Published March 13, 2013
| Sports Network
Philadelphia, PA – The Miami Dolphins made the biggest splash on the first day of free agency, signing two of the best players available in speedy wide receiver Mike Wallace and Super Bowl winning linebacker Dannell Ellerbe.
The Dolphins, once one of the NFL's marquee franchises when Don Shula roamed the sidelines, are afterthoughts these days, supporting players to the Tom Brady and Bill Belichick show in the AFC East.
And the Fish haven't even been a Pete Postlethwaite- or J.K. Simmons-type buttress to the Patriots' empire. It's been more like a Washington Generals to Harlem Globetrotters kind of relationship with New England taking six straight and nearly 80 percent of the games in the series dating back a decade.
There was at least a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel when Miami finished 7-9 in 2012, the franchise's first season after the nondescript Tony Sparano-era. Former Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin was solid if unspectacular in his first year as the Dolphins' mentor and rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill progressed as the season wore on, showing the ceiling a No. 8 overall pick should.
One thing was clear, however, the Dolphins were no longer the kings in South Florida. The beautiful weather is always a problem. A mediocre product may allow you to hold up in a Northeast corridor city but there is just too much to do in and around South Beach.
Thousands of empty seats at Sun Life Stadium proved apathy had set in for a city which also claims LeBron James and the NBA champion Miami Heat as its own.
While it's true Tannehill needed help at the skill positions, especially outside the numbers where Brian Hartline and Davone Bess were productive at times, but certainly no field-stretchers. It's also very true that the Dolphins had to get their fans back on board with a few high-profile moves.
Wallace is the very definition on a home run hitter, a 4.33 speed guy who can creep up on a defensive back quicker than a hiccup and get over the top in a blink on an eye. He was exactly what Miami wanted and the Dolphins wasted little time dipping into their $31 million of cap space by signing the former Steeler to a five-year, $65 million contract with a gaudy $30 million guaranteed.
"We are pleased to reach an agreement with Mike Wallace," said Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland. "He has a unique skill set which we believe will be a welcomed addition to our offense. We are looking forward to his contributions to the team."
Originally selected by the Steelers in the third round of the 2009 NFL Draft out of Mississippi, Wallace had 235 receptions for 4,042 yards and 32 touchdowns over his four-year tenure in Pittsburgh. He was also named to the Pro Bowl in 2011.
Wallace isn't Jerry Rice, however. He doesn't run great routes, has average hands and isn't all that versatile. Basically he's not a $30 million dollar receiver and unfortunately for Miami, it will find that out sooner rather than later.
Ellerbe, who signed a five-year, $35 million deal, is a nice, ascending player and the one guy the world champion Baltimore Ravens really wanted to keep. He was a key member of the Ravens' defensive unit during its recent Super Bowl run, finishing second on the team with 92 tackles while adding 4 1/2 sacks.
That said, the Georgia product isn't exactly Ray Lewis in his prime and you could make a strong argument that Ellerbe has never even played up to the level of a Karlos Dansby, who had to be cut by the Dolphins after they backed up the Brink's truck in front of their two new "stars" on Tuesday.
Over 16 games last season, Dansby racked up 134 tackles and one sack, although to be fair he is 31 and had a gaudy cap number of $8.575 million for 2013 so you can certainly understand Ireland's thought process.
Additionally, the Dolphins re-signed safety Chris Clemons and inked former Raiders linebacker Philip Wheeler on Tuesday, players who should prove to be solid contributors.
Here's the bad news, though. Free agency is just one spoke in the wheel in the process of building a team and it certainly lasts longer than 24 hours.
Miami already had to release linebacker Kevin Burnett along with Dansby and lost a solid tight end in Anthony Fasano. The 'Phins are also on the verge of having to replace their starting left tackle, Jake Long, as well as their best cover corner, Sean Smith, and a very versatile running back in Reggie Bush.
Being "winners" on the first day of free agency is a paper championship, one which rarely turns into a Lombardi Trophy.