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Expect the unexpected in Dolphins' search for quarterback

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  • By Jeff Darlington NFL.com
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INDIANAPOLIS -- A few miles from the Dolphins' training facility, facing east toward the interchange of I-595 and I-95, a billboard has been erected to send a message from a group of fans attempting to get Peyton Manning to South Florida.

"Manning to Miami," the sign says, in addition to a photoshopped picture of Manning in a No. 18 Dolphins jersey.

A fun gesture, if you've got the extra cash. But those avid fans might be in for a bit of disappointment regarding their noble effort: First, general manager Jeff Ireland lives in Westin, and he'll rarely, if ever, drive within sight of the sign.

"I didn't know about it until someone told me five minutes ago," Ireland said Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Nor is he likely to care.

But there's still this dose of optimism for those desiring Manning-to-Miami: Although impervious to public pressure, Ireland is not impervious to the current state of his organization. This is a team focused on winning now. Not tomorrow.

"I don't think it has to be a long-term solution (at quarterback) -- I think you can look at a short-term solution," Ireland said Thursday.

Don't read too much into the comment, specifically because Ireland isn't going to make any level of commitment to a quarterback who hasn't yet proven to be back to full health. But he most certainly isn't ruling out Manning.

Aside from everything we might or might not know about the Dolphins' decision as it pertains to the 2012 quarterback, I can tell you this much: Sources within the organization are clearly recognizing the current state of the roster. This isn't a team in rebuilding mode.

It's a team ready to strike -- one with experience in key spots. It's a team, the sources said, that can't wait much longer to take advantage of the current crop of players.

They're in the window of wide receiver Brandon Marshall's prime. The same could be said for running back Reggie Bush. And linebacker Karlos Dansby. Cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Sean Smith are no longer fresh-faced. Left tackle Jake Long is ready to roll. Same with wide receiver Davone Bess.

"Some of our players are starting to get more established and starting to put some years on them," Ireland said.

For these reasons, the Dolphins realize they can't sit on their hands as they monitor the quarterback landscape. Yes, Matt Flynn could prove to be the answer. But he's no guarantee, either.

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"I don't know that prior association is good or bad," new head coach Joe Philbin said Thursday about Flynn, who played under Philbin in Green Bay. "Our job is to make the best decisions we can make."

Aside from some key needs along the offensive line -- and the desire for a few added pass rushers and nickel cornerbacks -- the Dolphins are not at all in rebuilding mode. They are in take-advantage-of-the-current-talent mode.

If Manning can get healthy (the biggest "if" of the offseason), he could quickly vault up the chart toward the most sensible option for both parties. Just understand something here: It will have nothing to do with public pressure.

Ireland, you see, is the Dolphins' ultimate wild card. When it comes to his decision-making, he's mechanical. He's undaunted by outside forces. It's the reason -- at least part of the reason -- why he's often ostracized in South Florida.

You wanted him to sign Kyle Orton? Not worth the cash, Ireland said. You wanted him to find a way to draft a quarterback in the 2010 draft? He went with a center instead. Perhaps his most popular decision -- trading for running back Reggie Bush -- was made in the middle of the night with little previous speculation into the matter.

Sometimes, this impervious nature is a good thing (see: passing on Orton). Sometimes, it's a terrible thing (see: plane ride to visit Jim Harbaugh). Whatever it is to you, that's the point of all of this: It doesn't matter.

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So whatever you expect the Dolphins to do at the quarterback position -- whatever you want them to do -- don't grow too attached. Don't try to predict. Feel free to monitor it.

Could Manning be the guy?

"We don't have a mandate that the player has to be 24 years old, 33 years old or 29 years old," Philbin said.

It doesn't say much. But it does say this: Billboard or not, Manning remains very much in Miami's mix.

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington

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