In the span of 90 dizzying minutes Tuesday, the Dolphins ended one era at defensive tackle and began another.
It was an eventful opening few hours of free agency, as the Dolphins agreed to terms with former Texan Earl Mitchell and said goodbye to locker room fixture Paul Soliai, who signed a deal with the Atlanta Falcons.
Mitchell, who drew significant interest around the league, arrived in South Florida on Tuesday night to sign a four-year deal worth $16 million, with $9 million guaranteed.
He will replace longtime Dolphins Soliai and Randy Starks, both of whom were free agents.
Soliai is already gone, agreeing to a five-year, $33 million contract with the Falcons, with $14 million guaranteed. Soliai will earn $11 million in the first year of the deal — far more than the Dolphins were willing to pay.
And Starks is likewise expected to sign elsewhere in the coming days.
Rather, the Dolphins will go with Mitchell — an under-the-radar talent who did the dirty work in Houston, taking on double-teams that often allowed J.J. Watt to make plays.
When he was on the field last season, the Texans’ run defense allowed just 3.1 yards per carry; when he wasn’t, that average ballooned to 4.2.
He led all nose tackles with 50 tackles and tallied 2.5 sacks in a defense that wasn’t designed for him to make plays.
Mitchell, from the University of Arizona, ran a 4.75-second 40 as a 296-pounder at the NFL Scouting Combine. Plus, at just 26, he has plenty left in the tank.
Meanwhile, Soliai, who spent his first seven seasons with the Dolphins, finally got the big payday that seems to have eluded him for some time.
Shortly after details of the deal were made public, Soliai released a statement thanking position coach Kacy Rodgers for his guidance and friendship, and “the previous staff for drafting me out of Utah in 2007 and welcoming me into the NFL.”
However, he did not thank the organization or the team’s current leadership.
Mike Wallace, the top free agent catch of 2013 who was Soliai’s teammate for one season, tweeted out his support Tuesday: “Congrats to my homie Big Paul!! Great dude.”