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Dolphins will look to use cap space created by Jarvis Landry trade to improve roster

The last time the Miami Dolphins traded away a Pro Bowl receiver the franchise was in a rebuilding phase.

It was the 2012 offseason and newly hired head coach Joe Philbin felt he couldn’t coach Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall, and instructed then general manager Jeff Ireland to trade him for whatever the franchise could get.

Miami landed two third-round picks for Marshall, who was sent to Chicago, where he was reunited with his former Denver quarterback Jay Cutler. That season the Dolphins passing game struggled with Ryan Tannehill as a rookie starter, and Brian Hartline and Davone Bess as his primary targets.

While Miami’s decision makers are adamant that Friday’s decision to trade receiver Jarvis Landry to Cleveland is more of a roster renovation than a rebuilding project the real measuring stick will be how productive the offense is in 2018 with Tannehill back at the helm.

Landry, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, carried Miami’s passing game for three of the four seasons he was a Dolphin, and now someone else must fill the void his impending departure creates.

The Dolphins had one of the NFL’s worst offenses in 2017 with Landry, who led the team with nine touchdowns scored last season. Miami ranked 30th in total yards per game and 31st in points scored per game.

Trading Landry to Cleveland creates $15.9 million in cap space, and a source says the Dolphins intend to use it to improve the roster when free agency begins Wednesday. NFL teams can start negotiating, and free agents can agree to proposed contracts as soon as Monday, which begins the legal tampering period. But the only players teams can sign to contracts before Wednesday at 4 p.m. are those already on their roster.

At this point it is unclear if Miami intends to replace Landry with a top-tier free-agent receiver they would sign to a substantial contract. Kenny Stills, a starter the past three seasons, has experience playing in the slot going back to his days with the New Orleans Saints. But it is possible that Landry’s departure opens the door for Leonte Carroo, Jakeem Grant, Drew Morgan, Rashawn Scott or Isaiah Ford to elevate their status with the team.

The Dolphins will still be a little over $3 million over the salary cap for 2018, even with Landry’s $15.9 million contract expected to come off the books.

It is believed that Miami will target a few mid-tier free agents, and possibly continue to work on the trade front, acquiring proven veterans like when they picked up defensive end Robert Quinn and the two-years, and $24.4 million they inherited from his contract when they sent a 2018 fourth-round pick and a swap of 2018 sixth-round picks to the Los Angeles Rams earlier this month.

The Dolphins also have a tough decision to make on Ja’Wuan James, the team’s 2014 first-round pick, who is on the books because of a fifth-year option on his contract Miami opted into last spring, which is slated to pay the four-year starter $9.34 million in 2018.

League sources say the Dolphins have discussed trading James to avoid paying him his lofty salary, which will become fully guaranteed on Wednesday. Releasing James, a four-year starter, would clear his entire salary off Miami’s books, giving the Dolphins additional cap space.

Miami is also expected to release tight end Julius Thomas and linebacker Lawrence Timmons, creating another $12,075,000 in cap space.

What the franchise plans to do with the cap space created likely depends on whom they can lure with a desirable contract.

Releasing James means Miami will likely have to address the right side of the offensive line. It’s safe to assume Jesse Davis is penciled in as a starter at right guard or right tackle, but Miami would need to add another starter. Sam Young filled in admirably as the starting right tackle for six games in the second half of the season, but the former St. Thomas Aquinas standout, who will turn 31 in June, is an unrestricted free agent.

Tight end is also a position that needs to be addressed unless Miami feels that A.J. Derby or MarQueis Gray are ready to step up and become NFL starters. Anthony Fasano, who started seven games last season as Miami’s in-line blocking tight end, is also an unrestricted free agent.

Former Miami Hurricanes standout Jimmy Graham sits atop the tight end free-agent class, which also features Philadelphia’s Trey Burton, a converted college quarterback who is viewed as a pass-catching specialist, Tyler Eifert, who has missed 44 of 80 possible regular-season games because of numerous injuries, Carolina’s backup Ed Dickson, and Vigil Green, who played for Gase when he served as the Denver Broncos’ offensive coordinator.

However, don’t expect the Dolphins to sign a tight end to a contract that pays him more than $7 million a season because that’s been Miami’s history since Charles Clay left to sign with the Buffalo Bills in 2015.

Ironically, the Dolphins used the draft picks they acquired for trading away Marshall to select tight ends Michael Egnew and Dion Sims, and cornerback Will Davis.

The very next offseason, the Dolphins signed receiver Mike Wallace to what was then the largest contract for a receiver to replace Marshall.

Dolphins fans better hope this year’s unloading of a superstar wide out produces a more favorable return, and that the Dolphins aren’t forced to correct a mistake with an expensive signing the very next offseason.

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