The Miami Dolphins made their first significant cut at linebacker Saturday by releasing starter Philip Wheeler. ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported Wheeler will be designated a June 1 roster cut, which allows Miami to save about $3 million off its salary cap.
However, Wheeler is just the first domino to fall at the Dolphins' linebacker position this offseason. The next likely cut at the position is fellow former starting linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who is on Miami's books for $8.45 million next season. Ellerbe played in just one game last year before suffering a season-ending hip injury. Former backup linebacker Jelani Jenkins took Ellerbe's place and led the team with 110 tackles, which further makes Ellerbe expendable.
In releasing Wheeler, and most likely Ellerbe, Miami will admit two big mistakes from its expensive 2013 free-agent class. The Dolphins went on a spending spree totaling nearly $200 million in contracts. Wheeler ($26 million) and Ellerbe ($35 million) were expected to make major impacts on defense. Receiver Mike Wallace ($60 million), whose roster spot also is in jeopardy, was expected to bring big plays to the offense. None of that panned out how former general manager Jeff Ireland envisioned two years ago.
Now, second-year general manager Dennis Hickey and new vice president Mike Tannenbaum are cutting their losses with Wheeler, who registered just 45 tackles and was a liability against the run and pass last season. The decision was a no-brainer. The same can be said for Ellerbe, who was more productive when healthy but certainly not to the value of $8.45 million. His release won't be far behind.
Jenkins and Koa Misi can fill two starting linebacker positions for Miami in 2015. The third starting spot is currently up in the air. But the Dolphins can a find a more cost-effective replacement via the draft or free agency.