In December of 2007, in the midst of the Dolphins 1 – 15 season, Bill Parcells was hired as the Vice-President of Football Operations. Soon after the season ended, Parcells fired then General Manager Randy Mueller and immediately turned his attention to Jeff Ireland, who was a personnel executive with the Dallas Cowboys. When Parcells took over, he knew who he wanted and didn’t conduct much of a search. He set his target on Ireland, went after him, and with some help from Jerry Jones who didn’t’ block the move, hired him. Ireland then fired Cam Cameron and then in turn, hired Tony Sparano to be the head coach of the Miami Dolphins.
That was his first mistake among many that he made as general manager of the Miami Dolphins. I’m going to take you on a trip down memory lane and see how much good Ireland has done for the Dolphins but in the same breath – show you how much damage he has created for this once proud franchise.
It has been stated many times by many people that while Bill Parcells was in Miami, he was the one pulling the strings and running the show in Miami. Make no mistake though – while this was true, Ireland had plenty of input. With that said, I will not evaluate roster and draft decisions from 2008 – 2010. I will only evaluate the years 2011 – 2013.
2011 Draft: This was Jeff Ireland’s first draft where he was really in control and he played it mostly safe. Looking back, we can say that he had an average draft. He picked Mike Pouncey in round one, followed up by Daniel Thomas, Clyde Gates, Charles Clay, Frank Kearse, and Jimmy Wilson. The only players that remain are Pouncey, Thomas, Clay, and Wilson. I expect them to have long careers with the Dolphins. Ireland hit on more than half of his draft picks, which is very good in the draft.
2011 Free Agency: The major players that the Dolphins re-signed were Richie Incognito, Tony McDaniel, Nate Garner, Lex Hilliard, and Lydon Murtha. In free agency, their major acquisitions were Kevin Burnett, Matt Moore, Marc Colombo, Jason Taylor, Dante Rosario, and Will Allen. The key trades they made were for Reggie Bush and Brandon Marshall. The key players they let go were Chad Pennington, Ronnie Brown, Channing Crowder, Ricky Williams, Will Allen, AJ Edds, and Benny Sapp.
Looking back, Iconginto, McDaniel, and Garner were good players to keep on the Dolphins. Burnett was solid in Miami and Matt Moore still plays a key role on the team. Jason Taylor was also a key player to get back on the team. Reggie Bush and Brandon Marshall were huge acquisitions and were expected to bolster a struggling offense.
Pennington was let go due to injury reasons along with Will Allen and AJ Edds. Crowder and Sapp were let go for performance reasons and Brown and Williams were let go because Ireland thought they were getting too old. Ironically, Brown is playing a key role in the Chargers playoff run right now. Crowder and Williams are out of the league, so those decisions look to be good ones.
Taking into account players that had success here in Miami compared to those who didn’t, Ireland had 14 good moves out of 20. That is a 70% success rate, which is pretty good in the NFL.
2011 Analysis: With a success rate of 66% in the draft and a 70% success rate in free agency, Jeff Ireland did a great job running the team his first year with total control. Not every general manager is perfect and what Ireland did was put together a solid team that should have competed. Unfortunately, the Dolphins had a miserable season and Tony Sparano was fired before the end of the season.
2012 Draft: This was the first year with Joe Philbin so we weren’t sure what to expect. Ireland would now be drafting players who fit Philbin’s system which meant smaller, faster, and more athletic. Ireland started off the draft with selecting Ryan Tannehill. During the offseason, he could have signed Matt Flynn, Kyle Orton, and Alex Smith. He resisted and waited until the draft. While Smith just had a very good year in Kansas City, Flynn and Orton are backups. The verdict is still out on Tannehill but early results do show promise. He followed up with Jonathan Martin, Olivier Vernon, Michael Egnew, Lamar Miller, Josh Kaddu, BJ Cunningham, Kheeston Randall, and Rishard Matthews.
We all know how Martin ended up panning out. He may never play in the NFL again. Vernon has been very good along with Rishard Matthews. However, the verdict is still out on Lamar Miller and Michael Egnew. Kaddu, Cunningham, and Randall are no longer on the team. Out of 9 picks, Ireland looks to have hit on at least 3 and possibly 2 more if Egnew and Miller become solid. He missed on at least 4. We will give him a 44% success rate on this one, which is below average.
2012 Free Agency: This is the year where Ireland started to fall apart with his free agency strategy. The Dolphins were relatively quiet, letting go of Chad Henne, Kendall Langford, and Yeremiah Bell. They re-signed Paul Soliai, Cameron Wake, and Brandon Fields. They signed/claimed David Garrard, Chad Johnson, Eric Steinbach, Anthony Armstrong, RJ Stanford, Jabar Gaffney, and Dimitri Patterson. However, they also traded away Brandon Marshall and Vontae Davis.
That’s 15 total key moves. Letting go of Henne, Langford, and Bell were good moves. Re-signing Soliai, Wake, and Fields were also good moves. However, their free agency signings were pathetic. None of the players listed worked out. Yes, that includes Patterson, who has only played in just a few games in two seasons. Trading away Marshall, who is one of the best receivers in the NFL and Davis, one of the best corners, were also very bad moves! With that said, I give Ireland a 40% success rate, similar to his draft grade. This is very bad.
2013 Draft: This was Ireland’s second draft with Philbin and he had a ton of picks to play with. Many expected one of those picks to go to the Chiefs in order to get left tackle Brandon Albert. However, he didn’t and we saw how much of a disaster the offensive line was during this past season. He also had the chance to solidify part of the line with an early pick in the draft. When he moved up 9 spots in the first round, many expected the pick to be offensive tackle Lane Johnson. Instead, he selected a luxury – Dion Jordan. While Jordan may end up being a great player, it was too much of a luxury to have on a team that had too many holes.
It is way too early to tell how this class will end up making out. Ireland selected Jordan, Jamar Taylor, Dallas Thomas, Will Davis, Jelani Jenkins, Dion Sims, Mike Gillislee, Caleb Sturgis, and Don Jones. If he hits on half of these, he did a good job.
2013 Free Agency: This one is easier to judge the success on because the players are developed already and were signed to make an impact right away. The Dolphins let go of Tony McDaniel, Sean Smith, Anthony Fasano, Jake Long, and Reggie Bush. They franchised Randy Starks and re-signed Hartline, Moore, Garner, and Reshad Jones. In free agency, the signed Wheeler, Ellerbe, Keller, Gibson, Grimes, Clabo, and Wallace. They released Dansby, Burnett, Carpenter, and Jorvorskie Lane.
2013 Analysis: We know already that this offseason looked really good but was a disaster in the end. Letting go of McDaniel, Smith, Long, and Bush were stupid moves. Clay is better than Fasano so I’m not concerned about that. Franchising Starks and re-signing Hartline, Moore, Garner, and Jones were good moves. The only good signings as of now look to be Grimes and Wallace. The verdict is still out on Ellerbe and Gibson, although he played very good in limited action. For that, I give Ireland a 42% success rate.
Ireland started off very good in 2011 with a strong draft and free agency period. In 2012, he had a below average draft and the verdict is still out for 2013. In free agency though, he whiffed on a lot of moves. The failure to find quality players the past two seasons helped lead to the firing of Jeff Ireland. Looking back, it’s easy to see that his tenure here was filled with a lot of mediocrity, questionable decisions, and an inability to strengthen the team via free agency.
While it is too early to tell who will become the next general manager of the Dolphins, we can only hope it is someone with experience, who can find talent, and who can recruit the best of the best to come to Miami and play here.