And Then There Were 53: Breaking Down the Miami Dolphins’ Final Roster Moves

The offseason is over. The preseason is over. And final cuts are now over. The Miami Dolphins are now set up to charge full-speed ahead into the 2015 season, with a formidable mix of young and experienced players comprising their 53-man roster. The team continued to make moves on Sunday, acquiring players and securing some familiar faces for the practice squad. Luckily for fans and players alike, the evaluation period is over. Before we look ahead to the Dolphins’ matchup with the Washington Redskins, here is our full breakdown of the team’s roster moves from the last 48-hours.

Full List of Cuts:

(Robert Deutsch/USA Today Sports)

(Robert Deutsch/USA Today Sports)

QB: Josh Freeman, McLeod Bethel-Thompson (Practice Squad)

RB: Mike Gillislee (Falcons Practice-Squad)

WR: Damarr Aultman, Cobi Hamilton

TE: Tim Semisch (Practice Squad), Jake Stoneburner (Practice Squad)

OL: Donald Hawkins, Michael Liedtke, Sam Brenner (Practice Squad), Aundrey Walker (Practice Squad)

DL: Anthony Johnson, Emmanuel Dieke, Deandre Coleman (Practice Squad)

LB: Mike Hull (Practice Squad, Jeff Luc, Jordan Tripp, James Davidson

DB: Cedric Thompson (Practice Squad), Don Jones

K: Caleb Sturgis

P: Brandon Fields

Linebacker Limbo:

vigil1

The Miami Dolphins came into the final week of the preseason with a serious logjam at linebacker. Nobody knew where the team was leaning, whether it was keeping more veterans or trying to develop some of the younger men on the roster. Undrafted rookie Zach Vigil earned his roster spot early in the preseason, and could actually see the field in his first year (primarily on special teams). The team also kept Neville Hewitt, the 6’2 235lb rookie out of Marshall. Hewitt didn’t make big plays, but was solid throughout the team’s exhibition games.

The decision to cut Mike Hull was not a huge surprise, but it was shocking that he cleared waivers and was available for the team’s practice squad. Miami got very lucky in being able to retain a young player with as much promise as Hull.

The most shocking cut for the team this week has to have been Jordan Tripp, the 2014 fifth round pick out of Montana. He was injured in the team’s first preseason game against Chicago, but nobody expected him to be cut outright this late. Another surprising development is that Tripp wasn’t claimed on waivers. Usually a player who was drafted that recently still has scouts with other teams who value his ability. I would have expected Tripp to sign elsewhere, but it is entirely possible that he comes back to Miami later on the roster or as a part of the practice squad.

Loading Up on Cornerbacks:

WillDavisINT1

The Miami Dolphins had a serious dilemma at cornerback, with plenty of players who would be served best by time on the practice squad, but would not make it through waivers. Players like Tony Lippett and Bobby McCain would undoubtedly be helped by more time to adjust to Kevin Coyle’s system, but they would be snatched up by another team in a heartbeat. So, the initial thought was that Miami would carry six cornerbacks. Then Will Davis happened.

Davis’ 2-interception performance against Tampa Bay secured his roster spot, leaving Miami with a serious dearth of defensive backs. Luckily they were able to sneak Cedric Thompson onto the practice squad, but it could be a smart move for Miami to keep plenty of cornerbacks. If there are multiple young players who are used interchangeably as reserves, there will be less pressure on a single one of them to perform this early. Dividing the load could help with the development of the team’s young defensive assets.

Andrew Franks Earns His Starting Job:

(Jim Rassol/Sun Sentinel)

(Jim Rassol/Sun Sentinel)

Caleb Sturgis was cut in wake of an injury-plagued and generally unimpressive preseason. Now the Miami Dolphins’ fate lies in the leg of Andrew Franks, an undrafted player from Rensselear Polytechnic Institute. Franks was very impressive in the preseason. Impressive enough for me to set a shortcut on my phone that allows me to place “Andrew Franks with the touchback” in a tweet just by typing out the symbol for the British Pound.

It is still unknown whether Franks will have success with Miami, but it was fairly certain that Sturgis would not. Nothing would happen that could miraculously make him good, so all that Andrew Franks had to do was show that he was better than Sturgis. We know what Sturgis is at his best, and luckily the team went with the young option that has a higher ceiling. Franks has earned the job, and will kick for Miami in 2015.

Quarterback Carousel:

The Miami Dolphins were unimpressed by Josh Freeman and McLeod Bethel-Thompson in the preseason, and decided that neither deserved a spot on the 53-man roster. Bethel-Thompson was claimed to the practice squad as a “break glass in case of emergency” option, but if the season comes down to that it will most likely be a wash anyway.

867420865

Matt Moore’s decline has been hard to watch for many, as the team once prided themselves on having one of the league’s most solid backup quarterbacks. Miami’s questions about Moore likely prompted them to claim Logan Thomas off of waivers from the Arizona Cardinals. The team’s decision to add a third quarterback to the 53-man roster actually makes sense, given that the season would be a wash without Ryan Tannehill anyway. Logan Thomas has a lower floor, but also a higher ceiling than Matt Moore. Thomas could serve as the replacement for Moore, who demands a fairly high salary to hold a clipboard. Hopefully it doesn’t come down to a backup quarterback, but if it does it really wouldn’t make a huge difference either way.

Also, do not be surprised if the team continues to make moves at the position. It seems strange to carry three on the 53-man roster, but could be made possible by the move we are about to discuss.

Jay Ajayi Lands on Short-Term Injured Reserve:

Ajayi1

Jay Ajayi suffered cracked ribs in the Dolphins’ preseason finale against Tampa Bay, and his prognosis did not seem good for early in the season. The team made a proactive move and decided to place Ajayi on the short-term IR, meaning he cannot practice until Week 6, and cannot play until halfway through the season (8-weeks). This roster spot made room for the team to acquire Logan Thomas, but it is important to recognize that this is a temporary roster spot.

Ajayi will return halfway through the season, at which point Miami will be forced to clear a roster spot for the promising runner out of Boise State. It could be possible that Miami decides on a backup quarterback by then, or that another young player on the roster could be released. Interestingly enough, Miami decided to cut Mike Gillislee now instead of keeping him until Ajayi is healthy. This was not the case, and it appears that we will have to see how the temporary nature of Ajayi’s open spot affects the complexion of the team going forward.

Rolling with Two Tight Ends:

(Reinhold Matay/USA Today Sports)

(Reinhold Matay/USA Today Sports)

Miami was unimpressed with Tim Semisch and Jake Stoneburner in the preseason, but also didn’t appear to find many options for a third tight end outside of the resources they already had. That is why the two young players were sent to the practice squad, in case Miami needs to call someone up at the last minute. This came as a surprise to me given Jordan Cameron’s injury history. I would have thought that Miami would value a third option heavily as insurance for their primary option, but it now appears that they will go with Cameron and Sims for the regular season.

It is possible that the team claims another player at the position, but Miami’s quantity of receiving options makes it easy to go with a smaller number of tight ends for the season.

Potential Waiver Claims:

(Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

(Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

One potential player the Miami Dolphins could target is John Moffitt. Moffitt was a member of the Seahawks, Broncos, and Eagles before being cut by Chip Kelly’s team this past week. Moffitt’s stint with the Eagles was an attempt at a comeback after retiring for two seaons, but it could be possible for Miami to lure him back on a reasonable deal. Moffitt would help the Dolphins’ depth on the offensive line, but isn’t likely to be signed at this time given his off-field issues and two-year hiatus before returning to Philly.

Mason Foster is another player Miami could consider, given their lack of depth at inside linebacker. Foster reportedly considered signing with the Dolphins earlier this year in free agency, but opted to go to Denver. If a deal cannot be struck somewhere offering him a chance to start, Foster could come to the Dolphins and provide much needed help at linebacker.

It Is Time:

sfl-photos-miami-dolphins-ota-practice-june-1--007

(Lynne Sladky/AP Sports)

After months of speculation and projections, the Dolphins’ 53-man roster is finally set. While the team could make moves in the next few days, the foundation of Miami’s 2015 unit has been assembled, and appears to be built for a potential playoff run this season. There is a good mix of young talent and experienced veterans, and the team could capitalize on a few young sleepers on the defensive side of the ball,

Depth is still the main concern for Miami, but in reality no team in the NFL has great depth at every position. Positional units for a team can have depth, but entire teams will almost never have solid backups at every position. While it’s easy to point at guard and linebacker as potential undoing for Miami, it feels like the fan-base could be nitpicking a bit here. This year’s team is the best that the Dolphins have had in a substantial amount of time. It is finally time to stop guessing and waiting to see how this year’s group performs. In less than a week, the Miami Dolphins will take the field against the Washington Redskins, kicking off one of the most anticipated seasons in recent memory for the team and its fans. Yes folks, we have made it. Welcome to football season.

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