Jan 1, 2012; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; A banner flies over Sun Life Stadium before a game between the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins asking for Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland (not pictured) to be fired. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-US PRESSWIRE

Dolphins Drafts Hard To Excuse, But Warranted

Jeff Ireland has had his fair share of mistakes.  Forget about passing on Dez Braynt, that was a good move regardless of what his mother did for a living.  When you begin to question the lack of production on the field during this past pre-season, the finger immediately has to go to the man who is in charge of putting talent on the field.  Jeff Ireland.

Of all the topics one can discuss, whether in an article, on a news site, or even a forum, the topic of Jeff Ireland will draw a wide range of emotions and reactions.  Most of which usually start or end with a derogatory description.  Personally, I like Jeff Ireland.  I like his approach and his stubbornness.  I like the fact that he doesn’t play games and keeps a very defined separation between himself and the players so as not to confuse business decisions with friendships.  Yet, it’s hard to defend his evaluation of talent or his inability to turn this roster into something far more productive.

Regardless of whether you believe the first three years of his career in Miami was under the rule of Bill Parcells the last three drafts have been all his.  While this year can not be fully evaluated it’s easy to evaluate the last few and in reality, nothing stands out.  Clyde Gates became yet another in a long list of wasted early or mid-round picks on a WR.  The Dolphins lack that standout pro-bowl athlete that comes from a draft board.  In fact, it’s difficult to pinpoint one single drafted player prior to this season that has made a major impact on the success of this team.  Especially when you consider the team is not successful.

Forget about Jake Long, he was a Parcells selection.  Ireland has brought in guys like the above mentioned Gates.   Guys like the under-performing RB Daniel Thomas, and guys like, ummm, well aside from a few late round picks, his personal draft picks are still here.   Looking over the roster it’s a hodgepodge of players that mostly would be viable 2nd team options for some of the better teams.  Sure, Jared Odrick is developing but until he takes the next step and becomes consistently disruptive, he is a first round talent that is part of a team rather than someone who will lift the team around him.

This is not intended to be a Jeff Ireland argument or intended to insight the “Fireland Mafia” to volley more hatred.  There is a reality outlined above that our GM has failed to add significant talent to the team.  If Ireland’s job is on the line for how the team performs this year, then it’s very likely he will be gone next season.  Otherwise, Stephen Ross will stay the course and we will see if Ireland has what it takes to turn this around.

When I look at this situation, or any situation with this team, I try and view from different angles so to have a full idea of what is going on.  If I look simply at Ireland’s free agent moves, I may be happy with what I see.  Reggie Bush, Cameron Wake, and to some degree Matt Moore and David Garrard given the surrounding circumstances of this past free agency.  If I look at his drafting, I have to ask, honestly, how much input did he have with Parcells on his shoulder?  If there is any question to that I have to let it pass.

I know, it’s easier to point the blame and/or surmise that he was still the GM but authority wasn’t his.  In fact, you have to look back to the 2011 draft to see Ireland’s work fully on his own without input from “The Tuna”.  And in doing so, this is the point where this article turns from the obvious perception that Jeff Ireland is a total failure, to one that outlines the possibility that maybe, there is a little bit of hope.

On first glance, as I stated on the previous page, Ireland, simply put has failed to provide the team with enough talent to be successful.  I will not deny that.  Nor will I try and defend his missed attempts with a cliche’ like “not all draft picks pan out”.  I will however point out something that does stand to be mentioned, the type of players that Ireland has drafted and why.  Again, I am not discounting the first three seasons here with Bill Parcells.  Ireland shares in that blame but I only want to focus solely on what we can definitively pin on Ireland.  That starts two drafts ago.  One year after Bill Parcells stepped down in September of 2010.

Jeff Ireland had a dilemma going into the 2011 draft.  He was coming off one of the organizations worst public black-eyes in it’s history.  The pursuit of Jim Harbaugh left Ireland working to smooth over a relationship with a head coach, Tony Sparano, a lame duck.  Ireland had two choices entering the off-season.  Save some money for the future realizing that in all reality, Sparano was going to be gone at the end of the year, spend big on free agents that may or may not work, or get Sparano players to help him win and succeed.

It’s easy for fans to forget one important thing.  If we take the first three years out of the equation, Ireland has been running this team solely for two full off-seasons.  This being his second.  His first, last year, was marred by an entire off-season lock0ut.  Ireland drafted prior to free agency and then, following the end of the lockout scrambled with the rest of the NFL to get free agents into a shortened camp.   Despite what your opinion of Ireland is, any GM that is trying to rebuild a team and is faced with making decisions under those circumstances is likely going to fail.

A lot of people want to point to the success of the 49’ers under Jim Harbaugh as a point of contention to that statement, but Harbaugh inherited a team that needed direction and had talent.  The Dolphins were a team coming off a Bill Parcells/Dan Henning love fest with the Wild Cat.  Ireland had his work cut out for him.  While he skipped on the big name QB trade for Kyle Orton instead taking the heat squarely on the chin, he won no compliments for heading into the season with Chad Henne as the starter and Matt Moore his QB free agent.  While Reggie Bush worked out great, the fact that the team was so unprepared out of the gate left Ireland taking the brunt of the criticism.

Still, looking at his first draft, it’s hard to complain.  With only six picks and 3 of those picks after round 5, Ireland brought in center Mike Pouncey who looks like a long term solution, Jimmy Wilson who is a developing possibility, and Charles Clay who is also developing.  The knock on that draft is Daniel Thomas’ lack of production, especially given the fact the team traded up to get him and of course the busted 4th rounder Clyde Gates.

It’s hard to judge that draft solely player for player.  I don’t believe that draft fit a system specifically.  Pouncey is an athletic center and was more of a no-brainer pick considering he would fit into the future of Sparano or anyone else who came into coach the team.  Clay’s versatility is another player that could step in and add some firepower to a team that lacked it.  Wilson was a late draft project and Gates was supposed to be an up-field threat.  Thomas however is a back more suited to the Tony Sparano/Bill Parcells concept of up the middle runners.  Unfortunately, Thomas came to the shortened camp out of shape and ill prepared for his first season.  His second, this year, is not a system he fits well in.  Of course Ireland could not foresee the future of a WCO in Miami.

This year, Ireland drafted for this system.  It’s very clear looking at this draft that Ireland took guys who fit the concept of what Joe Philbin wants in Miami and most of his hope for the teams future resides on the shoulders of Ryan Tannehill.  While Michael Egnew looks horribly lost, only BJ Cunningham, a sixth round WR is currently off the roster.  That could change by the end of the weekend.

Jeff Ireland is to blame for this team simply because of all the new faces, only he and owner Stephen Ross remain.  It’s easy to look at every year since Ireland’s arrival and then look at the product on the field and say this is completely unacceptable and it’s your fault.  But that perception isn’t always fair or accurate.  Ireland has to take responsibility for this team, I agree with that.  Right or wrong, Ireland is the one who ultimately will be held accountable for this teams lack of success or failure to turn this team around.  It comes with the job.

Perhaps to understand more of why I don’t or haven’t joined the “Fireland” train of hatred is because I haven’t seen the end product yet.  I see a GM who has been shackled with someone else’s decisions, a lockout he couldn’t control, and a lame duck coach that he did help to create.  Yet when all that dust has settled and all those layers of the onion are peeled back, and I look at this team from the inside instead of the simplicity of a win/loss record and the surface of a team that looks absolutely lost, I remind myself that at the very core, is a GM who has had two seasons on his own to mold this team.

In those two seasons without Bill Parcells, Ireland has gone through a lockout, a major coaching change, a philosophical shift in systems on both sides of the ball, and an unbelievable public wagon screaming for his ouster.

I am often asked why I believe in Jeff Ireland or fail to see the mistakes that he has made.  Simply put, I believe in Ireland only because I don’t believe he has had a clean shot at making over this team.  I don’t believe we have seen what Jeff Ireland actually can do.  I see a team that is as bad as it was when Bill Parcells took over full control, I see a team that is just as bad when Jeff Ireland took over full control.  More importantly, I see a team that Jeff Ireland took over full control of, one full season ago.

How do you truly judge that?  For me, I judge completely and fully on what he has done in that time given the surrounding situation of the NFL and his coach.  Is it nearsighted?  Maybe.  Is it blind?  Absolutely not.  Is my support of Jeff Ireland warranted?  Maybe.  Has it been earned?  Not yet.  What it is, is very simple.  I have not seen enough of Jeff Ireland to know whether or not he is the answer for this team or the single cause for it’s current situation.

You can’t make over a team in one year.  You can barely make it over in two.  From my seat, Jeff Ireland has been trying to make over this team each of the past two years.  Next season, the year after that, maybe the year after that, we will know what Jeff Ireland has done or has failed to do for this team.  This is Jeff Ireland’s team now.  It’s his coach, his players, and his choices that will make or break this team.  He has his future in Miami and in the NFL hitched to Philbin and what happens going forward.

Let’s hope for all of our interests that in two years we are talking about how quickly so many of you have jumped to judgement as opposed to me accepting the fact that even continuity couldn’t help Ireland turn this team around.  Believe me, for those of you who have been reading me for the last five and a half years know, I will be the first to admit when I am wrong.  Let’s hope this time I am not.

Every day I get challenged for why I support “the loser”.  Yet I haven’t heard many concrete reasons why others don’t.  I know this article is going to drum up quite a bit of hatred, while not my intention, any time you bring up an article that semi-defends Ireland, you open yourself up to belittlement.  I can accept that.  But if you do decide to respond, keep it clean but more importantly, tell me why you feel the way you do.  Not in general, I hear enough of that, I want specifics.  What has Jeff Ireland done to completely turn you against him?



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Tags: Jeff Ireland Joe Philbin Miami Dolphins Tony Sparano

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