The Miami Dolphins concluded a busy first day of free agency by reworking their linebacker rotation. Miami cut its two leading tacklers of 2012 to make room for a pair of free agent pickups.
The Miami Herald reported Tuesday evening that the team cut Karlos Dansby, who led the Dolphins with 134 tackles last season. Also gone is Kevin Burnett, according to Sports Illustrated. Burnett recorded 109 tackles in 2012.
Replacing them are free agents Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler. The Baltimore Sun reported Tuesday afternoon that the Dolphins will pay Ellerbe $35 million over five years. NBCSports reported Tuesday night that Wheeler will receive a five-year, $26 million contract ($13 million of which is guaranteed).
"I want to welcome Dannell and Philip to the Miami Dolphins, GM Jeff Ireland said in a statement Wednesday. "We are very excited to add these two players to our defense and to the South Florida community."
Ellerbe's signing comes as a bit of a surprise, since the Baltimore Ravens were trying to re-sign him. In his first season as a regular starter, he recorded 89 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 2012.
Wheeler notched 109 tackles and 3 sacks for the Oakland Raiders last season. "I’m aggressive," Wheeler told the Miami Herald. "Like a shark, but it's ironic, because now I'm a Dolphin."
Cutting Burnett and Dansby freed up the salary cap space to sign Ellerbe and Wheeler while also making the Dolphins significantly younger at linebacker. The team also hopes the two can help out with both pass rush and pass defense.
Dansby and Burnett recorded only 3.5 sacks between them despite playing on nearly every down last season. The two also struggled against athletic tight ends in pass coverage.
Combined with the signing of WR Mike Wallace, the team's top free agent target on offense, Tuesday was a pretty big day for the franchise. It also signals that the front office wants to move from last season's rebuilding phase to a more competitive position in the AFC.
These signings do not guarantee success (it was only three years ago that the team made waves by acquiring Dansby and WR Brandon Marshall, only to go 7-9 that season.
There are still other areas the team must address this offseason, namely the defensive secondary and tight end. But judging from Tuesday's moves, general manager Jeff Ireland may have a few more tricks up his sleeve.