When it comes to the Miami Dolphins off-season thus far, there are several camps. The insane spending in free agency has put Dolphins fans and some media members on opposite sides of the fence. There are those that see this spending as a all in for Jeff Ireland. A spending spree to hopefully save his job. There are those who believe that this spending spree was initiated by owner Stephen Ross in an effort to gain local Miami favor for stadium upgrades. Then there are those who simply see this as part of an overall plan.
I firmly sit on the side that this was part of a plan and I will honestly address that camp momentarily, for now, I want to address the first two.
Camp one believes that Ireland is trying to save his job if not his career. He has committed approximately 86 million dollars to 11 players and next year will carry a huge cap hit for Mike Wallace. The free agent contracts that have been signed so far in free agency come with large guarantees and low first year base salaries…at least those that have been reported. This undeniably makes you think it’s win now or go home for Jeff Ireland.
If you look beyond the first two years of these deals you will find that in almost every case the contracts have left the Dolphins with an out. Most of the guaranteed money is structured to apply in the first two seasons. 2013 and 2014. It’s a smart move by Ireland to use the cap space he has now to pay out early instead of being killed later. The ability of Jeff Ireland to sell these deals provides him the leverage to get rid of the players at little cost to the team should they fail. For the most part, teams expect free agents to be on their roster for two to three seasons if not more.
Looking at the contract of Brian Hartline we see that most of the guaranteed portions of his deal come in the form of guaranteed base salaries for the first two seasons and like Mike Wallace’s deal, it’s favorable to the Dolphins should they decide after 2014 to move away in another direction. Those are not the actions of GM who is looking to fix a team for one year to buy him more time. GM’s who know they are standing on their last opportunity, throw it all in with no cognizant thought about how it may hamstring his replacement. Ireland is looking at the present with a mind towards the future.
The second camp believes that this is an edict from Steve Ross, to spend and convince the locals that the team is all in so they will vote yes on the referendum to raise inland hotel bed tax. The thing is this however, Ross is all in on the stadium project. He is committing to personally finance more than 51% of the costs. In addition, he has made a guarantee to the city of Miami that should the Dolphins not get one of the next two Super Bowls, that he will withdraw the request. Ross is a business man and it’s been made very clear that there will be no more Super Bowls in south Florida without a stadium upgrade.
Last year, the Florida Marlins opened their brand new publicly funded ball park and the locals got to watch as the owner dismantled the team before their very eyes. Gone was the promise of a competitive team and in it’s place sat empty seats at a stadium. That bad taste still lingers. It’s for that reason that many see this explosive buy in by the Dolphins as a show that they will not throw in the towel. Unlike the Marlins the Dolphins are trying to bring money back into the city.
There are no guaranteed All-Star games coming to Miami and the soonest would be 2015. The Marlins have reportedly bid on that game. If they fail to land that seasons MLB half-time show they will likely try again for 2017. Regardless one thing is certain, the All-Star game will not bring the amount of local revenue that a Super Bowl will.
The Dolphins have hosted the Super Bowl 10 times and without renovations there will not be an 11th. Stephen Ross knows the he needs the Dolphins to start winning. He knows that is the only way to win back so many lost fans from the last decade. But is he willing to spend 86 million dollars to buy a few players just to convince locals to vote yes on a deal that will at best bring in 200 million for the renovations? Not likely but the timing of having free cap space couldn’t have come at a better time.
The third camp sees these off-season moves as simply opportunity. While I won’t say that this was all part of some grand plan by Jeff Ireland completely, I do acknowledge that he has one in place and has for some time. Last November, Ireland told a group of webmasters that he has been on a three year plan and told us to wait and see what the future was going to bring. That future is now so we can look a little deeper at the three year plan.
If we are to assume that this is year three, we have to go back two seasons which would bring us to the first year with no input from Bill Parcells whatsoever. With a lockout in place and a head coach entering the final year of his job, Ireland made moves that didn’t line up with keeping his job. His job was clearly on the line as well. With no free agency prior to the draft and only 3 picks in the first four rounds, Ireland selected safe players that should have been able to make an impact early. Only Mike Pouncey has done so.
After the lockout ended, he grabbed Reggie Bush in a trade upgrading the speed on offense, he signed Kevin Burnett, and opted for Matt Moore over Kyle Orton. With little cap space to work with, he took his hits, and the team took theirs. He refused to overspend in the free agent market and honestly did his head coach no favors with the moves.
Following 2011 the Dolphins moved into year two of his “plan”. With some cap space to work with, Ireland and new HC Joe Philbin became very selective in their free agent choices. Only Richard Marshall remains on the team and in fact Marshall was the only free agent signing that was on the team in week 2 of the regular season. Ireland placed his bets on 2013 when the team would be flush with spending money, with new rules in place from the CBA, a lot of dead money would come off the books and his own free agents were guys that he didn’t absolutely need to re-sign.
Ireland passed on QB’s in the free agent market and took his chances on a first round rookie. Betting against himself that Ryan Tannehill would fall to him at number 8. With Matt Moore returning and Matt Flynn wanting starter money, Ireland opted on the least expensive option David Garrard. The culmination of the last two seasons has resulted in money to spend.
Ireland still has not won anyone over nor should he. No one should change their minds based on a free spending week and a half. The only thing Ireland has done is buy players that he hopes will be play makers. With 11 picks in this April’s draft, Ireland will try and add more talent to a thick roster but the team has to win. Dolphins fans will not accept an 8-8 season not with the changes being made.
Ireland has been steadfast in his approach. He has cultivated draft picks and has been smart with the contracts so as not to ruin future years, but all of this is for nothing without victories. If the Dolphins are able to win, then it won’t matter if you are in the camp who believes this is all to get a stadium referendum passed. Or if you are in the Jeff Ireland is trying to save his job camp. Conversely, if you are like me and believe that this is year three of that plan, then losing will mean the same.
Regardless of what happens here in March or next month in April. It will be December before we know if this plan worked of Jeff Ireland is heading out the door.