The Dolphins Blame Game: Jeff Ireland

Ireland has made decent if unspectacular decisions

Today the Miami Dolphins have a bye week, the good news is they will not lose today.  The bad news is they will still lose ground to either the Patriots or the Jets as both teams play each other.  Lose ground?  I really doubt that the 2011 Miami Dolphins will turn around their season in time to have to worry about gaining ground on any division winner.  Yesterday we took a look at Stephen Ross and his role in the mess we call the 2011 season.  You can read that here.

Today we dig a little deeper and take a look at the role Jeff Ireland has played in this mess.

Like with Ross, I blame Ireland for a few things but not for everything.   I don’t believe that Ireland is a bad general manager as much as I believe his choices simply haven’t been organized and directed to build this team in a proper manner.  However, it’s difficult to not overlook glaring issues with the team that Ireland is in control of.  Whether that is the re-signing of veteran players or choices he makes in the draft.  As with Ross and his responsibility for Ireland, the personnel on the field is ultimately the responsibility of Jeff Ireland.  

If we want to look at Jeff Ireland in a fair manner we need to evaluate his decision making as a whole.  Unfortunately for the first two and a half years Ireland was either under the thumb of Bill Parcells or so influenced by the man that he could not make a decision on his own.  It also goes without saying that while Parcells may or may not be responsible for many of the draft picks made in the first two seasons, it’s almost impossible to determine what players belonged to Ireland and what players belong to Parcells.

We do know that Pat White was a Bill Parcells pick.  In fact while Parcells has actually denied that he was the sole person responsible for that choice, there have been many others within the Dolphins organization that have publicly stated that Parcells was the driving force behind it.  Parcells also takes full credit for Vontae’ Davis and Jake Long as well.  For Ireland, it’s much easier and safer to digest the last two drafts that he has conducted without Bill Parcells in the room.

The drafting of Jared Odrick has yet to pay off but in reality this is his first year after spending his rookie season on IR.  So far he is one of the few bright spots on the Dolphins defense this season.  Koa Misi as well has yet to materialize into a stud OLB but has shown promise inconsistently.  John Jerry has been a rumored choice of HC Tony Sparano but it was and is still Ireland’s choice to make regardless of whether he conceded the pick or not.  A.J. Edds is gone and Reshad Jones and Nolan Carroll are struggling mightily this season.

This years is far too early to grade although it appears that first round pick Mike Pouncey and RB Daniel Thomas will become major contributors to the team.  The same could also be said about promising seventh round pick, Jimmy Wilson.

In two seasons away from Parcells, Ireland’s choices have been a little better than average when you view them as a whole from rounds 1 to 7.  Where Ireland seems to have failed is in the free agent market where his unwillingness to spend money has both hurt the team and the continuity of the product on the field.  In other words, the Dolphins are comprised of team players but no stars to build the team around.

Cameron Wake was a solid find in the CFL, something that Parcells claims to have turned over, but this year his play is pedestrian.  Ireland’s off-season consisted on passing over two very well thought of full time running backs in DeAngelo Williams and Ahman Bradshaw in favor of the oft injured and less talented Reggie Bush.  Bush has been a model player since his arrival but the fact remains he is not a player that can be relied upon between the tackles.  Ireland could have gone after Darren Sproles for much cheaper.  Sproles is having a phenomenal year in New Orleans, replacing Reggie Bush.

The one stand Ireland made was the trade for Brandon Marshall.  On paper it was supposed to be a great deal for the Dolphins but unfortunately that too has not worked out to the advantage of the team.  Marshall’s off-field problems still exist and on the field it’s likely that his personal life is now impacting his play.  Marshall is in the top 5 of WR’s dropped passes this year.  Something that he was not known for in Denver.

Perhaps nothing stands out more on the Ireland resume that his failure to address the QB situation.  His unwavering refusal to overpay for Kyle Orton was not found favorable in the eyes of the media or the fans.  Even today when Orton’s numbers are barely better than those of Chad Henne’s, the reality is that fans still believe that the Dolphins should have paid Orton what he wanted.

Then of course there is the Chad Henne issue.  Henne was playing much better than last year but the Dolphins opted for Matt Moore as his back-up, two conversely different styles of players.  Much to the same degree that Henne and Chad Pennington were different.  With Henne now out for the season, Ireland has chosen Sage Rosenfelds to back up Moore instead of taking a chance on a David Garrard who supposedly turned down Ireland’s offer.

For Jeff Ireland the reality is that he has failed in some areas.  For example, applying the franchise tag to Paul Soliai rather than negotiating a contract with him prior to the end of last season or letting the negotiating window close this season.  Soliai counts 12 million against the Dolphins cap this season alone.  He is not playing close to that kind of money.  Ross has also spent more money on busted free agents that have not made an impact on the team.  Kevin Burnett has been a major disappointment and Ireland’s lack of finding a real free safety has hurt the defensive make-up.

Of course Ireland has done nothing to address the tight end position either.

Like Ross, Ireland too has a black eye.  Outside of his participation in the Jim Harbaugh fiasco, Ireland had to smooth things over with Sparano, Ireland’s own personality has gotten in the way of smart business.  For example, he brought a free agent into town for a visit and shuffled him through the process and sent him along his way leaving a bad taste in the FA’s mouth that went public.  His decision to ask Dez Bryant about his mother’s past did him no favors.  Ireland is often seen as a smug egotistical GM which is fine if you’re a GM who has a stellar history to back it up.  Ireland does not.

Ireland has made some good decisions and while he hasn’t made many overly bad decisions, he has yet to find a catalyst to build around.  There is nothing on this team since he became GM to build upon.  There are no stars.  His desire to turn over “every acorn” has left the team with acorns and no sprouting oaks.  The lack of continuity and the fact this team doesn’t play as a comprised unit speaks more to the fact that Ireland has filled this team with support type players rather than actual game changers or leaders.

Of course the players that should be game changers, Cameron Wake and Karlos Dansby, are struggling this year.  Dansby has had minimal impact since his arrival two seasons ago.  Perhaps the biggest slight on Ireland is his desire to stick with what is familiar.  Former players he is comfortable with.  It’s one thing to pull a top free agent off your old team and another to claim that former team’s cuts.  There is a reason that players are released.

Ireland may find his job on the line after the conclusion of this season.  If Ross opts for a full control head coach, Ireland will be gone along with Sparano.  However, Ross likes and trusts Jeff Ireland so any coach not demanding full control will allow Ross to keep Ireland in place.  While Ireland’s choices for players can be broken down and debated, it also has to be asked if the players on the field are simply mistakes by Ireland or if they are simply not coached well enough by Sparano.  Something we will look at in the next installment.

Ireland will not go down in Dolphins history as the worst GM, that honor belongs to Dave Wannstedt and even Randy Mueller.  In fact, it very well could turn out well for Ireland historically.  If a new HC comes in and turns these players into play makers, whether Ireland is here or not, he may be one of those few that fans remember and say, “you know, looking back, it really wasn’t his fault”.  But that’s a long way away.  The fact is, Ireland needs to stop adding acorns and start adding trees.  He can’t continue to turn over the roster because he has the power to do so.

This is the new NFL and money is thrown around quite a bit and contracts are written with a lot of creativity.  Ireland needs to find a way to do that if he is going to stay as the teams primary personnel man.

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Tags: Bill Parcells Jeff Ireland Miami Dolphins Stephen Ross

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