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It was a real good March for Jeff Ireland. Now, he’s hoping to make April something special as well.
With eight new free agents under contract and with the rest of the league taking notice of the Dolphins' bold and aggressive approach, the attention now shifts to the NFL draft. And this is a crucial part – THE most crucial part -- of Ireland’s master plan to turn this franchise back into a perennial playoff contender.
Ireland met with the media Thursday in his final pre-draft press conference. And just as you would expect, the poker player in Ireland played it close to the vest. No surprising announcements. No details leaking out. No hints of which way he may lean with the No. 12 overall pick. Nothing to indicate whether that first pick will be an offensive tackle, a cornerback, a running back, a tight end or any other position, for that matter.
But I was looking for something different. I was looking for Ireland to talk about the big picture, about the importance of this draft in the context of this franchise and this football team.
I know every draft is important and I prefaced my question to Ireland with that thought. But considering what has happened in free agency, considering the wealth of draft picks – five in the first three rounds and 11 overall – that Ireland has at his fingertips, and considering that this franchise has finished with a losing record for four straight years, doesn’t this draft have even more significance?
Ireland paused for a second, looking so relaxed in that white collared shirt with the new Dolphins logo. And then, came this:
“We worked hard as a staff to have this kind of cap space and these draft picks in the same year,” he said. “But it doesn’t come around very often, this kind of clout in a draft. We need to take advantage of it.”
Translation: You bet it’s an important draft.
This is Ireland’s 15th NFL draft and he has served a variety of roles, first with the Chiefs, then the Cowboys and now the Dolphins. When he says, “we need to take advantage of it” those are well thought out words. He embraces the pressure and understands all too well that two weeks from today begins a three-day period that will certainly help define his imprint as the team’s general manager.
But this draft only gains in significance because of what Ireland has already done in free agency. Bringing speed at receiver and tight end. Finding two young play-making linebackers. Adding depth on both lines and signing a former Pro Bowl cornerback. These signings, as well as the players Ireland has brought back, have set the tone for this draft.
A year ago, the Dolphins got their quarterback in
There are multiple scenarios that could unfold, scenarios that are more intriguing now because of all those draft picks in the first three rounds. In a corner office of the second floor of the Dolphins training complex in Davie, Ireland sits behind his big desk and goes through every imaginable scenario.
Trading up. Trading down. Packaging picks. Adding picks. Standing pat. “I’ve got enough ammo to get the first pick if I wanted to, but I don’t see myself doing it,” Ireland said.
It’s all about options, a word Ireland used at least a half dozen times in his press conference. And he’s right. Not in my memory has this franchise gone into a draft with the ability to do so many different things so early in the draft.
As for the No. 12 overall pick, all Ireland would say was: “I’ve got a pretty good idea of three or four guys I’m looking at.”
For Ireland, that qualifies as spilling his guts.
But whatever options Ireland chooses to pursue, the bottom line really stays the same: This draft provides an enormous opportunity to bring in at least a handful of young difference-makers. We know the areas where this football team fell short a season ago. Some of them have already been taken care of in free agency.
But, let’s not fool ourselves, this is far from a finished product. This draft can go a long way to solving that, a long way to giving Coach Joe Philbin the type of roster he needs and the type of depth that is mandatory in a marathon of a season.
People ask me all the time who I would like to see the Dolphins take with that first round pick? “The right player,” I usually respond.
I don’t pretend to be a draft expert, nor do I pretend to have the knowledge to separate one left tackle from another. But I do know the big picture and that big picture is screaming that the Miami Dolphins have a rare opportunity in a couple of weeks.
“We need to take advantage of it.”
Jeff Ireland’s words never rang so true.