The immediate local reaction that counts, the one at the ticket window, has been lukewarm to the Dolphins’ so-far impressive offseason talent-grab in free agency. Indeed, the club privately admits the ticket-buying surge in 2010 after the Karlos Dansby and Brandon Marshall acquisitions outpaced the recent one following the signing of Mike Wallace and a couple of new linebackers.
So the ticket-buying crowd is still in show-me mode.
But Dolphins brass?
Well, owner Stephen Ross spent part of his airplane ride to this NFL annual meeting watching quarterback Ryan Tannehill highlights, including his college exploits as a receiver, and Monday proclaimed he and backup Matt Moore are “as good a one-two punch at the quarterback position as anybody.”
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Both the owner and general manager Jeff Ireland are convinced that today, barely a week into free agency, with the draft in April and the NFL trade period stretching for six more months, the Dolphins are already better than they were at the end of last year.
“We certainly think we are,” Ireland said. “We certainly think we are because we’ve made some great moves to get younger, get faster, more explosive, more physical. Some of the moves we’ve made are certainly upgrades to what we’re trying to get accomplished on both offense and defensively.
“It’s a combination of free agency, other player acquisition time periods and obviously the draft that went into this thing and we said, ‘OK we’ve got nine or 10 draft picks coming up here. We’ve got dollars to allocate to free agency. But we’ve had a lot of free agents on our own team we knew we had to replace.
“We knew we had to be active, not only to sign our own free agents, but if we weren’t able to retain our own we then we had to go out and get some other ones as well. The player acquisition period is not over. You still have some free agency left. You still have the draft left. We’re still trying to upgrade this football team. But we’re excited where we are right now.”
Before Ross and Ireland met with the media Monday they were coached on how to be as bland and unassuming as possible. They were basically prepped on how to be boring. But they couldn’t do it.
They were full of energy. They were glowing in optimistic. And, try as they might, the possibility of a Super Bowl reared its head.
“If you don’t think that’s what our goal is and the only reason why we’re putting this team together, you’re nuts,” Ross said. “But when it’s going to happen, no one is making any predictions. You’re putting the pieces in place, and it’s a young team and that’s the most important thing, putting the pieces together and developing them.”
Miami’s owner and general manager aren’t the only ones excited about what’s happening with the franchise this offseason. Players they have signed or re-signed — guys such as linebackers Dannell Ellerbe, who comes from a Super Bowl team, and backup quarterback Matt Moore, who has seen Miami’s ups and downs — have told them they see something grand developing in Miami.
“The sales pitch from us is we’re one of the youngest teams in the league,” Ireland said. “We had the least amount of 30-year-olds on the team last year. That’s all by design.
“But the fact of the matter is there’s excitement with our coach. There’s excitement with our offensive movement. There’s excitement that there’s a young quarterback in place. There’s excitement about our willingness to put the pieces in place.”
This is about the time in the column where the reader pauses and recalls all the other times the Dolphins have claimed to be headed in the right direction and ultimately failed.
Remember 1995 when Don Shula gathered 19 former first-round draft picks to make one last-gasp Super Bowl push that resulted in a 9-7 season.
Remember the addition of Ricky Williams that was supposed to push the Dolphins over the top. Remember the trade for Daunte Culpepper that had Sports Illustrated picking the Dolphins to go to the Super Bowl.
The Dolphins are aware of those failures so know success the first week of free agency does not equal a title.
“I think Jeff has done a great job with the plan he had in mind. I think the result of what he’s done creates a very exciting team,” Ross said. “We all know you don’t win in March and April. You win in September, October, November. And December. And, hopefully, January.
“But you can’t but be excited knowing what we’ve done to date and having nine draft choices, we have the opportunity of creating a team that is not only exciting but young because we didn’t reach for old veterans to sign and hope they still had something left.”
Aside from adding Wallace to bring a much-need deep threat, the moves Ireland believes have the most promise are the additions of linebackers Phillip Wheeler and Ellerbe.
“We felt like there was an opportunity in free agency for a more physical presence on the defense,” Ireland said. “No knock to Dansby or Burnett, but the two guys we signed are younger, they run exceptionally well, they’re very, very physical. We’re excited about that corps.”
The Dolphins must impress their fans before even one game is played to get them to turn out and vote in favor of upgrading Sun Life Stadium. Happy fans, obviously, can be enthusiastic voters.
“We didn’t do this and sign these players to win a vote,” Ross said. “They’re totally independent acts.”
But it doesn’t hurt.