Saturday, January 18, 2014

The End of the Ireland Way?

The End of the Ireland Way?

Miami continues to interview candidates to join their new personnel management structure.  How this will actually work is not clear. It would appear on the surface the new “GM” will of course be in charge of the scouting department and responsible for rating all available players possible to acquire through drafting, free agency or trade.  However, what I believe is going to change is there is going to be more of a committee approach on which players are brought on to join the Dolphins.  Joe Philbin will be more involved as will Dawn Aponte.   What does this mean for the type of players that will join the Dolphins going forward?  Well before taking a stab at what I think will change, I thought I would review what I think was the “Ireland Way”.  

Ireland Way Step One – Acquire as many players from the draft as possible for the 53 man roster.

Player acquisition changed drastically with the new CBA. Rookie deals were brought into check. The goal of this was of course to make sure veterans are paid more and the rookies have to earn it.  Jeff Ireland was on top of this concept as it happened and he started making trades for draft picks.  The simple fact is if you are able to acquire some solid talent in the draft, the contracts those players carry are far less than a veteran.  This year the Dolphins had several players that were solid contributors whom were on very favorable contracts.  Charles Clay, Daniel Thomas, Lamar Miller, Nolan Carroll, Ryan Tannehill, Rishard Mathews, Olivier Veron etc.  Of course you can debate how these players rate against other players in the league in performance. But it is clear they are steals in terms of what they were paid against the league and if you are building on 3-4 year plan it is the obvious way to go.

Ireland Way Step Two – Avoid 3rd contract players.

For a typical player (excluding special teams and quarterbacks) there are 3 main contracts.

  1. Rookie Deal – Very Cap Friendly as covered above (Player age early to mid-20’s)
  2. 2nd Contract (Player age mid 20’s to late 20’s)
  3. 3rd contract (Player age early 30’s to mid-30’s)

When Jeff Ireland opened up the checkbook and spent big money it was on 2nd contract players.  He typically overpaid the market to acquire them in fact. Examples-  Brandon Marshall,  Karlos Dansby, Dannell Ellerbe,  Mike Wallace.   I think this approach was done to try to avoid dead money.  Dead money usually happens when a player is either hurt, declines in ability or gets in legal trouble. This leads to them getting cut before playing out their contract that was front loaded with a big signing bonus.  Yes you can say the Dolphins overpaid for these players but to date all of them sustained a high level of play for the term of the contract they signed. (Even though Marshall and Dansby on other teams). The point being Ireland avoided 3rd contract players because they carry a higher risk of becoming dead money.

Ireland Way Step 3 – Offer 1 Year prove it deals later in free agency

Very few teams are going to offer 3-4 year deals to players coming off serious injuries or players getting up into their mid-30’s.  However, as the draft passes as well as the free agency frenzy passes, teams still have holes.  This season it was TE, CB and OL for the Dolphins.  So Ireland did his bargain shopping and offered out 1 year prove it deals to acquire Brent Grimes, Dustin Keller, Lance Louis, and Tyson Clabo.  With the year passed you can see this is very much rolling the dice. Grimes was an absolute steal, Louis never returned to form, Keller was hurt (what happens with older injury prone players), and Clabo underperformed (not uncommon with players advancing in their 30’s) This method is attractive because the players that did not prove it will not cause any cap burden.  Did Jake Long out play Tyson Clabo this year? Yes he probably did (until Long was done for the year anyway). However, Clabo is now clear and won’t take up any cap space if they choose to not resign him. Jake Long on the other hand will likely be cap drain on the Rams for the next few years.

Ireland Way Step 4 – Offer ascending players early 2nd contracts.

For most teams it is uncommon to sign a player before their current deal ends. The reason is football is a sport that causes severe injuries all the time. So putting a large signing bonus in a player that otherwise would play at a rookie deal is risky. On the flip side letting them hit the market makes them very expensive to sign when they perform well and are healthy.  Ireland did roll the dice on doing this for Cameron Wake, Reshad Jones and Koa Misi.  The benefit for the player is they set themselves for life prior to going through the risk of another season at a low contract. The negative is they leave money on the table if they make it through a solid season.  I know most people are saying Ireland overpaid for Jones, however, I still think Jones would have gotten a very nice offer based on his age and performance capability this offseason.  Bottom line is all 3 of those players should be back next season playing at a high level and have been retained at a manageable cap number.

The question now is will this approach change with Ireland being gone? This will be tested early in free agency as Miami is desperate for some OLine help. Will they overpay for a player going into his 30’s and take on an increased risk of dead money on a player that Ireland would avoid? Or will they try to draft players first and roll the dice on some 1 year “prove it deals” later on? Will Aponte allow them to make a splash and over pay the market  for a top 2nd contract player on the OLine?   My take is to expect Philbin to increase the weight on character and player reliability and expect Aponte to avoid over paying.  This is going to narrow down the pool of players they are willing to sign so I expect the Dolphins to be static in free agency until the draft it over.  What does this mean for the players in-house?  Well I expect two of their high profile players going for 3rd contracts to be gone.  Those players being Paul Solia (Overweight) and Randy Starks (Gave Philbin the bird on opening day).  I think they will break from the Ireland way however, and roll the dice on a 3rd contract player giving Brent Grimes a solid 3 year deal. They have space at the position to pull it off.  Will Davis and Jamar Taylor are cheap so I think they invest the money in Grimes.  Maybe just me hoping, but with needing 5-6 Olineman (starters and depth) 1-2 Tight Ends, and probably 1-2 D-Tackles.  I don’t think they can afford to add the starting #1 cornerback to that list of holes to fill.  In any event it will be very interesting to see how the new management handles personnel.

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Great read gofins4sb.
One might think you were not one of the "Fireland" fans but a quiet supporter.


Ha ha I would not say I am a supporter. I think Ireland was ruthless with horrible PR skills. Was going after Harbaugh and the Dez Bryant a PR mess? Yes. However did Dez Bryant headbutt his mother and did Harbaugh lead a team to the super bowl? Also a yes. The team is not a mess. A mess is low on talent with no cap space. Ireland would have had a playoff team if he would have gave the picks and contract for Brandon Albert. But ultimately J Martin Ingonito Clabo, Louis, and drafting Dallas Thomas put the Dolphins in a position they could not control the line of scrimmage. The Defense wore out late in games. By the end of the year only Pouncey would have started for any other NFL team. So I would not say Ireland was some guru that did an amazing job. But the team has a lot of young talent in place with an estimated 30 million in cap space. They are actually in pretty good shape to fill some holes and be a real force. I hope the new management can take away some of the good contract management things Ireland did and do a better job drafting . Also, maybe not swear at fans and leave Moms out of draft questions would help to lol.


Nice article. My problems with Ireland were strictly with the personnel choices. Too many draft choices of players that were overvalued by the Dolphins and no one else. I'm still scratching my head over the Dallas Thomas selection. Ireland's leaning towards rookies and 2nd time contracts is sound. Just make better personnel choices and it would work. Imo

Keep cranking out the good articles.


I agree. The problem I had with Ireland is that he refused to go after offensive playmakers in the early rounds. He'd rather trade down and pick up 2 Egnew-type TEs in the middle rounds than draft a Jimmy Graham in the 1st round. He worried too much about "perceived value" of a draft pick than the actual talent of the player. To him, wheeling and dealing in the draft for additional late-round picks with "potential" was more important than selecting sure-fire playmakers.


IMO, Ireland couldn't draft worth crap! Am I glad to have Dion Jordan on the team? Absolutely. Am I happy that he is 3rd on the depth chart behind Wake and Vernon who have many good years in front if them? NO!! Picking him 3rd overall was a horrible pick, a DE was not a team need. In Ireland's defense I believe he did really well in free agency, but as we all know, you don't build a consistent winner through the free agent market. Now, going forward, Ross' loyalty us to Philbin, I know every beat writer for the Phins seems to believe this is a recipe for disaster but I don't think so. The new GM is going to come in with the understanding that they have to draft and acquire players through trade and free agency that fit what Philbin wants. That my friends in already a step in the right direction. No more toes will be stepped on and no more people will be getting thrown under busses!...


All good points.
I swear!!!