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Do the Dolphins have a plan for free agency?

Miami’s decision to part ways with Branden Albert makes sense from a financial standpoint, but it opens up another huge question for the offseason.

San Diego Chargers v Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins got a jump start on the offseason Thursday by releasing a pair of players and nearly releasing a third (more on that in a second). Miami said goodbye to disappointing defensive end Mario Williams and defensive tackle Earl Mitchell. Neither of those two moves were a big shock.

What was more surprising was the news that Miami was releasing Branden Albert, their starting left tackle. Well, they were going to release him, but changed course at the last minute (after telling Albert and his agent their plan to cut him) when they reportedly had at least one team call about making a trade for Albert.

Whether a trade materializes, Albert isn’t going to be a Dolphin in 2017. They’ll shift Laremy Tunsil over to left tackle. Tunsil did some fill-in work at that spot while Albert was injured last season, but the results left a little to be desired.

Now, the Dolphins will have to address both starting guard spots in the offseason since Tunsil is moving from left guard to left tackle and Jermon Bushrod, the right guard, is a free agent. They have some options in-house, and then there’s always the draft and free agency.

From a financial standpoint, parting ways with the 32-year-old Albert makes sense. He’s got a $10.6 million cap hit this year and an $11.3 million hit next year. That’s a big commitment for a player who hasn’t played a 16-game season since 2011.

On the other hand, the Dolphins finished the season with a 10-6 record and a trip to the playoffs, largely because when their starting offensive line was together, it was quite good. (Remember those three times when Jay Ajayi ran for 200+ yards in a game?) Now, the offensive line goes from a strength, albeit one limited by injuries, to a major question mark.

The cap space freed up by releasing Williams and Mitchell and doing whatever happens with Albert will likely be directed at a defensive overhaul this spring. Unfortunately, their recent drafting will have them doing the bulk of that via free agency rather than promoting their own players on team-friendly rookie deals.

Despite Miami’s success on the field this season — and head coach Adam Gase deserves a lot of credit for that 10-6 record — it’s hard not to view these early offseason moves with some skepticism. There’s a pattern emerging here. Last year, the Dolphins dug their way out of hefty, mostly ill-advised contracts before going and spending more money on ill-advised contracts (e.g. Mario Williams). They did that while letting some of their own in-house talent slip away, Olivier Vernon for instance.

There’s already talk that they’re hoping to swing a deal for a top-tier cornerback. That worked out last year with Byron Maxwell (and Vance Joseph’s only year as defensive coordinator), but there’s no guarantee it’ll play out that way again.

These are only the first of a series of moves the Dolphins will undertake this spring. Cutting Albert has its pros (too much money for an aging, injured player) and cons (turning a team strength into a question mark), the other moves are good ones.

Last season, the Dolphins, on the field, were a wildly different team than we’re used to seeing. Will that hold true in the offseason, as well?