The final few active-roster cuts are annually some of the toughest decisions NFL teams have to make as August turns to September and training camp turns into regular season prep.
Miami Dolphins general manager Chris Grier and coach Mike McDaniel have several questions to answer by the Tuesday 4 p.m. deadline to cut their roster from 80 to 53 players. They have five weeks of training camp plus three preseason games, with players on the border of the active roster making their lasting impression in Saturday’s 48-10 exhibition win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Dolphins then will find out which cut players aren’t claimed by other teams and select from that group to make up their 16-player practice squad. The Dolphins can also add other teams’ cuts, if they find them worthy of a roster spot.
Do the Dolphins keep three quarterbacks? How many and which running backs and receivers nab the final spots? How many decisions will be determined by special teams contributions? Which players won their position battles?
Here’s a projection of the Dolphins’ 53-man roster ahead of Tuesday’s cuts:
QB (2) — On: Tua Tagovailoa, Teddy Bridgewater; Off: Skylar Thompson
The hot topic is whether to keep Thompson, the rookie seventh-round pick, on as a third quarterback. After he threw three touchdowns in the second half of the final preseason game, I so badly want to add him to the 53, but I’m sticking with my original pick. Thompson has looked fine — splendid, at times — in camp and preseason, but it hasn’t come against starting-caliber NFL defenders, so let’s not get carried away. Everyone always becomes enamored with third-string quarterbacks this time of year. Reid Sinnett was plucked from the Dolphins last season, people were up in arms, and look how quickly Miami found the next third-stringer fans love. With Tagovailoa the starter and Bridgewater one of the league’s top backups with ample starting experience, the Dolphins will be fine this season with the two of them and hoping to keep Thompson on the practice squad. I don’t like the argument of keeping him in case Tagovailoa fails in Year 3, either. If that happens, the Dolphins are probably looking to make a move for a high-end veteran QB or to select one early in the upcoming draft.
RB/FB (4) — On: Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert, Alec Ingold (FB), Sony Michel; IR: John Lovett (FB); Off: Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed, ZaQuandre White, Gerrid Doaks
Edmonds, Mostert and Michel were the running backs McDaniel specifically brought in via free agency for his offense. The Dolphins could save $2.5 million by cutting Gaskin. Michel hasn’t had a great camp or preseason, but the veteran is a between-the-tackles presence and turned a goal-line opportunity into a touchdown in the final exhibition. Ahmed has shown flashes and fits the offense. He or Gaskin could be an extra tailback, especially given Mostert’s injury history, but the Dolphins also must use a roster spot on the fullback Ingold.
WR (6) — On: Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, Cedrick Wilson Jr., Erik Ezukanma, Trent Sherfield, Lynn Bowden; Off: Preston Williams, River Cracraft, Mohamed Sanu, Braylon Sanders
Bowden and Williams are possible trade pieces. Williams hasn’t shown anything in this offense in camp, and then he muffed a punt on Saturday. Bowden had a great preseason opener in Tampa, had a touchdown catch-and-run in the preseason finale and has been on kick and punt returns in the exhibition season. He could contribute there while allowing Hill and Waddle to stay away from the return game, even though McDaniel has expressed a willingness to use his stars there. Sherfield has a sure spot as a camp standout and player McDaniel and receivers coach Wes Welker like from San Francisco.
TE (4) — On: Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe, Hunter Long, Cethan Carter; IR: Adam Shaheen; Off: Tanner Conner
Carter makes the team as a strong special teams contributor who is also a proficient blocker offensively that can be Ingold’s backup in a fullback/H-back role. Long caught a touchdown in the preseason finale and the new offense is similar to what the second-year player played in at Boston College. A Gesicki transformation project into a traditional tight end is in the works. If coaches determine enough progress hasn’t been made, could another team looking for his pass-catching abilities swoop in with a solid-enough offer in a trade?
O-line (8) — On: Terron Armstead, Liam Eichenberg, Connor Williams, Robert Hunt, Austin Jackson, Michael Deiter, Robert Jones, Greg Little; Off: Solomon Kindley, Larnel Coleman, Adam Pankey, Kion Smith, Kellen Diesch, Blaise Andries
Kindley has looked better in recent practices, but is it enough for the 340-pound guard to earn a spot in a blocking scheme that requires athleticism on the line? Coleman has had ample opportunity in camp to snag a backup tackle spot but probably didn’t show enough, and with Little back from injury this past week, he took Coleman’s spot. With only Little as a backup tackle, if Armstead goes down, the Dolphins can insert either Jones or Deiter on the interior of the line and shift Eichenberg to left tackle, where he played as a rookie.
D-line (5) — On: Emmanuel Ogbah, Christian Wilkins, Zach Sieler, Raekwon Davis, John Jenkins; Off: Benito Jones, Niles Scott, Owen Carney, Ben Stille
That’s a really solid top group, and Jenkins is a serviceable backup nose tackle. The Dolphins don’t need more than five on the active roster with how often they’re in a three-man front and how many versatile outside linebackers can play the edge.
LB (10) — On: Jerome Baker, Elandon Roberts, Jaelan Phillips, Melvin Ingram, Andrew Van Ginkel, Duke Riley, Channing Tindall, Sam Eguavoen, Brennan Scarlett, Porter Gustin; Off: Cameron Goode, Darius Hodge, Calvin Munson
It’s good competition for those final spots. I like what Gustin has shown in camp and the preseason, and he can put his hand in the ground as a backup defensive end for Ogbah, which is where he’s listed on the depth chart. Scarlett has missed time in practice with an undisclosed injury, but he has also said he has experimented with playing end this offseason. Maybe only one between Scarlett and Gustin are kept. Coaches can be fluid with their decisions here as Goode, the rookie seventh-round pick, and Hodge have also had their moments this preseason.
CB (6) — On: Xavien Howard, Byron Jones, Nik Needham, Keion Crossen, Noah Igbinoghene, Kader Kohou; IR: Trill Williams, Mackensie Alexander; Off: Elijah Hamilton, D’Angelo Ross
We’re assuming Jones will be ready for the season opener here to be that cornerback opposite Howard that frees up other Dolphins defenders to blitz. This unit has been devastated by injury this preseason between Jones’ recovery from lower leg surgery, Williams and Alexander’s placement on injured reserve and minor ailments for Needham and Crossen. Igbinoghene has his spot, although he hasn’t impressed. Kohou, who’s out of Texas A&M-Commerce earned big guaranteed money for an undrafted player and can grab the sixth spot. It was telling that he was the starting nickel on Saturday with Needham and Igbinoghene on the outside. He can back up Needham in that role when everyone’s healthy.
S (5) — On: Jevon Holland, Brandon Jones, Eric Rowe, Clayton Fejedelem, Elijah Campbell; Off: Verone McKinley, Quincy Wilson
Wilson, the South Florida local, and McKinley, the undrafted rookie who was Holland’s teammate at Oregon, are candidates for a spot after flashing at times this training camp, but Campbell may earn it over them with special teams contributions a factor. He added a second preseason interception on Saturday — this one a pick-six — and is versatile, able to play corner or safety. Fejedelem also has his spot again due to special teams play. Some wonder about Rowe with his contract, but I see him as too valuable in different packages or if any starting defensive back goes down.
Special teams (3) — Jason Sanders, Thomas Morstead, Blake Ferguson
The three specialists in the kicker Sanders, punter Morstead and long snapper Ferguson all have their jobs secured. Miami had two other punters between FIU’s Tommy Heatherly and Sterling Hofrichter during camp, but each was later waived.