The Miami Dolphins are making a strong push to compete for the AFC East crown this season, and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe could be the key.
Ellerbe, who helped the Baltimore Ravens capture their second Super Bowl title in 2012, signed a five-year, $35 million deal with the Dolphins this offseason. Now, it appears we know the reason why: the New England Patriots.
Ellerbe was just one piece of a much larger offseason spending spree by the Dolphins, which also included spending $65 million on wide receiver Mike Wallace, $26 million on linebacker Phillip Wheeler and $5.5 million on cornerback Brent Grimes. The end goal of it all being a return to the playoffs and a chance to take down the pesky Patriots.
“I was brought here to help knock them off,” Ellerbe said to Mike Freeman of CBS Sports. ”That doesn’t mean we will, but we feel like we can.”
The Patriots have dominated the division the last 12 seasons, winning 10 division titles and three Super Bowls (appearing in five), while the Dolphins have enjoyed just two trips to the postseason in that span. But the landscape atop the division may be changing after a tumultuous offseason in New England.
The Patriots have endured a complete overhaul of the receiving corps, Wes Welker‘s dramatic departure, Rob Gronkowski‘s seemingly never-ending list of surgeries and, of course, the Aaron Herandez saga. Given all of the off-field attention, the Patriots’ vulnerability has become a primary talking point over the last few weeks, and you can count Ellerbe among those who believe that theory to be true.
“I think they are but you have to prove it, you can’t just talk about it,” Ellerbe said. “Like I said, we just have to prove it. You have to actually go do it.”
As for Hernandez, Ellerbe doesn’t think the Pats will be the same without him.
“Losing a starter always hurts and losing a starter as good as he was will really hurt,” Ellerbe said. “I don’t think you can say the Patriots are the same as before after what happened to Hernandez.”
The Patriots appear to be wounded prey atop the proverbial AFC East mountaintop, and Ellerbe is ready for the hunt to begin.
Photo via Facebook/Dannell Ellerbe