“I think this is the year you’ve got to do something,” Ireland said at his annual Senior Bowl press conference.
When before has Ireland stated his intentions with such conviction, with such urgency? Ireland understands that this offseason presents a unique opportunity to solve many of the problems and to upgrade a roster that produced an unacceptable 7-9 record.
The Dolphins, you see, have the firepower to find firepower.
They have it with five draft choices in the first three rounds, more than this franchise has had in years. They have it with a bundle of cash to utilize in free agency if the right moves for the right players present themselves.
Options. The Dolphins have plenty of them. With the draft. With free agency. With potential trades. You get the feeling by listening to Ireland that this is the offseason he has been waiting for. And, in truth, he did admit that this accumulation of draft picks and cap flexibility was not some coincidence. It was by design. Part of a long-term plan, if you will.
Last year they got the quarterback; this year they surround him with more impact players.
You can debate all the needs by position all you want. You can bring up a big-play receiver, a stretch-the-field tight end, another dynamic running back. But the bottom line is that the Dolphins need more players capable of visiting – and visiting often -- the most valuable piece of real estate in football: The End Zone.
The Dolphins averaged 19 points a game last season. That’s the stat Ireland and Coach Joe Philbin keep talking about and that’s where the improvement is needed. That, I am sure, will be the question Ireland will be asking himself during the all-star games and the combines and the personal workout days and all the countless hours of interviews.
Can this kid produce touchdowns?
Or can this kid produce takeaways? Don’t lose sight of the fact that playmakers on defense are in need as well. The low number of forced turnovers last season serves as the best indication of that. Big plays were far too infrequent on both sides of the ball.
Ireland also spoke about the gap between the New England Patriots and the Dolphins, how the difference between a 7-9 regular season record and a 12-4 AFC East title is a significant one. And this offseason, I believe, is when Ireland will start chipping away at that gap.
Let’s take a closer look at the three avenues available to Ireland.
Free agency: This is a tough road to walk down. I can write a book the size of a novel detailing all the teams that have messed up their chemistry, made shambles of their salary cap and did nothing but confuse matters by signing the wrong mega-dollar free agent.
There is also a distinct possibility that the player or players you want are either re-signed by their own team or franchised by their own team. In other words, there are very few sure things in free agency.
This is why many NFL experts will tell you that the draft is always the most prudent route to build a championship team. Having said all of that, there are some awfully good players available in free agency.
Would I personally like to see the Dolphins go out and make a splash in free agency? You bet I would. I see some names, especially on the offensive side, that would fit real well in Philbin’s system. But this is only one piece of the puzzle, although an important piece. I can’t read Jeff Ireland’s mind (wish I could). But the feeling I get is that Ireland will be bold, relentless and creative. Three characteristics I really like.
2. The Draft: What happens in free agency could very well have an impact of what the Dolphins do in the draft. But no team in the league is better positioned to make an impact. Five picks in the first three rounds. Think about that. Think about the alternatives this could present. Ireland is as cool and as composed as they come. But his insides must be doing cartwheels.
With five high picks, there are so many ways the Dolphins could go. But I’ll always come back to scoring touchdowns. Look at the two teams playing in the Super Bowl. They didn’t get there by settling for field goals. Go down the rosters. You see so many of the type of game-defining players Ireland is looking for.
In the weeks leading up to the late-April draft, our minds are going to be saturated with vertical leaps, 40 times and figuring out some way of measuring heart. The stock of some players will rise; the stock of others will fall. We’ll be mock drafted to near exhaustion.
Ireland understands the pressure is on to produce the right players. He once told me that he relishes that pressure. It is impossible to predict at this early juncture who the Dolphins might take. That’s why the next few months are so crucial for Ireland and his staff. Five picks in the first three rounds. For a general manager, any general manager, it can’t get much better than that.
3. Trades: There are all sorts of possibilities here. The Dolphins could trade some of their draft choices for proven talent. They could trade draft choices for more draft choices or better draft choices. They could sign an unrestricted free agent on their own team and then trade him.
There are never any guarantees here because it takes two to tango. And trades are always difficult to pull off even if you have two willing parties. But it is something Ireland has made clear he will explore, something he will consider and certainly has the ammunition to pull off if so desired.
“I think this is the year you’ve got to do something.”
That line says it all and certainly serves as a proper introduction to an offseason filled with mesmerizing possibilities.