Dawn Aponte. Whenever her name is written on the internet, it tends to bring out a wild debate amongst Miami Dolphins fans that compares to the debates that center around quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The only thing that's different is that the debates about Aponte only happen every few months and especially during the off-season. Tannehill debates occur almost on a daily basis.
When Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald tweeted that Aponte would be in the interview room along with Owner Stephen Ross, President and CEO Tom Garfinkel, Executive Vice-President of Football Operations Mike Tannenbaum and Vice-Chairman of the Board Matt Higgins, all hell broke loose on Twitter. Immediately, a line was drawn and you had those who supported Aponte on one side and those who thought she had no business being involved on the other. A few were in the middle because they really don't know what Aponte does.
So, what exactly does Aponte do and does she really deserve to be in the interview room? Let's take a closer look.
Aponte is in her sixth season with the Dolphins after joining the team on February 1, 2010. In July 2012, she was promoted to Executive Vice-President of Football Administration after serving as the team's Senior Vice-President of Football Operations. Her job is to work hand-in-hand with Tannenbaum on all football operations and support functions. According to the official website for the Miami Dolphins, she also serves as the team's chief contract negotiator and is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day management of the football business and administration operations, including management and strategic planning of the teams salary cap and financial planning, negotiating and drafting player and football related contracts, the football operations budgets and labor relations issues while also maintaining and cultivating the team's relationship with the NFL and its member clubs. In addition, Aponte serves as the team's liaison on league affairs.
What does all this mean? It means that she is Tannenbaum's right hand. Anything that has to do with football operations, Aponte is involved in. This includes scheduling, logistics, travel plans, staff management and so much more. When a head coach candidate comes in with his plan about the off-season program, how he wants to travel for games, what kind of programs he wants to implement, Aponte needs to be there to let the candidate and the others in the room know whether or not this can work in Miami based on financials, facilities and more.
When it comes time to contracts, she is the chief negotiator for players and coaches. What some people don't realize is that a contract in the NFL is much more than years and base salary. There are so many hidden things that we don't know about - marketing opportunities, player preferences, incentives and more. Forgetting the actual contract for the coach, this comes into play when a candidate walks into the room and lays out his plan for the roster. Believe it or not, this will include who he would like to keep, who he would like to cut or trade and who he is looking to bring in via free agency and the draft. If a coach has this dream, Aponte needs to be there to let him know if it can or can't work, given the Dolphins' salary cap situation. If Aponte is not there, that information is not readily available. So, what if that coach comes up with this great plan, sells it on everyone else, gets hired and then realizes that it can't be done because of the cap situation. How much of a mess would that be?
Her experience isn't just limited to Davie, though. In October 2013, she was named to the USA Football's Board of Directors. There, she helps guide the sport's national governing body in leading the game's development for youth, high school, and other amateur football players. She was also selected by the NFL to make a presentation in 2013 at the league's Career Development Symposium at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. A few years ago, she was a finalist for the Vice-President of Football Operations position at the league office before withdrawing her name.
This means she has a lot of various connections throughout the football industry. This will come into play when it comes time to check references and to fact check things a candidate will say when he interviews with the panel. While the people in the interview room will be making the decisions, it never hurts to get a second opinion from someone on the outside and that's exactly what Aponte will be able to do.
Prior to coming to the Dolphins, she spent the 2009 season as Vice-President of Football Administration for the Cleveland Browns. Before that, she worked for three years at the NFL office, where she served on the league's Management Council as the vice president of labor finance.
As mentioned above, she works with the league office with labor relations and collective bargaining. This means that she is the one who tells a head coach and front office whether something can or can't be done when it comes time to following the CBA. Again, when a candidate comes in and lays out his plan for what he wants to do in the off-season, Aponte will be there to say whether or not it can happen.
Now that we have background on her and what her role is with the team and in the interview room, it's important to note that she is a highly valued member of the Dolphins organization. Tannenbaum is one of her biggest supporters and said so in an article from the Miami Herald from January 2015.
"Every project I gave Dawn came back better, every idea she had was well thought out, her answer was never, ‘No,' and I could never give her enough work," Tannenbaum said. "It was a no-brainer to move her from accounting to the football side. The fact she was a woman may have given some people initial pause, but you spent 10 seconds with her and see how prepared she is. She's the kind of person you want in the room if you want to win."
He continued by saying that she would do anything to make this franchise better.
"Would this person walk on glass backward to get to work? Dawn absolutely would. That, to me, is all that matters."
Even Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, had high praise for her. He worked with Aponte when she was at the league offices for several years and still remains in contact with her today.
"Dawn is a very well-respected executive in the league. She has terrific experience, a deep understanding of salary-cap management and collective-bargaining negotiations, and a commitment to the NFL and [the] team she works for that is uncompromised."
Finally, it should be no surprise that the Dolphins have a panel of five in the interview room. This is the way Tannenbaum does business and he is the one running the search.
"Based on my track record at the Jets and being a GM there, I'm a collaborative decision-maker," Tannenbaum told the Dolphins' official website. "I know we will always get the best results with everyone's input. That's how we will continue to do things."
Aponte has received a lot of hate throughout her time with the Dolphins but the reality is that she is one of the biggest assets the team has. She is an important figure in the way the organization is run and she will continue to be there under Tannenbaum, whether you like it or not.
This column was written by Matthew Cannata. Follow him on Twitter! Follow @FinsInsider