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  Time for Ireland to Deliver
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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In business, as in life, we face moments in time where major decisions must be made. These aren't ordinary decisions; these are the decisions that can change the course of an organization for the long term. Sometimes it's as simple as making the best choice you can. Often times, some measure of courage is needed to do the right thing, the necessary thing, versus the easy or safe thing.


For the Miami Dolphins, one such crossroads is quickly approaching: the 2012 NFL Draft.


There is always a lot at stake over the course of seven rounds of picks and trades. But for the Dolphins, this year is about more than just picking players; it's a referendum on the credibility of an organization.


Overblown? I don't think so. The cold hard reality of today is the aftermath of hitting rock bottom, which is precisely where the Dolphins are.


Never has this franchise's stock been lower -- three straight losing seasons for the first time since the forgettable pre-Don Shula years of George Wilson (the late 1960s), the butt of jokes league-wide. The key difference is that the 60's crew had the excuse of being an AFL expansion team.


It would be interesting to review the Dolphins' strategy for selling tickets this season. Dolphins CEO Mike Dee must be thinking (praying) that there is a way forward to growth. Personally, I don't see the evidence of it as of yet. But knowing Dee to be a very competent leader, save the occasional misguided (but creative) idea, one has to believe he has a plan to get the job done.


That being said, the most necessary ingredient in any plan is "hope"; the very thing that is wanting most amongst Dolfans. The majority simply do not have the confidence that owner Stephen Ross and GM Ireland are capable of seeing the team out of the wilderness.


And what about poor Joe Philbin? The new Dolphins coach, who is still very much on his honeymoon, must have had mixed feelings watching the offseason spectacle unfold. On one hand, he's thrilled to have finally received his chance at being an NFL head coach. On the other, he understands his bosses haven't been making the best of choices these past three losing seasons. If Philbin isn't concerned, then he is naive.


Yet ironically it's Philbin's newness which presents the perfect opportunity to build credibility for 2012 and beyond. While Ross and Ireland have squandered a large measure of this opportunity through their somewhat inept handling of free agency, their chance at redemption is fast approaching. On April 26, sometime after 8:00pm ET, the Dolphins will make their most important decision since Nick Saban selected Daunte Culpepper over Drew Brees.


This will not be just any other first round pick; this will be a major message from Ross and Ireland to the fans as to how competent they truly are and how serious they are about winning. This is also about optics as much as it is about building a winner.


Let me lay the cards on the table for you: this draft is about Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill.




This is more than the silly frenzy around Brady Quinn in 2007 because Tannehill is a lot better. In him, the turnaround of a franchise begins, at least in perception and hopefully in substance.


If Tannehill is available to the Dolphins at #8 and they select him, hope will blossom like springtime. Checkbooks will open like flower petals, people will rejoice like birds singing, and confidence about the future of this franchise will bubble up.


This is how hard public opinion has come to rest at the Dolphins' doorstep. Never mind that Tannehill probably won't play ahead of a healthy Matt Moore or David Garrard in 2012 (and maybe not even in 2013). This is about perception NOW, even if Moore ends up proving himself better than Tannehill.


Hey, there's no bigger crapshoot than forecasting college QBs at the pro level.


Never mind that drafting Tannehill will probably violate Ireland's draft rules; this is a man who believes in value first, then need. And there will likely be higher graded players on the board when the Miami's clock starts ticking, assuming another team doesn't jump ahead of the Dolphins to steal Tannehill away.


What then? The fall off from Tannehill to the rest of the lot is not trivial, which is why Ireland cannot afford to play it safe.


I believe if the Dolphins fail to get Tannehill, nothing else they do this offseason will matter at all. Fans will go blind with fury, checkbooks will close, and the Dolphins will endure yet another poorly attended and supported season. 2012 will be crippled and, with it, the credibility of the entire organization.


Trust me on this - it's irrational but inevitable.


This is why, on April 26, Ireland must do the right thing and not the safe thing as he did last year. Truly great GMs in this business make the right decisions that place and keep their teams on the championship road. And it takes real football and business acumen to find a franchise quarterback and develop him.


Is this regime up to it? We shall soon see.

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