Miami Dolphins: Early Winners and Losers Offseason
The 2012 Miami Dolphins offseason has been everything you've expected from the Miami Dolphins—if you expected an eventful offseason that feels like a roller coaster ride.
But then again, would you expect anything less from this team?
At the conclusion of the 2011 season, the Dolphins were expected to fix the one position that in 12 seasons they haven't gotten right—quarterback. However, every attempt at fixing said position seemed to fail (at least in the eyes of the fans that is).
However very quietly, the Dolphins have managed to put together a solid—yet not as spectacular as expected—offseason.
Changes were made in terms of fan and media access, which with the reputation this team has had over the past decade for being arrogant and aloof with fans is just as important as the changes they expect to make on the field. While their quarterback chase didn't end the way many Dolphins fans would have liked, a priority had been placed on the position like it has never been before.
The Dolphins also took a risk at head coach by hiring a former offensive coordinator from one of the NFL's best organization—a coach who looks to instill the values of that organization into the Dolphins—a team that could use a face-lift.
All in all, this offseason might not have been as good as anyone would have liked it to be, yet it hasn't been as bad as fans seem to have thought. But there are some early winners and early losers.
Let's take a look at both of them.
Winner: Paul Soliai
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At the beginning of this offseason, I would've thought that defensive tackle Paul Soliai was as good as gone.
The reason being the fact that, last season, he made $12 million—a figure that the Dolphins would not have given him in 2012 as well as a figure that was about $6 million more than one would say he's worth.
On top of that, the Denver Broncos were also in heavy pursuit of the sixth-year defensive tackle out of Utah, who in 2011 made his first Pro Bowl appearance despite the fact that many Dolphins fans felt he had underachieved (according to his contract).
Yet, Soliai would wind up returning to the Dolphins, and both would wind up winners.
Miami was able to re-sign Soliai for two-years at $12 million, with $6 million guaranteed. While he was set to visit with the Broncos, Soliai cancelled that visit upon signing his new contract.
This is a win for the Dolphins because they will be getting a good defensive tackle for $6 million less than they paid him last season, while with the move to the 4-3, he will play in a defensive scheme that will put his talents as a run-stuffer to better use.
Soliai's contract is a bargain for the Dolphins, while he will be key to the Dolphins' new defense—a win for both; not much to complain about here.
Loser: Matt Moore
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Matt Moore put up a 2011 that should ensure he come in as the Miami Dolphins starter in 2012.
After taking the reigns from an injured Chad Henne during Miami's Week 4 loss to the San Diego Chargers, Moore went 6-6 in his 12 starts while completing 60.5 percent of his passes, 2,497 yards, 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
While those numbers might not tell you he's Miami's starter for the long-term, they would at the very least suggest that Moore would be a competent starter in 2012 while awaiting the development of first-round pick Ryan Tannehill.
However, Moore might not have the opportunity to even become Tannehill's placeholder. Miami signed former Jaguars quarterback David Garrard, who missed all of last season after being released by the Jaguars.
Garrard was reportedly told that he will get a shot at the starting job, and so far in minicamp, he seems to have the upper hand against Moore (depending on who you ask).
While Garrard seems to have the upper hand among the veterans in camp, Ryan Tannehill has also received praise, and in fact, probably knows the new Dolphins West Coast Offense more than both quarterbacks (a function of him playing under new Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman while at Texas A&M). Even Matt Moore has stated that Tannehill knows the new offense better than he does.
For a quarterback who did a decent job holding the fort in 2011, then faced an offseason where his job was constantly under siege, Moore has handled it well. However, that might not be enough for him to retain the starting job in 2012.
Tannehill will likely be the Dolphins starter at some point next season, but Moore might not even get a chance to start the next season.
Winner: Cameron Wake
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Perhaps, the biggest success story of the Jeff Ireland-era has been former CFL-star turned NFL All-Pro Cameron Wake, who since signing with Miami after the 2008 season as an undrafted free agent has amassed 122 tackles, 28 sacks and four forced fumbles while becoming the anchor of a fearsome Dolphins pass-rushing unit.
Obviously going into 2012, Wake would want to get paid what he feels he deserves. Wake even missed parts of Miami's "voluntary" minicamp in April as a way to prove his point and build leverage.
Miami would do the right thing and oblige Wake in the end by signing him to a four-year, $49 million contract with $20 million guaranteed.
For one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL, this is a bargain on the Dolphins end. For Wake, it's exactly what he deserves for the production that he put up in his first three years in Miami, as well as for the havoc he plans on making in his first year in a new 4-3 offense that's sure to further accentuate Wake's abilities.
The losers in this: Tom Brady, Mark Sanchez, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tim Tebow (you know Tebow will eventually start in New York). Now a happy Cameron Wake with less attention drawn to him by offensive lineman will be ready to run amok in the backfield.
Loser: Jeff Ireland and Stephen Ross
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This offseason, Miami managed to strike out on both Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn while also losing out in the Jeff Fisher sweepstakes.
While this was happening, Steelers safety (and Dolphins free-agent target in 2010) Ryan Clark called out the Dolphins organization (specifically Jeff Ireland) stating that "No one! To believe I almost went there but it was easy decision not to. GM."
He made the statement over Twitter after he congratulated Matt Flynn for signing with the Seahawks and responded to a tweet from one of his followers that pointed out that "No one wants to sign with the Dolphins."
Overall, it has been a disaster of an offseason for Ireland, Ross and company. They have lost many a PR battle and have eroded what little trust Dolphins fans seem to have in the team. Since I became a Dolphins featured columnist, they have been frequent targets of mines and for good reason—a mixture of incompetence, arrogance and ego that has surrounded this team.
If only they could find a way to somehow turn this all around.
Winner: Jeff Ireland and Stephen Ross
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While we were all busy bashing Ross and Ireland for losing out on Jeff Fisher, Matt Flynn and Peyton Manning this offseason and turning out attention to the Miami Heat and Miami Marlins, the following has occurred.
The Dolphins wound up hiring a first-year, offensive-minded head coach who has brought in a very good staff to surround him.
Joe Philbin's hiring was a great one that we won't recognize as great until 2013 at the earliest but should go down in history as the start of a Dolphins turnaround.
Jeff Fisher meanwhile will be without his long-time defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who would have surely been the Dolphins' defensive coordinator had Fisher taken the job in Miami instead of St. Louis.
Williams has been suspended indefinitely due to his role in the Saints Bounty scandal, where he's been the central figure. His speech prior to the Saints-49ers NFC Divisional playoff game didn't exactly help matters out much.
Before you ask "so how's that good for the Dolphins," keep in mind that it's much easier to fill out your staff from January-March than it is to do so in April when the suspension was handed down.
Besides, in new defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, Miami gets an aggressive defensive coordinator who has proven to be a success in Cincinnati. That's better than having to search for one in April after the majority of NFL and college staffs have already been filled out.
Meanwhile, in Seattle where Matt Flynn has signed, there's no guarantee that he will even be the Seahawks' starting quarterback. Despite the contract, Flynn still has to compete for his job, something that newly signed free-agent quarterbacks don't usually do when they come with as much ballyhoo as Flynn did.
Let's not forget that Philbin was his offensive coordinator in Green Bay, meaning he likely knew better what he would get out of Flynn than us, the fans (or anyone in the NFL for that matter), could know. If he didn't think Flynn was worth the money, odds are he isn't.
As for losing out on Manning, well congratulations, that only makes the Dolphins like the Cardinals, Titans and 49ers—all of whom were in the bidding for his services. That's not the worst company to be in right now. Plus, this forced the Dolphins to look for their quarterback for the next 10 years instead of their next two. This isn't necessarily a bad thing.
But all of that has had to do with luck, luck that at first looked bad but is starting to look better. Ireland and Ross themselves have also been working hard to turn their images around.
Let's start first with Ireland. Look past the fact that Tannehill, while he will prove to be a good NFL quarterback, was a bit of a reach.
The Dolphins put together a great draft class that addressed key needs along the offensive line (Stanford's Jonathan Martin in Round 2), defensive line (Miami's Oliver Vernon in Round 3 and Texas' Kheeston Randle in Round 7), tight end (Missouri's Michael Egnew in Round 3) and wide receiver (while not the best compared to the departed Brandon Marshall, Michigan State's B.J. Cunningham was a solid sixth-round pick while Nevada's Rishard Matthews is a very good seventh-rounder).
That's not even counting the fourth-round selection of former Hurricane running back Lamar Miller, who will add an additional explosive element out of the backfield to go along with Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas. For a young quarterback like Tannehill, having a solid offensive line and a good running game will go along way to help his development.
Miami also found a great undrafted free agent in former Texas A&M receiver Jeff Fuller. Fuller will provide Tannehill with more familiarity as well as a big target in the Dolphins offense down the road. Fuller went undrafted mainly due to injury concerns, but with his familiarity with the Dolphins offense could turn out to be a steal.
As for the Chad Ochocinco acquisition, it will actually work out better than you would think. Ochocinco now provides the Dolphins with someone who could draw double-teams.
Sure we won't see the same guy that we saw in Cincinnati, however, keep in mind that in New England despite being their No. 1 receiver on paper, he was due to get lost in the shuffle as Brady is always more likely to throw to tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez as well as wide receiver Wes Welker.
Ireland's offseason had a rocky beginning but has been much better than he gets credit for.
As for Ross, say what you will about him, but the man is trying. He has introduced transparency to the Miami Dolphins—a word used so rarely around Davie that many a Dolphin fan will have to look it up to remind them of the meaning.
His season ticket holder conference calls have been, perhaps, the best idea in South Florida sports since the Heat's summer of 2010. During said calls, Ross has come off as more of a fan than an owner and has used the platform to admit to some mistakes.
Speaking of mistakes, he's even fixing one of his biggest by bringing back the old fight song despite the fact that he himself doesn't like it.
Then, there's the fact that he's inviting HBO's Hard Knocks to Davie. Sure, the Dolphins were a last resort for HBO, and I even thought it would be bad as a television viewer (mind you this was prior to the signing of Ochocinco), but as a Dolphins fan, it will be great to see what's going on with this team behind the curtain.
It's not noticed now, but you will see by the end of the year that Ireland, Ross and company will rehabilitate their images. They've already taken the necessary steps to do so, and for that reason along, those two are the biggest winners from this year's Miami Dolphins offseason.