Miami makes moves as free agency opens
No surprise, the Miami Dolphins wasted little time making splashes in free agency.
The Dolphins agreed to deals with their No. 1 target, wide receiver Mike Wallace, and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe.
Wallace gives Miami a deep threat the team hasn’t had in more than a decade. The former Steeler just needed to pass a physical before signing a five-year, $60-65 million pact and become the third-highest paid receiver behind Detroit’s Calvin Johnson and Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald.
The Wallace deal had been expected. The Ellerbe signing was a big surprise, which led to another stunning move: the release of leading tackler Karlos Dansby.
A key member of the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, Ellerbe reportedly agreed to terms on a five-year, $35 million contract. The Dolphins then cut Dansby to save $3.9 million in cap space.
A few hours later, it was reported the Dolphins and linebacker Phillip Wheeler had come to terms on a five-year, $26 million deal. The former Oakland Raiders linebacker had his best season in 2012 with 109 tackles and three sacks.
The moves meant Miami got younger at linebacker. Ellerbe is 27 and Wheeler 28. Dansby is 31.
Wheeler’s signing created speculation that Kevin Burnett could be following Dansby out the door, and/or Koa Misi could be moved to defensive end.
The Dolphins also re-signed safety Chris Clemons to a one-year deal. Clemons had 98 tackles and two interceptions and started all 16 games last year.
Certain things were known before the clock struck 4 p.m. Tuesday, when teams were allowed to start signing free agents.
With approximately $30 million available under the $123 million salary cap, Miami used some of the cash to use their franchise tag on defensive tackle Randy Starks, and re-sign receiver Brian Hartline and backup quarterback Matt Moore.
Other Dolphins who became free agents include running back Reggie Bush, offensive tackle Jake Long, cornerback Sean Smith, tight end Anthony Fasano and offensive tackle Nate Garner.
Even before Tuesday, Bush’s time with Miami appeared to be over. He reportedly was visiting the Detroit Lions, with the Cardinals and Cincinnati Bengals also interested.
Long, a former No. 1 pick of Miami, reportedly was in St. Louis on Tuesday to take a physical. If he passed, he was expected to sign with the Rams. The Dolphins, Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles reportedly also had interest.
Miami seemed in the running to re-sign Smith, who reportedly was being pursued by the Cardinals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kansas City Chiefs, San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots.
Tight end could be an issue for Miami. Fasano reportedly had agreed to a four-year deal with Kansas City. The Dolphins appeared interested in former Tennessee Titans tight end Jared Cook, who reportedly agreed to terms with St. Louis.
Several reports Wednesday said tight end Dustin Keller would visit Miami. The former New York Jet had an injury-plagued 2012. Other starting tight ends on the market include Oakland’s Brandon Myers and Washington’s Fred Davis.
The Dolphins also could target a tight end in April’s draft.
Despite signing Wallace, Miami reportedly remained in the running for wide receiver Brandon Gibson.
Charlie McCarthy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mccarthy_chas.