You might not know it, but the Jeff Ireland makeover is underway. The Dolphins’ general manager, the most vilified current figure in South Florida sports, is seeing his public brand gradually refashioned, the persona of incompetence fading by degrees.
Let me pause now to give you time to shred your newspaper in incredulous anger, punch your computer screen or yell at the dog what an idiot I am.
I grant you that supporting Ireland in this market ranks up there on the popularity scale with loving Fidel Castro or advocating the Heat trade LeBron. I get it.
And I know it was just a month ago that Ireland’s image hit a new nadir when a fan confronted him with the suggestion he “fire himself” and Ireland — maybe understandably but nonetheless unwisely — called the guy an “a—hole.”
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I also understand that Ireland will never win over all his critics. The infamous “Is your mother a prostitute” question of 2010 Draft prospect Dez Bryant alone echoes in infamy as a default go-to for anyone determined to attach Ireland’s name to buffoonery.
The anti-Ireland crowd in turn has become a cottage industry steered less and less by rational thought, a stubborn mob bound to carry on undeterred by nuisances such as victories, draft picks borne out or other indications of success.
So in the spring somebody hacked Ireland’s Wikipedia entry to describe him as “the most incompetent human being in the history of existence.”
The recent exchange with the fan spawned “Fire Yourself” T-shirts. You might even see some Sunday as the Dolphins host St. Louis.
Miami New Times has a regular feature it calls the “Fire Jeff Ireland Watch” (because there is no law against pandering).
And now on YouTube appears a new video excoriating Ireland to the tune of Eminem’s My Name Is” a parody somewhat clever but containing all the truth and fairness of a political attack ad.
Well, timeout, people.
Is Ireland’s Miami track record really that bad to deserve all this animus?
No. Can you handle the truth? Or, allowing for honest difference of opinion, can you at least handle an interpretation of the truth that invites a fresh look at Ireland?
Start with rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill. This was Ireland’s huge gamble with the No. 8 overall pick, and the kid looks like he will be really good for a long time.
Remember when Dolphins fans were chanting Kyle Orton’s name? Ireland could have bowed, been popular and signed the then-available free agent. And remember when later so many fans clamored to sign Matt Flynn?
Well, Flynn went to Seattle and couldn’t beat out rookie Russell Wilson. Orton is a backup in Dallas. And Tannehill looks more and more like the right choice for Miami’s future in what was the biggest decision of Ireland’s four years as GM — the last two-plus with final say over personnel.
Coach Joe Philbin — a gamble in that he had never been a head coach — also looks increasingly like a solid hire. That’s Ireland, too.
Free agent running back Reggie Bush, in his second season, unquestionably has been a smart signing. That’s Ireland.
Linebacker Karlos Dansby and guard Richie Incognito have been productive additions. Ireland.
Sacks leader Cameron Wake? The GM had a hand in mining him out of Canada.
Center Mike Pouncey, the not altogether-popular 2011 top draft pick, is gradually supplanting Jake Long as the most consistently dominant force on the line. Ireland.
Koa Misi, Reshad Jones, John Jerry, Jonathan Martin and Jared Odrick are other current starters drafted by Ireland, along with prominent reserves including Daniel Thomas, Chris Clemons, Jimmy Wilson, Nolan Carroll and Lamar Miller. Ireland had a voice in drafting Sean Smith and Brian Hartline, too.
This isn’t to nominate the guy for NFL executive of the year, just to offer fair balance to the almost cartoonish vitriol heaped on him by so many. I have criticized Ireland plenty when warranted. For example, it is on him that Miami lacks a premier, No. 1-caliber wide receiver to ease Tannehill’s progress.
But, moving forward, there are two primary litmus tests to judge Ireland.
One is the unfolding track record of his two biggest hires, Tannehill and Philbin.
The other is what Ireland does after this season with all of those stacks of chips on his table. Because of trades Miami now has the most 2013 draft choices of any team, including five of the first 100 picks. And because of the salary-cap situation Miami figures to have around $60 million to spend in free agency.
That puts Ireland in a position to either really make his mark in a positive way, or to reenergize his critics.
The Dolphins actually have a pretty solid foundation today in that they run the ball and defend the run very well. I put the team’s biggest offseason needs as 1) an impact wide receiver, 2) a cover cornerback, and 3) a pass rusher.
The 2013 draft should offer at least two or three first-round receivers led by Tennessee’s very speedy 6-4 Justin Hunter, who has drawn comparisons to A.J. Green. Free agency also will be ripe with wideouts. They will include Pittsburgh’s Mike Wallace and Green Bay’s Greg Jennings.
Ireland will have the draft chips and spending money to put moving up in the draft or an impact free agent or two among his options.
Finally, a quick retrospective on that infamous question of Dez Bryant, the one he will never live down.
It turns out Ireland was right — not in how he said it, certainly, but in the instinct to wonder about Bryant’s background and character. Those things are why the Cowboys today assign a security detail to Bryant, drive him to practices, have him on a curfew and ban him from strip clubs. The very concerns that led Ireland to awkwardly ask that question have Dallas still wondering if Bryant is worth the trouble.
Meanwhile, Dolphins fans unrelentingly critical of Ireland could find themselves in an increasing quandary: The better and better Tannehill gets and the more Miami wins, the more fans will be denied the delight of Ireland-bashing, their favorite hobby.