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A season to decide the franchise's direction

The 2014 NFL season kicks off for the Dolphins at 1 p.m. today. My column in the Miami Herald today says this will be a defining season for the Dolphins no matter what happens.

I have no way of telling you exactly what is going to happen today or this season. But I do know that whatever happens will shape the future of this franchise for years, unlike other seasons that are used for building or revamping or whatever.

Part of my column makes reference to all the good things that can happen to the players and coaches if the Dolphins are a winner in 2014. And part of my column tells you there are bad things that can happen if the Dolphins are a loser. One of those latter things is the roster gets a significant reconstruction.

Indeed, if the Dolphins don't win, it is possible up to a dozen players who are starters now get jettisoned by next season.

Who? I didn't have the space to tell you in the column. I have space here:

If the Dolphins don't win, and somehow the passing game is to blame, it is plausible Mike Wallace goes. The Dolphins would have to accept $9.6 million in dead money for either trading him or cutting him, but they'd actually create $2.5 million in cap space.

If the run defense doesn't improve, if his coverage doesn't improve, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe could be jettisoned. It would result in a $5.6 million cap savings in 2015, not to mention $7.8 million in 2016 and $7.2 million in 2017.

Phillip Wheeler is in that same boat. He didn't perform exceedingly well last year. He's not playing today due to a thumb injury. But if he doesn't step up and play well this year, he's a candidate for the pink slip. Cutting him next year is a cap neutral move.

By the way, a source told me this week the Dolphins are letting it be known that their future at linebacker is Chris McCain and Jordan Tripp. The team is quite pleased with both rookies and expects good things from them.

The replacement for Brandon Gibson is already on the roster. His name is Jarvis Landry. If Gibson continues to reach toward being 100 percent healthy and picks up where he left off last year, he's safe beyond this year. If not ... well, his replacement is on the roster.

DT-DE Jared Odrick is in the final year of his contract, RB Knowshon Moreno is on a one-year deal, and CB Cortland Finnegan and DT-DE Randy Starks can be cut before next season and the team can gain significant cap savings as a result.

The point is this team is not committed to a bunch of its so-called stars beyond this year. Just as it is not committed to its coaching staff.

This season's results will determine whether the staff and roster deserve to be kept together beyond this year or deserve to be rebuilt. It could go either way, in my opinion.

We begin to find out today.

There will be a live blog today. Check back before kickoff to join in. 

 

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