Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Jeff Ireland out as Dolphins GM

That sound you heard Tuesday afternoon was millions of Dolphins fans cheering with the news that Jeff Ireland would no longer be the team's general manager, as the sides reportedly "mutually agreed to part ways" after six seasons.

The news comes a day after the firing of offensive coordinator Mike Sherman and less than two weeks after the Dolphins let a playoff berth slip entirely from their grasp. Head coach Joe Philbin currently remains safe heading into his third season on the job, although everyone is up in the air until the dust settles and a new general manager is named.

Dolphins VP of Football Administration Dawn Aponte is currently in charge of football operations and is considered by some to be a candidate to replace Ireland, although her background is in salary cap management and not football scouting and evaluation.

Meanwhile, Assistant GM Brian Gaine has been told nothing about his status with the team. Thought of by many around the league as an up-and-coming personnel man, Gaine interviewed for the Jets' GM opening last offseason and would likely be the top in-house candidate if the Dolphins go that route.

However, NFL.com's Jeff Darlington and others say the Dolphins's GM position is "highly-coveted" by top personnel men around the league, meaning the team could target a high-profile, experienced name like Mike Tannenbaum, Scott PioliBill Polian or Carl Peterson. Owner Stephen Ross apparently also has a strong relationship with former Jets and Browns head coach Eric Mangini and some have suggested Ross could be willing to give him personnel power.

The team could also go with the less experienced route, with potential candidates including Omar Khan (Steelers), Jason Licht (Cardinals), Eric DeCosta (Ravens), Ray Farmer (Browns), Brian Gutekunst (Packers), Marc Ross (Giants), Jon Robinson (Patriots) and Brian Garner (Texans).

Meanwhile, today's decision brings an end to a disappointing tenure for Ireland in Miami. He arrived in 2008 under Executive VP of Football Operations Bill Parcells and fully assumed control over personnel matters in 2010 with Parcells' departure from the organization.

The Dolphins won the division in Ireland's first season with the team in 2008, thanks in large part to Tom Brady's torn ACL and Chad Pennington falling into their laps after being cut by the Jets. But the team is just 35-45 since, failing to reach the playoffs each of the past five seasons despite a head-coaching change in 2012 and plenty of money spent on free agency.

Ireland's final season on the job will long be remembered for its failure to make the playoffs despite controlling its destiny heading into Week 16. He overpaid free agent receiver Mike Wallace, who is a talented deep threat but not a true No. 1 target. And of course, the signings of linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler proved to be disastrous on the field and an enormous waste of team resources.

Still, it would be unfair to Ireland to talk about all the bad moves he made without highlighting some good ones. Quality draft picks include Jake Long (1st), Kendall Langford (3rd), Brian Hartline (4th), Chris Clemons (5th), Jared Odrick (1st), Nolan Carroll (5th), Reshad Jones (5th), Mike Pouncey (1st), Charles Clay (6th) and Olivier Vernon (3rd). Brent Grimes, Randy Starks and Cameron Wake highlight some strong free agent additions.

One must also wonder if the departures of Sherman and Ireland are truly enough for this franchise. I personally place the collapse in Weeks 16-17 squarely on Joe Philbin and I question whether or not he's capable of truly leading the team. Plenty, including myself, believe the team had the talent to get to the playoffs despite some issues, which means Ireland was certainly not the whole problem.

That's why the Dolphins need to bring in a new GM that will clean house and hire his own people, and that includes getting rid of Philbin. Firing a head coach and not the GM, or vice-versa, just doesn't work and it's as if they are trying to patch something together that's clearly broken.

Let us hope the Dolphins' general manager position is indeed as attractive as some are reporting, and let us also hope Stephen Ross takes advantage of that and finally hires someone that can point this team in the right direction, even if that means starting over in the process.