The Dolphins are off to their best start in a decade, and some surmised the biggest winner has been Jeff Ireland, the Dolphins general manager.
But in reality, doubt about Irelands job security was largely erased in the offseason, when the Dolphins quietly extended his contract, a league source told the Miami Herald on Monday.
Details about the deal have not been made public, but the new contract ensures Ireland will be with the team through at least the 2014 season. His previous deal was set to expire after the current campaign.
Ireland has been the teams general manager since 2008, overseeing a tumultuous period for the franchise. After making the playoffs in his first year with the team, the Dolphins followed that with four consecutive losing seasons.
But Ireland also drafted Ryan Tannehill, who is turning into a star, and went big in the offseason. He spent more than $100 million in guarantees to lure high-priced free agents such as wide receiver Mike Wallace, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and cornerback Brent Grimes.
Although its early, the Dolphins have seen huge returns on their investment. Theyre 3-0 for the first time since 2002 and tied with New England for first place in the AFC East.
The Dolphins declined a request for comment on Irelands extension Monday.
The deal appears to be part of an organizational strategy to avoid having high-level employees work under the stress and demands of a contract year.
The Dolphins famously gave Tony Sparano an extension after courting Jim Harbaugh, only to fire Sparano midway through the following season.
Team owner Stephen Ross gave a hint into his thinking when he met with the media last month, saying: I think [Ireland is] doing a great job, and Im committed to Jeff Ireland.
Said Dolphins coach Joe Philbin on Monday: I think we have a very dedicated personnel staff. Its headed by Jeff. Those guys are very professional in what they do, very thorough in what they do.
If you dont have people on the same page, people going in different directions, its not going to work.
General managers are tasked not just with signing stars, but also building depth throughout the roster so when injuries crop up, there are competent players in place ready to step in.
The Dolphins depth particularly on the defensive side was tested in their 27-23 victory Sunday against the Falcons, and likely will be again Monday when they face the Saints.
Already without defensive tackle Paul Soliai (knee) and cornerback Dimitri Patterson (groin), the Dolphins lost defensive end Cameron Wake and linebacker Koa Misi to injuries during the game.
Wake sustained a knee injury, and though the injury is not considered serious, it has the potential to sideline him a couple of weeks. The severity of Misis shoulder injury, however, was unclear Monday.
Without them, the Dolphins had to scramble, inserting reserves into critical roles.
While Jared Odrick (on the field for 58 out of 71 defensive snaps) and Randy Starks (54) predictably saw their production go way up with Soliai out, Vaughn Martin also had an increased work load. Martin, given just one defensive snap against the Colts, was on the field for 25 plays against Atlanta.
At defensive end, Derrick Shelby and Dion Jordan split the plays missed by Wake. Jordan was particularly effective, hurrying Matt Ryan four times and stuffing a key third-down run.
Likewise, Jason Trusnik (19 snaps), Jelani Jenkins (13) and Jonathan Freeny (3) filled in for Misi.
Philbin, predictably coy on the matter of injuries, did acknowledge that having the additional day of recovery this week might make the difference for players on the mend.
But if their injuries linger for a few weeks, the Dolphins could decide to just rest them through the bye, which comes in Week 6, and bring them back fresh for the Bills game Oct. 20.
Were going to have to play our best game [against the Saints] to have a chance to win, Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said.