Miami Dolphins: 10 Best Decisions of the Jeff Ireland Era
So you’re a Dolphins fan and you’re frustrated? Understandably so. Frustrated with Jeff Ireland? A lot of fans are. The mantra for many fans has been “Fire Jeff Ireland.” You can even purchase your own “JefFIREland” t-shirt.
Ireland and Co. have made some questionable decisions over the past four years, but it has not been all bad. Don’t be too quick to forget where Miami was before Ireland and Co. came to Miami. Does a 1-15 record ring a bell? The Jeff Ireland regime has made some quality roster moves and smart draft picks as well.
Some of you who read my other article, 10 Worst Decisions of the Jeff Ireland Era, complained that I was being unfair to Ireland in listing some of his worst decisions because they were really Bill Parcells' or Tony Sparano's decisions.
To clarify, I am listing the best and worst decisions of the Jeff Ireland era, which includes decisions made by coaches and other staff. Ireland is the general manager and is ultimately responsible for personnel decisions. Sure, Bill Parcells helped and undoubtedly had a lot of influence when he was with the team, but Ireland himself said he had the final say over ALL personnel decisions. For that reason, I think it is fair to criticize Ireland for the bad decisions so long as he is given credit for the good decisions.
Without further ado, here are the 10 best decisions of the Jeff Ireland era.
10. Signing Karlos Dansby
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During the offseason in early 2010, it was clear that Miami needed talent and leadership to improve as a team. When Miami released Akin Ayodele and Joey Porter, Ireland stepped up to the plate and signed the best free-agent linebacker available, Karlos Dansby, on the first day of free agency. No doubt Dansby was a huge upgrade over both Ayodele and Porter. Dansby was voted a team captain his first year in Miami.
Dansby has been productive in first two years for the Dolphins. While he hasn’t posted incredible numbers, his production has been in the same ballpark as it was in Arizona.
The only real downside to Dansby is his price. Miami is probably overpaying for his five-year, $43 million contract (I mean, for comparison, Patrick Willis only signed a five year $50 million deal), but that tends to happen when teams try to land big prospects on the free-agent market.
9. Drafting Vontae Davis and Sean Smith
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In the 2009 draft, Ireland drafted cornerbacks in the first and second round. He got Vontae Davis and Sean Smith.
Before 2009, Miami’s starters were Will Allen and Jason Allen. Will Allen was on the wrong side of 30 to begin with, and he ended up on injured reserve in 2009 and 2010. Jason Allen was a decent player, but he struggled with consistency, and as a result, the coaching staff bounced him back and forth between the safety and cornerback positions.
Since W. Allen was put on injured reserve in 2009 and 2010 and J. Allen’s play was inconsistent, drafting Davis and Smith turned out to be a smart move. While they certainly aren’t the “best tandem in the league,” Miami could do a lot worse. Matt Miller ranked Vontae Davis the 21st-best cornerback and Sean Smith the 74th-best in the NFL.
Both players are still relatively young, and the secondary was certainly upgraded when they were drafted. Most importantly, looking back at the draft with 20/20 hindsight, there are only a couple big prospects that Miami passed up to get Davis and Smith.
8. Drafting Charles Clay
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OK, this one is probably a little premature, but Clay has already proven he has incredible potential. Miami traded up in the sixth round of the 2011 draft to get Clay. Let’s be honest, sixth and seventh-round picks are usually a huge gamble. Many do not even end up making the team.
Clay is an h-back (can play fullback or tight end) and is a versatile player. He did not get many targets in 2011, but caught 14 passes for 233 yards and three touchdowns. For comparison, Brandon Marshall had 81 receptions, but only six touchdowns. Davone Bess had 51 receptions, but just three touchdowns like Clay, and Brian Hartline only had one touchdown (not knocking any of those great receivers, but just to put Clay’s Rookie season into perspective).
Clay has boatloads of potential and is already worth the sixth-round pick Miami spent on him.
Still not convinced? Watch this.
7. Releasing Channing Crowder and Signing Kevin Burnett
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Channing Crowder had a reputation as a loudmouth and a trash talker around the NFL, and even in college. Personality-wise, he always seemed to be more of a Jet than a Dolphin to me. I prefer players like Cameron Wake, who rise above the trash-talking and let their play do the talking for them.
I was always embarrassed when Crowder would open his mouth and make classless remarks or try to create some unnecessary controversy. Obviously, some might disagree. Maybe you like the trash talking and name calling; I suppose that’s fine. It’s not my cup of tea.
Whether it was the McClain incident, the Rex Ryan feud, essentially admitting to selling his jerseys in college in violation of NCAA rules or any his other countless trash talking tirades, Crowder seemed to be a distraction in Miami.
Kevin Burnett became a free agent in 2011, and Jeff Ireland jumped at the opportunity to sign Burnett and cut Crowder. Burnett played very well at linebacker for Miami 2011 and even broke his career record for tackles in a single season with 106.
6. Risking Losing Him but Re-Signing Paul Soliai to a Reasonable Contract
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Soliai is one of the rare holdovers from the pre-Ireland/Parcells era in Miami. Soliai was drafted as a nose tackle in the fourth round in 2007. Soliai played very little in his first few years, but had a breakout year in 2010.
Unable to get a long-term deal done, the Dolphins applied the franchise tag to Soliai, which guaranteed him approximately $12 million in 2011. Despite his talent, $12 million was probably more than Soliai was worth. Soliai did make the Pro Bowl as an alternate in 2011.
In 2012, Miami was again unable to agree to a long-term deal with Soliai. Soliai entered free agency and scheduled a visit with the Denver Broncos (who had a ridiculous amount of cap room) and had received interest from the Chiefs, 49ers and Patriots.
Jeff Ireland refused to franchise Soliai again or offer him an exorbitant contract. Instead, Ireland played it cool and was patient. Ireland’s patience paid off when Soliai canceled his trip to Denver and signed a two-year, $12 million deal with Miami (half the salary he played for in 2011). This is one of Ireland’s more brilliant business moves. He gambled, but it worked out well for Miami.
5. Signing Jason Taylor and Letting Him Retire a Dolphin
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Jason Taylor played for the New York Jets in 2010. Does that make you sick? It should.
Despite limited playing time, Taylor managed decent production with the Jets (five sacks, 36 tackles). Miami needed a pass-rusher in 2011. Since Taylor still had gas left in the tank and could act as a situational player, Ireland was wise to sign him. Fans were overjoyed to have JT back in the aqua and orange. Miami used Taylor as a situational pass-rusher, and Taylor produced seven sacks.
Re-signing JT allowed him to retire a Dolphin and play his last game in a Dolphins uniform. If you watched his final game, then you no doubt remember this play (my apologies for the poor quality, but this is the best video I could find). Who cares that the play was overturned? I jumped out of my seat cheering.
Purely from the sentimental perspective of a fan, it was great JT play in his final NFL game for the ‘Phins.
4. Trading for Reggie Bush
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After the 2011 draft, it became clear that New Orleans would not keep Reggie Bush on the team. He was due $11.8 million in 2011, and the Saints drafted Mark Ingram as the running back of the future. The Saints offense was not the most conventional (relying primarily on the Drew Brees air attack), and Reggie Bush was never really a feature back.
Since entering the league as a top draft pick, many have considered Bush to be a bust due to numerous injuries and a lack of production. Prior to signing in Miami, Bush had produced just two 100 yard rushing games and never exceeded 600 rushing yards in a season.
Ireland took another gamble, swapping sixth-round picks with New Orleans to acquire Bush while restructuring his contract for two years at approximately $5 million per year. Critics lambasted Ireland, and many argued that Bush could never be a feature back in the NFL. Bush couldn’t run between the tackles. Bush was too Hollywood and not a hard worker. Bush would get injured (like he always does!) and contribute nothing to the team.
False. False, false, false, false. Reggie Bush proved the critics wrong. He was a feature back in 2011. Bush ran between the tackles. He ran for at least 100 yards in five games.
Early in training camp, Bush proved to be one of the hardest workers on the team. He rushed for over 1,000 yards despite sharing the load with Daniel Thomas for most of the early part of the season. Bush’s five yards per carry average was among the highest in the league among running backs that ran for more than 1,000 yards. He played in all of the Dolphins’ games except the final game against the Jets.
Ireland took the chance and made the choice to acquire Bush despite its unpopular reception by critics. The decision has paid huge dividends. Hopefully, it keeps paying…
3. Signing Undrafted Free Agent Davone Bess
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Davone Bess was signed by the Miami Dolphins as an undrafted free agent in 2008.
Let me go on a tangent here, because I think the back story is relevant to how Miami ended up with Bess. Davone Bess’ story, an incredible story of redemption and perseverance, does not start when he signed with Miami. Bess grew up in a rough neighborhood. At a birthday party when he was 10 years old, he witnessed the murder of his uncle. Not an easy environment to grow up in.
Nevertheless, Bess developed into a phenomenal athlete and earned a scholarship to play football at Oregon State.
Bess’ fortunes changed when he made the mistake of picking up some friends who were carrying stolen items. Bess was arrested and sentenced to prison. As a result, he lost his scholarship to Oregon State.
While Bess was in the juvenile facility, he continued playing football and sought an opportunity to play in college. The University of Hawaii was willing to give Bess a second chance.
Bess did not disappoint at Hawaii. He made a huge impact immediately, receiving for over 3,600 yards and 41 touchdowns in three years. Bess entered the 2008 NFL draft, but was an undrafted free agent. Miami was fortunate enough to sign him.
What if Bess went to a top-ranked college football program like Oregon State? He would have excelled anywhere he went (I mean, look at what he has done in the NFL!).
Would he have gone undrafted? Doubtfully. Would he have been picked up by Miami? Highly unlikely.
Bess did not initially start for Miami, but he quickly became a key contributor. Bess had a great rookie season that left him ranked second all-time in receptions by an undrafted free agent rookie.
In 2010, Bess was constantly targeted on third downs, and from 2008-2010, Bess was ranked No. 3 in the NFL in third-down receptions. In 2010, Bess was rated the 15th-most efficient receiver in the NFL. Bess is recognized as a superb route runner. He is widely considered to be one of the best slot receivers in the game.
With Miami switching to the West Coast Offense under Mike Sherman and Joe Philbin, look for Bess to have a big year in 2012 after his slump last year.
Signing Chad Pennington After He Was Cut by the Jets
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What should Miami Dolphins fans be thankful for? FAVRE WATCH
What? Favre Watch? Yes.
Let me take you back to a terrible time. It is 2007. The Dolphins are terrible. Not your garden variety 7-9, 6-10 disappointing season. Horrible. Without a miracle touchdown from St. Greg Camarillo, the Dolphins would have been winless. The Dolphins deserved to go 1-15. That pains me to say, but it wasn’t like the 2011 Dolphins, who fell to 0-7, but had talent on the roster and got unlucky (or experienced divine intervention a la Tim Tebow?) in several games. Miami gutted the management and roster after the 2007 season.
No need to rehash the Brett Favre to the New York Jets situation, but long story short, the Jets cut longtime quarterback Chad Pennington. Miami was in rebuilding mode and drafted Chad Henne as the quarterback of the future. Pennington was signed as the starting quarterback while Henne would develop.
Pennington didn’t have an incredibly strong arm, but he was one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the NFL. His problem was the “glass doll” syndrome.
In his first eight seasons, Pennington started 16 games in a season just one time. Much of Pennington’s career reads more like the medical records from a person who suffers from chronic freak accidents.
When Pennington came to Miami in 2008, he shattered (no pun intended) expectations. He had the best or second-best year of his career. Pennington threw for 3,653 yards, 19 touchdowns with seven interceptions and an excellent completion percentage of 67.4 percent. Miraculously, Pennington stayed healthy for the entire 2008 season.
Pennington moved the dash from 1-15 in 2007 to 11-5 in 2008. Miami won the AFC East for the first time since 2000. The Dolphins went from being the worst team in the NFL to making the playoffs and winning the division. It was truly one of the greatest turnarounds in NFL history.
Pennington was the linchpin of the turnaround; his coach and his teammates openly admitted that. After the Dolphins lost their playoff game, Ted Ginn said, "If it weren't for [Chad Pennington], we wouldn't be where we are right now.”
Unfortunately, Pennington was not the long-term solution in Miami. He suffered injuries in 2009 and 2010 and then retired before the 2011 season. Regardless, Miami owes the incredible 2008 turnaround to Chad Pennington.
1. Signing Cameron Wake from the Canadian Football League
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We all know the happy ending to the story,.Wake went to the Pro Bowl after having a fantastic 2010 season, and he has continued to be productive in Miami. Wake’s statistical production dipped in 2011, but that was likely more a testament to offensive coordinators planning around Wake and a lot of double-teams against Wake on the line.
So, wait, why was a future NFL Pro Bowler playing in the Canadian Football League? Great question. Maybe I can shed some light on that.
Wake played college football at Penn State. He was undrafted coming out of college in 2005. Wake was signed by the New York Giants, but did not make the final roster.
So, what do washed-up football players do when they can’t get a job playing football? Get a job as a mortgage broker, of course!
Seriously, though, Wake literally got a 9-5 job working as a mortgage broker. What makes Cameron Wake different from most other people who fail is that he refused to give up. He refused to accept defeat. It was Wake’s goal to play football. He took a job as a personal trainer earning minimum wage in order to get access to a gym so he could use the workout facilities to train.
Wake earned a spot in the CFL with the BC Lions in 2007. He was an absolute monster in his first year with the Lions, and he only got better in his second year. After two years in the CFL, Wake got the attention of quite a few teams, including the Miami Dolphins. Some of the Dolphins management wasn’t sold on Wake, but Jeff Ireland insisted that he wanted Wake. Miami outbid the other teams and signed Wake. Cameron Wake is in Miami because of Jeff Ireland.
Low-risk, high-reward. In 2009, Wake received limited playing time but showed flashes of greatness and racked up five and a half sacks. Thrust into a starting role in 2010, he had a major impact. He ranked third in the NFL in sacks with 14, and was selected to the Pro Bowl.
Wake is in the final year of his contract. Jeff Ireland, if you are reading this, please make another great decision and get Wake signed to an extension. If we can get another solid pass-rusher on the opposite side of Wake, he will start destroying again in 2012.