It took nine months longer than expected, but Branden Albert is finally a Miami Dolphin.
Albert, the left tackle long coveted by the Dolphins, has agreed to a five-year, $47 million contract, with at least $25 million guaranteed.
It gives Albert the big payday he has sought since the Kansas City Chiefs franchised him a year ago.
And it gives the Dolphins a new cornerstone for an offensive line that surrendered a franchise-worst 58 sacks in 2013.
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The Dolphins will not announce the move until Albert passes a physical and formally signs the contract. But at this point, that’s a mere formality.
Albert confirmed the news on Twitter late Tuesday.
He wrote (and later apologized for his grammar): “Well I guess everyone has heard the news... You hear it from now officially... I am now a Miami a Dolphin....this is bitter sweet...”
Albert, who thanked the Chiefs organization for “six great years,” added that Mike Pouncey, Mike Wallace, Lamar Miller and Ryan Tannehill are “welcoming me with open arms... It's time to work.”
Though the team considered other options at left tackle, Albert was their guy the whole time. The Dolphins’ previous general manager, Jeff Ireland, considered trading for him on draft weekend 2013, but ultimately balked at Kansas City’s demands.
Ireland is gone, but coach Joe Philbin and executive vice president Dawn Aponte are still around. Philbin lobbied strongly for Albert a year ago, and never wavered. Ireland’s successor, Dennis Hickey, made Albert his top priority in free agency.
Within minutes, he got his man.
“Congrats [Albert,] I will miss you bro and blocking for me,” Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles wrote on Twitter. “I guess I will see u on the other side.”
Albert responded: “we will always be fam“
The logistics of getting the deal done were easy; Albert was already in town. He lives in South Florida in the offseason, and spent Tuesday morning running errands.
His choice in Twitter friends also hinted at his decision. He recently followed Dolphins starters Tannehill, Miller, Brent Grimes and recently signed Louis Delmas.
The deal makes Albert the seventh-highest-paid left tackle in football, and the highest paid of this free agent class.
Roger Saffold, whom the Dolphins wanted to sign as a guard, got a five-year contract to play tackle for the Raiders, reportedly paying $8.5 million annually. The Cardinals locked down Jared Veldheer for five years at $7 million per, and Eugene Monroe re-signed with the Ravens for $37.5 million over five years.
“It’s definitely the help we needed on the offensive line,” said former Dolphins receiver Oronde Gadsden, now an analyst on 790 The Ticket. “You kind of get an unfair assessment of Tannehill when he's on the ground so much. Hopefully you shore up the O-line and he can step up and make the throws they need.”
Said NFL Network analyst Marshall Faulk: “Now they have what they need. With Branden Albert at left tackle, Mike Pouncey at center, those other positions get easier to fill.”
However, Gadsden added, chemistry is nearly as important as talent, and the Dolphins have plenty of work to do on that front.
The Dolphins will have a new left tackle (Albert), a new offensive coordinator (Bill Lazor) and a new offensive line coach (John Benton).
The deal also makes official what was long assumed: Jonathan Martin won’t be the Dolphins’ blindside blocker in 2014.
After accusing some of his teammates of bullying (Pouncey included), it was hard seeing him ever return to the Dolphins locker room. Martin is expected to be traded or cut at some point this offseason.
And so, the Dolphins still need at least two more starting offensive linemen, and probably three.
A prime candidate at right tackle is the Jets’ Austin Howard, who made it to free agency. His first free agent visit is to the Raiders, the New York Daily News reported.
Other options include New Orleans’ Zach Strief and Seattle’s Breno Giacomini.