No there will be no Christmas playoff push for the Miami Dolphins but at least they didn’t eliminate themselves on Sunday. The Dolphins posted a victory against division rivals Buffalo and then spent the next 15 minutes watching as the Pittsburgh Steelers failed to put away the Cincinnati Bengals late. With the Pittsburgh loss the Dolphins were officially eliminated from playoff contention.
Many fans will look back and point their fingers at missed field goals, bad interceptions, late game mistakes, and of course Jeff Ireland. In reality the Dolphins turned a team that started 0-8 last season into a playoff contending team behind a rookie head coach and a rookie QB. Joe Philbin and Ryan Tannehill. With one game left on the schedule, it’s obvious that fans will now turn once again to the early off-season projections and rumors. Nothing gets discussed more than the future of Jeff Ireland.
It’s safe to say that Ireland will return for another season. Beyond that is unknown. His off-season last year, in hindsight makes one question his ability to make this teams personnel decisions but he should be commended for the moves he did make as much as panned for the ones he didn’t or missed on. Yes, Brandon Marshall is gone and no Ireland didn’t replace him. They say they tried. The question however is this. Would Marshall have led this team to a playoff birth? The Bears still need help to make the post-season. In Indy, despite the fact that the Colts are back in the post-season, fans are still critical of Vontae’ Davis despite a game changing interception on Sunday.
Reports are now surfacing VIA the Miami Herald that Reggie Bush will indeed have a discussion with Ireland about his future but they cite sources that state it will be at the Dolphins price and not Bush’s.
After fans settle down from a long season of high hopes and heartaches, they will turn their attention to the NFL Draft and of course March’s start to free agency. The Dolphins are supposedly going to have the most money to spend but at the same time, they have quite a few of their own team free agents to sign as well. None bigger than LT Jake Long.
To say that Long is a lock to return to the team would be far from the truth. Placed on IR for the second time in his career, Long is expected to be looking at a new contract that will pay him 10-12 million a season. In his absence, rookie Jonathan Martin has played exceptionally well after moving from the RT spot. If the Dolphins feel confident in Martin’s ability to handle the left side moving forward, then the Dolphins could use the money they would spend on Long to address other key positions of need. Including an edge rusher and a number 1 WR.
Brian Hartline is as close to a must sign as their is and while he won’t elevate into the 10 million range, he is likely to see a significant increase in pay and the Dolphins will likely get him back under contract. Hartline has developed a great relationship on the field with Ryan Tannehill and the QB is going to need that familiarity moving forward when other WR’s faces start to change. Next year is going to be difficult for the team at this position. While Davone Bess and likely Hartline will be back, a new WR will be added either by draft or free agency if not both. If both, what will happen to Marlon Moore and where does that leave Rishard Mathews? Should be interesting to watch unfold.
In the secondary Sean Smith is going to have his contract looked at. Has he done enough to warrant a raise? If not does he even need to be brought back and what is his value compared to that of the teams? If the Dolphins let Smith leave they will be looking for not one but two starting corners in the off-season. On the defensive line it doesn’t get any easier as Randy Starks is set to hit the market as well.
The good news through all this is the Dolphins are the second youngest team in the NFL and have no expiring contracts of players that they simply can not lose. While fans would love to see this guy or that guy brought back, none of the players heading out the door are game changing playmakers. That will not go unnoticed by Jeff Ireland. With Reggie Bush the only “home-run threat” it’s clear that even he has no lock on the roster next season. The Dolphins are not going to throw money to the wind and let it fly. They will stick with their plan and they will stick with their way of doing of business. Right or wrong in the public eye.
They simply have more money to spend and can realistically talk to players who in the last year or two they could not. Where it goes from here is anyone’s guess at this point but the fact is, we will all be guessing.
When it’s all said and done we can look back and take solace in knowing that we cursed at the team, complained about dumb play calling, missed field goals, and everything else. Then we can realize that over the last few years, we really didn’t angry when they lost, we just expected it to be the outcome. Apparently, not anymore. That is something to reflect on for the 2012 season.