Sports

AFC East teams busy: Dolphins sign Mike Wallace; Bills cut Ryan Fitzpatrick

Speedy ex-Steelers receiver Mike Wallace now will be hauling in passes from Ryan Tannehill for the Dolphins.
Speedy ex-Steelers receiver Mike Wallace now will be hauling in passes from Ryan Tannehill for the Dolphins.Credit: file/joe howell/associated press

The Patriots’ competitors in the AFC East were busy Tuesday.

The Miami Dolphins started the NFL free agency period with a bang, signing former Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace to a multiyear contract.

In four years with the Steelers, Wallace caught 32 touchdown passes. He gives the Dolphins the speedy deep threat they lacked last season, when their wideouts totaled three touchdowns.

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The Dolphins’ top priority at the start of free agency was to upgrade at receiver and provide another target for Ryan Tannehill, a rookie last year.

The Dolphins also signed linebacker Dannell Ellerbe to a $35 million, five-year deal.

Ellerbe, 27, had a career-high 4½ sacks last year for the Super Bowl champion Ravens. He started seven games and established career highs in tackles (89, second on the team) and solo tackles (66). He missed three games with an ankle injury.

With Ray Lewis retiring, the Ravens had hoped to sign Ellerbe to a long-term deal.

With the signing of Ellerbe, ESPN reported that the Dolphins had released linebacker Karlos Dansby.

The Dolphins, coming off a fourth straight losing season, re-signed free safety Chris Clemons to a one-year deal.

Clemons started all 16 games for Miami last year and set career marks in tackles and interceptions.

Fitzpatrick released

New coach Doug Marrone and the Bills released quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick after two-plus inconsistent seasons as starter.

The team announced the move a day before Fitzpatrick was due a $3 million bonus.

‘‘We kept every possible option open right down to the wire, when we had to make a decision on whether to keep Ryan,’’ general manager Buddy Nix said. ‘‘In the end, we had to do what we feel is best for our football team. And it was a difficult decision.’’

Fitzpatrick’s up-and-down performance and his expensive contract were factors in his release. The former Harvard star went 20-33 as a starter over four seasons in Buffalo. And he was in the midst of a six-year, $59 million contract extension signed in October 2011.

The Bills had held out hope that Fitzpatrick would be open to restructuring his contract, and free up space under the salary cap to allow the team to pursue free agents, and re-sign its own players.

A change in coaches didn’t help Fitzpatrick either. Marrone took over in January after Chan Gailey was fired following three straight losing seasons.

The move leaves Buffalo with one experienced QB on its roster, Tarvaris Jackson, who re-signed to a one-year contract last month. Nix has already expressed an intention to select a QB in the draft next month.

The Bills lost guard Andy Levitre, one of the top offensive linemen on the market, who got a six-year deal worth nearly $47 million from the Titans. He will replace Steve Hutchinson, who announced his retirement.

Jets restructure

The Jets restructured the contracts of wide receiver Santonio Holmes and cornerback Antonio Cromartie, and cut nose tackle Sione Po'uha, saving about $11.5 million in cap space.

Holmes, coming off a foot injury, was due to make $11 million in base salary, with $7.5 million guaranteed.

Holmes, who signed a five-year, $45 million contract in 2011, would have cost the Jets an $11.25 million cap hit if he had been released. But Holmes agreed to restructure his deal.

The team introduced new backup QB David Garrard, who has his sights set on competing to be the starter.

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