From the moment Laremy Tunsil slipped to the Dolphins in the 2016 draft, Branden Albert had the answer to a question every NFL veteran eventually wonders: Who’s going to take my place? The only question was when.
Thursday, Albert got his answer.
The Dolphins are parting with Albert, 32, their former Pro Bowl left tackle, in a move that effectively will perform what Albert has done throughout his career. It will clear space.
Not only will the Dolphins save $7.2 million in salary-cap room, his departure will allow coaches to slide Tunsil over from left guard to his more natural position, left tackle, where it’s hoped he’ll have a long career protecting Ryan Tannehill’s blind side.
Albert was not formally released Thursday, but only because another team apparently has stepped forward to discuss a possible trade before he hits the open market.
Albert’s pending exit was the biggest news on a day in which the team worked to gain $20.1 million in cap space. Waived were defensive end Mario Williams, defensive tackle Earl Mitchell and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
The Williams move had been a forgone conclusion for months. Speculation grew that Albert, too, had played his last game as a Dolphin, and recently, Albert himself told associates he was bracing for such a move. Albert has begun training for next season and does not plan to retire.
Even in the business-first world of pro football, Albert’s departure will resonate in Davie. Few if any players in the locker room were so respected and well-liked, as evidenced by running back Jay Ajayi posting a photo of himself running behind one of Albert’s blocks.
“YOURE A LEGEND TO ME,” Ajayi posted on Twitter.
As soon as Tunsil was drafted, Albert declared, “I’m the left tackle of this team.” Playing the highest-profile position on the line, he later said, is a badge of honor. But as players gathered for training camp, Albert quickly determined Tunsil was both humble and eager to learn. Albert became a mentor to the rookie, never missing a chance to talk him up even as coaches sent signals that perhaps Tunsil wasn’t as ready to start as advertised. It seemed to be nothing more than a motivating tactic.
Albert explained his willingness to groom his replacement by saying, “That’s how you make your legacy, when you teach a young guy and you sit at home retired and you see that young guy flourish, you’re like, ‘I helped him along his way.’ ’’
In the interim, Tunsil slid over to start at guard except for two games in which Albert wasn’t available, which was when Tunsil pushed over to left tackle.
Albert later explained that he had been taken aback by people assuming Tunsil would automatically step into the left tackle role as a rookie.
“I helped this team out and everybody’s always trying to write me off for whatever reason,” Albert said. “I keep proving everybody wrong. It wasn’t a swipe at him because I’ve got the utmost respect for the young man. That’s my guy.”
Albert added, “We all know he could play left tackle easily. He’s going to be the future of the offensive line.”
Albert joined the Dolphins in 2014 after six seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, who drafted him in the first round (15th overall) in 2008. Albert made the Pro Bowl in 2013 and 2015 but this season was ranked only No. 65 out of 78 tackles by Pro Football Focus.
Albert’s Dolphins career also has been marked by knee and wrist injuries. He missed seven games in 2014, two in 2015 and four last season. It was midway through last season that Albert admitted injuries were a bit of a sore subject.
“Everybody’s always trying to say about me, I can’t stay healthy,” he said.
The Williams experiment was by any measure a colossal failure. The former No. 1 overall pick was signed as a free agent despite being described as a loafer in Buffalo. Miami gave him a two-year, $17 million deal, half of which was guaranteed.
Despite having the fourth-highest cap number on the team last season, Williams quickly lost his starting job, spent three games on the inactive list and finished with just 13 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks.
To put it another way: The Dolphins are paying Williams $653,866.56 per tackle.
Thursday’s decisions will drastically reshape the Dolphins’ salary cap for 2017, eliminating half of the team’s top four salaries against the cap from last year: 1. Ryan Tannehill ($20.3 million), 2. Ndamukong Suh ($19.1M), Albert ($10.6) and Williams ($10.5M).
Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook.