The most exciting day of the year for 'Phins fans will likely be January 2nd, the day after the final NFL Sunday. That's the day that the players will show up at Dolphins training camp in Davie to collect their things and be on their way out. Some of them might be back, but others will be saying goodbye to South Florida for the last time.
A few days after that, the Dolphins will likely name a new head coach, new general manager and new vice president of football operations. At that time we can begin scouting the Senior Bowl, combines and various college pro days as well as looking ahead to potential free agents.
Instead we're in November, but why not look ahead now?
I have a blueprint for the future. It won't just help the Dolphins in 2012, but it should help put this team on a track to respectability. Slow and steady is the only way to go at this point in time; hopefully you weren't fooled by 2008's miracle, because in reality it should take about two to three years before the Miami Dolphins are back.
I've set the target date of February 1st, 2015. This is the tentative date of Super Bowl XLIX, to be played at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. This is the Super Bowl that Miami, if they follow my blueprint, will be most likely to play in. For the incoming 2012 rookie class, it will be their third season and it will also be the incoming head coach and GM's third season.
This is the Super Bowl to shoot for, and if the Dolphins happen to be so lucky as to get there beforehand, consider it a bonus. However if they fail to reach that year's Super Bowl but are still awfully close, it can still be considered a success.
So how do they get there? Let's see the plans.
Here's a sample of a news report I want to see on that very morning.
MIAMI GARDENS—January 2nd, 2012
The Miami Dolphins managed to somewhat redeem their season as they not only were able to hold on to the No. 1 pick in the draft, but also defeat the New York Jets in the finale at Sun Life Stadium.
With Indianapolis pulling out their second victory of the season against the Jaguars with Peyton Manning playing in his second straight game (check out this tweet from Colts owner Jim Irsay—back to the fantasy article), the 0-15 Miami Dolphins were assured of the No. 1 pick going into this afternoon's game against the New York Jets.
This meant that the "Suck For Luck" crowd was ecstatic and had come to Sun Life Stadium now to cheer the 'Phins as they attempted to knock the Jets out of playoff contention.
The 'Phins wouldn't disappoint as they managed to avoid the infamy of going 0-16 while knocking the Jets out of the playoffs with a 17-14 win in overtime. At the same time, New England beat AFC East-winner Buffalo to clinch one AFC playoff berth, while Cincinnati shocked Baltimore to clinch the other.
The Jets, standing at 10-6, will have a long offseason to reflect on what could have been, while the Dolphins, with No. 1 pick in tow, can at least celebrate a successful end to an otherwise disastrous season.
"We got the No. 1 pick in the draft, and we kept the Jets out of the playoffs. This is the greatest day the Dolphins have had all season" said fan Steven Miro.
That was only part of the story I want to read that morning as I'm watching ESPN and see this come across the ticker:
"Miami Dolphins have fired head coach Tony Sparano and general manager Jeff Ireland. Sparano went 26-35 and won one division title (2008) since taking over in 2008."
That's when the change can begin.
Since the Miami Dolphins need a change from the ground up, I'd pick four men to head up a temporary panel that will give suggestions to owner Stephen Ross as to whom to pick to become the next GM (who will also serve as VP of football operations).
Pictured up there: two of the men I choose for the panel.
Dan Marino won't be involved in anything but this panel, as he will be alongside Don Shula, close friend of Stephen Ross and former Chiefs GM Carl Peterson, and former Green Bay Packers GM Ron Wolf.
This "Panel of Excellence," as I'd call it, has a combined 115 years of experience in either coaching, scouting or general managing an NFL team, and that's not counting Marino's 17-year playing career.
The four men can also boast that their teams had eight Super Bowl appearances (Shula had six with the Colts and Dolphins, Wolf had two with the Packers), three Super Bowl wins, 22 division titles and 33 playoff appearances.
With Marino and Shula aboard, Stephen Ross can communicate to the fans that he respects the traditions of the Miami Dolphins and plans to uphold them. He will also listen to any recommendations that they, as well as Peterson and Wolf, have to offer.
These four gentlemen will vet any potential general manager, then once a general manager is named, they will work alongside the general manager to find a head coach.
In exchange for their services, the four men should also receive small ownership stakes in the team. Shula already has a small ownership stake in the team.
A role like this will also allow Dan Marino to continue his work with CBS Sports as he will not be involved in the day-to-day operations of the team.
However while their work will slightly be finished after a new general manager and head coach are found, it would behoove Ross to still ask these men for advice from time to time on the team.
But with the men that I think these gentlemen would hire, I highly doubt that he will have to.
John Dorsey has served as the Green Bay Packers' director of college scouting since 2000.
But while with the Packers, he hasn't just dealt with incoming college players, but he's also involved with pro personnel.
Dorsey was promoted to his position by Ron Wolf, who I earlier placed on the Dolphins "Panel of Excellence," so he will likely be highly recommended by Wolf.
This will be new territory for Dorsey though, as he's been involved with the Packers as a player, then as a scout, since 1984.
Dorsey has also served on the NFL's College Advisory Committee.
Having a general manager whose prior job was scouting colleges, but also has experience with current pro personnel, would be a boon to the Dolphins, especially someone with Dorsey's already-stellar track record.
On top of that it would be a great idea if he named former University of Miami running back and current Packers scout Alonzo Highsmith his director of scouting for the Miami Dolphins.
And as head coach, he could bring someone else from the Packers.
I know you were expecting Cowher, Gruden or some other big name, but remember, I looked at 15 potential candidates, and while I didn't choose him then, I now honestly believe that Philbin would be the best fit.
Reality is this: Miami has done the big-name coach thing in the past. With Shula it was a rousing success, with Jimmy it was so-so.
We all know how Saban turned out, and don't mention Cam Cameron as not being a big name; remember, he was a hot commodity when Miami hired him in 2007.
Everything I have to say about why Philbin is right was stated in the slideshow that I wrote more than a month ago, so I'll repeat it:
Philbin, at 50 years old, is still fairly young and has a proven record as an offensive line coach and offensive coordinator. His offense this season is so far first in the league.
Prior to that, he's coached offenses that have ranked ninth in 2010, third in 2009, fifth in 2008 and fourth in 2007. Yes, the season his team won the Super Bowl was his lowest-ranked offense. Oh yeah, his team won the Super Bowl last season and are favorites to repeat this season.
Plus, I already named Dorsey as the Dolphins GM, so there's already a familiarity going on there.
Now factor in the fact that even if the Dolphins don't get Luck, they'll have either Landry Jones, Matt Barkley or Robert Griffin III. So either way, the Dolphins will have a young quarterback under center and will need someone with experience working with quarterbacks.
Already, Philbin has developed Aaron Rodgers (Packers ranked fifth in their first season with Rodgers as their starter), which is a strong claim to make that will get any of these players to listen.
And even if Miami doesn't get the first pick, Luck might still want to come here with a coach like Philbin, possibly creating a John Elway-like situation.
Did that scare you? Read my reasoning.
For Philbin's coaching staff, I'd go with former Boston College head coach and former Packers offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski (Philbin worked under Jagodzinski while he was Packers offensive coordinator before eventually succeeding him as offensive coordinator).
As QB coach I'd go with Mike Shula (who I considered for Dolphins head coach and offensive coordinator and would fit either one of those roles well). It's always good to have a Shula on the Dolphins staff, plus Shula has worked well this season with Cam Newton.
As for defensive coordinator, here's where I'm explaining why you're looking at Dave Wannstedt again.
The guy does a great job of coaching defense.
This season he's serving as the Bills assistant head coach/inside linebackers coach.
Look at the improvements we have seen. Mind you, the Bills didn't exactly redo their talent on defense, which I don't think Miami has to do save for a few adjustments.
Other good defensive coordinators available for Miami that would work would be two former UM head coaches (Butch Davis, Randy Shannon), Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron or current Steelers DBs coach Carnell Lake.
Special teams coach: I always recommend former Dolphins and current Jets special teams coach Mike Westoff, however Cardinals special teams coach Kevin Spencer would be a good one too.
I hear you as you say "enough with the boring front office stuff"—let's get to the players.
Fine, I will.
Here's the strategy the Dolphins have to look at if they get the No. 1 pick:
Luck, his weapons and his protection.
The Dolphins defense could use more talent, and I'm suggesting they'll probably lose some (but it's Sean Smith and Paul Soliai, so it's not like they'll be missed), but for this offseason should be secondary to building an offense.
Now flip it over to the offensive side of the ball. Notice how with the exception of Carolina, teams No. 1-10 are contenders.
Plus, this draft is filled with offensive talent in Rounds 2-7. Get the building of the offense out of the way this season, as it is the offense that will need more attention.
Of course, I will make exceptions if a defensive player is the best available when the Dolphins pick in Rounds 2-7, but Round 1 it has to be a quarterback.
And if the Dolphins don't get the No. 1 pick, just change that to "Quarterback, his weapons and his protection."
Panthers Tight End Olsen would be a fine addition to Miami's offense.
First off, give Cameron Wake, who will be entering the final year of his contract in 2012, a raise.
Make it a good one too. No need to resort to the franchise tag.
Secondly, look into the receivers and tight ends that will be available, focusing mainly on the tight ends.
Two of the available receivers are Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe and New England's Wes Welker.
With the money it would take to bring in Ferguson, I'd only go after Bowe if the price is right. Forget about Welker because you know the Patriots will fight tooth and nail to hang onto him.
But tight end is a position the Dolphins should invest in, and they will have a plethora of choices.
Jermichael Finley of the Packers is one choice, but odds are he'll stay in Green Bay.
More likely you could see Greg Olsen of the Carolina Panthers taking his talents to South Beach. In fact, I advocated what a mistake it was that the Dolphins didn't attempt to acquire Olsen prior to this season.
With those two tight ends available, there's no excuse for the Dolphins to still have Fasano out there next season.
On the defensive end, it would be wonderful to have Troy Polamalu.
But the reason for franchise tags is so that someone like him doesn't just leave. You think Pittsburgh is going to let him go? Of course not, hence the extension he signed with the Steelers earlier this year.
Instead, take the approach of the seasoned veterans that can still go. Ronde Barber of the Bucs will be available, and while his best days might be behind him, he can still play well—plus he'll be a great veteran to guide Vontae Davis and (maybe) Sean Smith.
As for free safety, Bengals free safety Reggie Nelson would fit in great with the Dolphins secondary alongside Yeremiah Bell.
Finally, as far as trades are concerned: If you can get a second-round pick for anyone save for Pouncey, Long, Wake or Davis, pull the trigger.
Yes, this means Marshall too, even though Andrew Luck- (or Robert Griffin III-) to-Brandon Marshall would be a sweet combination.
Assuming the Dolphins get the No. 1 pick, it has to be Andrew Luck, right?
If they don't get the No. 1 pick, then repeat this after me: Don't trade up for him.
Luck's pick will require at least three No. 1's counting this year's No. 1. It would hamstring the Dolphins for two years. Not a good idea.
I'd consider it if instead of trading three No. 1's you can include a player in that deal in lieu of one of the No. 1's, and I mean any player.
Just don't trade future draft picks; they will ask for too many of those.
But we're working under the assumption that Miami will get the No. 1 pick (because they will if you ask me).
That means here's your draft order, based off of walterfootball.com.
Round 1 (pick No. 1): Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
No explanation necessary.
Round 2 (pick No. 32): Lamar Miller, RB, Miami
Miller Time in Miami moves from Saturdays to Sundays. But what to do with Daniel Thomas? Plus, I know you're clamoring for Clemson's Dwayne Allen, however I already see the Dolphins signing Greg Olsen from Carolina.
However if they fail to sign Olsen, just plug in Dwayne Allen instead and disregard the trade I'm going to tell you about:
Trade Daniel Thomas and a 2013 second-round pick to Seattle in exchange for their second-round pick.
According to the website cited above, Seattle should have the No. 37 draft pick and will need a running back.
Round 2 (pick No. 37): Zerbie Sanders, RT, FSU
If the Ferguson deal isn't done, this is the right pick. Actually, the Ferguson deal is somewhat of a fantasy, so this is the pick I'd go with. Remember: Luck, his protection and his weapons.
Round 3 (pick No. 65): TJ McDonald, S, USC
Yeremiah Bell will need a possible replacement/free safety to play alongside if the Dolphins don't sign Nelson (which I see them doing). If they do sign Reggie Nelson though, may I suggest Pitt guard Lucas Nix? Yes, I will.
Round 4 (pick No. 96): T.Y. Hilton, WR, FIU
Speedy, decent at catching, and a fun and exciting player to watch. The Dolphins better land this player if he's available past Round 4.
Those would just be my selections in the top four rounds of the draft. Hopefully Seattle would say yes to a Daniel Thomas trade so that Miami could get Lamar Miller and Zerbie Sanders.
Sometimes one must come to the realization that not all dreams are meant to come true.
What I mean is, Miami could very well lose out on Suck For Luck.
Part of this is because the Colts are a pretty bad team in their own right, but part of this is it also seems fishy—and I'm not just saying that as a Dolphins fan.
At least with Miami you see the effort there. They take leads and hold onto them for most of the game; they just happen to let them go.
I haven't seen that with Indianapolis; other than Reggie Wayne, it just looks like there's neither urgency nor pride.
The Dolphins are trying out there, and when that happens then every once in a while in that situation, even a blind squirrel finds a nut.
So here's how I'd do the draft if I were the Miami Dolphins and got the No. 2 pick.
Matt Kalil will be a hot commodity; so will Landry Jones.
The beauty of this draft is that while Luck is head and shoulders above every other quarterback, he's not the only viable NFL QB.
Plus, I like both Matt Barkley and Robert Griffin III more than I do Jones.
So to the Dolphins I say trade down with Washington since Jones would fit the type of quarterback that Mike Shanahan would rather have.
Washington's first-round pick (which would be between No. 8 and 13) and their second-round pick (likely in the 40-45 range) for the Dolphins' No. 2 pick.
Now here's the draft I would do:
Round 1 (pick No. 8): Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
Smart, mobile quarterback. Cam Newton-type but with a better arm.
Round 2 (pick No. 33): Lamar Miller, RB, Miami
Same thing goes with the Greg Olsen scenario I pointed out, and Miller would likely still be available. Plus under this scenario, the Dolphins would keep Daniel Thomas and go with a two-headed monster of a backfield, which would help Griffin immensely.
The rest of the draft would come out the same:
Round 2 (pick No. 40): Zerbie Sanders, RT, FSU
Round 3 (pick No. 65): TJ McDonald, S, USC
Round 4 (pick No. 97): T.Y. Hilton, WR, FIU
This is more of a public relations idea than a football idea, but it's just as important.
The Miami Dolphins must re-establish their role in this community.
It goes beyond their annual draft parties, which I'd move to Sun Life Stadium since the Marlins will no longer occupy the stadium at that time.
I'd hold other events around the community. If there's an NBA season, for instance, and the Heat get back to the finals, then I'd consider opening up the stadium to a free party where fans can watch the game on the jumbotrons.
Facebook and Twitter scavenger hunts would also be a great idea during the offseason along with various meet-and-greets.
The Dolphins should also lower ticket prices across the board by anywhere from seven to 10 percent.
I know Stephen Ross might not be on board with it, but it's actually the best thing to do. Lower prices for season ticket renewals by 10 percent regardless of what seats are purchased by the fans. New season ticket holders should get a price incentive to do so—lower those by seven percent.
Individual game tickets would go faster (RE: fewer blackouts) if those were lowered by around 10 percent as well.
I would also include other free goodies along with their current sponsors. A good promotion for season ticket renewals and new season ticket holders would be a $100 gift certificate for Publix Supermarkets.
Also a good idea for season ticket holders (and one already used by the Miami Heat—you know, the team in South Florida that has their crap together): Sell them tickets to other Sun Life Stadium events (Monster Jam, concerts, soccer games, even select Orange Bowl tickets) about a week before they go on sale to the general public.
Another thing to remember: The University of Miami is your tenant. Take advantage of this. Offer a deal: two-for-one weekends. On weekends where the 'Canes are playing on Saturday and the 'Phins are playing the next Sunday, offer tickets to both events for one low price.
Also, redecorate the stadium just a tad and honor the history of football in South Florida. One idea actually comes to me from Minnesota's Xcel Energy Center, the home of the Minnesota Wild. Their concourses contain jerseys from every high school in Minnesota that plays hockey.
This is because Minnesota is considered "The State of Hockey." South Florida (Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties) produces more NFL players per capita than any other part of the country. Honor high schools in those three counties by doing the same thing—a jersey from each high school, under which you would put when (if they ever did) they won state championships.
You could also include jerseys for all of Florida's Division I football teams too.
Would it sell tickets? No, but it's a little thing that would join with the murals highlighting football history in South Florida. Plus, for many kids and alumni it would be pretty cool to walk by their school's jersey.
Oh, and go back to scheduling 1 p.m. starts in September. It's a great home-field advantage and the fans won't mind the heat or humidity as long as the Dolphins win.
Thank you for coming to the end of my somewhat-ambitious, likely fantasy, but fun-to-write blueprint for future Dolphins success.
I'll leave you with the potential Dolphins schedule for 2012. Why? Well it would help us figure out where they're going next year if they make the right moves.
I did this schedule based off of who they're already scheduled to play, trends in how the NFL schedules teams, as well as pulling it out of my rear end.
September 9th: Arizona 4:15 p.m. FOX
September 16th: at Cleveland 1:00 p.m. CBS
September 23rd: at Buffalo 1:00 p.m. CBS
September 30th: New England 4:15 p.m. CBS
October 8th: at Indianapolis 8:30 p.m. ESPN (Manning vs. Luck)
October 14th: Jacksonville 1:00 p.m. CBS
October 21st: St. Louis (played in London; the Dolphins are interested in doing that again) 1:00 p.m. FOX
October 28th: BYE
November 4th: at Seattle 4:05 p.m. CBS
November 11th: at San Francisco 4:15 p.m. CBS
November 18th: Tennessee 1:00 p.m. CBS
November 22nd: New York Jets 8:30 p.m. NFL Network (Thanksgiving Night)
December 2nd: at Houston 1:00 p.m. CBS
December 9th: Denver 1:00 p.m. CBS
December 16th: at New England 4:15 p.m. CBS
December 23rd: Buffalo 1:00 p.m. CBS
December 30th: at New York Jets 4:15 p.m. CBS
Thomas Galicia is a Miami Dolphins Featured Columnist who also writes about other goings-on in the NFL. Follow him on Twitter, @thomasgalicia, and follow him on Facebook as well. Be sure to check out his archives at www.thomasgalicia.com.