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Miami Dolphins salary cap: 'Difficult decisions' loom

The Miami Dolphins have for a few years been in the enviable position of enjoying certain salary cap flexibility that allowed them to spend quite freely in an effort to upgrade the team. That's what generally happens when a team is still building and the quarterback is unproven and not a salary cap burden.

But those days are soon coming to a close.

And that's when people such as Dennis Hickey, Mike Tannenbaum and Dawn Aponte will truly need to become innovative in the manner they manage the cap.

In a manner they haven't had to do for the Dolphins previously.

The fact is the Dolphins would be way over the estimated $140 million cap for 2015 were it not for the carryover they have available to them from 2014. According to NFLPA records, the Dolphins will be carrying over approximately $7.7 million from 2014 and despite this the 58 contracts currently showing will account for $143,342,933 in cap space.

That would put the Dolphins approximately $3.3 million over the expected cap of $140 million.

By contrast, the AFC Champion New England Patriots will be $3.5 million over the expected cap and they are carrying huge cap hits for quarterback Tom Brady and cornerback Darrelle Revis. They're also a better team than Miami, by the way.

So the Dolphins are mediocre. The Dolphins are not yet paying their quarterback a big sum. And they have generally the same cap situation as the Patriots before the offseason wheeling and dealing begins at the start of the league year.

The Buffalo Bills and New York Jets -- in the same boat as the Dolphins on the field -- are in much superior cap position. NFLPA records show the Bills will have approximately $18 million in cap space with 62 contracts counting while the Jets show a whopping $46.4 million in cap space with 52 contracts showing.

What am I telling you?

Well, let Hickey tell you.  

“In the salary cap era, every year you’re going to have tough decisions and difficult decisions and this year's no difference," Hickey said. "So you look at all those things and that’s part of the process. You not only meet with coaching staff, but you’re meeting with Dawn Aponte and her staff and just seeing where we’re at and where we can go to become the team that we want to be."

The team the Dolphins want to be will not involve some players you've come to know -- for better or worse. That's because to get under the cap and then extend themselves some latitude, the Dolphins are going to have to cut players or cut their salaries.

There are nearly a dozen players among the 58 under contract that may be either cut or have their salaries renegotiated (cut) to give the team an ability to conduct business in free agency and the draft.

Some players who might be affected?

Dannell Ellerbe.

Phillip Wheeler.

Randy Starks.

Cortland Finnegan.

Brian Hartline.

Brandon Gibson.

Nate Garner.

Shelley Smith.

Brandon Fields.

Mike Wallace.

There are others if the Dolphins want to get medieval about things. And remember, we're talking about getting rid of some players here. We have not even begun to add talent yet.

Cutting Wheeler, you should know, would only save the Dolphins $200,000 against the cap prior to June 1 but he's on this list because cutting him after June 1 would save $3 million. That pales compared to the $8.45 million Miami can save by cutting Ellerbe after June 1.

The point here is two-fold:

The Dolphins have as much hard work to do as a rival team that is much better than them and pays multiple future Hall of Fame players. And the Dolphins won't initially have the kind of cap freedoms they've enjoyed in the past and other mediocre teams in their division such as the Jets and Bills will continue to enjoy this offseason.

"I can’t speak to the last couple of years," Hickey said, "but I know Dawn’s done a great job with the cap and now we have to, again, we have some difficult decisions upcoming."