On the eve of the 2013 NFL Draft, Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross invited his highest-ranking club brass and their spouses to his Palm Beach mansion to have dinner and talk about the selection process the next day.
So general manager Jeff Ireland and his wife, coach Joe Philbin and his wife, CEO Mike Dee and his wife, and executive vice president Dawn Aponte and her husband were treated to a nice meal and their boss’ company.
And afterward, the group sat around the table and Ross asked each of his organization’s generals what player they would want to take in the first round if they could take anyone at all. And he told them, he would share who he wanted but he’d go last.
So Aponte said she would like West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin.
And Dee said he would take Austin.
Philbin then chimed in, saying he had watched hours of Dion Jordan tape and he was the best player in the draft.
And Ireland, who would later have great disagreements with Philbin, this time agreed with Philbin that Jordan was the draft’s most impressive player and that is who he would take.
Ross considered everyone's choices and then revealed he wanted Austin.
The next day, the Dolphins, holding the 12th selection and with their general manager and coach in full agreement, traded up to pick Jordan with the No. 3 overall selection.
Except that Jordan has not only been an epic bust but also is the face of what was perhaps the worst offseason in franchise history and a major reason the team is in the trouble it is in today.
To understand how much that defining offseason has hurt this franchise, consider first the reservoir of assets the Dolphins carried into that fateful time.
The Dolphins entered that offseason with nearly $60 million in salary-cap space.
They entered that draft day with 11 total picks, including a first-round pick, two second-round picks, two third-round picks and a fourth-round pick. The team was scheduled to have five picks in the top 82 selections.
And with this bonanza it would be fair to expect the Dolphins to author a future bright enough to eventually unseat the New England Patriots as the AFC East’s dominant team.
The problem is the Dolphins didn’t just get things wrong that offseason, they got stuff wrong in proportions previously unseen in club history. They got things wrong to the point the team this 2016 offseason will still feel the pain of those terrible mistakes.
Understand that the looming offseason will concentrate on adding a defensive end, a cornerback or two, and a middle linebacker on defense. The offense would likely need to upgrade at the guard spot if the draft or cap allows.
And every single one of those needs was addressed in major fashion in that 2013 offseason.
Defensive end? The Dolphins need one because Quinton Coples will be cut this offseason for salary-cap reasons, Cameron Wake is coming off a ruptured Achilles and Olivier Vernon’s fate is unclear because he is currently unsigned for 2016.
The player selected No. 3 overall, who also cost a second-round pick for the right to move into the third spot, should be coming into his prime. Jordan should be the defensive end successor that makes the 34-year-old Wake a luxury instead of a necessity. Jordan should be the team’s counter-argument to agent David Canter telling them they must pay top dollar for Vernon.
Jordan is none of that.
He is just as likely to be a cap casualty in the coming months as he is to be on the team after being suspended by the NFL multiple times for drug violations.
Cornerback? The Dolphins should be set there because they took Jamar Taylor in the second round and Will Davis in the third round during the ’13 draft.
But the returns on those moves have been mostly bad.
Taylor has failed to become the consistent starter his draft status suggests he should be. Indeed, he didn’t play at all last week at San Diego, isn’t expected to play much Sunday against Indianapolis barring an injury to players ahead of him, and he has been in the coaching staff’s doghouse for about a month because he allowed touchdown after touchdown when he was playing.
Davis, often injured his first two seasons, was traded to Baltimore for a seventh-round pick. Not a great return on Miami’s third-round investment.
One more cornerback move that should be noted: The Dolphins let former second-round pick Sean Smith walk in free agency that year. Smith has been generally productive in Kansas City.
The nightmare does not end there.
Even as the Dolphins on Sunday get ready to field a linebacker corps that includes undrafted rookies Zach Vigil and Neville Hewitt, one should recall the team spent — no, wrong — the team wasted significant resources on linebackers in the 2013 offseason.
That offseason, the Dolphins cut Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett — both of whom had been productive — and paid Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler big money in free agency.
The Dolphins signed Ellerbe to a five-year contract worth $35 million. They signed Wheeler to a five-year contract worth $26 million.
You know what they will have in 2016 from that investment? They will carry $2.8 million in dead money from the Wheeler deal after cutting him and trading Ellerbe last offseason.
And, yes, the need for a middle linebacker is great and a significant reason Miami has the 29th ranked run defense in the NFL.
None of this takes into account the “smaller” missteps of the 2013 offseason from which the Dolphins already have recovered.
Those are: drafting a kicker in the fifth round who has since been cut, signing Mike Wallace to a $60 million deal, and renting tight end Dustin Keller for a year only to have him sustain a career-ending injury in the preseason.
Finally, the drafting of Dallas Thomas in the third round despite the fact he was nursing a shoulder injury at the time would ordinarily be considered a significant waste of resources.
Thomas has been a starter the past couple of seasons but never has been considered a good player. Metrics site ProFootballFocus has him ranked as the worst or second-worst starting guard in the NFL on a consistent basis.
And yet when measured against all the other terrible decisions and missteps the Dolphins made that 2013 offseason, picking Thomas was one of the more enlightened moves of the time.
Yeah, that bad.