Jeff Ireland is sitting in Mobile, Alabama with his most trusted scouts. They are scoping out the talent from the Senior Bowl practices. Interviewing potential draft picks and making plans for the future of this team. When this week concludes, Ireland will take back to Miami a laundry list of “need to more” and “not a chance in hell” players. He will sit down with new HC Joe Philbin and discuss an action plan that will stretch out through February into early March.
Then the real fun begins.
The focus of Jeff Ireland is no longer on the coaching hunt, it’s on the draft and free agency. Two questions will need to be asked, one, who will be the starting QB and two what system is Philbin going to run in Miami on both sides of the ball. Why does the second matter? Simple, if Miami doesn’t have the players to fit they systems they will have to find them.
Both questions come unanswered. For now. Of the two, Miami fans tend to dwell on the first of the two and rightfully so. Miami has been without a franchise QB since Dan Marino. The closest person to come to succeeding him was Jay Fiedler and too has been gone now since 2004. When talk turns to the QB, it’s sure to get interesting and nothing will bring up more debate than Matt Flynn and Peyton Manning.
Manning represents the franchise to fans. He is proven. A winner. He has the “it” factor that coaches and owners talk about. He alone would sell tickets to games regardless of wins and losses. He would immediately improve an offense that has been stagnant for the better part of 10 years. He bring identity on both a local and national level. His presence alone would likely put the Dolphins back on national TV in 2012 despite their poor showing this past season. In other words, Manning could do more for the Miami Dolphins than any QB or coach since Marino retired.
He also comes with a giant question mark.
If Manning were healthy we would not be discussing his availability and the Colts would not have the first pick in the draft. If Manning was getting healthier, the Colts would not be discussing whether they should pay his 28 million dollar roster bonus in March and if he were healthy, we wouldn’t be naming the other teams who might have interest in adding him. Washington, Arizona, and the New York Jets. But Manning is not healthy. So we discuss it.
Manning has moved into the twilight of his career. He can still throw the ball with as much accuracy has he ever has. He can still lead a team. The question is, can he take a hit? For the Dolphins, it’s something to think about. Money is not an issue and anyone who knows, has spoken to, or read about Stephen Ross, the one consistent thing is if he wants someone, then money is not an issue.
He will have to pony up quite a bit for the rights to Peyton Manning. Manning however still needs to get healthy and there is no guarantee that he will fully recover or that the money paid to him on his contract will ever reap the rewards from the old Manning or the recovering injured one. Manning has had three neck surgeries and the nerves are still repairing from the damage. Any length of medical check-up won’t reveal 100 percent if he can return. Yet a decision on his future will be made in March. Either by the Colts or by the team that signs him as a free agent.
If Manning is the gold tip on the top of the pyramid, then at the bottom you will find Matt Flynn. Flynn is the unknown. A two game performer who played exceptionally well. He will parlay that two game period into starting QB money. He is young yet unproven. As much as Manning will be in play for the teams mentioned above, as many teams may look at Flynn as their answer at QB as well. The Miami Dolphins have an edge.
The hiring of Joe Philbin will give Miami an insiders view of Flynn. He is the only offensive coach that Flynn has known in the pro’s and thus the only coach that has worked with him to develop his skills. He has spent his entire career backing up Aaron Rodgers. A position he earned by beating out 2nd round pick Brian Brohm in training camp back in 2008.
Philbin will know what kind of QB Flynn is and more importantly we will as well. If the Dolphins pursue Flynn and do so hard, then we know that Philbin unequivocally believes in his ability to run his offense. If the Dolphins do not, you know that Flynn isn’t on the top Philbin’s list of QB’s. For fans, who tend to debate the issue far more than the press or the team, will dissect every pass and every delivery. Some fans see a future star while others would rather set their sites an on equally unproven rookie.
Matt Flynn may have two NFL games of experience. An incoming rookie will have none. Yet many believe the way to go is with the rookie. The Dolphins are not in position to land Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin, III without trading the farm to move up. With no other QB projected to be a high first round pick, the Dolphins will have to look later in the draft. Either in rounds 2 or even beyond.
It’s because of this logic that while fans will spend this week breaking down the QB’s that are at the Senior Bowl, Jeff Ireland will be doing the same. Ireland will compile all the information he can on all the players, not just the QB’s that he sees between now, the Combine, pro-days, and eventually it will all culminate in his next draft. On March 13th, the free agent window will slide open and some of the names will change on his list. QB is expected to bring a strong drive from the Dolphins front office, but which QB and which direction they turn, remains a mystery that will not be answered until that window is fully open.
In the meantime, all anyone can do is speculate.