BY OMAR KELLY
One of the Miami Dolphins’ deepest positions had become thinned out by injuries during training camp and the preseason, and now the safety unit must deal with the release of one the team’s former starters.
The Dolphins cut strong safety T.J. McDonald on Sunday night in a surprising move that will cost the franchise $3.69 million in 2019 (the portion of six-year veteran’s $5 million contract that was guaranteed).
The release comes after McDonald, who signed a four-year, $24 million deal in September of 2017, suffered an undisclosed injury that prevented him from practicing with the team for most of the past two weeks.
Because McDonald wasn’t released injured it is doubtful that Miami will attempt to put him on injured reserve.
McDonald, a former USC standout who has started all 75 NFL games he’s played in, contributed 86 tackles and three interceptions in the 14 games he played for the Dolphins last season before finishing the year on injured reserve.
He contributed 45 tackles and one interception in the eight games he played in 2017, which was a season shortened by an eight-game NFL suspension.
This year, McDonald was expected to be part of a safety unit that featured him sharing playing time with Bobby McCain, a cornerback who has been converted to free safety, Minkah Fitzpatrick, the Dolphins’ 2018 first-round pick, and Reshad Jones, a two-time Pro Bowler.
Now that unit must make due without the physical McDonald. His release could open the door for Montre Hartage, an undrafted rookie from Northwestern, to make it onto Miami’s 53-man regular-season roster. The Dolphins also have Walt Aikens, and he’s expected to serve as the leader of Miami’s special teams unit.
McDonald had suspected his standing with the Dolphins was unstable all offseason, but Miami’s coaches had reassured him that he’d have a role in the secondary. It’s possible that Dolphins tried to trade McDonald as part of the franchise’s continued efforts to rebuild the roster, but there were no takers.
His early release will allow McDonald to find work with another team before Saturday’s 4 p.m. roster cuts, which is when every NFL team must trim their training camp roster from 90 to 53.
If a team signs McDonald, the Dolphins likely won’t be on the hook for all of the $3.64 million he’s still owed.
Jones, who is working his way back from a foot injury he suffered in the second week of training camp, is expected to serve as the starting strong safety paired with McCain, and Fitzpatrick will likely continue to fill multiple roles that feature him bouncing around the defense.
Jones likely won’t play in the final preseason game against the New Orleans Saints this Thursday, but should be on the field for the Sept. 8 regular-season opener against the Baltimore Ravens.