Jeff Ireland – An Excellent GM


Dec. 23, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland (left) is seen talking to former Dolphins head coach Don Shula prior to a game against the Buffalo Bills at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

It doesn’t matter how good your groceries are, or what sale price you bought them for.  If no one at home can cook them, they’ll only go to waste.

Jeff Ireland is an unbelieveable general manager.  Ireland doesn’t go with the popular choice, and realizes the thanklessness of his job.  Fair or unfair, the general managers office takes blame for woes of the team.  In the opinion of this writer, most of the unfair criticism appears unwarranted, as the man has brought a lot of high value talent in while working wonders in revamping the cap so we perennially have some of the best cap space in the NFL, and he does that with a strong eye for the “long picture” with undervalued talent in most cases. Love him or hate him, he usally makes the right move given the information at hand.

Our team hasn’t won enough games. This is the barometer for success in the NFL, regardless of talent level.  First we’ll examine why people have an issue with Ireland.  This team hasn’t made it yet. Ireland’s job is to put together a roster that the coaches can execute with from a talent perspective. The coaches job is then to prepare said players and design the schemes and game plans, managing the day-to-day activities of said players. The coaches have failed us in that respect. It’s ridiculous looking at something as simple as the cadences being used: the Go…Go-Go, having a guard letting the center know when to snap the ball, etc. We’ll examine the coaching in a separate article, but there are a number of issues relating to scheme, player preparation, and coaching that are causing Miami to be mired in mediocrity as a 4-5 team.  Fair or unfair, people are placing the blame for this at Ireland’s feet, when it’s simply because his media presence doesn’t present him as a likeable guy.  I’ve met the man briefly, and walked away liking him.

Dolphins fans at this point in time should be more than aware with the scandal of the past few weeks that the media is going to present an argument, in many cases, from a skewed perspective.  Many in the media are trying to “sell” their stories, and go from speculation, unnamed sources, rumors and shock value to up their readership and/or web hits.  It’s a successful marketing ploy, and one that Ireland has shown he doesn’t really care about.  The media will take items and spin them, and Ireland barely gives the media the time of day – similar to Bill Belicheck in New England.  The media hates when they can’t get a story out of someone, and when they can’t, they’ll create one.  They thrive on chaos as it gains the most views and readership.  Villainizing Ireland makes for a popular story.

Many point to Ireland’s five year track record with the team, but in all fairness he has only truly been the general manager of this team for three seasons.  Prior to that, he was a trusted confidant of Bill Parcells, but it was Parcells calling the shots on personnel decisions.  This left Ireland in charge of, essentially, making recommendations on players with Parcells having the final “ok” on the personnel.  We’ll scrap the first draft as a wash, as he was only brought in that January which doesn’t lead to a full complement of time to prepare for an NFL draft, though the team was able to get a bit of value out of that draft as well.  We’ll examine why Ireland is a good general manager in three sections below.

Salary Cap:

Due to the upheaval over the past ten or more years, Miami was in a poor position with the cap when Ireland took over.  This severely limits a teams ability to make the necessary moves to put talent on the field.  We’re no longer in salary cap purgatory, as despite several large offseason contracts in free agency, Miami is positioned to carry over approximately nineteen million dollars in cap space in addition to the pre-existing cap room for next season.  Ireland has completely reworked the salary cap so that the team doesn’t have to do any form of a mass purge of talent (such as the Ravens did this past offseason) and is positioned to keep the talent that they have at the right cap number.  He’ll let players walk, popular or unpopular, if they want a higher dollar amount than they are worth (i.e. Reggie Bush and Jake Long).  Ireland put virtually the same offer on the table to Jake Long that St Louis did, and Long elected to go elsewhere.  The man has positioned this team to be able to go after the big name free agents while being able to retain their own talent – at the right price.

Free Agency:

Again, Ireland has proven here that he has an eye for talented players.  This past offseason, the moves that made waves were the signings of Wallace and Ellerbe who were regarded by most to be the top offensive and defensive free agents in this years class.  Ellerbe was a player that most didn’t even consider to be available as Baltimore was making a strong push to resign the man when Ireland shrewdly swooped in and signed him away.  Love or hate the signing now in hindsight, but most Dolphins fans were excited by the signings.  Both players are ones that have strengths and weaknesses, but Miami isn’t designing the schemes to take advantage of those, and that falls back on the coaching.  While Wallace may not be putting up the numbers anyone expected – including the man himself – without Wallace on the field occupying the other teams number one corner, with safety help over the top on many plays, the other Miami receivers aren’t nearly as effective.  I can’t imagine that Ellerbe and Wallace suddenly forgot how to play football, as a friend so astutely pointed out.  Ireland brought in a stud tight end in Dustin Keller, upgraded over Davone Bess in Daniel Gibson, brought in an offensive lineman in Clabo that should have added some stability to the line and brought in one of the best cornernbacks the team has seen in years in Brent Grimes.  Phillip Wheeler has been a bit of a bust, but after leading Oakland in tackles, he’s also flashed some moments of pure speed that speaks volumes to the coaches not finding ways to maximize the talents that he has.

In the seasons that Ireland has been the general manager, he’s brought in cast-offs that have paid off for this team such as Dmitri Patterson.  He’s retained players like Chris Clemons, Paul Soliai, Brian Hartline, Reshad Jones, Randy Starks.  Jones is an amazing free-lance safety, being used in man-to-man coverage instead.  Clemons is coming into his own.  Starks and Soliai are two-thirds of a strong central nucleus along the D-line.  Hartline is a perenially underrated wideout who is “sneaky good.”  The list goes on of strong players with high talent ceilings that have been brought in and/or retained by a GM who refuses to overpay for players.  He has proven he’ll bring in or release talented players as needed, and to match what the coaches express they want to do with the team.

The Draft:

Ireland has only fully controlled the draft process for the past three years.  Anything before that during his tenure was controlled by Bill Parcells, albeit with Ireland’s input from a scouting perspective.  Looking at the Dolphins draft history since 2010, Ireland has shown his keenest eye for the “long picture” relating to the talent he’s selected.  Breakout by season can be found below:

  • 2010: Jared Odrick is coming into his own.  Koa Misi finally turned a corner last season as the best linebacker on the team against the run.  John Jerry was found in the third round and while many candidates have tried, no one has been able to unseat him as the starting right guard.  Nolan Carroll, while not a fan favorite, has been a very solid contributor for a fifth round selection.  Reshad Jones was a steal as a fifth round pick due to injury, and sevent rouneder Austin Spitler has been a contributor on special teams when he sees the field.  A.J. Edds and Chris McCoy were the only apparent “whiffs” in this draft, coming in the fourth and seventh rounds.
  • 2011: Mike Pouncey had an immediate impact as a starter on the offensive line, Daniel Thomas (also not a fan favorite) has still contended for time in the Dolphins backfield rotation and shown some promise this season.  Clyde Gates never fully caught on in Miami, but has been a contributor for the rival Jets since his release.  Charles Clay has finally grown into the promise he flashed previously and was a steal in round six.  Jimmy Wilson has progressed nicely this season and was a major steal in the seventh round.  For this draft, sevent rounder Frank Kearse and Clyde Gates were the biggest misses, and Gates was worth a flier based on his speed in round four.
  • 2012: Ryan Tannehill has shown flashes despite still being new to the quarterback position of being the possible long-term answer at quarterback.  Jonathan Martin was showing ability to be serviceable at tackle before the breakdown – which no one could predict and the jury is still out on – with no red flags coming into the league.  Olivier Vernon, while a liability against the run, has shown flashes in pure rush ability.  Michael Egnew was heartbreaking in year one, but has quietly been putting together a solid season in year two.  Lamar Miller has shown some flashes at running back despite Miami showing a lack of commitment to the running game.  Josh Kaddu and Kheeston Randall showed promise in the limited time they had and were worth late round fliers.  Ireland doubled up at wide receiver in rounds six and seven as well, taking BJ Cunningham and Rishard Matthews.  While Cunningham was a whiff, Matthews showed flashes towards the end of his rookie campaign he had his coming out party against the Buccaneers this past week – making him an absolute steal for the seventh round.
  • 2013: The jury is still out on this draft, but early returns have been promising.  Despite the coaching staff’s inability to get playing time for many of the rookies they have shown a great deal of promise in their limited action.  Dion Jordan has barely seen the field (there are plenty of write-ups around this, and I won’t bore you with the same information) but in the time that he has been out there he has shown the ability to get to the passer and disrupt plays, while also showing some ability to cover tight ends downfield.  Will Davis and Jamar Taylor have shown some playmaking and coverage skills when they’ve gotten in.  Dion Sims had the one-handed, game winning catch against Atlanta.  Dallas Thomas was a disappointment in the preseason, but may grow into the position.  Don Jones has been a beast on special teams, despite a boneheaded rookie mistake against the Bills.  Caleb Sturgis went into a slump at the same time the team did, but has come out of it recently and been solid once again.  Jelani Jenkins has pushed for limited snaps at linebacker.  Only Mike Gillislee has mysteriously been unable to get on to the gameday active roster thus far, despite showing a few flashes in the preseason.

The Offensive Line:

If you take a step back from the situation, and look at the big picture, it begins to become clear what Ireland had planned for the offensive line.  I’m a fan of what he was setting up for here.  Miami has the majority of their skill position players locked up.  They have the contracts for many offensive linemen, outside of their young nucleus, set to expire after the season and have a dearth of cap space available this offseason to reshape the offensive line while retaining those that show promise in the roles.  John Jerry and Richie Incognito were set to expire in the offseason.  Tyson Clabo was brought in on a one year deal to prove himself to still be serviceable as a lineman.  Pouncey and Martin were set to be key contributors in reshaping the line, and McKinnie was brought in when an immediate stop-gap came available on the cheap.  McKinnie has done well since he arrived, while Clabo has had his struggles.  Martin threw a bit of hand grenade in the mix not only by his recent issues, but also by struggling on the field.  Make no mistake, however, Ireland positioned this to make a run at the line on both sides of the ball this offseason.  He gave himself the financial ability to do so and giving the players here the opportunity to prove themselves worthy.  If they couldn’t prove themselves this season, they were set to be gone at little to no cost to the franchise.

The Big Picture:

Looking at the picture as a whole, Ireland has gotten the team out of perennial cap purgatory while putting the coaches in position to succeed if they utilize the talent that he has brought to this team.  Once he has players in the fold, it’s up to the coaches to utilize the players abilities and mask their shortcomings – and THAT is the area that this team has failed.  If Miami does indeed purge the coaching staff, which it is far too early in the season to clamor for, then the very first question in any coaching interview should be “How would you utilize the talent that we have on the roster today.”  The coaching this season has failed this team to this point.  Ridiculous play calling and schemes on offense, a snap count that would be juvenile in pee-wee football, a defensive rotation that keeps the stars off the field while not incorporating rookies in ways that make sense all have contributed.

Don’t let the media spin your opinion of him, as like him or not he has done a great job in unearthing talent and fixing the cap.  He’s made the shrewd moves despite their popularity at the time.  He’s an easy scapegoat at a rough time, but make no mistake:  If Ireland is allowed to walk, he will be successful elsewhere and fans will lament letting him leave.  If Ireland had listened to the fans, Miami would have Matt Flynn at the helm amongst a slew of other bad moves.  He’s not always making the popular move, and may not come across as a likeable guy in the media, but he’s generally making the smart move more often than not.

Ireland has brought in the groceries that could be used to make a fine meal.  Despite the nice steak in the fridge, this coaching staff keeps giving the fans cheap chicken nuggets and Ramen Noodles… and that is a shame for the fans, but Ireland isn’t the one in the kitchen.