Ireland has been preparing for next week’s draft, well, almost since last year’s draft. He’s got a big board now complete and a thick file and detailed notes of every tape he has seen and prospect he has met with. He has scouts he trusts and contacts all around the league that he calls upon. But when decision time arrives, when the moment comes to sift through all that data and make a call that will help script the future of the Dolphins, it is Ireland who ultimately must make the call and must live with the consequences, good or bad.
This time of year, everybody is a draft expert. You are. I am. We are saturated with so much information, it is easy to talk draft and sound like we actually know what we’re talking about. But it is Ireland who must really know what he’s talking about. It is Ireland whose decisions will impact so many people in so many ways.
Sometimes misunderstood because he does not savor the public spotlight, know this about Jeff Ireland: He is well prepared. He takes his job as seriously as you would want him to. He knows talent. He knows value. He has spent months putting together a carefully-calculated plan for a draft as important as any this franchise has seen.
On one quiet offseason day a while back, Ireland sat in his second floor office at the Dolphins training facility, leaned back in his chair and said, softly, “I’m not worried about what others say. I’m focused on the vision we have for this football team and bringing the right players here to help fortify that vision.”
The Dolphins have a long list of needs heading into next week’s draft. Ireland doesn’t need to be reminded of this, nor does he need to be reminded of the importance of his role or the scrutiny he will face on every pick in every round. Next Thursday through Saturday is, in many ways, his Super Bowl and it is clear to me that he both embraces and relishes that role.
On Thursday, Ireland stood in front of the media for the final time before the draft. He took on every question. He talked with certainty and confidence. He seemed relaxed, far more relaxed that he was when he first took on this job. He refused to divulge his hand, but you could sense a man who felt secure in his research and the conclusions he has formed.
“I’m stubborn enough to think that I can hit on every one of them,” he said of this year’s draft. “I’ve got a good feeling of what I want at No. 8 and I have a good feeling of what I want to do if that person isn’t there at No. 8.”
He admitted that this year’s free agency was about depth and that the draft is about starters. “The draft,” he said, “is the best investment in professional sports.”
And Ireland has invested his life in this, certainly his professional life. He goes to sleep at night with a notepad by his bed and often wakes up with notations all over that pad. You could almost see his mind racing as he talks.
“Every draft,” he said, “defines who you are.”
And what Ireland is, more than anything else, is a scout at heart. “That’s my passion, what I believe in. I love watching tape and talking to players and learning everything I can.” The plane rides to small college towns are over now for another year. The interviews have stopped. The ratings are complete. The meetings with his scouts and staff are more of the fine-tuning variety now. I asked Ireland what emotions he is feeling and he talked about excitement and enthusiasm. There is no nervousness about him. There is instead a clarity about his challenge and his goals for this football team.
When there were those who questioned his game plan for free agency, how the Dolphins didn’t dole out large, headline-making contracts, Ireland only asked for patience. “Let this process play out,” he said.
Translation: Judge him after the draft, after he has a chance to do what he covets most, to build this team the way he feels strongly a team should be built – with young, talented drafted players.
In truth, this is only Ireland’s second draft running the show for the Dolphins. Last year brought in a starting center, a promising running back, a versatile tight end and even a seventh-round defensive back in
But that was last year, yesterday’s news. Be certain that Ireland knows what he must accomplish in this draft, the holes that need to be filled and the players on that big board who can fill them. With great conviction, he said at his press conference: “We are ready to draft.”
Yes, it is Jeff Ireland’s time. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.