With another mediocre Dolphins' season about to close, the fans' are in search of the yearly sweeping leadership changes they have come to expect every year. It wouldn't be a Dolphins' offseason without fans clamoring for someone to get fired! This year's public enemy #1: Jeff Ireland.
Fans have been itching for Jeff Ireland's dismissal since Parcells left. They cite examples like Pat White, Patrick Turner, Gibril Wilson, Dez Bryant, and a myriad of other examples where Ireland may have missed on an opportunity. However, just as they have done in the past with QB's from Fiedler to Henne, fans have made up their mind on Jeff Ireland. Once these fans decide someone "sucks," there's no possibility for redemption.
Yes, Jeff Ireland has had his share of gaffes in his 5 years with the Dolphins. But, show me a GM or coach in the NFL that has never made a mistake. It happens - not every draft pick is going to be a pro-bowler, and not every free agent signing is going to work out. Every team has busts, good teams recover from them.
So, just for a minute, let's take an objective look at Jeff Ireland's recent track record:
Draft class, 2011 - Mike Pouncey, Daniel Thomas, Edmond Gates, Charles Clay, Frank Kearse, Jimmy Wilson. Overall a pretty good draft. Pouncey is one of the best centers in the league. Thomas might be the starting RB next season. Wilson is emerging as a contributing member of the secondary, and a great find in the 7th round.
Draft class, 2012 - Ryan Tannehill, Jonathan Martin, Olivier Vernon, Michael Egnew, Lamar Miller, Josh Kaddu, B.J. Cunningham, Kheeston Randall, Rishard Matthews. Adding a franchise QB for this team was an absolute priority, and cannot be understated. The team's biggest need over the past 12 seasons has now been addressed. This will be the first offseason in a decade during which Dolphins' fans aren't asking what QB's are available. Also, Martin, Vernon, Miller and Matthews will all be serviceable players. Of course, Michael Egnew stands out as the glaring bust of this draft class. As a 3rd round pick, he hasn't been active once this season, and needs to improve greatly to remain a member of the team.
Brandon Marshall - This is a hot topic of conversation, given the team's current wide receiver woes, and Marshall's recent success in Chicago. However, if you look at this move from a GM's perspective, Marshall was averaging 1114 yards and 4.5 TD's per season, and making over $16 million each year. This is not far off from what Brian Hartline is on pace for this season (1145 yards) for less than 1/5 the cost. Plus the Dolphins got 2 3rd round picks out of it. Of course, you could cite the neglect to fill the hole vacated by Marshall. But in fact, the Dolphins brought in Chad Johnson, Legedu Naanee, Braylon Edwards, and drafted BJ Cunningham and Rishard Matthews. That's 5 new WR's that were in camp to fill that hole, not to mention how many were discussed and not publicized. Its unfortunate that none of these players worked out, but that doesn't mean that he didn't TRY to fill the hole.
Vontae Davis - Ireland traded Davis to Colts during preseason after he showed up at camp out of shape and lost his starting roster spot to Richard Marshall and got a 2nd round and 7th round pick in return. This was GREAT value for a nickel corner, considering Davis has only played 8 games for the Colts, with 37 tackles, 3 passes defensed, and no interceptions. Any time you can garner a 2nd round pick in exchange for those numbers, you have done a great job.
Yeremiah Bell - The dismissal of Yeremiah Bell was an unpopular move last offseason. Bell was the Dolphins' leading tackler and one of the highest-paid players on the team. However, Bell's absence has allowed for the emergence of 2010's 5th round pick Reshad Jones. Jones is having a career year and costs a fraction of Bell's salary. Meanwhile, with the Jets, Bell is the third leading tackler, no interceptions, a sack and 2 fumble recoveries. Jones has better numbers in every category this season.
All of these transactions can be debated, and have been for months. But, despite the negativity surrounding Ireland, the prevailing reason why Jeff Ireland deserves to keep his job is for continuity. And team owner Stephen Ross agrees. "I'm committed to him," he said before the season. "If I had any doubts, he wouldn't be here."
Ireland has set himself up this offseason, making it a make-or-break year for him. He has 5 draft picks in the first 3 rounds, and a ton of free cap money to play with. But he also has several critical players coming up as free agents, including Brian Hartline, Jake Long, and Sean Smith. Still, this is Ireland's chance to execute his plan. And in his second year with new coach Joe Philbin, Ireland has an opportunity to redeem himself this spring, or possibly end up on the uneployment line if he doesn't.
More importantly, replacing a General Manager typically also means replacing a core nucleus of players and the coaching staff. At this stage, the Dolphins cannot afford to erase the progress they've made in 2012 and start over YET AGAIN. It is time to rally behind Ireland and let him do his job. Let him propel the team to the next step through scouting and free agency. This is where we see what he can do. He has the tools at his disposal, and either will build a house, or lose a limb.
Jeff Ireland deserves the opportunity to prove his worth...for this year. I urge all fans to support him as the leader of this team, rather than criticizing every move. But, it should be the end for him if the Dolphins enter 2013 without every need addressed.