Busy start to free agency for Dolphins
DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — New Miami Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey stepped to the microphone and apologized for his hoarse voice, explaining he wore it down in recent days trying to build a winner.
Hickey then introduced a succession of big acquisitions in the first 24 hours of free agency — 316-pound left tackle Branden Albert, 300-pound defensive tackle Earl Mitchell and 305-pound defensive tackle Randy Starks. All signed Wednesday.
Starks remained with the Dolphins after a brief stint as a free agent, signing a $12 million, two-year contract. He spent the past six seasons with the Dolphins, with only one playoff game during that time.
“The moves we made so far just show we’re close to doing something special here, and trying to bring in some people to help us get over the hump,” he said.
The return of Starks, a two-time Pro Bowl player, and the addition of Mitchell compensate for the loss of defensive tackle Paul Soliai, who joined the Atlanta Falcons after seven years with Miami.
“Paul’s a good player,” Starks said. “He has been here a long time. He’ll be well missed, but we have people who can step up.”
Hickey’s shopping will continue, with additional offensive linemen, a tight end and a linebacker the most pressing needs. The Dolphins are trying to end a 13-year drought without a postseason victory, and they’re eager to put in the past their bullying scandal that involved tackle Jonathan Martin.
The acquisition of Albert was a step in that direction. He’ll take over the position manned at the start of last season by Martin, who was traded late Tuesday to the San Francisco 49ers for an undisclosed draft choice.
“I’m going to be here to play left tackle and make a difference,” Albert said. “That’s the reason I’m here. I feel like it’s a team I can help the most and make my legacy even better.”
Albert signed a $47 million, five-year deal that includes $26 million guaranteed. Dolphins officials, accompanied by a couple of players, treated Albert to dinner Tuesday night to celebrate the agreement.
“Probably the happiest person at the dining room table was Ryan Tannehill,” Hickey said. “He was really excited to have a player of his caliber on our team.”
Albert will protect the blind side for Tannehill, who was sacked a franchise-record 58 times last year.
Mitchell was also part of the dinner celebration after agreeing to a $16 million, four-year deal. Like Albert and Starks, Mitchell envisions better days ahead for the Dolphins.
“I’m coming to produce and definitely trying to help this team reach new heights,” Mitchell said. “That’s my reason for being here. I’m trying to get us to a Super Bowl.”
Mitchell blossomed in his fourth NFL season with the Houston Texans last year, when he became a starter and won raves for the way he clogged the middle. He has been playing defense only since his junior year at the University of Arizona, and he and Hickey both said he’s still improving.
Albert’s reputation has also been on the rise, and he made the Pro Bowl last year with the Kansas City Chiefs. He has had a home the past three offseasons 45 minutes from the Dolphins’ complex and will now move north, eager to go to work with his new team.
“I live in downtown Miami, but I probably won’t anymore because of the commute,” he said with a smile. “I’ve got to find a place close to the facility.”
AP Sports Writer Steve Reed in Charlotte, N.C., contributed to this report.
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