Jeff Ireland is the punching bag general manager of the Miami Dolphins. Fans have been screaming “fire Ireland” for years, and after the meltdown of 2013 Ireland’s head is being called for again. The main criticisms of Ireland this year have been how atrocious the offensive line he built is, the infamous linebacker swap of the 2013 offseason and the Dolphins’ rookies playing less snaps than any other teams’ rookies.
These criticisms are tricky, however, as they do not tell the full story. The first criticism, his offensive line, is justified as the Dolphins set an all-time record for sacks allowed and gained less than four yards per rushing attempt. What is not said as often about Ireland is that his offensive lines were one of the best in the league for many years before Joe Philbin wanted to implement a zone running scheme, which requires athletic offensive lineman rather than maulers. Ireland has shown so far that he is not good at acquiring these types of linemen but will most likely have one more offseason to rebuild the line.
Ireland was also roasted for the linebacker swap which he made last offseason. He let two solid players, Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett, go in return for two players who were not proven but had good seasons in 2012. The new linebackers were both terrible in 2013 while Dansby had a career season. That was an awful move that really hurt the defense, and with the way they rest of the defense was playing the Dolphins could have had a top unit with better linebacker play.
Is it fair to put that one on Ireland? I don’t think so. Joe Philbin, the stubborn head coach of the Dolphins, wanted a locker room that was united with the word “united” really meaning quiet. Philbin did not want players speaking out against him so he shunned all the leaders from the team — Dansby, Burnett, Reggie Bush, Brandon Marshall, and the list goes on. Ireland was just picking up the pieces from Philbin’s leadership massacre. Those moves become forehead slaps when you realize that the Dolphins lacked leadership all season, especially during the two-game collapse to end the season.
Based on Philbin’s short track record, the rookies will get their playing time next year. Ireland’s 2012 draft was also criticized, yet it produced three starters for the 2013 season. And for the fans who say the players that he picked are just plain bad, keep in mind that Philbin was in the draft room with Ireland the whole time letting him know which players would fit his system. Ireland only picked the groceries; Philbin cooked the meal.
Stephen Ross has some tough decisions coming in the next couple of days. There is no doubt that Ireland and Philbin’s failures directly affected each other, but when Ross evaluates the men, the ultimate question he needs to ask is was it the ingredients that made the meal bad or the way they were prepared?