When Dolphins owner Stephen Ross tapped Mike Tannenbaum to run his personnel department, this was the moment he envisioned:
A nationally televised news conference to announce what might be the most significant free agent signing in the past two decades of pro football.
Ross got that payoff Wednesday. And Tannenbaum, in Ross’ words, was the man who made it happen.
After months of planning and pursuit, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh signed on the dotted line Wednesday afternoon. Arguably the league’s most dominant defender signed inarguably the biggest contract for a defensive player ever — a reported six years for $114 million.
And if there was ever any doubt about who was in charge in Davie, Ross summarily erased it.
“I would just like to thank Mike Tannenbaum, the work that he’s put in, and the effort,” Ross said. “Dealing with Jimmy Sexton, [Suh’s] agent, is not easy. We just got the deal finalized [Wednesday] morning.”
So, yes, Dennis Hickey is technically still the Dolphins’ general manager. But Tannenbaum is without question Ross’ most trusted lieutenant on the football side of the organization.
It’s an impressive career resurrection for Tannenbaum, who a little more than two years ago was fired after a long — and checkered — career with the Jets.
As general manager in New York, he built a reputation of chasing the big fish.
On Wednesday, he reeled in Moby Dick. Suh, the three-time, first-team All-Pro, had his pick of teams. He chose the Dolphins in large part because the organization was able to produce the record-breaking offer.
Ross — a billionaire six times over, according to Forbes — provided the financing, which reportedly included $60 million guaranteed.
Tannenbaum closed the sale to Suh and his representation.
Now it’s up to Suh to fulfill the promise of all of those millions — and get the Dolphins back to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
“I’m excited about the pressure,” Suh said. “I don’t necessarily look at it as pressure. I look at it as really something I’m built for.”
Said Ross: “I can only spend so much. I want to win. Certainly if we had cap [space] I’d spend more, as long as you’re spending the money in the right areas. There aren’t very many Ndamukong Suhs around.”
The Dolphins have the only one. And they plan on putting him to use.
Suh was the rare three-down defensive tackle with the Lions, and Dolphins coach Joe Philbin seemed inclined to use him the same way in Miami.
Suh is projected to start alongside Earl Mitchell on the interior of a defensive line that includes bookends Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon.
Good luck to offensive coordinators trying to find a weakness to exploit there.
“It has the potential to be a good group,” Philbin said in a typically understated way.
In truth, it has the potential to be the best group in football. Suh is that good.
Perhaps the only red flag is Suh’s temper. He has often lost his composure between the lines and at times has resorted to cheap shots. Suh has lost more than $400,000 in salary because of his behavior. Another blow-up in Miami could result in a lengthy suspension.
“I’m really focused on the future, getting him here, getting him into the locker room,” Philbin said. “I’ve had some really good initial meetings with him. He seems like a bright, intelligent guy. We’re looking forward to starting a new chapter in Miami.”
A chapter written on gilded pages.
In the last few days, everyone from Jalen Rose (who, like Ross, is a Michigan man) to Warren Buffett (who has come to befriend the business-savvy Suh) has called to offer Ross congratulations.
But Ross has also likely heard from the NFL. The league was surely displeased when details of the Suh contract leaked Sunday afternoon -- two days before teams could technically hammer out an agreement.
It’s seen as tampering, and while most everyone in football does it, the NFL doesn’t like to be embarrassed by it.
Ross said the league “may be looking into” the Dolphins’ dealings, but was emphatic the Dolphins broke no rules.
“I’m confident of that,” Ross said. “I certainly wanted to talk to [Suh] but I knew I couldn’t, and we didn’t.”
Ross added: “We don’t think that we did anything wrong.”