Thursday evening's game the Dolphins will play against the Atlanta Falcons in Orlando will be the last one before the team trims its 90-man roster to 75. That initial roster cutdown date is next Tuesday.
So what that means is that this third preseason game will be the final one for over two dozen players who think they're Miami Dolphins but really are not. And because coach Adam Gase will do as most coaches around the league this week and play his veterans at least two quarters and probably into the third quarter, some of these guys on the roster's back end have already played their final games for this team because there may not be enough time to get them snaps Thursday night.
This is an annual truth.
And this is also true: It is time to start thinking about roster cuts.
I've done this for some time (feels like 74 years) and my experience has taught me that when cuts are easy, that team has little depth. When cuts are hard, that team's roster is in better shape.
The 2016 Dolphins? They're somewhere in the middle.
Some positions, such as cornerbacks, offer easy solutions to making cuts. Some, including offensive line and defensive line, are tough calls.
Let's walk through the exercise:
Players: Ryan Tannehill, Matt Moore, Brandon Doughty, Zac Dysert
Who is in: Tannehill, Moore, Doughty.
Who is out: Dysert.
The situation: The optimal way to be able to handle this is put Doughty on the practice squad. But he played well in one preseason game (before playing awful last week), and Gase has talked him up in press conferences. So it might be hard to sneak him through to practice squad by cutting him and then re-signing him to PS. Complicating matters is that Moore suffered a concussion last week and will not play Thursday. His status is uncertain going forward, although it is expected he'll be available for the regular-season opener. This injury increases the chances Doughty is ultimately on the 53-man roster.
Postion: Running backs.
Players: Jay Ajayi, Arian Foster, Isaiah Pead, Damien Williams, Kenyan Drake, Daniel Thomas.
Who is in: Ajayi, Foster.
Who is out: Thomas.
The situation: Pead and Williams are battling for what seems to be the last spot -- unless they are not. One way the Dolphins could keep Ajayi, Foster, Pead and Williams is by relegating rookie Kenyan Drake to the injured reserve list with a designation to return. Let's face it, Drake, who missed three weeks and all the preseason games, has not earned a roster spot. He returned to practice today but is not playing Thursday night. But the team isn't walking away from him based on his third-round draft status. If the Dolphins decide that after not having proven anything in training camp, Drake makes the team ahead of either Pead or Williams, that's something of a gamble given Drake's long, long injury history. Pead, whose 45-yard run against Dallas is the second-longest of any NFL player this preseason, has been getting first-team work since last week, including in the game. I expect coach Adam Gase will try to make that happen again Thursday night. If he plays well, that may seal a spot for him. One more thing: Special teams is a big thing for the third and fourth back. Williams is very good on special teams.
Postion: Offensive line.
Players: Mike Pouncey, Kraig Urbik, Dallas Thomas, Ruben Carter, Anthony Steen, Laremy Tunsil, Ulrick John, Ja'Wuan James, Vinston Painter, Jamil Douglas, Jermon Bushrod, Branden Albert, Billy Turner, Sam Young.
Who is in: Pouncey, Tunsil, James, Albert, Thomas, Turner, Bushrod.
Who is out: Painter, Carter, Douglas.
The situation: Urbik, John, and Young are interesting because all have experience but are stuck behind younger, better players. Maybe cheaper, too. The roster has room for one of these three. Bushrod makes it because he's competing for the starting RG spot but also can move to LT in a pinch if Tunsil doesn't go there should Albert go down. Thomas makes it because he can play both LG and RG. Turner makes it because he can play RG and RT (in an emergency). Albert makes it because, well, Albert. Steen, now the starter while Pouncey heals, makes it if he doesn't collapse against first-team competition Thursday night. Douglas was a fourth-round pick in 2015. He's running a disappointing third team now.
Postion: Wide receiver.
Players: Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker, Leonte Carroo, Griff Whalen, Matt Hazel, A.J. Cruz, Brandon Shippen, Rashawn Scott, Jakeem Grant.
Who is in: Landry, Stills, Parker, Carroo.
Who is out: Shippen, Cruz.
The situation: Scott is probably out, too, but I'm not certain. The thing is Whalen is more than on his way to making the team based on his abilities on special teams and some good practice days. But he's a slot. And the Dolphins have a lot of those guys if you add Grant to Landry, and Whalen. Matt Hazel? He probably makes it. But the team has to keep six receivers. Grant makes it based on his potential and return abilities.
Postion: Tight ends.
Players: Jordan Cameron, Dion Sims, Thomas Duarte, MarQueis Gray, Dominique Jones, Gabe Hughes.
Who is in: Cameron, Sims.
Who is out: Hughes, Gray
The situation: If I dropped to Earth from Uranus (I'm juvenile) and you asked me which tight ends had earned a spot on this roster, I would tell you none of them. None. Most, including Cameron, have been invisible. Both Sims and Cameron have had notable drops in preseason games. Duarte, who wants to block, cannot because he's simply not strong enough and his technique is late-round-rookie-terrible. The others are JAGS -- as Bill Parcells said, just a guy. Very disappointing, this group.
Postion: Defensive line.
Players: Andre Branch, Chris Jones, Chris McCain, Deandre Coleman, Cedric Reed, Jordan Williams, Cleyon Laing, Julius Warmsley, Terrence Fede, Earl Mitchell, Cameron Wake, Ndamukong Suh, Mario Williams, Jordan Phillips, Jason Jones.
Who is in: Wake, Suh, Williams, Jones, Branch, Mitchell, Phillips.
Who is out: If the Dolphins are keeping four ends and four tackles, the man who joins the seven guys above is DT Chris Jones. He's been solid in his time as a starter while Mitchell has been out with a calf injury. If the team is keeping nine defensive linemen because the group is deep, that adds the possibility that McCain or Fede makes the team. Both are not making the team at this stage. McCain is a better pass rusher but not great against the run. Fede is a better run defender but not great with his pass rush.
Players: Koa Misi, Kiko Alonso, Jelani Jenkins, Spencer Paysinger, Neville Hewitt, Akil Blount, Mike Hull, Tyler Gray, James Burgess, James-Michael Johnson.
Who is in: Misi, Alonso, Jenkins, Hewitt.
Who is out: Burgess, Gray, Hull, Blount
The situation: Paysinger is probably in as well because of his special teams prowess and experience. James-Michael Johnson is the backup middle linebacker so he's probably in as well. If I'm the Dolphins, I'm searching for LB help when the final cuts are made because ... this group has also not been overly impressive. I've yet to see a big play from the starters in the preseason. I saw one from Kiko Alonso in practice a week or so ago, when he had an interception. Help!
Postion: Defensive backs.
Players: Rashaan Melvin, Al Louis-Jean, Reshad Jones, Jordan Lucas, Isa Abdul-Quddus, Shamiel Gary, Bobby McCain, Brandon Harris, Michael Thomas, Walt Aikens, Tony Lippett, A.J. Hendy, Chimdi Chekwa, Lafeyette Pitts, Byron Maxwell, Xavien Howard.
Who is in: Howard, Maxwell, Jones, Abdul-Quddus, McCain, Lippett.
Who is out: Melvin, Louis-Jean, Harris, Pitts,
The situation: The only reason seventh-round pick Lucas is not on the list as being out is because he was drafted. But the truth is he hasn't been very good. My guess is he gets cut and re-signed to practice squad. The Dolphins are cornerback challenged in that they have only three true corners that are certain to be on the team. Yes, Chekwa is a cornerback but he hasn't been practicing for a couple of weeks and that is no way to make the team. He returned to practice today and has much catching up to do and much to prove in a short amount of time. It seems Thomas makes the team as a nickel corner (different that outside corner, in my view) behind McCain and his ability to play special teams. That leaves Aikens. My guess is he sticks somehow for the time being based on his special teams ability. But he's a backup safety and Thomas can play that role as well. And Aikens spot could become a luxury later on because of one of these guys ...
Postion: The walking wounded.
Players: DE Dion Jordan, CB Chris Culliver, LB Zach Vigil
Who is in: Culliver eventually.
Who is out: Technically, none of them.
The situation: This group is interesting. I told you the Dolphins are boundary CB challenged. Culliver is expected to answer that challenge sometime around October-November. He's coming back from a significant ACL injury and surgery. He's not going to be ready for the start of the season. So my guess is he's on the reserve-PUP (physically unable to perform) list to begin the season. I a while back a while back so when others come around to reporting it, you'll now it is not news. This way Culliver doesn't count against the roster but the team can bring him back after six weeks. Jordan similarly hasn't practiced this camp and his situation is in some respects tougher because he didn't play all last year. No way he's on the opening day roster, barring something catastrophic happening to multiple defensive ends between now and then. And so he likely starts the season on reserve-NFI (non-football injury) and can similarly be brought back during the season. Vigil is a good special teams player. But he's not a star. He hasn't earned a roster spot now but it wouldn't be terrible to have him on a reserve NFI list to begin the season.
That's it. And you are correct to see I didn't add the kicker and punter and long snapper. Here's a hint: Punter Matt Darr, kicker Andrew Franks, LS John Denney.
The situation: We're done here.