’s difficult to envision Jake Rudock sticking as a third QB, even if he lights up Saints backups Thursday.
▪ Defensive line: Christian Wilkins, Davon Godchaux, Vincent Taylor and Charles Harris are locks, and Tank Carradine and Nate Orchard appear to be in good shape. Akeem Spence’s release Tuesday leaves Adolphus Washington in potentially better position to stick as a seventh lineman.
That leaves Dwyane Hendrix and Jonathan Ledbetter — who have both had good moments in the past month — competing with Washington for potentially two spots. Hendrix has flashed as a pass rusher, and Ledbetter has been stout against the run and displayed some pass-rush skills. Clowney would become Miami’s top edge rusher if acquired, of course.
▪ Linebackers: Tough calls here, with a decision on Alonso at the top of the list. Miami saves $4 million in cash and gets significant 2020 cap savings by moving on from Alonso. He’s missed all of preseason with an undisclosed injury.
There are several locks: Jerome Baker, Sam Eguavoen, Andrew Van Ginkel and Raekwon McMillan (unless he’s traded). So that’s four — five if Alonso is retained.
Difficult to envision Tyrone Holmes or Quentin Poling opening on the 53. Nick DeLuca and Terrance Smith (who both have NFL experience) enter Thursday competing with undrafted rookies Tre’ Watson and Terrill Hanks for potentially one or two spots. Watson played far more on defense than fellow undrafted rookie Hanks last week (24 snaps to four) but Hanks — unlike Watson — received lots of first-team special teams work.
▪ Defensive backs: Xavien Howard and Eric Rowe are locks at corner, and Jomal Wiltz appears in good shape. The Dolphins clearly want to make it work with undrafted rookie Nik Needham — who’s on the first group on special teams and received lots of first team cornerback work when Rowe was sidelined. And Chris Lammons has been a special teams standout.
The question is whether Cornell Armstrong — who’s still in the mix — or someone on the waiver wire this weekend overtakes Wiltz, Needham or Lammons. I wouldn’t give up on Armstrong, whose speed and ball skills are worth developing.
Minkah Fitzpatrick is listed as a safety (though he also plays cornerback), and he, Reshad Jones and Bobby McCain are locks at safety. Walt Aikens, though injured recently, has special teams value, though the former staff had more allegiance to him than this one, and Lammons might have done enough to seize that Aikens role on special teams.
Undrafted rookie Montre Hartage has emerged as the backup free safety after starting his Dolphins career as a corner, and he has been given significant special teams work. Miami might ultimately need to pick two among Aikens, Hartage and Maurice Smith, who has had some moments.
Jalen Davis, Tyler Patmon, Torry McTyer and David Rivers face longer odds.
▪ Special teams: A decision looms on Wes Farnsworth’s bid to unseat 15-year long snapper John Denney. Matt Haack so far has survived the Patriots putting punter Ryan Allen on waivers. Kicker Jason Sanders is obviously safe.