The reasonable thing to ask after this first purge of the roster is what exactly did we lose, if anything, and were the right decisions made.
In every case (with a slight exception or two) the answer is 'yes.'
The Dolphins have entered a new phase - one of accepted rebuilding. Tony Sparano knows that. Bill Parcells knows that. The prospect of rebuilding can no longer simply be brushed aside and covered up, as older and excessively priced players are held onto to give the promise of a winning team. That strategy has led directly the depths of a 1-15 season.
This offseason, the Dolphins will need to adopt a set of guidelines that they should follow no matter what. These guidelines are based around the premise that the team is 2-3 seasons away from contending again for a playoff spot. I honestly believe that Parcells and Ireland can get this ship turned around with two good offseasons, but I'll tack on a third as added insurance.
Thus, given that timeline for contention, any player who won't be able to help out once that period has elapsed should not be considered as a potential Dolphin.
Does that mean that older Dolphins like Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor should now be considered useless to this team. Absolutely not. Both of those guys still can and are (despite Thomas' concussion) playing at All-Star levels. They haven't shown many signs of slowing down, if any. Essentially, it must be asked whether a player will be able to perform at a high enough level two years down the road in order to help this team compete in the playoffs. In the case of stars like Thomas and Taylor, I think the answer is yes. In terms of an old player like Keith Traylor, I think the answer is a definite 'no.'
The key for any move the Dolphins make this offseason is how it affects the future of the team.
Given that line of thinking, let's look at the nine players who were cut and see what their loss means to the team:
1. QB Trent Green
Green is now coming off two consecutive concussion-marred seasons. That fact cannot be overlooked. There are still some concerns about his doctors fully clearing him to play. Also, by the time the 2008 season begins, he will be 38 years old. An ancient QB with serious concussion issues is not the kind of player that Miami should be holding onto as a starter or backup - especially with the exorbitant $3.6 million amount he'd count against the cap in '08. The Dolphins can't compete with or without him playing this season, and he'll be into his 40's by the time they are in a position to reach the playoffs. All that being said, the team and Green have a mutual interest in rejoining each other, albeit at a much reduced salary. And this, I think, would not be a bad idea at all. Isn't that contradictory to what I just wrote, you might be asking? Well, no, because I would only want him to come back to the Dolphins if he would accept being the third-string QB. It was obvious that John Beck had a very comfortable relationship with Trent, and I think he benefited from having that guidance in his rookie season. Having him around for another year would be a good thing for Beck as he continues his development. It would at least provide him with some sense of continuity in the face of all the other coaching upheavals. As the third QB, there would be only a very slim chance that Green would ever have to take the field, so his role would essentially be as a second QB coach - one who already has a foundation built with Beck. If he'll accept a large pay cut and the position of third QB, I'm all for bringing Green back for at least one more year. If he can help in Beck's development, then that will essentially be helping the team in the long term.
2. WR Marty Booker
Booker can still be of service to some team in the league, but only a team that is already playoff-caliber. At times in Miami, it seemed to me that he was totally unfocused on the game. Hell, he wasn't happy to be traded here in the first place. There was absolutely no reason to keep him around for another season. Not only will he be 32 years next season, but his base salary of $4.3 million is so far out of line with his production that it's not even funny. Those are the kind of contracts that this team cannot bear any longer. If you need further proof that Booker is of no use to this team now or long-term, I need only point out that he caught only 47.6% of his passes last season, dropping 7, and only recording 11.1 yards per reception. His Yd/Rec numbers have been steadily decreasing since 2005. With Booker out of the picture, the path will be cleared for guys like Ted Ginn and Derek Hagan to step up and continue to develop for the future.
3. RT L.J. Shelton
Shelton is another player like Booker who can still probably be of service to a contending team that needs only a few pieces. He can certainly still play at a slightly above-average level, and he is the kind of huge body (6'6", 345 lbs.) that Parcells loves, which is one reason why this move surprised me the most out of them all. Since Shelton played so well at guard in 2006 and struggled at times at tackle in 2007, I was hoping that the team would keep him and slide him over to LG to replace Chris Liwienski. At RT in 2007, Shelton gave up a whopping 7.5 sacks compared to only 2 sacks at RG in 2006. He's a durable player, having started every game over the past 3 seasons. However, the biggest knock against Shelton, as far as Miami is concerned, is his age. He will be 32 years old next season, and while he might be of use in the short term, I can't see him being valuable to the team in 2 years time.
4. DT Keith Traylor
Keith Traylor was born in the 1960s. That should be enough reason to cut ties with him. Even though he possesses the size and skills of a true nose-tackle which are hard players to find, his body is breaking down. There is no point in retaining a guy who hardly practices and can only play on about 25 snaps per game. Traylor very well might retire, but if he wants to keep playing, a rebuilding team like Miami doesn't have any space for him.
So those were the four veteran starters to be let go. Here are the five other guys who got the boot:
5. T Anthony Alabi
Alabi is an athletic player, but he's had health issues throughout his time with Miami, and there comes a time when a project player becomes a failed project player. He had three years here and never started a game. It's time to start a new project.
6. T Marion Dukes
Dukes came to training camp with the Dolphins last year as an undrafted college free agent, but after a few months with the team, he decided to return to Clemson to finish his degree and become an assistant coach on the football team there. Miami retained his rights for the year, so cutting him now is just a formality.
7. T Joe Toledo
Miami spent a fourth-round draft pick on Toledo in 2006, and he has been an injury-laden disappointment. He simply can't stay healthy enough to take the field. Why waste the roster space and money on a guy like that, no matter what his potential might be? You can only realize potential if you get on the field.
8. DT Marquay Love
This guy came to camp this year as an undrafted college free agent who played on the offensive line. He was switched halfway through camp to defensive tackle, and I was shocked that he even made the squad. He's barely a practice squad level player.
9. DT Anthony Bryant
Another guy with the prototypical nose-tackle build who simply lacks the skills to be a solid player.
So there you have it. A lot of dead weight got trimmed off, clearing significant cap space, which will allow Miami to go after some young and promising free agents come March.