Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland Had A Great Offseason ... Or Did He?
No team made more noise than the Miami Dolphins this 2013 offseason. They started on day 1 of the free agency period and didn't stop until after the draft. Jeff Ireland, the general manager of the Dolphins, had plenty of cap money to shell out ... and he did just that.
Ireland had a lot of goals in mind this offseason and most people would say he hit on all of them. To recap, the Dolphins GM re-signed the team's leading receiver last year, Brian Hartline, who had his first 1,000 yard season in the NFL and built valuable chemistry with then-rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
He put the franchise tag on Randy Starks. Miami's strength last year was their defense, anchored by quarterback-crusher Cameron Wake and defensive tackle Starks. Starks and Miami could not come to an agreement this offseason on an extension, so Ireland decided to franchise the defensive tackle and guarantee one more solid year out of him, before letting him walk in free agency, after he turns 30 years old. Very intelligent move by Ireland as he can let younger players develop and get a productive year from Starks as he tries to earn himself a big contract.
The heavily scrutinized general manager also wheeled-and-dealed his linebacking core. When he elected to sign linebackers Phillip Wheeler from Oakland and Dannell Ellerbe from Baltimore, he shocked many. And by not paying Kevin Burnett or Karlos Dansby, Ireland showed he wanted to get younger and faster at the position.
Ireland also addressed the team's secondary. A big time weakness in Miami last season. He went out and signed Brent Grimes, the 2010 Pro Bowler with Atlanta, who tore his Achilles in 2012. Miami was able to sign him to a one-year deal, bolster their weak pass coverage and he fits their zone scheme defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle likes to run.
His biggest signing, however, was that of Mike Wallace. The speedster out of Ole Miss and the Pro Bowler for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Wallace is the playmaker the Dolphins have lacked for quite some time and will demand attention on every snap from the opposing defense. Parlay the signing of Wallace, with the addition of slot-man Brandon Gibson, tight end Dustin Keller and the re-signing of Hartline, and you have yourself a much improved offense before they even take the field game 1 in Cleveland.
Then came the draft. April 25, 2013.
Standing in my living room, I paced as the Raiders were on the clock and the rumor mill had been swirling around the Dolphins giving up one of their two second rounders to move up for an offensive tackle. A left tackle was now a glaring position need after the departure of Jake Long to the St. Louis Rams. The commissioner came on to tell us the Dolphins had made a trade up from the 12th spot to the 3rd overall. This was it! This was the pick they needed to complete the "perfect offseason." A tackle!
"Miam Dolphins select....Dion Jordan....defensive end....Oregon."
Then I was seated. Floored actually. I could not fathom that Jeff Ireland had moved up in the draft 9 spots to draft a player I had barely heard of and plays the same position as our BEST player, the aforementioned Wake. Watching Jordan on tape is jaw-dropping. The mix of speed, size, length and athletic ability reminds me of one of the all-time Dolphin greats, Jason Taylor. I'm sure he will fit in just fine across from the Pro Bowler Wake, but will this make Miami instantly better?
Lane Johnson, the Oklahoma tackle, was available after Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel, also tackles, were drafted first and second overall. I was certain the Dolphins were trading up for him. But it was not to be.
Now it's up to Jonathan Martin to replace the anchored hole at left tackle, left behind by the decision of Ireland to let Long walk to St. Louis for a big contract. Maybe Ireland sees something in Martin we don't see. After all, according to his CBS Sports bio, Martin had an opportunity to be the first fourth-generation African American to go to Harvard and instead went to Stanford to be a student-athlete. He was a three-year starter as a Cardinal and protected the blind side of Andrew Luck, the 2012 first overall pick. So clearly Martin has the intelligence, work ethic and determination to play tackle at the NFL level.
However, Martin managed to lift only 20 reps of 225 pounds at the combine, a very underachieving mark for an offensive lineman.
This year Martin has visually added weight and strength to his frame. He's been handed the starting left tackle position after Miami failed to make a trade for Chiefs tackle Brandon Albert on draft day or signing another left tackle in free agency. According to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, Martin has been beat repeatedly by opposing defensive end Olivier Vernon in training camp. He has looked subpar and underwhelming in the team's two preseason games and has fans obviously worried for the health of their quarterback.
Scouts, experts, coaches and fantasy football junkies have high hopes for Ryan Tannehill in his second year as Miami's signal caller. But can he produce if his blind side is constantly being abused, rather than the comfort of Jake Long?
Dion Jordan may be great. He could be a Pro Bowl end that has the same impact on a game that Cameron Wake has, but this game is about scoring points. And if the Dolphins plan on upending the New England Patriots in the AFC East, they will have to score points with this offense they spent so much offseason money on. That question will be answered this season.
No doubt about it Jeff Ireland had his best offseason as General Manager of the Dolphins, because he had the money and owner's wish to do it, but he failed to neglect the one glaring hole that could have the negative domino effect on an offense...the left tackle position. We can only hope Martin proves us wrong and turns in a solid season, not only as a run blocker but as protection to Miami's young and upcoming gunslinger.
Jeff Ireland's offseason was good, but it was not great.
Maybe Jonathan Martin will have something to say about that.