Jeff Ireland is gone, meaning the general manager’s office of the Dolphins awaits a new occupant, a hire sure to be scrutinized in South Florida and, given the state of the franchise, probably as critical as any owner Stephen Ross will make.
The Dolphins have been tight-lipped on potential candidates, triggering wide-ranging speculation, including two already in house (Dawn Aponte and Brian Gaine), former NFL general managers (Mike Tannenbaum, Scott Pioli and Bill Polian) and executives currently with other clubs (Tom Gamble, Alonzo Highsmith, Omar Khan and Eliot Wolf).
Here’s a closer look at three of the possibilities:
• Scott Pioli
Why: Pioli, 48, worked with Dolphins VP Aponte in the Jets’ front office and their families are close. Aponte appears to be gaining power in Miami’s front office and has Ross’ ear.
On the plus side: The Dolphins have long been chasing the Patriots in the AFC East, and Pioli’s role in building New England’s dynasty likely impresses Ross. Pioli is a three-time Sports Illustrated NFL executive of the year.
On the minus side: Pioli never came close to matching that success as Chiefs GM from 2009-12. He blamed Ross’ confidant, Carl Peterson, for many of the issues. Under Pioli, the Chiefs were 23-41, including 2-14 in 2012. His misses included giving ex-Pats QB Matt Cassel a six-year, $62.7 million contract and trading away tight end Tony Gonzalez to Atlanta. Near the end of his Chiefs tenure, fans paid to fly banners over the stadium calling for his ouster, which also happened to Ireland in Miami.
Interesting to note: If Pioli had been Dolphins GM this season, it’s unlikely the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito fiasco would have happened. In his analyst role on NBC, Pioli criticized both players as the scandal broke, saying he scouted Martin coming out of Stanford for the Chiefs and determined he “wasn’t our type of guy.” Pioli was more blunt on Incognito, whom he scouted for the Pats before the 2005 draft: “I didn’t want him coming out, and I don’t want him now.”
Also, Pioli recently wrote a piece for Sports Illustrated listing 10 things he learned about being a GM. Among them: “I understand much better that the sport of football is no longer just a game. It is entertainment.” You can easily picture those words being written by Ross.
• Tom Gamble
Why: Gamble, 51, is one of the hotter executives, having returned to the Eagles as vice president of player personnel a year ago after eight seasons with the 49ers. That’s two of the NFC’s more successful franchises.
On the plus side: The son of longtime former Eagles president Harry Gamble has had a role in 12 playoff teams during 26 NFL seasons.
On the minus side: He doesn’t have obvious ties to the Dolphins’ leadership or South Florida. When he made essentially a lateral move to return to the Eagles, he said it was an opportunity to come home. His aging parents live in Pennsylvania. So why leave the Eagles, who with coach Chip Kelly and QB Nick Foles may be Super Bowl contenders in 2014?
Interesting to note: Eagles GM Howie Roseman reportedly said on radio Wednesday that the Dolphins have not requested permission to talk to Gamble.
• Mike Tannenbaum
Why: Tannenbaum, 44, currently a president with Priority Sports & Entertainment, has ties to Aponte and Matt Higgins, CEO of Ross’ RSE Ventures.
On the plus side: Tannenbaum’s draft successes as Jets GM included Darrell Revis, D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold. His Jets teams reached the AFC title game in the 2009 and 2010 seasons.
On the minus side: Tannenbaum dislikes the label, but he’s viewed as more of a capologist than a personnel evaluator, raising questions of whether his strengths duplicate — rather than complement — Aponte’s. Critics in New York questioned how a capologist could create the Jets’ salary cap mess. Even Tannenbaum admitted it was a mistake to sign QB Mark Sanchez to a three-year extension, including $20.5 million guaranteed, in 2012. He also drafted defensive end Vernon Gholston, a huge bust, sixth overall in 2008.
Interesting to note: Tannenbaum was in charge when the Jets made two moves in 2012 that flopped: hiring ex-Dolphins coach Tony Sparano to run the offense and sending fourth- and sixth-round picks to Denver in 2012 for QB Tim Tebow, creating a QB controversy in which both players failed.
Also, while the Jets were shopping for Tannenbaum’s successor (it turned out to be John Idzik), two names commonly dropped were Gamble and Gaine, who was Ireland’s assistant.