Jeff Ireland doesn’t live in a bubble. He knows he’s a lightning rod — or “polarizing,” as he put it Tuesday.
But impressions, like fortunes on the football field, can change. For Ireland, the former won’t come without the latter.
And so, with an arsenal of cap space and draft picks, he has an aggressive plan to change what he can control: The Dolphins’ on-field product.
In his first media availability since the end of the season, Miami’s general manager acknowledged Tuesday that the team didn’t have enough firepower in 2012 and all but promised to bring in game-changing players this offseason.
“There’s a gap between one and two in our division,” Ireland said at the Senior Bowl. “We’ve got to find guys that are scoring touchdowns.”
He added: “I think this is the year that you’ve got to do something. … We look forward to making some exciting news before too long.”
Ireland certainly has the ammunition. With nine draft picks — including five in the first three rounds — and more than $45 million in salary cap space, the Dolphins are set up to be major players over the next three months. All options are on the table: free agency, draft and trades.
“Joe [Philbin] and I have a clear vision on how we’ll help this football team,” Ireland said. “This is a big offseason for us. We understand that.”
What exactly does he plan to do? Ireland did a good job of not tipping his hand. Still, he provided some nuggets of news in the 30-minute session with reporters.
Among them:• The team is in contract talks with pending free agent Jake Long, the former No. 1 overall pick.
Once a dominant left tackle, Long has had some slippage in recent years, so Ireland was asked if he still considered Long elite.
“I think Jake can still play in this league, for sure,” Ireland said. “I’m not going to tell you if I think he’s elite because I’m still in a contract negotiation. I’ve had a good conversation with Jake.
“Jake has a decision to make. We have a difficult decision to make. It’s a very, very difficult decision, and it’s a very complicated negotiation.”
Ireland didn’t rule out using the franchise tag on Long or one of the roughly dozen other Dolphin players whose contracts are up.
“All those guys have contributed to this football team in various ways,” he said. “It’s a great group of character guys. I wish I could have them all back. We have some tough decisions to make moving forward.”• On Ryan Tannehill, the eighth pick in last year’s draft who started all 16 games this season: “I was pleased with his progress. He’s played 35, 36 games [at quarterback] in his career now. That’s where those guys start to make a big jump in their development.”
Asked what specifically Tannehill needs to improve: Ireland said consistency.• On Pat Devlin possibly serving as the backup quarterback, should Matt Moore sign elsewhere, Ireland said, “I think Pat Devlin has done an outstanding job. He’s highly, highly intelligent. … Anything’s possible. I think Pat’s capable of being that.”
• On tight end Michael Egnew, the third-round pick from a year ago who played in just two games, and didn’t record a catch all season, Ireland said: “I have a high regard for him. He’s going to have a good season this year. I feel comfortable about that.”
While Ireland tries to block out the criticism heaped his way after four losing seasons in a row, he has taken the playoff drought to heart. He often gets on the treadmill at 4:30 in the morning to pound away the frustration.
Still, he’s satisfied with the direction of the franchise moving forward.
“I feel like I’ve been aggressive where I need to be aggressive,” Ireland said. “There have been some decisions that have been smart. The decisions we’ve made to get us where we’re at, as far as cap space and draft picks, that’s by design.”