Greg Cote: Onus is on Dion Jordan, and also on GM Jeff Ireland

Miami Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland talks about top draft pick Dion Jordan after Miami moved up to No. 3 overall to select the pass-rusher from Oregon on April 25, 2013.
Miami Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland talks about top draft pick Dion Jordan after Miami moved up to No. 3 overall to select the pass-rusher from Oregon on April 25, 2013.
Joe Rimkus Jr. / STAFF PHOTO

Do we trust the Dolphins yet? More to the point, do we trust general manager Jeff Ireland?

Those are really the questions that should resonate across South Florida today in the wake of a Thursday night first-round NFL Draft decision by Miami that was instantly surprising, questionable and polarizing. It might have been smart, too. Brilliant, even! We can’t know yet. That’s where the matter of trust comes in.

Miami traded up from the 12th overall selection to the third, a canyon leap, a bold move. Miami did that to draft Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan, a pure “edge” pass rusher, a guy who is supposed to scare Tom Brady. Ireland looks at Jordan, this tall, thin, quick young man, and thinks he sees the second coming of Jason Taylor.

So the question isn’t so much whether Jordan the sacker is that good. The question is whether Ireland the evaluator is that good.

If it’s the Packers or Bill Belichick making the decision Miami just did, it might be hailed as genius. Or at least not questioned. But the Dolphins are still wavering between benefit of doubt and just doubt. That’s why the consensus of opinion ricocheting among Dolfans right now is not a referendum on Jordan as much as it is a verdict on whether the beleaguered Ireland has won back the faith or not.

Momentum is something sensed more than easily quantified. You feel it, and I think the Dolphins have begun to have it. Finally. After a long stretch of fan-numbing mediocrity the franchise seems to have lifted itself and begun moving forward again.

Last year it was the hiring of coach Joe Philbin and the drafting of quarterback Ryan Tannehill that reset the foundation. This year it was the free agent signing of receiver Mike Wallace. Even something as outwardly insignificant as the redesigned logo and new uniforms unveiled Thursday represent a symbol of change. Of a fresh start.

This was the framework that made Thursday night’s first-round pick in Miami’s 48th franchise draft an important one. Momentum can be a fragile thing, can’t it? The Dolphins needed a selection — especially after a big trade-up — that excited or at least stood out as unequivocally solid and smart. What they did not need (especially after a big trade-up) was the kind of pick that made fans look at each other and go “Huh?” The kind of pick that might have invited new doubts about the GM Ireland.

This draft is important for a club not only trying to win games, but trying to win back fans. Trying to reassert itself in a market it once owned, but a market usurped by LeBron James and the champion Heat.

I’m not sure Miami’s first-round decision Thursday night delivered on that.

But whether that doubt is about Jordan or about Ireland remains to be seen.

The trade-up itself was a bargain for Miami. Swapping a No. 12 overall pick for a No. 3 by having to throw in a second-round pick (42nd overall) is a modest price — especially when you have another second-round pick and two third-round picks.

The issue is whether we trust Ireland had NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announce the right name.

The talking heads on ESPN were all sure Miami had traded up to select Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson to replace departed Jake Long. That would have made sense … unless Ireland was privately confident the trade with the Chiefs for tackle Branden Albert (for that other second-round pick) still will happen.

If they end up getting Albert, then taking Jordan – rather than an offensive lineman — seems much less questionable.

I predicted and would have liked if Miami had gone all-in on surrounding Ryan Tannehill with firepower by drafting Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert. Then again I can’t very well criticize drafting Jordan considering I’d had him going No. 2 overall in my mock draft. The attention paid him will make Cam Wake that much better. I like that Miami swiveled an emphasis back to defense after last year’s draft and recent free-agency stressed offense. Jordan’s potential is very big.

But even Jordan admitted, “I was surprised,” at Miami trading up to grab him.

Then came the obligatory bravado, of course: “If I can do one thing it’s get to the ball,” he assured. “I bring tremendous athletic ability. Overall I’m a great person.” (If he does say so himself!)

It had to be disconcerting, though, for Dolfans watching the draft live to hear ESPN’s Jon Gruden say he was “shocked” by the selection and call Jordan “a one-dimensional edge rusher” who could be defended. Durability also has been an issue with Jordan, who is recovering from shoulder surgery and may not be fully healthy for the start of summer training camp.

Miami entered this draft with 11 picks including a league-high five in the first three rounds. The math suggests that what the team does from here will be more important overall than Thursday night’s one selection. There is something about a first-round pick, though. A parade only has one lead float, and symbolically the No. 1 choice is the face of any team’s draft.

Whether or not you were cheering the Dolphins’ lead float Thursday probably gets back to your faith in the personnel chief who decided Jordan is that good, was worth the trade-up, and is worth the excitement.

Jeff Ireland.

We’ll find out if this was a good, smart pick.

In the meantime, this is far more about the man who did the picking.

Read more Greg Cote stories from the Miami Herald

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