Miami Dolphins

Dolphins sign free agent DE Mario Williams to two-year contract

Defensive end Mario Williams, a former No. 1 overall pick, signed a two-year deal with the Miami Dolphins on Tuesday, March 8, 2016.
Defensive end Mario Williams, a former No. 1 overall pick, signed a two-year deal with the Miami Dolphins on Tuesday, March 8, 2016. AP

The Miami Dolphins could never beat Mario Williams.

So they asked the former No. 1 overall pick to join them.

The Dolphins officially announced Williams’ signing late Tuesday — a blockbuster move intended to improve their own team at the expense of an AFC East foe.

Williams, who spent the past four seasons with the Buffalo Bills, averaged more than a sack a game in his eight divisional meetings with the Dolphins.

NFL Network first reported the two-year deal will pay in the neighborhood of $8 million annually.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins are poised to soon say goodbye to two homegrown stars: Olivier Vernon and Lamar Miller.

Williams’ price tag is substantially less than the $12.7 million that they had committed to Vernon last week with the transition tag — a one-year tender that he’ll likely never play under.

A league source expects Vernon to sign a long-term deal with another team in the coming days, and the Dolphins will be hard-pressed to match, given their many needs. It’s possible they even rescind the tender before the league year begins Wednesday afternoon.

As for Miller, he could sign with the Houston Texans as soon as Wednesday. The Texans have keen interest in landing Miller, and appear to be willing to pay more than the Dolphins are willing to.

Miller and Vernon cannot sign with any other team before the start of the new league year at 4 p.m. Wednesday. Each has played his entire football career in South Florida; both were teammates at the University of Miami and drafted by the Dolphins in 2012.

Put simply, there’s not enough money to keep Vernon and Williams, a former No. 1 overall pick who has 96 career sacks in 10 seasons and is just two years removed from an All-Pro campaign.

But his play dropped off a cliff in 2015. He never meshed with new Bills coach Rex Ryan last fall, and was a salary-cap casualty earlier this offseason. Many in Buffalo questioned Williams’ effort last year; he had just five sacks and 19 tackles.

The Dolphins divided their time Tuesday between locking down Williams and finalizing a trade with the Eagles that brings linebacker Kiko Alonso and corner Byron Maxwell to Miami.

The terms of the deal have not yet been made public, but assuming both players passed their physicals Tuesday, the Dolphins will send draft compensation to Philadelphia in return. It’s possible that the teams will swap first-round draft picks; the Dolphins own the eighth overall pick, the Eagles the 13th.

Williams, Alonso and Maxwell are just the beginning of the Dolphins’ envisioned makeover on defense.

Even if they let Vernon walk and keep Cameron Wake (who’s due $8.3 million in 2016 and has a $9.8 million cap number), they will still likely sign another defensive end. They have interest in the Rams’ Williams Hayes and the Cowboys’ Jeremy Mincey.

Plus, they want to still upgrade at linebacker. Ex-Bengal Vincent Rey is among those on their radar.

Then there’s the secondary. The Dolphins want at sign least one more starter, and probably two.

And two of the Dolphins’ top targets played under new Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph in Cincinnati a year ago: Cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones and safety George Iloka.

Jones, 32, has a long history of off-the-field issues, but seemed to get his career on track under Joseph’s tutelage. He made his first Pro Bowl in 2015.

Iloka, meanwhile, is an under-the-radar talent. Just 25, Iloka has started all but four games for the Bengals in the last three seasons. He had a career-high three interceptions and 74 tackles in 2014.

Should the Dolphins land all of their top targets — and so far, they have — they will take a wrecking ball to a defense that grossly underachieved in 2015. They will likely cut or trade cornerback Brent Grimes in the coming days, and the team has shown little interest in retaining free agent defensive end Derrick Shelby.

Adam H. Beasley: 305-376-3565, @AdamHBeasley

Related stories from Miami Herald