Miami Dolphins

Dolphins sign ex-Steelers CB Brice McCain; Finnegan retires, Starks cut

Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Brice McCain, right, returns an intercepted pass 22 yards for a touchdown against the host Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014.
Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Brice McCain, right, returns an intercepted pass 22 yards for a touchdown against the host Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014. AP

Largely lost in the hoopla over the Ndamukong Suh:

The back end of the Dolphins defense got better Wednesday, too.

The Dolphins signed Brice McCain, a dependable slot cornerback, to a two-year deal worth $5.5 million, with $3 million guaranteed.

McCain, who had three interceptions and started nine games for the Steelers last year, is expected to compete with Jamar Taylor and Will Davis for playing time opposite Brent Grimes. But McCain, 28, will most certainly be used in the team’s nickel package, lining up against slot receivers.

“He’s a real quality guy, No. 1,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. “He’s a competitive guy, plays the game fast, plays hard. Really excited about having him.”

The signing came on the same day Cortland Finnegan, the player McCain replaces, expectedly announced his retirement. The Dolphins released Finnegan last week after just one season in Miami.

“Spent 9 years doing something I Loved and it has [paid] off in so many ways,” Finnegan wrote on Instagram. “To say I have been blessed is an understatement I am forever thankful.. I have made my share of mistakes and had moments of glory. I even got into a fight in an NFL Game.”

Finnegan, of course, was referring to his infamous brawl with Texans receiver Andre Johnson — a helmet-ripping, haymaker-throwing fracas that will probably be Finnegan’s enduring moment. The defensive back made light of the altercation in his retirement announcement, saying in a crude way that Johnson didn’t pack much of a punch.

He was much more than a feisty agitator, however. Finnegan was an All-Pro with the Titans in 2008, but injuries derailed his career the last three seasons. In his only year with the Dolphins, Finnegan hurt his ankle midway through the season and never really recovered.

The Dolphins on Wednesday also formally cut defensive tackle Randy Starks, who became expendable after the Dolphins lined up the Suh deal.

Starks turned into a true free agent find after signing with the Dolphins in 2008. Starks was twice a Pro Bowler and missed just one game in his nine years in Miami. But his tenure was not without controversy. Starks infamously flipped off the Dolphins bench in the 2013 season opener — a game he did not start.

Starks’ release clears $5 million in cap space.

As for the team’s plans for Mike Wallace and Dannell Ellerbe? Fluid.

Both carry a massive salary cap number into the 2015 season. The Dolphins hope to restructure each player’s contract to bring that liability down.

Wallace appears increasingly likely to remain on the team. His contract balloons in the next few years, but Wallace said this week that he’s open to tweaking his deal.

Keeping Ellerbe would be the real surprise. Most expected him gone; he has underperformed for the five-year, $35 million deal he signed in 2013. Cutting Ellerbe would free up $5.7 million in space.

But the free agent class of linebackers this year is weak, so the Dolphins might bring back Ellerbe — assuming the price is right.

The Dolphins have already purged roughly half of their starting lineup from 2014.

“There’s a lot of transition in the National Football League,” Philbin said. “It’s tough. You build up a relationship with players over a period of time. Some have been here since the day I got here and even before. They’ve been Miami Dolphins. Some, their futures are going to be elsewhere. That’s never easy, but I think all of us who have been in the league for a while, that’s part of the business.”

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