In news first broken by Zach Krantz of WQAM and since verified by other outlets including FoxSports and the Miami Herald, it appears that Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross plans on shaking up the Dolphins' front office structure by hiring former Jets executive Mike Tannenbaum to the position of "Executive Vice President of Football Operations." Tannenbaum has spent the past year as a high level adviser to Ross with a special emphasis on new "Sports Science" technology, and he's also been working as an agent for notable coaches including defensive coordinator Dan Quinn of the Seahawks, who is considered a top head coach candidate. Per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, sophomore Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey will keep his job title but report directly to Tannenbaum in a dynamic similar to former Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland reporting to Executive VP of Football Operations Bill Parcells from 2008 to 2010.
That being said, job titles are fungible in the NFL. Some GMs are GMs in title only because true GM powers rest with a VP or even the head coach of the team. In other cases, the team's Executive VP of Football Operations oversees the GM but largely allows the GM to make most decisions independently. It's unclear at this point how much micro-managing Tannenbaum plans to do in his new job role with the Dolphins. All that's known for sure right now is that the Dolphins are about to give Tannenbaum at least some influence on personnel decisions, and he would be reporting directly to Ross.
Tannenbaum's record with the Jets is mixed, as he made some smart veteran acquisitions like linebacker Bart Scott and cornerback Antonio Cromartie, as well as some excellent draft picks like 3-4 DE Muhammad Wilkerson in the first round of the 2011 draft and guard Matt Slauson in the 6th round of the 2009 draft. That being said, he also was aggressive in trading away draft picks and drafted notable busts including Vernon Gholston and Stephen Hill. Tannenbaum eventually lost his job with the Jets after the 2012 season because of his two key decisions related to the QB position. He not only drafted quarterback Mark Sanchez early in the first round of the 2009 draft but also infamously gave Sanchez an early contract extension with significant guaranteed money in part to boost the "confidence" of the inconsistent quarterback. Those two moves along with Sanchez's failed development contributed to the Jets' roster limitations and losing seasons late in Tannenbaum's tenure as GM. Ultimately, the new Dolphins VP's "win-now" approach contributed both to the Jets' success in 2009 and 2010 as well as the Jets' decline the past few years.
A frequent fan complaint about Ross' tenure as Dolphins owner is his fondness for half-measures that lead to confusion about who is ultimately in charge when things go wrong. After a somewhat promising 2014 offseason with GM Dennis Hickey firmly in charge yet also drawing praise for his collaboration with head coach Joe Philbin when making personnel decisions, fans could be stuck guessing whether the Dolphins' future moves are being guided by Hickey, Philbin, Tannenbaum, or a combination of the above from now on. Joe Philbin will still report directly to owner Stephen Ross rather than reporting to Tannebaum, which could cause some drama down the line if the new VP doesn't get along with Philbin as well as the personable Dennis Hickey has so far. Still, Tannenbaum can look forward to at least one ally in the Dolphins' front office since he's previously worked with Dolphins' salary cap specialist Dawn Aponte in the Jets' front office. Some fans wanted to see changes made after an 8-8 season, and Ross has (somewhat) delivered. Let's hope that a freshly hired VP and a head coach entering the final year of his current contract share the same vision for the team and work together effectively from this point forward.
5:15 p.m. Update: Details have begun to emerge about how much power Hickey has lost (if any). While Hickey no longer reports directly to Stephen Ross, according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:
Hickey's contract gives him final say over 53 man roster and that will not change. Will work closely with Tannenbaum. Aponte will remain.— Barry Jackson (@flasportsbuzz) January 6, 2015
The relationship between Jeff Ireland and Bill Parcells involved Ireland technically being the GM but Parcells having the power to make key personnel decisions, such as being in charge on draft day. It would appear that Tannenbaum's relationship to Hickey will likely be less "hands on." Tannenbaum will likely sit in on meetings and offer his input on free agents and draft prospects but otherwise will mostly let Hickey handle the day-to-day GM duties, such as scouting draft prospects and meeting with free agents. However, Tannenbaum will be in charge of assessing Hickey's moves and "grading" them for Ross because Hickey no longer will present his plans directly to Ross, and that does have some meaning since Tannenbaum (as a former GM) is more likely to have strong opinions on personnel moves than Ross would.
Presumably, as Hickey's supervisor, Tannenbaum could build a case for firing Hickey if Hickey makes any decisions that Tannenbaum strongly opposes. Therefore, while Hickey is technically in charge and could choose to defy Tannenbaum at times, Hickey has a strong incentive to minimize disagreements with his new boss if he wants to keep his job long-term. Tannenbaum probably won't be as "hands on" in managing Hickey as Parcells was in managing Ireland, but by the same token, Hickey has to now try to stay on Tannenbaum's good side, which involves listening to his new boss' opinions in addition to continuing to collaborate with the Dolphins coaches.
5:30 p.m. Update: The Dolphins have officially announced the hiring of Tannenbaum.