The Dolphins have just come to contract agreement with free agent linebacker Phillip Wheeler, according to profootballtalk.com, on a five-year deal worth $26 million.
That is starter money.
And now Kevin Burnett's days with the Dolphins are numbered.
[Update: Burnett has been told he will be released according to Jim Trotter of Sports Illustrated.]
First things first:
Wheeler is 28 years old and coming off his finest NFL season. He started 16 games with the Raiders and had 109 combined tackles with three sacks, and two forced fumbles. He had six passes defensed.
That playmaking, plus his reported $13 million in guaranteed money means the Dolphins' vision for the player is as a starter.
So, Burnett is at risk. Yes, he was the second-leading tackler on the team. But the Dolphins are cutting leading tackler Karlos Dansby so that doesn't mean anything.
The Dolphins want more game-defining play and quicker linebacker play on defense. Dannell Ellerbe, who agreed to a deal earlier today, brings that. The Dolphins seem to think Wheeler does also.
Burnett, signed in 2011 as an unrestricted free agent, contributed similar numbers for the Dolphins to what Wheeler gave the Raiders. But he's going to be 31 years old during next season. And he is scheduled to cost the Dolphins $5.7 million against the cap.
If the Dolphins decide that's too steep for a player on the wrong side of 30, they can cut him and save $3.2 million in cap space. Considering that Burnett will also cost $7 million against the cap next year, the signing of a younger player seems visionary.
There remains a chance the Dolphins simply want to add Wheeler, along with Ellerbe and keep Burnett. That thus replaces Koa Misi in the starting lineup. Misi could be headed to defensive end.
But the more likely scenario is that Burnett should be sweating.