The current offseason has been very good to the Miami Dolphins. So good, in fact, that it's altered the league-wide perception of the Dolphins as a football destination. General Manager Jeff Ireland considers that the offseason's greatest success, according to an interview with the Sun Sentinel:
I felt like we've addressed some of the things we needed to address, and we got players we wanted. What's great to hear is that the players wanted us, too. I think that's the most important aspect of what we've accomplished this year.
Ireland is right. That is a huge accomplishment. Remember, just a few years ago, the Dolphins were viewed with the same respect as an overflowing garbage dump. People simply did not want to bring their talents to South Beach.
Just a year-and-a-half ago, the Dolphins failed to land Jeff Fisher as their new head coach. He ultimately chose the power offered to him by the St. Louis Rams. Miami's failure to hook Fisher prompted Alex Marvez of Fox Sports to dub the team one of the league's most dysfunctional franchises.
He probably wasn't too far off in his description, especially when you consider Miami's pursuit of Jim Harbaugh a year prior to that. Owner Stephen Ross and Ireland left town to court the popular college coach, leaving then-head coach Tony Sparano to wallow in embarrassment.
The move ruffled many feathers in NFL circles, and when Harbaugh ultimately spurned the Dolphins, Ross and Ireland were left to walk tails-between-legs back to Sparano. He was later fired during the 2011 season.
Needless to say, no one felt sorry for the Dolphins.
Jump back to 2012, when the Dolphins doggedly pursued Peyton Manning. The team was desperate for a quarterback, but the future Hall of Famer never seemed to give it the time of day. Manning made trips to both Denver and Arizona to visit with those respective teams. The Dolphins, on the other hand, had to fly to Indianapolis to get the quarterback's attention.
Miami didn't stand a chance.
That's not all, either. Safety Ryan Clark tweeted his less-than-positive opinion about the Fins organization last March (the tweets have since been removed). He claimed that "No one" wanted to play in Miami:
It's my honest opinion. Not a good guy making decisions.
Former Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder also had some rather inflammatory things to say about Ireland (per NFL.com):
I wouldn't go on a team with Jeff Ireland. I’m not very confident in him. He doesn't know what he’s doing in my opinion. He’s real disrespectful, he doesn't know how to deal with people and the whole Dez Bryant (situation) kind of showed to the world what he’s about, but guys in the building know what he’s really about. He’s not a good person. He has no class, and I wouldn't choose to go back and play there. And I would have to say it’s the only team I don’t want to play for.
So how does a team go about repairing such a poor image?
It started last season, with the hiring of head coach Joe Philbin and the drafting of quarterback Ryan Tannehill. After opening up on Hard Knocks, most people considered the dysfunctional Dolphins were set for another miserable season.
But Miami's two new leaders surprised the league and led Miami to a 7-9 record. Two missed field goals were the only things separating the team from a 9-7 record, which would have been its first above .500 season since 2008.
That set the stage for a high-pressure offseason. Ireland had to supply the team with weapons so they could be more competitive in 2013. By all accounts, the beleaguered general manager has done that. Impressively, he was able to attract a lot of talent.
Just one year removed from missing out on the hottest free agent available (Manning), the Dolphins snagged 2012's top free agent in Mike Wallace. They also lured Dannell Ellerbe away from the Super Bowl champs, brought in former Pro Bowl corner Brent Grimes and even got Dustin Keller from the New York Jets.
Suddenly, the Dolphins appear more attractive than the media-gorged Jets. Talk about a shift in the divisional power.
After a great free-agency haul and phenomenal draft, fans are buzzing about the Dolphins' 2013 season. Excitement has reached a fever pitch.
That's why this offseason is not enough. The Dolphins have reclaimed some of their tattered image by amassing talent in droves. And yes, Ireland has recaptured some (not all) of fans' good will by showing he had a plan all along.
But if the Dolphins don't put it together in 2013 and show marked improvement from last year, it will be all for naught. The time for patience is unfortunately over. Last year was when "wait and see how it plays out" was a viable option.
This year, with a very promising young quarterback looking to build off a surprisingly strong rookie season with a handful of new weaponry around him, and an inspiring, stern head coach at the helm, the Dolphins cannot settle for mediocrity again.
Ireland knows that much. As he said in the same interview with the Sun Sentinel:
We're just names on paper right now, until we start jelling as a football team, but we're excited about the players we've added, we're excited about the players we currently have on the football team, and right now we're just becoming a team, and that's what's important.
Repairing an tarnished image is a tough thing to do in the NFL. The Dolphins have spent the better part of two years trying to do just that. They've done a remarkable job so far, but don't be fooled.
That job is just getting started.