Monday 2 p.m. update: The Dolphins created an additional $7.1 million in cap space this afternoon by releasing cornerback Cortland Finnegan and offensive lineman Nate Garner.
The Dolphins are determined to upgrade over Finnegan, whose release saves the Dolphins $5.5 million in cap space. (Scroll down for potential cornerback targets.) Finnegan, 31, played one season for the Dolphins, producing 44 tackles and one forced fumble but no interceptions in 12 games.
Finnegan, one of a limited number of NFL players without an agent, said last season that he might retire if the Dolphins did not bring him back on the second year of a two-year contract.
The versatile Garner, 30, played in 74 games --- starting 19 combined at guard, center and tackle --- in six seasons for Miami but was limited to 10 games last season before being sidelined for the remainder of the year with migraine issues related to concussions.
Agent Drew Pittman said Garner is still dealing with those issues related to concussions but did not elaborate. His release saves the Dolphins $1.6 million against the cap.
Those moves left the Dolphins with about $18 million in cap space, with more moves to come. Some of the space was created by carrying over $7.8 million in unused space from last season.
But some of that space will be used on Charles Clay, who was given the transition tag. That means he will make at least $7 million next season. Other teams can bid on him, but the Dolphins have the right to match.
Quick Sunday night update: Sensing the Dolphins were potentially headed in this direction, agent Drew Rosenhaus said during his weekly segment on WSVN-Fox 7 that he asked the Dolphins to release Brian Hartline so that Hartline could go into the market and explore his options and also give the Dolphins an opportunity to re-sign him.
Rosenhaus said the Dolphins have interest in re-signing Hartline and didn't rule it out. But as Armando Salguero noted, Hartline has interest in teams closer to his native Ohio and with an established quarterback, making the Colts an appealing option. Rosenhaus said he expects Hartline to sign somewhere this week.
Rosenhaus, who does not represent Mike Wallace, also said he believes Wallace will remain with the Dolphins because the team needs him after releasing Hartline and Brandon Gibson. He said he feels that way even though he knows Miami is trying to trade him and also believes they have asked him to take a pay cut (which has been confirmed by people close to the situation).
SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Besides their desire to upgrade at middle linebacker, the Dolphins also have made cornerback and defensive tackle priorities. What we’re hearing as teams approach the March 10 start of free agency:
### Well before joining the Dolphins’ front office, Mike Tannenbaum said cornerback is critical for Miami in a division with Tom Brady. Tannenbaum also said this a couple of years ago: “The fastest way to lose games in pro football is not to have corners. Other things you can survive, but if you can’t cover on the outside, it’s dismal.”
The Dolphins want to add at least one quality corner to upgrade over Cortland Finnegan, and free agents Kareem Jackson and Brandon Flowers are among those who have been discussed internally, according to a person with knowledge of Miami's discussions. (I'm sure there are other cornerbacks also of interest to Miami; these were merely two of the names we know have been talked about.)
Jackson, 26, a five-year starter for Houston, had three interceptions in 13 games in 2014 and quarterbacks had a 74.1 rating in his coverage area.
Flowers, 29, played for the Chargers in 2014 --- quarterbacks had an 84.2 rating against him --- after six seasons in Kansas City. His family lives in Delray Beach and a friend said the Dolphins would hold some appeal to him. Pro Football Focus rated Jackson 11th and Flowers 15th among 108 cornerbacks for 2014.
PFF said Flowers had “a superb first year in San Diego. Not going to fit in every scheme but put him in the right spot and he’s a top-tier cornerback” and said Jackson “has done very well to rebuild a reputation that looked almost beyond salvaging after his first two years in the league. Jackson has rebounded with some impressive play and can be one of the better No. 2 corners in the league.”
The Dolphins approached All-Pro Darrelle Revis last offseason, but Revis wanted to sign with a Super Bowl contender. A Revis confidante expects the Dolphins to call him again, but it’s highly questionable if Miami has the cap space to seriously compete for him, considering it must address several other needs.
Besides Revis, Tannenbaum also has a history with Arizona free agent Antonio Cromartie (31 picks in nine seasons), so he cannot be ruled out. Cromartie, according to PFF, “rebuilt his rep in the first half of the season but didn’t follow that up with the kind of strong second half that would have everyone expecting a big short-term deal come his way.”
Other corners set to become free agents include Seattle’s Byron Maxwell, Dallas’ Sterling Moore, the 49ers’ Chris Culliver, Jacksonville’s Alan Ball, New Orleans’ Patrick Robinson, the Giants’ Walter Thurmond, Cleveland's Buster Skrine and Green Bay’s Tramon Williams.
Signing a quality free-agent cornerback in this market will be pricey, and it will be interesting to see how much Miami is willing to spend on Jackson or Flowers or any of the others mentioned here.
Remember, Kevin Coyle strongly implied after the season that the Dolphins cannot go into next season counting on Jamar Taylor or Will Davis as starters. And waiting until the draft to find a starting cornerback to pair with Brent Grimes would be risky.
Upgrading on Finnegan isn't Miami's only cornerback issue. Though the Dolphins want to re-sign slot corner/safety Jimmy Wilson, several teams like him and Miami will have stiff competition.
### Defensive tackle: A lot hinges on whether the Dolphins can re-sign Jared Odrick (expect Chicago, Jacksonville and others to pursue him; Miami wants to keep him but knows it might be outbid) and whether they keep Randy Starks, who is awaiting word on his fate. He has a $6 million cap hit if he’s on the team, $1 million otherwise.
We're told the Dolphins like Minnesota free agent Tom Johnson, who made only two starts in the past four seasons but had 6.5 sacks in 2014 and was rated 23rd among 81 defensive tackles by PFF.
The Dolphins also like Denver’s run-stuffing Terrance Knighton (12th by PFF), but he would be far more costly and it’s unclear if they will be able to compete financially for him. Atlanta’s Corey Peters (34th by PFF) was mentioned to me as another name on Miami’s radar.
PFF said Knighton plays “some stellar run defense” and is a “streaky pass rusher” and Peters “rebounded nicely from a devastating Achilles injury with a solid 2014.”
Among other tackles available: Detroit’s trio of Ndamukong Suh (Mark Dominik, who worked with Hickey in Tampa, believes the Dolphins might pursue him), Nick Fairley (very costly) and C.J. Mosley; Green Bay’s Letroy Guion (facing felony charges on possession of marijuana and a firearm), Arizona’s Dan Williams, Kendall Langford (the former Dolphin and ex-Ram), ex-Cowboy Henry Melton; and Chicago’s Stephen Paea (skilled pass rusher who graded out below average against the run).
The Jets’ Kenrick Ellis, who has a background with Tannenbaum in New York, is a backup option. Baltimore standout Haloti Ngata naturally would be appealing if he’s released.
The Dolphins are expected to keep Earl Mitchell and like A.J. Francis and Anthony Johnson as fourth/fifth tackles.
### As we noted last week, the Dolphins want to upgrade at middle linebacker and are eyeing a few including David Harris, Mason Foster and versatile Dan Skuta.
### Though the Dolphins think highly of San Francisco free agent Mike Iupati, they have expressed some hesitance to spend a ton on a guard, and there are more pressing needs. They conveyed to Shelley Smith earlier this offseason that they like him and want to give him another chance to compete to start, barring a change of heart. And general manager Dennis Hickey envisions Billy Turner as starting-caliber.
Among free agent guards: Denver’s Orlando Franklin (will get a lot of money somewhere), James Carpenter, Clint Boling, Todd Herremans, Rob Sims, Vlad Ducasse (played for Jets under Tannenbaum) and Willie Colon.
### If the Heat and Goran Dragic agree on a multiyear contract this summer, which many expect, Miami would be above the luxury tax threshold (presuming Luol Deng opts in for $10.1 million) and might not add anything else beyond a few minimum contracts.
### Dragic’s brother, Zoran, is signed next season for $1.7 million and the Heat sees upside with the 6-5 swingman.
Zoran said his strength is “getting in the paint. Everyone knows me as a good defensive player. I know how to play. I just need an opportunity.” Goran is the better shooter, but Zoran said he is “growing as a shooter.”
### According to Elias, Hassan Whiteside --- who appeared in his 50th NBA game Saturday --- is the first player since Shaq to produce at least three 20-rebound games in his first 50 NBA games. (All came this season for the Heat, including two 24-rebound games, both in Heat losses.) Shaq did it six times. Wilt Chamberlain holds the record, having done it an absurd 46 times in his first 50 games.
### Dolphins games attract slightly more than three times the average audience of regular-season Heat games. But while Dolphins games ranked 28th among 32 NFL teams in 2014 local-market ratings, Heat ratings are the NBA’s fourth-highest, with only the Spurs, Cavaliers and Thunder generating higher numbers in their markets.
And whereas Miami-Fort Lauderdale’s 38.7 rating for the Super Bowl ranked last among 56 metered markets, its 8.2 rating for the NBA All-Star Game was seventh.
### So why did Antonio Crawford, arguably Miami’s best slot cornerback, decide to transfer? A UM source said he wanted to be “the guy” --- a full-time starter --- even though he plays a lot here. He wasn't happy with the coaches, primarily because he didn't believe they valued him as much as they should --- even though they tried fruitlessly to get him to stay.
His departure means Ryan Mayes will get every opportunity to become UM's No. 4 corner, behind Artie Burns, Tracy Howard and Corn Elder. Burns made a terrific deflection to prevent a touchdown in practice Saturday.
### We don't put much stock in 2018 oral commitments, but the two that Miami has snagged for that year have familiar names: Al Blades Jr., son of the late great UM player, and Artie Burns' brother, Thomas Burns. Both recruits are defensive backs.
### Please see the last post for a lot more Canes notes (football and basketball) from Saturday.
### Though the Marlins traded a bunch of quality prospects this offseason (Andrew Heaney, Anthony DeSclafani, Austin Barnes), president/baseball operations Michael Hill said the system is “not barren. We have a lot of upper level prospect depth.”
Among those that bear watching: power right-hander Tyler Kolek (picked second overall in the 2014 draft); left-hander Justin Nicolino (some internally like him more than top prospect Heaney, who was dealt to the Dodgers; his strikeout numbers are low but his control is exceptional), J.T. Realmuto (the Marlins see him as their starting catcher in a year or two); right-handers Trevor Williams (a second-round pick in 2013 with a 2.98 minor-league ERA) and Jose Urena (13-8, 3.38 ERA in Double A), and run-producing first basemen Justin Bour and Viosergy Rosa (.292, 95 RBI in Single and Double A last year; 14 RBI in seven Double A playoff games).
### Despite the big offseason, “teams are still overlooking us,” Marlins left-hander Mike Dunn said. “I don’t think we’ve had enough respect. You can’t look past our pitching staff.”
### The Marlins are interested in hosting an NHL game at Marlins Park, just as Dodger Stadium did in 2014. Nothing is close to happening, but it's something they want to explore and pursue.
### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz