The Miami Dolphins have parted ways with one of their most vocal leaders, surprisingly releasing veteran linebacker Channing Crowder following the team's first day of practice in training camp Friday.
Signed to a three-year, $20 million contract in 2009, Crowder was due to make $5 million this season before becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2012.
Just as quickly as Crowder as shown the door, he replacement was brought in, as reports indicate the Dolphins have signed free agent linebacker Kevin Burnett.
Despite reports to the contrary, the Miami Herald's Jeff Darlington reports Burnett's deal is for four years rather than five. Additionally, Ben Volin of the Palm Beach Post indicates the contract has a total value of $21 million with $9.8 million guaranteed.
The Dolphins now have 75 players on the active roster, in addition to four restricted or exclusive-rights free agents and one unsigned rookie draft pick in Mike Pouncey. Wide receiver Clyde Gates and running back Daniel Thomas signed his four-year deal Friday.
An Inglewood, Calif. native, Burnett was a team captain for the Tennessee Volunteers and was a first-team All-SEC selection as a senior in 2004. He was selected in the second round (42nd overall) by the Dallas Cowboys, led by head coach Bill Parcells.
Despite being selected on the draft's first day, Burnett failed to establish himself as a significant contributor on the Cowboys' defense. Burnett did not start a game during his first two seasons and start only four between the 2007 and 2008 seasons, recording 135 tackles, four sacks and four forced fumbles during his time in Dallas.
An unrestricted free agent in 2009, Burnett signed a two-year deal with the San Diego Chargers. Injuries allowed him to play in just 11 games that season including seven starts, but he impressed and established career highs in tackle (66) and sacks (2.5).
Burnett became a full-time starter in 2010, opening all 16 games and posting a career year on the league's top defense in yards allowed, racking up 95 tackles, six sacks, two forced fumbles, five pass deflections, two interceptions and a defensive touchdown.
This move may have come as a disappointment to many Dolphins (and by extension, Gators) fans, but the reality is that the team significantly upgraded here and replaced a pretty mediocre linebacker with a pretty darn good one.
There's no denying that Crowder was an entertaining personality, a leader in the locker room and did an excellent job of calling the plays on defense and getting his teammates in position. That being said, the production just hasn't been there the past few years, as indicated by his 3.8 tackles per game over the past two seasons.
Not only that, but Crowder has never been a playmaker during his professional career, totaling just 2.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, and one interception in 82 career games over six seasons.
Now Crowder supporters will continue to cite his leadership and point out that the defense was much better with him on the field than off it, but I'd say that's more of a reflection of Tim Dobbins' and Bobby Carpenter's lack of ability than an indication of Crowder's talent.
Admittedly, Burnett's career got off to a slow start and it's fair to wonder if he's a one-year wonder. That being said, his production in 2010 is undeniable and if anyone had reason to be concerned over his time in Dallas, it'd be the guys that saw it first hand for three seasons in Ireland and Sparano.
Burnett should fit right in as the starting MOE linebacker in the Dolphins' 3-4, playing alongside the team's prized free agent acquisition from last season in Karlos Dansby.
I don't expect much more, if any, turnover among the Dolphins' starters on defense, but there is no question the team upgrade a position here on a unit that already ranked among the league's best last season.
As always, check out the updated projected depth chart reflecting these transactions here.
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Chris J. Nelson majored in journalism at Georgia State University and currently works for Turner Sports in Atlanta. He operates his own Miami Dolphins website, The Miami Dolphins Spotlight, and he can be followed on Twitter here.