Jeff Ireland’s Risky Off-Season: Win Now Or Job Security?


When the Miami Dolphins finished their 2010 season, Jeff Ireland was supposed to be on the chopping block.  He wasn’t.  Tony Sparano was.  It was an ugly off-season marital tiff that had the two splitting up over the love of someone else.  There was no denying that serious fence mending needed to be done between Stephen Ross, Jeff Ireland, and Tony Sparano.

It was, in the end, nothing that a 2 year extension and a raise couldn’t cure.

The pieces for success were not in the cards for Miami.  The defense had the potential to be top 5 across the board but offensively, there simply were too many questions and not enough answers.  Sparano has his job and he has his job cut out for him.  Jeff Ireland quietly went about trying to get the team together.  So ask, did he build this team to win now and give Sparano a legit shot to keep his job after this season, or did he make his decisions for his own job security? Or is the future of Ireland and Sparano tied together?

The NFL draft posed an opportunity for the Dolphins to draft a quarterback.  The team held the 15th overall pick but couldn’t find a suitable trade partner to move back.  They could have drafted Andy Dalton, Kolin Kaepernick, or even Ryan Mallett...all considered reaches at 15, they opted instead for Mike Pouncey.  A safe choice to start a center.

In round 2 they traded up for RB Daniel Thomas leaving Ryan Mallett on the board once again.  Instead of drafting a QB in round 4, they chose speedy WR Edmond “Clyde” Gates.

Looking at the 2011 draft, the Dolphins chose players that would help the team win now.  In essence giving Sparano and Ireland the best opportunity to win this year and thus keep their jobs.  Then free agency started.

With 16 million plus to spend, the Dolphins were expected to be big spenders.  They could redo a few contracts, trim some fat from the payroll, and put themselves in position to be big players.  Did they succeed?

Reggie Bush brings a versatile runner to the Dolphins offense, but he is a question mark as a full load back.  In his NFL career he has primarily been a third down specialist.  While he says that he can be a featured back in Miami, the Dolphins drafted Thomas for that.  So their first big move of free agency is for a specialist and special team player.  They kicked the tires on more featured runners like De’Angelo Williams and Ahmad Bradshaw but in the end money decided it wasn’t worth the effort.

The Phins signed Kevin Burnett, a familiar product of the Tony Sparano/Jeff Ireland Dallas days.  Burnett should upgrade the “defense” in the middle where they cut Channing Crowder.  This move does not however help the offensive side of the ball.  Necessary?  Yes.

Moving back across the line, Ireland trimmed Vernon Carey‘s contract and added Marc Columbo.  Tony Sparano moved Carey to guard and Columbo to RT.  While the move should, on paper, help stabilize the offensive line, it hardly makes the team blatantly better.

And then there is the QB position.  If the reports are true, Jeff Ireland refused to spend the money to get Kyle Orton and refused to turn over the team to guys like Donovan McNabb, Matt Hasslebeck, or even Vince Young.  Instead, Ireland gave Sparano Matt Moore.  

Moore has potential but he is not going to go out and win games on his own.  Not yet.  He is a project to some degree and will take a year to really get into stride despite the fact that he has NFL starting experience.

The Dolphins made some questionable moves this off-season and none inspire confidence that the coaches and GM can turn this team into a legit playoff contender.  For that matter a team that will save the jobs of their coaches and maybe even their GM.  Consider these moves as subjective, meaning were these former teams bad because of them or in spite of them?

Matt Moore – starting QB for the worst team in the NFL in 2010.  Brian Daboll, offensive coordinator of the worst offense in 2010…or close to it.  Hiring Karl Dorrell to be the QB coach for a team that desperately needs a QB…who has never coached QB’s before but instead WR’s.  Passing on pro-bowl free agent lineman and their price tags while kicking the tires of familiar former pro-bowlers over the age of 30 who are cheaper.  Bringing in Jason Taylor to play in passing situations only.

To be honest, I simply don’t know what Ireland is doing this year.  There is no continuity in his moves.  He hasn’t gotten younger, he hasn’t restructured the salary cap situation, hasn’t restructured veterans to longer deals, has drafted contribute now players while signing win now free agents but adding two project QB’s in Moore and Pat Devlin.

As I finish writing this, I’m still as confused as when I started it.  Has Ireland done enough to save Tony Sparano’s job or did he simply do enough to save his?  Does Sparano have on the field a team that can win this year or are the pieces that are in place more for the future.  Is Reggie Bush, Matt Moore, Kevin Burnett, Marc Columbo, and Jason Taylor enough or did the team need to do more?

In past years, I could look and say, “Ireland is putting this team in a position to ‘compete’ now and ‘win’ later”.  This year, I’m not so sure.