Branden Albert, the Dolphins’ next big hope on the offensive line, strolled through team headquarters Wednesday with a smile on his face and a Dolphins cap on his head.
And on the underside of its bill, written in permanent marker, was the number 71.
Albert, the franchise left tackle who made official his five-year, $47 million deal Wednesday, will wear that number this fall. It’s available because Jonathan Martin is gone, traded to San Francisco the night before.
The selection is not by chance. Granted, Albert wore 71 in college. But the choice’s meaning is deeper.
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“It just shows it’s a new age of football here,” Albert said. “Forget about the past.”
The future is now — and for Albert, it appears to be bright.
The 2013 Pro Bowl selection and Miami resident was officially introduced as the newest Dolphin.
The briefing might as well have been a party, one that formally closed the book on the tumultuous 2013 season for the Dolphins’ offensive line, which will be remembered for its national embarrassment, suspensions and ineffectiveness.
One player cannot wash all that away.
But signing Albert is a good start.
“He’s always been a targeted guy from the first day I got here,” Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey said. “He’s the first guy Coach [Joe] Philbin and I sat down and watched. It was clear he was going to be the targeted player for us.”
And so, the deal was done Tuesday as soon as it was allowed. Yet the Dolphins still wooed both Albert and new defensive tackle Earl Mitchell like they were high school seniors on a recruiting visit.
The two free agents went to dinner with Hickey, quarterback Ryan Tannehill and center Mike Pouncey on Tuesday night. Even Tannehill’s wife, Lauren, was invited.
Their conversation was about the future, not the past.
“I’m not worried about what happened last year,” Albert said. “I’m worried about the future of the Miami Dolphins, and it starts today.”
Added Mitchell, signed away from the Houston Texans for $16 million over four years:
“The biggest thing for me — the team, they’ve expressed their interest in me. That definitely raised my interest.”
Mitchell was an offensive lineman until his junior year at Arizona and will go through another — albeit less drastic — position change.
A nose tackle for his first four years with the Texans, Mitchell will be used more as a traditional 4-3 defensive tackle — which is a better use of his size and athletic skill-set.
Though the Dolphins’ big-budget moves might soon be winding down — they re-signed defensive tackle Randy Starks on Wednesday, upping their new contractual commitments to $75 million — there are still holes to fill.
The Dolphins need to find at least one more starter on the offensive line, and their options are quickly vanishing. Late Tuesday, former Jets right tackle Austin Howard agreed to a deal with the Raiders.
Still-available tackle candidates include Zach Strief, Anthony Collins and Michael Oher. Hickey met with reporters Wednesday but did not discuss specific targets.
“Free agency lasts pretty much all through the spring, and, obviously, we’ll get back to a lot of our draft preparations, but it’s a very exciting time,” Hickey said. “We’ve added [three] quality players, and we’re still working on more.”
Said Albert: “I’m very confident with the coaching staff and the organization that we’ll find the right players to fit the scheme.”
They’ll just need to find their own number; 71 is taken.