Seven men entered the Miami Dolphins general manager search, but only one man was left standing. Some were ruled out, others just wanted out, and Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was left with an easy choice in the hiring of Dennis Hickey as their new GM.
For years, the pressure has been on former GM Jeff Ireland. Now, it's all on Ross. He has handpicked his staff, and now he will either reap the rewards or watch it go down in flames.
Ross is loyal to a fault, and that fault may have cost him a shot at candidates he held in higher regard. How else would you explain Ireland, a hated man in South Florida, getting six years to prove himself?
Make no mistake: Hickey was not Ross' first choice. Some candidates were concerned about having to keep Joe Philbin. Others were troubled by the uncertainty of who would answer to whom. That resulted in some of the prime candidates backing out.
Browns assistant GM Ray Farmer turned down a second interview to stay in Cleveland. Finalists Nick Caserio of the Patriots and Lake Dawson of the Titans both turned down the job, due in part to Ross' commitment to Philbin as head coach and to Dawn Aponte as team vice president/salary cap expert.
The Dolphins said their new GM "will have autonomous responsibility for the 53 man roster and selecting players during the draft," but obviously, there's some consternation over that power structure, because there was no big push to take this job. Unlike most other GMs, Hickey will not have say over firing his coach.
This power structure is not unprecedented. The Chiefs employ a similar setup, with GM John Dorsey and head coach Andy Reid working together, but with Dorsey lacking the power to fire Reid.
"When we started the search, I outlined qualities that I was looking for in this position," Ross said in a statement. "These included a collaborative team-first person who can work with Joe, demonstrated player evaluation expertise, and someone who is open-minded and creative. Dennis fit all of these criteria and I'm looking forward to having him get started."
New Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey and HC Joe Philbin first bonded when Philbin interviewed amongst others with Hickey for Bucs HC job 2 yrs ago.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 27, 2014
This group—Hickey, Philbin and Aponte—is entirely his creation. This power structure is his doing.
Hickey may very well end up being a good fit for the Dolphins. If he is a better talent evaluator than Ireland, the "horizontal structure" outlined above by Alex Miglio could be perfect. The Buccaneers have drafted well in recent years, finding players like defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, running back Doug Martin, linebacker Lavonte David, safety Mark Barron and other talented players over the years.
What happens if the Dolphins don't find any players of that caliber?
The short-term ramifications are quite simple: Ross got the power structure he wanted, with all three working collaboratively and answering to him. Whether he got the GM he wanted, however, is less clear (though he'll certainly say yes).
The long-term ramifications are unclear. If they don't improve, or if they regress, will Ross have the gall to pull the trigger and end it all? Probably not. Not after going through the trouble of singling out a GM who could work well with what Ross already had in place.
Perhaps, then, the short-term and long-term ramifications are mutually exclusive.
What Ross is saying by hiring Hickey to keep Philbin and Aponte is that he wants this group to be his group through 2014 and beyond. Barring an epic meltdown, Ross' loyalty will likely lead to all three being kept beyond 2014. Perhaps he's getting tired of interviewing new head coach and general manager candidates every year, given the recent turnover.
He is committed to Philbin because, as he said in Philbin's defense during the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito scandal, Ross thinks Philbin is "a man of high character." Ross' growing trust in Aponte is likely a factor in why she was able to stick around while Ireland was sent packing. It's important to Ross that Hickey fits well into that dynamic, because this is a group he wants to have around for longer than one year.
Last year had all-or-nothing feel to it for the Dolphins, and with just one change at GM, it feels like the pendulum has swung the opposite direction, to where Ross wants this to be the long-term group. Perhaps all the figureheads will do their jobs better in a relaxed environment, or perhaps the sense of urgency dwindles and breeds complacency.
The Dolphins have been stuck in halfway-rebuild mode for a few years, and the result has been a team that's floated right around .500 without ever bottoming out, but without ever getting over the hump.
If that continues, the question then becomes how long Ross lets his personal feelings interfere with making the right business decisions.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.