It’s fair to say that general manager Jeff Ireland is hardly the most popular man in South Florida right now. The “Fire Jeff Ireland” banner flown over the Sun Life Stadium in the Dolphins’ final game of the season is proof of that.
But, while the vitriol reached new heights following Miami’s unsuccessful pursuit of Jeff Fisher, there is a case to be made that much of the criticism aimed at the GM is unfair.
One thing should be made clear, however: Ireland’s treatment of former head coach Tony Sparano was not acceptable.
Ireland essentially hung Sparano out to dry this year, pinning the Dolphins’ failures squarely on Sparano. Having previously joined owner Stephen Ross on his ill-feted mission to woo Jim Harbaugh last year in California, it would have been nice to see Ireland back Sparano, a man he used to call a friend.
However, the handling of Sparano’s job security aside, Ireland should be right to feel a little aggrieved with the abused leveled at him by disillusioned fans. After one offseason on the job, he’s made a number of decisions which have not exactly won him the plaudits he deserved.
The free agency decisions to sign Matt Moore and trade for Reggie Bush both look inspired. Moore was in the top 12 quarterbacks in the league in 2011-12, and Bush ran for over 1,000 yards. Ireland made two bold decisions, and both worked out well.
Furthermore, he added Kevin Burnett to the ranks to replace Channing Crowder, and although the move was questioned early on, once he established a relationship with Karlos Danbsy in the middle of the field, it became obvious that Burnett was much more capable of making the kind of big plays that were expected from Crowder.
The re-signing of Jason Taylor was another bold but impressive move.
Ireland distanced himself from former boss Bill Parcells by signing Taylor, who had fallen out with “the Tuna.” Nostalgia might have played a part in the move, but bringing Taylor home to Miami was a very popular move. Taylor's play on the field justified the decision too.
Ireland delivered in the draft too.
He finally solved the problems at center with Mike Pouncey, who should be a future Pro Bowler. Clyde Gates showed promise as a return man, and has potential in the receiving game once he adjusts to the NFL. Charles Clay was an excellent late-round selection who made big contributions in his rookie season, and Jimmy Wilson showed flashes of potential to suggest he can play at a much higher level than his seventh-round selection implied.
The Daniel Thomas pick was questionable, as a second-round pick was not needed at the position; late-round or undrafted runners were succeeding in the NFL.
While Thomas didn’t make a huge impact this year, it is certainly too early to declare him a bust. He has talent, but must be more consistent. If he is, he too could be considered a solid pick.
Miami had a good free agency and draft—not spectacular, but very solid. However, Ireland’s good personnel moves were often overlooked in favour of his errors.
Of course, he, like many others, is prone to the odd gaffe, and many fans blame him for not drafting Dez Bryant after Ireland’s ill-advised “prostitute question” to the wide receiver.
He is not exempt from making mistakes, and he should be held account for those mistakes like any other members of staff, be it scouts, coaches or players.
It was a mistake to churn the roster so regularly in 2010. It was a mistake to not allow anyone to challenge Chad Henne for the starters’ berth last offseason. It was a mistake to undermine Sparano by visiting Harbaugh last year. It was definitely a mistake to sign Marc Colombo.
Ireland should be held account for these errors, but it’s difficult to argue that these bad moves outweigh the good decisions he made this season.
Fans should blame him for the mistakes he made, but he should not be blamed for the decisions of Parcells, or the decision-making of Fisher.
Parcells made the final call on decisions before September 7, 2011, and while Ireland was involved in those decisions, he should not be found fully responsible for them (in fact, he was the man least in favour of selecting Pat White). Instead, it is fairer that he is judged on his tenure as GM, when he was in full command of the Dolphins on a daily basis.
With regards to this offseason’s coaching search, St Louis were always the front-runners in the race for Fisher, and people knew that was where he was likely to end up from Day 1; an argument could be that Miami were used to help bump up his salary.
To argue that Ireland was to blame for Fisher’s decision is unfair. Even if claims that Fisher preferred the Rams because Miami wouldn’t give him full control were correct, it was not the GM’s fault; that was Stephen Ross’ decision.
And just because Sparano was much more likeable than Ireland doesn’t mean he should be fired either. In the media, Sparano came across as a good guy, while Ireland appeared to be pandering to his boss.
Not liking someone doesn’t mean he isn’t good at his job, and it doesn’t take a genius to realise that some fans just don’t like Ireland.
A lot of the dislike spans from Ireland failing to make the popular move with fans, like drafting Ryan Mallett, or trading for Kyle Orton. But how many fans can seriously now say that either of these men would have done better than Moore? Ireland turned out to make the right move, but again did not receive credit for it.
Sure, a franchise quarterback is still missing, but Ireland’s only been calling the shots for one offseason. How many GMs have struck gold with a franchise QB in their first offseason on the job? My guess is very few.
So, should fans continue to call for Ireland’s head?
For the record, I personally would have had no issue with Ireland being fired along with Sparano. They came together, they perhaps should have gone together. But fans need to look realistically at the situation, and look past their blind hatred of all things “Trifecta.”
Hating him just because he is Parcells’ prodigy hardly seems fair. Ireland’s job performance should be considered on its own merits, not those of his predecessor.
If they do this, then fans might just realise that the GM has not done a bad job in Miami.
But, with all that said, Miami need to improve this offseason. If Ireland fails to deliver, then his job security should be questioned next January. For now though, the GM deserves a little more time; he might actually be a good thing for the Dolphins.