Breaking Down the Dolphins Roster Moves

Alain Poupart

As the Dolphins slowly continue their preparations toward the start of the 2020 regular season, they're always continue to shape their roster.

As the moves keep coming, we'll break down and analyze every one of them, though we'll get more in depth when we're dealing with more significant players.

Wednesday, Aug. 5

The movement involving the Reserve/COVID-19 list continued, with defensive tackle Davon Godchaux going on the list.

As a reminder, that means he tested positive for COVID-19 or was in close contact to someone who was exposed to the virus. As is always the case, there is no additional information provided (unless it comes from the player) or timetable for a return.

The Dolphins now have two defensive linemen on Reserve/COVID-19, with Zach Sieler being the other one.

Also on Wednesday, there was the announcement from Albert Wilson that he was opting out, and it was on the official NFL transaction list.

Again as a reminder, Wilson and Allen Hurns, who opted out Tuesday, are done for the season. The decision to opt out is irreversible.

Tuesday, Aug. 4

The Dolphins made three moves on this day, two of them involving the same player.

That would be 2017 third-round pick Cordrea Tankersley, who was activated off the Reserve/COVID-19 list and waived.

The Dolphins also waived long-snapper Rex Sunahara.

This put an end to a disappointing Dolphins stay for Tankersley, the cornerback from Clemson. Things started off well enough when he started 11 games as a rookie, but it went downhill from there.

Tankersley started the 2018 season as a backup until he sustained a knee injury in practice that landed him on IR. He never was able to bounce back from the injury and spent the entire 2019 season on PUP.

Coming into 2020, Tankersley looked like a long shot to even claim a roster spot, let alone play a significant role. The Dolphins have a lot of depth at cornerback after signing Byron Jones as a free agent and drafting Noah Igbinoghene in the first round.

As for Sunahara, he was signed this weekend while rookie sixth-round pick Blake Ferguson was on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. The move all along was a safeguard in the event Ferguson wouldn't be able to go because the Dolphins didn't spend a draft pick on Ferguson for him no to be their long-snapper.

We also should mention Allen Hurns officially opting out.

Monday, Aug. 3

More moves on this day, with Jerome Baker coming off the COVID-19 list and rookie seventh-round pick Malcolm Perry going on it, along with cornerback Picasso Nelson Jr. being claimed off waivers from the Indianapolis Colts.

We'll start with Perry, who went on the COVID-19 list only a couple of days after the Dolphins released images of him giving plasma as a recovered COVID-19 patient for those still fighting virus.

Malcolm Perry
Photo-Miami Dolphins

It's important to remember that the COVID-19 list is for those who have tested positive or who have been in close contact to somebody who tested positive.

As for Nelson, he spent time last year on the Colts practice squad after going undrafted out of Southern Miss, where he earned honorable mention All-Conference USA recognition in 2018. Nelson (5-10, 195) had five interceptions during his four seasons at USM.

Nelson's father played linebacker in the Canadian Football League after playing at Jackson State.

Nelson graduated from Southern Miss in the fall of 2017, but missed that entire season because of an injury and returned as a redshirt senior in 2018. He earned the university's Best Male Citizen Award, becoming the first student-athlete to win it since football's Gerald McGrath.

One last thing on Nelson: He wore 13 at Southern Miss, which means he'll obviously had to find himself a new number with the Dolphins.

Sunday, Aug. 2

The Dolphins again made moves involving the Reserve/COVID-19 list, with guard Ereck Flowers going on it and long-snapper Blake Ferguson coming off.

It's an interesting development involving Ferguson because it comes one day after the Dolphins signed rookie free agent snapper Rex Sunahara from West Virginia.

If Ferguson is good to go, it's hard to envision him not being the team's long-snapper considering the team invested a sixth-round pick on him.

Flowers is almost a given to start at left guard is he's ready to go for the season opener after the Dolphins gave him a three-year, $30 million contract in the offseason.

The Dolphins still have four players on the COVID list: Flowers, linebacker Jerome Baker, cornerback Cordrea Tankersley and defensive lineman Zach Sieler.

Along with Ferguson, Benito Jones has been on the list and been activated off it already.

Saturday, Aug. 1

The Dolphins are signing rookie free agent long-snapper Rex Sunahara from West Virginia.

The move comes a few days after the only long-snapper on the roster, Blake Ferguson, was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.

Clearly, Ferguson will be the guy if he's ready to play for the start of the regular season, though this move is eye-opening nonetheless.

First off, let's remind everyone the COVID is for players who have tested positive for the coronavirus OR have been quarantined after being in close contact with somebody who tested positive.

It's also fair to mention again that Ferguson does have Type-1 diabetes. He posted on Twitter after being placed on COVID that he was feeling "great" and was looking forward to getting back to football.

As for Sunahara, he went undrafted after playing at West Virginia — Ferguson was the only long-snapper drafted in 2020.

Sunahara (6-6, 242) was seen as a good enough NFL prospect, though, that he was invited to play in the 2020 NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and the 2020 Hula Bowl.

He was a two-year snapper at West Virginia after beginning his collegiate career at the University of Rhode Island, where he also was a member of the basketball team as a freshman.

Friday, July 31

Third-year linebacker Jerome Baker was among the two players the Miami Dolphins placed on the reserve/COVID-19 on Friday along with defensive lineman Zach Sieler.

That's now four Dolphins players on the list, with the other two being fourth-year cornerback Cordrea Tankersley and rookie sixth-round pick Blake Ferguson.

Rookie defensive lineman Benito Jones was on the list before being activated off it a couple of days.

This new reserve list category was created for a player who either tests positive for COVID-19 or who has been quarantined after having been in close contact with an infected person or persons. If a player falls into either of these categories, their club is required to immediately place the player on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Per agreed upon NFL-NFLPA policy, clubs are not permitted to comment on a player’s medical status other than referring to roster status. Clubs may not disclose whether a player is in quarantine or is positive for COVID-19.

Baker started 15 games last season and played 97 percent the defensive snaps, the highest total on the team.

Baker led the Dolphins in tackles with 126, a total that ranked 14th in the NFL. He had two forced fumbles and an interception, which came against Eli Manning and the New York Giants in December.

Sieler played three games for the Dolphins last season after being claimed off waivers from Baltimore and had one sack.

Wednesday, July 29

The Dolphins made three moves, claiming defensive tackle Ray Smith from the San Francisco 49ers, waiving cornerback Ryan Lewis and removing defensive tackle Benito Jones from the Reserve/COVID-19 list.

We'll start with Smith, who spent time in 2019 on the practice squads of both the Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers.

Listed at 6-1, 305, Smith is an undersized nose tackle and the scouting report is that he'll need to get bigger and stronger if he hopes to bounce around the NFL and eventually get on a 53-man roster.

Smith went undrafted out of Boston College in 2019 after being a three-year starter in college.

Ray Smith
Winslow Townson-USA Today Sports

Jones was one of three rookie free agent defensive linemen the Dolphins signed after the draft, along with Tyshun Render and Ray Lima.

Lima was waived last week after telling the Dolphins he was quitting football.

Jones, out of Ole Miss, was considered a good enough prospect that he was invited to play in the Senior Bowl.

As for Lewis, that move might be a tad surprising given that he had shown promise last year when he was one of several young cornerbacks who got playing time. 

Lewis was claimed off waivers from the Eagles and had one interception (against Cleveland) in eight games for the Dolphins, three of which he started.

Tuesday, July 28

The health of cornerback Xavien Howard had been a bit of a mystery all offseason after he ended last year on injured reserve, but we got a bit of clarity when the Dolphins placed him Tuesday on the active/Physically Unable to Perform list.

It was one of two moves made by the Dolphins, the other being linebacker Calvin Munson being placed on the active/non-football injury list.

Both Howard and Munson will continue to count against the Dolphins' active roster.

Howard can come off PUP whenever he passes a physical, so there's some time before this becomes worrisome.

Still, it's not great news considering Howard underwent last fall what was described as "at least his third knee operation" after he had landed on injured reserve.

It was the culmination of a disappointing season for Howard, who was coming off a 2018 season where he made the Pro Bowl and established himself as one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL.

Howard ended up playing in five games in 2019 and had one interception, which ironically came in his final outing of the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers in a Monday night game at Heinz Field.

Howard's ability to regain his Pro Bowl is a key to the Dolphins secondary being able to reach elite status after the offseason acquisition of fellow 2018 Pro Bowl selection Byron Jones as a free agent.

Howard posted a video on Instagram live this past weekend showing himself backpedaling on a practice field. In late March, he posted a video on Instagram of a workout with the title "Road to Recovery."

Given that the first couple of weeks of "training camp" this year will be devoted to strength and conditioning because of the coronavirus pandemic, Howard missing some time at the outset isn't a big deal.

It could become a big deal at some point if Howard's knee problems linger.

Monday, July 27

The Dolphins claimed cornerback Javaris Davis off waivers from the Kansas City Chiefs, they waived/non-football injury list tight end Michael Roberts, and they placed three players on the reserve/COVID-19 list: rookie long-snapper Blake Ferguson, rookie free agent defensive tackle Benito Jones and cornerback Cordrea Tankersley.

Javaris Davis is a rookie from Auburn who played alongside Dolphins first-round pick Noah Igbinoghene. The Chiefs signed him as a rookie free agent after he went undrafted in the 2020 NFL draft.

Javaris Davis
Vasha Hunt-USA Today Sports

Roberts was looking to come back to the NFL after sitting out the 2019 season because of a shoulder injury. The veteran had two touchdown catches with the Detroit Lions in 2018 and ironically two of them came against the Dolphins in an October game at Hard Rock Stadium.

The reserve/COVID-19 list is a new reserve list category was created for a player who either tests positive for COVID-19 or who has been quarantined after having been in close contact with an infected person or persons.

If a player falls into either of these categories, their club is required to immediately place the player on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Per the policy agreed upon by the NFL and the NFLPA, clubs are not permitted to comment on a player’s medical status other than referring to roster status. Clubs may not disclose whether a player is in quarantine or is positive for COVID-19.

Ferguson was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 13, and he addressed his condition in relation to COVID-19 after the Dolphins selected him in the sixth round of the 2020 draft out of LSU.

“It’s one that I certainly have to be careful of, having a preexisting condition," Ferguson said then. "But I spoke with my doctors and I spoke with some people from a couple of different foundations that I work with that are medical doctors. They reassured me that if your blood sugars are healthy and stable, you’re going to be at a much lower risk of contracting the virus as opposed to if your blood sugar was high or really spiking up and down.

"I do a really good job of keeping my blood sugar within range and tracking pretty steady. I feel like I’m at a lower risk as (far as) being a diabetic, but I’m certainly taking the precautions necessary to stay safe. I’ve been staying home and quarantining myself with a couple of members of my family. I’m really trying to stay safe just like everybody else.”

Ferguson tweeted out a video of himself long-snapping over the weekend as he looked forward to the start of camp.

Tankersley is looking to bounce back after missing the past year and a half with knee issues. Tankersley, a 2017 third-round pick out of Clemson, had started 11 games as a rookie.

Jones is one of two rookie free agents on the defensive line, along with Tyshun Render. Another rookie free agent defensive lineman, Ray Lima, was waived last week after the Dolphins he wanted to retire.

Sunday, July 26

For the second consecutive day, the Dolphins have waived two players, and this time it was defensive end Avery Moss and linebacker Trent Harris. They followed WR Ricardo Louis and QB Jake Rudock, who were waived Saturday.

The moves left the Dolphins with 83 players on their roster, not counting Brazilian lineman Durval Queiroz Neto, for whom they have a roster exemption.

Keep in mind that NFL teams have the option of having 80 or 90 players at the start of training camp, though they have to be down to 80 players regardless by Aug. 16.

While some may view it as surprising that the Dolphins have waived four veterans this weekend instead of one of their rookie free agents, especially considering Moss (8) and Harris (3) combined to make 11 starts last season, this could be seen as a statement on what the organization thought of their personnel in 2019.

In short, the Dolphins may be just believe the upside of their rookie free agents is greater than that of the players they have let go.

The one rookie free agent no longer on the roster is defensive tackle Ray Lima, but he actually retired.

The Dolphins still have nine rookie free agents: WR Kirk Merritt, WR Matt Cole, TE Bryce Sterk, C Donell Stanley, T Nick Kaltmayer, DL Tyshun Render, DT Benito Jones, LB Kylan Johnson and T Jonathan Hubbard.

Saturday, July 25

On the same day the New York Jets made a mega trade involving Pro Bowl safety Jamal Adams, the Dolphins made a couple of roster moves themselves, though not nearly of the same magnitude.

But one of the moves indirectly was very significant as it related to first-round pick Tua Tagovailoa.

That move was the release of quarterback Jake Rudock.

What does that have to do with Tagovailoa? Well, with Rudock now gone, the Dolphins are left with three quarterbacks on their roster: Tagovailoa, veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen.

The move involving Rudock is a clear signal the Dolphins believe that Tagovailoa will be ready to practice because there's no way they would have left themselves with only two healthy quarterbacks.

Of course, there's always the possibility the Dolphins could sign a different quarterback before they start actually practicing in the middle of August, but it's much more likely they're comfortable with Tua's health status.

The other move Saturday was the release of wide receiver Ricardo Louis.

A product of Miami Beach High, Louis does have NFL experience with 45 catches in two seasons with the Cleveland Browns, but he was attempting to come back from a knee injury that had him on IR all of last season.

The Dolphins also have a lot of depth at wide receiver, so his chances of making the roster weren't great from the start.

As for Rudock, he spent all of last season on the Dolphins practice squad.

The moves left the Dolphins with 84 players on their roster, including Brazilian important Durval Queiroz Neto, who does not count against the roster limit.

Every NFL team will have the option of beginning camp with a limit of 80 or 90 players. Those who choose the 90-player limit will have to work in two groups, with rookies and second-year players in one group and veterans in the other.