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, with just a Saturday preseason finale against the Philadelphia Eagles remaining for players to make their lasting impression. They then will find out which cut players aren’t claimed by other teams, and those players remaining 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 Saturday’s final exhibition:
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. He has looked fine 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 year, people were up in arms, and look how quickly Miami found the next third-stringer you 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 if they just hope to keep Thompson on the practice squad.
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. 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. Bowden had a great preseason opener in Tampa 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.
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.
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. 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. 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 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 is an undrafted player out of Texas A&M-Commerce who earned big guaranteed money for an undrafted player and can grab a sixth spot.
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 the factor. Fejedelem also has his spot again due to special teams play.
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.