'Fins release four, including Pro Bowl CB Madison

Forced to slash contracts in order to get under the salary cap for 2006, the Miami Dolphins on Wednesday released four veterans, the most notable of which was four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Sam Madison.

The moves saved the team $14.4 million in cap room, but cost the Dolphins some key contributors, and three members of their secondary. In addition to Madison, the team released fellow cornerback
Reggie Howard, safety Tebucky Jones and offensive tackle
Damion McIntosh.

The release of Jones, who signed with Miami last spring after he was released by New Orleans, netted the largest savings, of $6.5 million. The Dolphins saved $4.275 million in cap space on McIntosh's contract, $2.625 million on Madison and $1 million on Howard. There is no doubt, however, that the jettisoning of Madison, one of the NFL's premier cover cornerbacks for many seasons, was the deepest cut.

It marks the second spring in a row that Miami has parted with a top cornerback, with the Dolphins having traded Patrick Surtain to Kansas City last year for a second-round draft choice, a move also forced by the team's salary cap overage at the time. For a period of about five seasons, Surtain and Madison formed one of the NFL's elite cornerback tandems.

Madison, 31, said early in the offseason that he would not rework his contract to stay with the team, and conceded that would probably lead to his eventual release. But in recent weeks, Madison indicated that he might be open to readjusting his deal. The two sides were unable to strike an amenable compromise, and Madison was released.

The nine-year veteran, who has 31 career interceptions and 69 passes defensed, will probably generate a healthy market in free agency. Even at his age, Madison is still regarded as a solid cornerback, one who is a terrific presence in the locker room, and teams can never find enough good players at the position. In 138 regular-season appearances, Madison, a former Louisville star selected by Miami in the second round of the 1997 draft, had 354 tackles.

Howard, 28, signed with the Dolphins as an unrestricted free agent in 2004, but never approximated the breakout season he had in Carolina the previous year. The six-year veteran has played in 72 games and has 207 tackles, six interceptions and 22 passes defensed. He could garner some interest around the league as a "nickel" cornerback.

A onetime first-round draft pick of the New England Patriots in 1998, Jones has always been a player with great physical potential, but disappointing production. Jones, 31, has played with the Patriots (1998-2002), Saints (2003-2004) and Dolphins (2005), but rarely made meaningful plays. A big hitter, Jones has been injured for much of his career and has only six career interceptions.

McIntosh played just two seasons in Miami, starting all 16 games at left tackle in 2005, after overcoming a foot injury that slowed him in training camp the previous year. McIntosh is a six-year veteran who played four seasons with the San Diego Chargers before signing with the Dolphins as a free agent in 2004.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.