Re-posted below for those who don't have digital access
By Omar KellySun Sentinel9:52 p.m. EDT, March 12, 2013
"Never put off tomorrow what you can do today." - Thomas Jefferson.
That's the best way to explain why the Miami Dolphins used Tuesday, the start of free agency, to rebuild the team's linebacker unit.
Karlos Dansby, a team captain the past three years, got released earlier in the day. His partner on and off the field, Kevin Burnett, got released in the afternoon.
The Dolphins signed former Ravens linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler, an NFLjourneyman who spent last season with the Raiders, to take their place as two-thirds of a linebacker trio that also features strong side linebacker Koa Misi.
There are a couple of issues that need to be addressed to help us understand Miami's decision.
They are age, personality, money, and performance. I've split them all up so we can properly dissect this.
Age: Dansby is turning 32 later this year. Burnett turns 31 on Christmas eve. Wheeler turns 29 in December, and Ellerbe turns 28 in November. So the Dolphins technically got younger, but not by much. Ellerbe is four years younger than Dansby and Wheeler is three years younger than Burnett.
Personality: I don't know Ellerbe and Wheeler so I won't pretend to know their personalities, but Dansby and Burnett were two strong-willed individuals with uncompromising personalities. If they felt wronged they usually spoke up. I can't help but think that was held against them by this regime.
Money: I've hinted that this would likely be Dansby and Burnett's last season in Miami based on their rising costs. What the Dolphins did was a pre-emptive strike. By cutting Dansby and Burnett, voiding the final years of their deals, the Dolphins clear $7.125 million in cap space. Dansby's release alone creates $3.9 million in additional cap room. However, Ellerbe signed a five-year, $35 million contract, which makes him the seventh highest paid inside linebacker in the NFL. Wheeler got five-years, $26 million (which features a $7 million signing bonus, and an initial cap hit of $2.4 million). I'm guessing the pair of new linebacker will cost Miami about $7-8 million in cap space all together. Dansby and Burnett were supposed to cost the Dolphins $14.275 million in cap numbers.
Performance: What's odd about Wheeler's signing is that Miami brought him in for a workout last season when the team was searching for linebacker depth. Wheeler competed with Quentin Groves and Gary Guyton in the same workout and Miami signed Guyton. Guyton didn't make it to the team's 53-man roster, but Wheeler started 16 games for the Raiders and contributed 109 tackles, three sacks and forced two fumbles.
His production was clearly impressive, but Profootballfocus.com rated Burnett a better linebacker based on last season's play. Burnett, who contributed 110 tackles, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble, was rated the NFL's fourth best 4-3 outside linebacker and Wheeler checked in at No. 6.
Ellerbe started seven games, filling in for the injured Ray Lewis, and contributed 92 tackles, 4.5 sacks and one forced fumble. ProFootballFocus.com rates him the 14th best inside linebacker in the NFL, putting him one spot behind Dansby, who contributed 134 tackles and one sack last season.
However, what's clear is that Ellerbe and Wheeler are superior blitzers to Dansby and Burnett. Wheeler was the second best pass rushing 4-3 outside linebacker, trailing only Denver's Von Miller last season. Burnett checks in as No. 8. Ellerbe is rated by PFF as the NFL's third best blitzing inside linebacker in 2012. Dansby was 49th, with a -2.7 metric.
But on the flip side Ellerbe struggles in coverage, which is where Dansby and Burnett excelled. PFF ranks Ellerbe 49th in coverage when it comes to inside linebackers. He has a -5.0 metric. Dansby was 16th.
Wheeler has the fifth best outside linebacker in coverage. Burnett checks in as No. 13. But what I found interesting if that opposing quarterbacks had a 111.1 pass rating, completed 83 percent of their passes and threw two touchdowns to the players Wheeler was assigned to.
Quarterbacks going after Burnett had a 103.5 pass rating, completed 77.6 percent of their passes, but didn't throw a touchdown on him.
So....in summary, Ellerbe and Wheeler are SIGHTLY younger than Dansby and Burnett, obviously cheaper, and the Dolphins hope they'll be better blitzers.