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
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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?
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).
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.