Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland met with the media earlier today, speaking for 15 minutes at the NFL Combine. Ireland answered questions about the team's plans for the combine, free agency, and the draft. Despite the potential for this to be one of the most important offseasons in the history of the franchise, Ireland does not see it as a "make-or-break" season.
The Dolphins have the third most salary cap space in the league this year, and are expected to be major players in free agency. The team has to add offensive weapons around second year quarterback Ryan Tannehill, as well as shore up holes on defense. The team also has nine selections in April's Draft, five in the first three rounds.
Asked if the offseason could be described as "make-or-break" or "do-or-die," Ireland responded, "I'd say neither of those. I think it's very, very important time period for this off-season. We've put a lot into getting into this position so we obviously are in this position by design. We plan to use some of our money and plan to obviously draft the best players available if we can and try to address some of the needs and musts we have on our football team."
However, this draft does not appear to have the play makers the Dolphins could be trying to find. Asked about that, Ireland responded, "I think there are some difference makers. In difference makers, I'm sure you're referring to some of the skill position players.I look at it a little bit differently. I look at difference makers in the offensive line, defensive line, maybe there's a safety you there. Maybe your vision of a difference maker is not the same vision that I have. I think there's good depth in the draft. I think in our last meeting, we talked about 250 players that we like a lot. I think there's some pretty good depth."
In each of the last two drafts, the Dolphins have selected players many draft "experts" have felt are "reaches." In 2011, the team took center Mike Pouncey, despite critics feeling he was not going to be a successful center at the NFL level, projecting him to move to guard and not worth the fifteenth draft pick. Last year, the Dolphins selected Ryan Tannehill with the eighth overall pick, despite the Texas A&M Aggie having jusy 19 college starts at quarterback.
Ireland was asked about his history of taking players in the first round others may have not ranked as high. "If history repeats itself I don't really care what the public perception is," Ireland explained. "I care about what my scouts say and what my eyes are telling me. We have our own evaluations that go into it and sometimes you have a need there and sometimes you have the grade and they have to marry to each other. When they do you have to take the player."
While the Combine gives scouts and coaches a chance to see some of the potential draft prospects for April's Draft, the NFL calendar is also closing in on the start of the free agency period. For the first time this year, the NFL will give teams a three day window to talk to players prior to the free agent signing period. Will that change how teams act during free agency?
"I don't know exactly how it's going to change things," Ireland stated. "I don't know that there's going to be a lot done in that 24 hours of that time period, that's just a guess, but some of the bulk of what we can get done needs to happen before that time ... that three day window it's obviously going to be competitive because of that openness in negotiating, exactly how it's gonna change things I'm not exactly sure yet. Whatever you give to an agent in the first 24 hours, they've got 48 hours left to continue doing their work, it's a little sketchy."
Ireland was also asked if the Dolphins have to to go after a "high priced free agent. No, we're just trying to help our football team move in the right direction, I don't really feel the pressure that it has to be a name guy," Ireland replied. "If that particular player we think is gonna help our football team move forward and take a big step, and if he has a big name great, if he helps our football team that's our first and foremost primary reason why we signed the player."
Of course, Ireland and the entire Dolphins organization are master of talking to the media and not saying anything. We will all just have to wait for the free agent period to start to see if the team does get a "high priced" free agent, and we have to wait to see who they land in the draft. Until then, we will all continue to speculate how Ireland will use all the money and draft picks he has this year.