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  2012 A Failure, Will 2013 Be Better?
    | Home | News Wire | Roster | Depth Chart | Schedule | Links |  
         

by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

Click Here To Contact Chris

 

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Winning is the bottom line in the NFL.

 

So when your team fails to make playoffs with their fourth consecutive losing season, extending their longest losing streak in 40 years, it spells FAILURE as plainly as can be.

 

Once upon a time, the Miami Dolphins were the gold standard in the NFL. They were the winningest team in football since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. They were kings of the AFC East, having won more divisional titles than their rivals by a wide margin, and at one point were appearing in one out of every four Super Bowls.

 

All of that is gone now. That’s the price of this decade of unprecedented losing.

 

Fact is, the Dolphins have been supplanted by the New England Patriots. And, as the season ending 28-0 shellacking at the hands of the Patriots showed, the Dolphins aren’t going to catch them anytime soon, and certainly not in one giant leap.

 

“I think we’ve got to focus on our football team primarily and developing the players that we have”, the ever practical Dolphins coach Joe Philbin stated in his season end presser. “Obviously, every year, there’s change in the offseason. We’re going to be adding players to the roster. We’re going to be losing players. That happens to every NFL club.  (New England has) dominated the division for a long time. They’re an excellent football team. But we have to be more focused on our own guys and what we can do to help these guys reach their potential. They have their team and we have our team, and we’ve got to build our team up.”

 

Philbin’s right; the thing for the Dolphins to do in the near term is to build on the positives of this failed season and take the next steps out of the wilderness and back to relevancy.

 

Fortunately for the Dolphins, they have a bounty of cap space ($40+ million) and extra high draft picks to work with this offseason. Unfortunately, the man making the decisions doesn’t have a good track record in his tenure as Dolphins GM.

 

Let’s stop the excuses: Jeff Ireland isn’t at the helm of this team on merit. He’s at the helm because owner Steve Ross likes him. Ross has put his own credibility on the line in standing behind the unpopular Ireland. And now Ireland has a career opportunity to prove that Ross’s faith in him was well-placed.

 

But can he do it?

 

The good news is that the quarterback position is no longer top of mind when we list out the roster opportunities. Rookie Ryan Tannehill had a solid rookie season, which should be judged on its own merits. We learned he has the athleticism, arm, mind, and disposition to be a big winner for the Dolphins for a long time.

 

The sky is the limit for the young man from Texas A&M. Hope blossoms at the most important of positions, and that allows Ireland to focus elsewhere.

 

“(Tannehill) made a lot of progress”, Philbin said. “There’s no question about it. I’m confident with the work ethic that he has, the passion that he has for the game. This kid wants to do well. You hope in coaching in between your first and second year, you see that growth and development. There’s usually a pretty big curve and so we’re excited about the possibility of improvement for him.”

 

Offensively, the next step is to add talent around Tannehill so he will be more effective passing the ball. Defensively, more talent is needed to stop opposing QBs from doing the same (27th in NFL vs. pass).

 

That, in a nutshell, is what the Dolphins must focus on this offseason.

 

Free agency comes first, and Ireland will need to make some important decisions on good players like T Jake Long, RB Reggie Bush, TE Anthony Fasano, CB Sean Smith, DL Randy Starks, and WR Brian Hartline.

 

Who stays and who goes?

 

Smart teams know they should re-sign their own good players first and foremost to protect what they have. And since the aforementioned are good players, we should expect Ireland to make every reasonable effort to bring them back. In some cases the Dolphins may be forced to overpay somewhat.

 

That’s OK because you know what you’re getting. Then again, the worry is that there may not be enough left to sign an impact free agent. So balance is critical, and success this offseason will be partly defined not only by the team’s ability to avoid bad deals as they did this past offseason, but to make smart value deals for players on the upswing.

 

I’m not someone to sit back and make predictions based on incomplete information, so guessing who will or will not be re-signed is pretty useless at this point. But two guys I would say the Dolphins must keep are RB Reggie Bush and WR Brian Hartline, with LT Jake Long a close third.

 

Bush is the team’s best playmaker. They have no one else who can do what he does. No one. Hartline had an epiphany with his first 1,000 yard season, joining a very elite group of Dolphins who have accomplished this feat. Long is a keeper as well, the caveat being that the terms on a new deal are reasonable and fair to both he and the Dolphins.

 

We can also expect the Dolphins to pursue a number of reasonably priced free agents whose careers are on the ascent. If a major impact player is available, I’m sure they will consider it.

 

“I’m not opposed to improving the football team in any way, shape or form by any method that we can, whether it’s a trade, whether it’s free agency, the Draft obviously”, declared Philbin. “I’m not opposed to any of that.”

 

Good for you. Now here’s a bit of advice coach: if the impact man you want does not hit the open market, such as an impact wide receiver, you should consider a trade. You would get your man on your financial terms, and he is more likely to be a good player versus an overpriced name whose best days are behind him.

 

Of course the best chance at improving the team will come April 25-27 via the NFL Draft, Philbin’s preferred path. Just who the Dolphins will actually target remains a mystery even to them as they continue to evaluate and interview prospects through the Senior Bowl (January) and the Scouting Combine (February).

 

As in years past, Ireland will lay out his board horizontally by position versus vertically. When draft day comes, he will look across to the available names with the highest grades and will pick from that pool of names. If two positions have similar grades, ‘need’ will break the tie.

 

There are so many needs that Ireland is likely to select the best player available through the first two days of the draft. This is his normal modus operandi; we’ve seen in the past what can happen when the Dolphins deviate from that tenet (e.g. Pat White and, perhaps, Michael Egnew).

 

So with all this opportunity, will 2013 will be better than 2012?

 

It all depends how Ireland handles his own free agents. It depends on his ability to sell top prospective free agents on the Dolphins (not as easy as in past years).

 

It depends on Ireland’s handling of the NFL Draft, which has been something of a train wreck since he joined the Dolphins as GM in 2008. Only 14 of his draftees from 2008-2011 remain with the team. Only six remain from the top three rounds (four if Long and CB Sean Smith are not re-signed).

 

As I’ve counseled in the past, actions speak louder than words. Don’t let empty marketing campaigns and new logos distract you. In the end, trust your eyes. It’s the product on the field that will fill seats and restore confidence in the direction of the franchise.

 

That work is now up to Jeff Ireland. Let’s hope Steve Ross knows what he’s doing.

 

 
     
   
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