In-Depth Look At How GM Jeff Ireland Ruined 2013 Miami Dolphins
In-Depth Look At How GM Jeff Ireland Ruined 2013 Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins currently sit only one game back in the race for the AFC's sixth and final playoff spot. But the team's dire forecast seems to be more indicative of the franchise's state than its current standing.
If the 2013 Dolphins aren't already dead, they are unquestionably dying, and an embarrassing loss to the previously 0-8 Tampa Bay Buccaneers this past Monday night made that quite obvious. And while a national controversy has been over-dramatized and attributed to Miami's struggles by the media, it's what happened nearly eight months ago that is at the root of the Dolphins' demise.
Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland entered a make-or-break offseason this past spring with $35.8 million of cap space and five selections in the 2013 NFL draft's top 82 picks to play with.
After a promising rookie season from quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the 2013 offseason was supposed to produce a signing and drafting spree that equipped the Dolphins for years of success under their long-awaited franchise passer.
Ireland took an all-in mentality to assure that it did and would save his job in turn after what had been a heavily scrutinized tenure.
That all-in approach included remodeling a solid linebacker corps, dishing out $60 million to a one-dimensional receiver and selecting six rookies in the draft's first four rounds who have managed zero combined starts thus far, all the while neglecting the left tackle position one offseason after potentially striking gold at quarterback.
The following slides attempt to put into perspective just how much damage Ireland did this past offseason in Miami.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.
Not Taking Care of Ryan Tannehill
I suppose Ireland deserves some credit for taking Tannehill eighth overall in 2012. Despite being criticized for poor instincts and shaky accuracy at times, Tannehill has played well this season under the circumstances and, at the very least, gives the Dolphins hope amid another potentially looming regime change.
But Ireland's blatant irresponsibility to not surround the young quarterback with a reliable offensive line completely discredits him in my book. It appears potentially being right on Tannehill was nothing but dumb luck. And for a franchise that hadn't selected a quarterback in the first round since 1983, it was an obvious move.
Considering how quarterback starved the Dolphins have been since their last former first-round pick at the position retired, one would conjecture that once a potential answer had been found he would be treated with responsibility and care. Instead, the Dolphins have given Tannehill every opportunity to fail and less-than-ideal conditions to develop.
Entrusting Jonathan Martin, who struggled mightily at right and left tackle as a rookie, to protect Tannehill's blindside was perhaps Ireland's biggest mistake of the offseason. Ireland chose to let former first-overall pick Jake Long walk in free agency. Long is currently the NFL's fifth overall left tackle for the St. Louis Rams, according to Pro Football Focus, while Martin ranks 62nd for the seven games he played in Miami before going AWOL.
Ireland did choose to sign a veteran right tackle in hopes of solidifying Tannehill's protection on the opposite side of the line, but Tyson Clabo has given up more sacks than any other offensive lineman in the entire league with 10 so far this season.
The offensive line Ireland has constructed is, without a doubt, the worst unit in the entire league and arguably the worst in franchise history.
Look at the sack total, which now stands at 37 and is still the most in the entire NFL. Tannehill was sacked 35 times in 16 games as a rookie. He's already been brought down twice more in nine games this season.
Look at the rushing totals. The Dolphins' most recent effort on the ground was the most pitiful rushing display in team history. Miami managed a mere two rushing yards against the Buccaneers in Week 10, falling short of the previous franchise low of seven which occurred in 2006.
The offensive line can't protect its quarterback. It can't pave the way for the running game effectively, either. And the inadequacy traces back to Ireland, who let Long walk, signed a dud at right tackle in Clabo, didn't select an offensive lineman until the third round of April's draft and didn't pull the trigger on a potential trade with the Kansas City Chiefs to acquire left tackle Branden Albert when he had the chance.
Whiffing on Mike Wallace
Despite the uncertainty on the offensive line, there was hope Tannehill would be the beneficiary of an upgraded arsenal of weapons to throw to after Ireland signed free agent receiver Mike Wallace to a $60 million deal.
Wallace projected to be the big-play machine Tannehill needed to help the offense emerge as an elite unit. The attention Wallace was expected to draw was also supposed to free up Miami's other pass catchers to become more productive.
Instead, Wallace is currently on pace for just 880 receiving yards, he leads the NFL in drops with nine and has one less touchdown on the season than the two former seventh-round pick Rishard Matthews managed against the Buccaneers on Monday night alone.
Tannehill has yet to develop any sort of chemistry or rhythm with Wallace and has under thrown him on several occasions, but Wallace has been a complete bust thus far given his salary. He drops too many passes, doesn't look comfortable catching the football in traffic, lacks desire, runs poor routes and, overall, just hasn't been a very good football player.
The Dolphins and Tannehill need a receiver who consistency makes plays over the middle and in the short to intermediate range, in addition to separating deep. Wallace can do the latter but not much else.
Gamble at Linebacker Backfires
At the dawn of free agency, Ireland replaced linebackers Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett, who were solid albeit less than spectacular, by signing Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler to $35 million and $26 million contracts, respectively. The two were supposed to reinvigorate the linebacker corps with younger, fresher legs that would allow the Dolphins' defense to become faster and more attacking.
Instead, Ellerbe and Wheeler have consistently missed tackles, been abused in space and have become complete liabilities against the run, oftentimes attempting to run around blocks as opposed to shedding them.
Ellerbe currently ranks 26th of 53 inside linebackers while Wheeler grades as the second worst 4-3 outside linebacker in the entire NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. Both players have struggled tremendously against the run and have missed a combined 23 tackles.
The departed Dansby and Burnett, meanwhile, each own positive grades through 10 weeks according to Pro Football Focus. The result has seen a defense that ranked 13th against the run in 2012, drop to 25th so far in 2013.
Considering the Dolphins have a fairly stout defensive line with three of the top defensive tackles in the league in Randy Starks, Paul Soliai and Jared Odrick, there is no excuse as to why the Dolphins could be fielding one of the leakiest front sevens in the NFL. But they are, and Miami's new set of linebackers deserve most of, if not all of the blame.
Jumping the Gun on Reshad Jones
Even Ireland's seemingly sound decisions have backfired. Take strong safety Reshad Jones for example. Jones' play in 2012, when he amassed 94 tackles and intercepted four passes, was stellar enough to warrant a new deal.
Since Ireland rewarded him with a four-year, near $30 million extension, and Jones has drastically regressed. Through nine games, Jones ranks 80th among 85 qualifying safeties according to Pro Football Focus.
He isn't flying to the football like he did a year ago nor has he been the playmaker in coverage he became under his rookie contract. Being compensated like one of the top safeties in football has clearly led to Jones losing his edge and hunger.
In hindsight, Ireland should have waited to see if Jones could replicate or build off of his performance last season before handing him a $30 million deal. Consistency should precede a lucrative, multi-year contract, not the other way around.
Letting Talent Get Away
Ireland made some crucial mistakes in free agency this past offseason. Not only does that go for the players he brought in, but also the players he let get away.
As previously mentioned, left tackle Jake Long has returned to form in St. Louis. Only four tackles in the entire NFL have graded better on Pro Football Focus, as Long has been very solid in pass protection and run blocking in 2013. Needless to say, the league's most anemic offensive line could have used him this season.
At running back, a backfield that is coming off of a new franchise low for rushing yards in a game, had no room for Reggie Bush eight months ago. Bush took his talents to the Detroit Lions where his 966 total yards is considerably more than the 795 total yards Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas have produced this season combined.
On defense, Miami allowed cornerback Sean Smith to bolt for Kansas City. Smith was an inconsistent player for the Dolphins, but he's in the midst of the best season of his career in 2013, ranking 15th among all cornerbacks on Pro Football Focus.
No Contribution from Rookie Class
Ireland may have had his fare share of misses in free agency, but at least he had five selections in the draft's first three rounds to load up on talent.
Those five picks produced four rookies after Ireland shipped one of Miami's second-round picks to the Oakland Raiders in order to trade up to the No. 3 overall slot for Dion Jordan.
Jordan has been an effective pass rusher at times during his debut season, but no healthy rookie inside the top 20 picks has seen fewer snaps, which is an indictment on the coaching staff that doesn't help Ireland's cause.
As for the rest of the class?
Second-round pick Jamar Taylor has only been active for five of the Dolphins' nine games at cornerback. Despite a porous offensive line, tackle/guard Dallas Thomas, who was taken with Miami's first third-round choice, hasn't been active for a game all season and looked like a revolving door during his playing time in the preseason. The Dolphins' other third-round selection, cornerback Will Davis, has only been active for one game this year even after displaying some ball-hawking ability in the preseason.
It's still too early to judge most of these rookies. Each could easily go on to have successful careers. But in 2013, the Dolphins aren't getting a significant contribution from their top draft picks. And, once again, the onus falls on Ireland.
There's no telling how many years the Dolphins will be affected by the mess Ireland created this past offseason. Firing him is really the only logical play for owner Stephen Ross.
Ross simply can't allow Ireland to keep risking the future of the organization with every signing, trade and draft selection.