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Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Albert proves shift in Dolphins' thinking

By James Walker

Last year in free agency the Miami Dolphins were all about the flash-and-splash on offense.

Speedy receiver Mike Wallace, slot receiver Brandon Gibson and athletic tight end Dustin Keller were all part of then-general manager Jeff Ireland's plan to build Miami into an explosive, high-scoring offense. The Dolphins also re-signed 1,000-yard receiver Brian Hartline to put as many skilled receivers and tight ends around budding quarterback Ryan Tannehill as possible.

Albert
But Ireland and the Dolphins forgot one fundamental rule in the NFL: In order to have a high-powered offense, you must first protect the quarterback.

Miami did little to invest in its offensive line in 2013 and, as a result, set a franchise record for quarterback sacks allowed with 58. Despite various weapons, the Dolphins often lost in the trenches and had the NFL’s 27th-ranked offense. That was a major reason Miami finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year.

Tuesday’s high-profile signing of Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert signifies a shift in the team’s thinking. The Dolphins opened their wallets during the start of free agency and agreed to a five-year, $46 million contract with Albert, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Miami got the best player available at the team’s weakest position: offensive line.

After another disappointing season in Miami, new general manager Dennis Hickey replaced Ireland in January and is wasting no time learning from his predecessor’s mistakes. The Dolphins must consistently win in the trenches if they want to become a playoff contender. Pairing Albert with center Mike Pouncey gives Miami two Pro Bowlers to build its offensive line around.

The Dolphins also agreed to terms with free-agent defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, according to Schefter, which fills another need in the trenches on defense following the departures of defensive linemen Paul Soliai and Randy Starks.

There is still work to be done for Miami. But it is clear the Dolphins have a plan, and this is a solid start.