Looking for hope after a bleak March for the Dolphins

Posted March 28, 2012 @ 4:18 p.m.
Posted By Kevin Fishbain

Football games are decided in September, not March, but don’t tell Dolphins fans that, and they have plenty of reason to be frustrated.

The organization’s recent tradition of whiffing when swinging for the fences has turned what was once the class of the NFL into a laughingstock. A handful of fans protested outside the team facility last week, calling for GM Jeff Ireland’s job.

In the past 14 months, the Dolphins have tried, and failed, to land Jim Harbaugh, Jeff Fisher, Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn. So far this offseason, the Dolphins have lost Brandon Marshall (traded), Yeremiah Bell (cut) and Kendall Langford (signed with Rams) and signed David Garrard, Richard Marshall, Artis Hicks and Jamaal Westerman. They also re-signed NT Paul Soliai.

That's not exactly the net result fans were looking for.

The Dolphins have had two winning seasons dating back to 2004. They are coming off three consecutive losing seasons for the first time since the 1960s.

Owner Stephen Ross, who has received the brunt of the criticism, spoke to the media Monday from the owners meetings in Palm Beach, Fla. He is well aware of the criticism and emphasized a concerted effort to increase transparency and communication with the fans.

“I think there probably hasn’t been enough communication with (the fans). We’re going to engage in that a lot more,” he said. “Free agency has a period to run. I don’t know if there are a lot of major names out there but there’s the draft. There’s a whole plan that we have set forth. some things go well; some things don’t go as you would have like them to go. I think you know what I’m referring to from the standpoint with regard to Peyton Manning. We’re looking to really take this football team to a different level.”

Finding out that the owner, who personally called two fans last week, wants to increase communication isn’t necessarily what South Florida wants to hear. The Bills fortified their defense with Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, the Patriots remain the favorites in the division and the Jets still have plenty of talent and added LaRon Landry. Miami looks to enter 2012 as the predicted bottom-dweller in the AFC East.

With all that said, it’s time to attempt to bring Dolphins fans back from the ledge. This doesn’t look like a playoff team, and it might be a rebuilding one at that — even if the brass won’t admit it. But here’s a glass-half-full look at what has gone on this offseason and what is to come for a franchise that certainly “lost” in March.

1. Dolphins fail to sign Peyton Manning — Well, so did a lot of other teams. The Cardinals, Titans, Seahawks, Jets, Chiefs, 49ers and others all failed to grab the golden goose of free agency. And when you look closer at Manning’s reasoning for choosing the Broncos — his familiarity with John Elway — it’s understandable why Miami wasn’t his preferred locale. Ireland and head coach Joe Philbin can’t control that they didn’t have that familiarity with Manning.

2. Dolphins lose Matt Flynn to Seahawks — My belief all along about Flynn has been this: No head coach in the NFL knows him better than Philbin, and if Philbin believed that Flynn was truly the franchise quarterback the Dolphins needed, Ross would have done whatever it took to land him. “Money will never be an issue for us becoming a winning football team, that I can tell you right now,” Ross said on Monday. If you want to be optimistic, believe that Philbin didn’t think it was worth getting into a bidding war for Flynn.

3. Dolphins settle for David Garrard after talking with Alex Smith — One thing to remember is that while Matt Moore is far from a franchise quarterback, and his own franchise has admitted that often since the season ended, he threw 16 touchdown passes and nine interceptions last season behind a shaky offensive line and won six games as a starter. Garrard, if healthy, would be a solid veteran backup and it’s expected that Miami will select its quarterback of the future early in the draft. The QB position is not solidified yet, but with an early-round developmental signalcaller, like Ryan Tannehill, it will be in better shape than it was last season.

4. Jeff Ireland continues to drop the ball in bringing free agents to Miami — Ross turned some heads in December when he decided to axe Tony Sparano but retain Ireland. “I think it’s unfair, I don’t like it. I don’t think Jeff likes it,” Ross said about the heat Ireland has received. “Comes with the job,” Ireland said. “It’s not my first time to have a little adversity.” Want some optimism? Ireland’s best attribute is considered his scouting, and the early returns on his first draft without Bill Parcells in the room are positive. Mike Pouncey had a solid year at center, Charles Clay emerged as a weapon on offense, Daniel Thomas showed some flashes when healthy, Jimmy Wilson made a couple plays in the secondary and Clyde Gates came on late in the season. This is another crucial draft for Ireland, especially with an expected pick coming at the quarterback position, but Dolphins fans can look at last year’s draft and feel at least an ounce of confidence that the GM can come through with some immediate contributors. But Ireland will need to do a lot more than draft well to keep protesters away from the facility.

The picture is bleak in Miami for many reasons, and right now it is because the team simply has yet to improve based on free agency. Another receiver needs to step up, the right side of the O-line needs to be filled and there are plenty of questions at safety — and that’s not even mentioning play at the crucial quarterback position. But, looking at it from a more positive light, re-signing Soliai was a very good move. Miami still should have one of the better front sevens in the NFL, and on offense, the Dolphins still have top talents such as Jake Long and Reggie Bush.

It’s hard for the fans to find any silver lining, and unless the Dolphins have a stellar draft and can pile up victories in the fall, their failures in March will show that “losing” the offseason can come back and bite you.

Follow Kevin Fishbain on Twitter