The Miami Dolphins used free agency to bolster their group of linebackers.
Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler signed five-year deals with the Dolphins, which made Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett expendable. Both were released.
Dansby, a nine-year veteran, and Burnett, an eight-year pro, started side by side every game the past two years for Miami. Ellerbe and Wheeler are younger and cheaper and might come up with more takeaways, a problem area for the Dolphins last season.
Wheeler signed a $26 million deal that includes a $7 million signing bonus and $13 million guaranteed. He spent his first four NFL seasons with the Indianapolis Colts and played last season for the Oakland Raiders, where he had career highs of 109 tackles and three sacks.
Wheeler was traveling from California to Miami to sign his contract when he heard that Ellerbe was also joining the Dolphins.
”It was interesting,” Wheeler said Wednesday. ”I was on a plane, and they had a TV and I saw `Ellerbe to Miami’ after I had agreed. I texted my agent. I was like, `You sure I’m going to the right place?’ I’m like, `He’s pretty good.”’
The Dolphins wanted both linebackers. Dansby and Burnett were steady defenders but anchored a unit that came up with only 16 takeaways last season, fourth-worst in the NFL.
Ellerbe showed his value filling in for an injured Ray Lewis in 2012 and helping Baltimore win the Super Bowl. He signed a $34.75 million contract with $14 million guaranteed.
His acquisition by Miami was a surprise, but the Ravens were unable to match the Dolphins’ offer because of salary cap constraints.
”I honestly didn’t see me leaving Baltimore,” Ellerbe said. ”I thought I was going to be the successor, but I mean the Dolphins showed me how much they love me and how much they want me here. I couldn’t turn it away.”
Ellerbe goes from the NFL champions to a team that has had four consecutive losing seasons and went 7-9 in 2012.
”Everybody wants a challenge,” he said. ”It’s about coming down here where people want you, and they show you that they love you. I just want to come down here and make a difference and make an impact.”
Miami also acquired offensive help Tuesday, signing receiver Mike Wallace to a $60 million, five-year deal that included $27 million guaranteed. After signing, he had dinner with quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who was hamstrung as a rookie last season because the Dolphins lacked a deep threat.
”It’s going to be different playing with a guy who’s actually younger than me,” said the 26-year-old Wallace, who caught 32 touchdown passes in four years with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger. ”Ben always treated me like his little brother. So actually being a big brother is going to be a little bit different, but I’m excited.”
Departing Miami were running back Reggie Bush and tight end Anthony Fasano. Bush signed with the Detroit Lions and Fasano with the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Dolphins are estimated to have more than $20 million remaining in salary cap space. They need help at cornerback and tackle, as well as tight end and running back.