The Dolphins, perhaps inevitably, moved on from Mike Wallace on Friday.
And Kenny Stills allowed it to happen.
In a series of deals that transformed the Dolphins’ stable of receivers, the Dolphins shipped Wallace and his onerous contract to Minnesota, but only after acquiring Stills in a stunning trade with the New Orleans Saints.
Or to put it simply, the Dolphins found someone younger and cheaper to do Wallace’s job, and all it cost them was a little draft compensation and Dannell Ellerbe ‒ whom they probably were going to cut anyway.
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And in doing so, the Dolphins ended Wallace’s brief, tumultuous run in Miami after two years, $27 million in earnings, 15 touchdowns and one sideline meltdown.
The Dolphins traded Wallace and a seventh-round pick to the Vikings for a fifth-rounder. And in doing so, they freed themselves from his $9.9 million salary and opened up an additional $5.5 million in cap space.
But they only did so after acquiring Stills, a dangerous third-year pass catcher, from the Saints for Ellerbe and a third-round pick.
The moves put the Dolphins in financial position to re-sign tight end Charles Clay, who remains a priority, if they choose. Clay late Friday was simultaneously negotiating long-term deals with the Dolphins and Bills while operating under Miami’s transition tag designation.
If the Dolphins can complete a deal, it would transform their offense in Bill Lazor’s second year calling plays. The Dolphins envision a two-tight end attack, with Clay joining Jordan Cameron, who signed Thursday.
They don’t lack for talent on the perimeter either.
In Stills, the Dolphins picked up a productive receiver who is due just $585,000 this year and $675,000 next. Stills, a fifth-round pick in 2013, caught 63 passes for 914 yards and three touchdowns last year.
At 6 feet and 194 pounds, Stills is fast; he ran a sub-4.4 40 at the Scouting Combine. With the Saints last year, he averaged 2.03 yards per route run, which ranked in the top 20 league-wide among receivers with at least 80 targets.
“He is a talented, young and ascending player who has been very productive in his first two seasons in the league,” Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey said.
So why would the Saints part with such a valuable asset? A league source familiar with the situation said Saints quarterback Drew Brees was not happy with Stills or guard Ben Grubbs, and it’s no coincidence both have been traded in recent days.
But in South Florida, he’ll be welcomed with open arms. Dolphins players were ecstatic about the recent influx of talent ‒ beginning with Wednesday’s signing of Ndamukong Suh ‒and privately hoped this was the year Joe Philbin and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle maximized it.
“Oh my boy @KSTiLLS ... It’s a movie every Sunday,” receiver Jarvis Landry tweeted when he heard the news.
Landry, who had a breakout rookie season, and Stills are two of the better young receiving talents at the position.
On the flip side: The deal marks the end of Ellerbe’s run in Miami, closing the book on one of the biggest free agent busts in team history.
Ellerbe signed a five-year, $35 million contract in 2013 to be the team’s starting middle linebacker. But he flopped in that role his first year in town, and was moved to the outside. That experiment failed before it truly began, however. Ellerbe suffered a hip injury early in the 2014 season and was lost for the year.
Months later, Ellerbe told the Miami Herald that the damage went far beyond just a torn hip flexor, as he initially thought.
Ellerbe said then he’s “ahead of schedule” and vowed to be back healthy by the start of the 2015 season. The Saints reportedly reworked his massive contract to a level more commensurate with his production.
“Super excited bout joining my new team!!!” Ellerbe wrote on Twitter. “Can’t wait to ball this year!!! #CantStopWhatsInGODSPLAN”
By shipping Wallace, who infamously asked out of the final game of the 2014 season, and Ellerbe, Mike Tannenbaum and Hickey have now undone every major free-agent decision of the 2013 offseason. Also gone: Philip Wheeler, Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson, each cut in the last couple of weeks.