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Dolphins sign LT Albert for $46 million

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DAVIE, Fla. -- Left tackle Branden Albert was the top target of the Miami Dolphins, who reeled in the veteran with a five-year, $46 million deal that includes $25 million guaranteed.

The team confirmed the signing of the unrestricted free agent on Wednesday.

"I am pleased to announce that the Miami Dolphins have signed Pro Bowl tackle Branden Albert," Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey said. "The addition of a Pro Bowl player of Branden's caliber to our offensive line was definitely a focus of our organization heading into the free agency period. The type of talent, skill and ability that Brandon brings will not only strengthen the offense but will be felt throughout the 53-man roster."

The Dolphins allowed a NFL-worst 58 sacks last season and must rebuild an offensive line that, at this time last year, listed Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin as starters on the right side.

Miami pursued Albert heavily last offseason, when he was designated the franchise player of the Chiefs. The 29-year-old who spent his previous six NFL seasons with Kansas City, was probably the best tackle on the market.

Of course, Albert won't cure all that ails the offensive line, but it is a definite upgrade and the start of what will remain an ongoing offseason focus.

And the Dolphins could afford even more improvement because they have money to spend. They had $36 million remaining after re-signing cornerback Brent Grimes to a four-year, $32 million contract with $16 million guaranteed.

Grimes might be the only significant player the Dolphins re-sign among their own free agents. There's a chance either defensive tackle Paul Soliai or Randy Starks return, but both want to test the market. Expect Incognito, right guard John Jerry, right tackle Tyson Clabo, free safety Chris Clemons and cornerback Nolan Carroll to play elsewhere next season.

Miami signed former Detroit free safety Louis Delmas, which means three of their four starting jobs in the secondary are taken among Delmas, strong safety Reshad Jones and Grimes. The remaining cornerback spot opposite Grimes is up for grabs. The Dolphins released cornerback Dimitri Patterson on Monday and saved $5.4 million against the salary cap.

The biggest job facing the Dolphins in free agency could be signing another starting-caliber offensive lineman whether it's a right guard, left guard or right tackle.

The Dolphins needed two starting tackles and two starting guards to play alongside Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey. To accomplish that goal they need a combination of free agency and the draft. There's a good chance they try to get two starters via free agency and two starters via the draft.

Miami also wants to upgrade at linebacker. One scenario has the Dolphins signing a middle linebacker, and moving middle linebacker Dannell Ellerbe to strong-side linebacker, which would send linebacker Koa Misi to the bench.

The linebackers are catching lots of blame for the Dolphins ranking 24th in rushing defense.

Miami also needs an upgrade at running back, but that isn't considered a big priority in free agency.

It should be noted this is the second consecutive season the Dolphins have grabbed what could be considered the No. 1 free agent on the market. Last year the Dolphins signed former Pittsburgh wide receiver Mike Wallace to a five-year, $60 million deal.

Miami also acquired Grimes last year in free agency, and he turned into a Pro Bowl player, albeit a costly one.

The Dolphins wisely positioned themselves to have money to spend the last two years, and are hoping the resulting moves end their five-year playoff drought.

NOTES

--DTs Paul Soliai and Randy Starks remain priorities but it's unclear whether either returns. It was thought the Dolphins would re-sign one of their run-stuffers, most likely Soliai. But so far there's been no indication Miami is close to re-signing either player. DT Jared Odrick returns and would be paired with either Starks or Soliai as the starters.

--CB is a bit of concern considering the Dolphins cut Dimitri Patterson (saving $5.4 million) and Nolan Carroll is a free agent. The Dolphins drafted CBs Jamar Taylor (second round) and Will Davis (third round) last year so cutting Patterson (4 INTs in six games) might be an indication they think one of the rookies might come through next season. Carroll isn't expected to return.

--Miami's offense is quietly in the middle of a major reconstruction. There's a new offensive coordinator (Bill Lazor), a new OL coach (Jack Bicknell, Jr.), as many as four new starting linemen, and the search continues to upgrade at running back. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill said the offense will be different under Lazor but isn't quite sure on specifics because he hasn't had a chance to work closely with Lazor yet due to NFL rules.

TEAM NEEDS

Left tackle: The Dolphins are expected to sign LT Branden Albert but they'll still need three additional starters through free agency and the draft. But solidifying the position vacated by Jake Long and Jonathan Martin in the last two seasons was the No. 1 priority.

Offensive guard: LG Richie Incognito and RG John Jerry are both free agents, and both were implicated in the Wells Report and bullying scandal. Perhaps veteran Nate Garner, second-year player Sam Brenner or third-round pick Dallas Thomas can become a starter, but that won't be the plan entering OTAs.

Free safety: Miami signed Louis Delmas, formerly of the Detroit Lions. He'll replace Chris Clemons, who is a free agent. This should be an upgrade but Delmas isn't a surefire difference-maker because of his injury history.
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