Miami Dolphins  

 

Dolphins must come out swinging to connect with Manning

DAVIE, Fla. -- On his way home from this year's NFL Scouting Combine, seated in the second row of Flight 1120 from Indianapolis to Fort Lauderdale, Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin pulled out Pat Riley's autobiography, "The Winner Within," and began taking notes on a yellow pad as he flipped through the book's pages.

Just 12 days later, Philbin already will have the chance to channel his inner Riley -- facing a surreal opportunity to woo one of his respective sport's best all-time players to Miami just as the Heat coach did in 2010 with LeBron James.

Did you pay close attention, Philbin? Are you ready? This, after all, is your first big moment: You must convince Peyton Manning, despite no previous relationship with him, that he'll have the chance in South Florida to chase a Super Bowl in the twilight of his career in an environment where he's comfortable.

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It isn't just on Philbin, of course. It is just as much -- if not more so -- on the shoulders of general manager Jeff Ireland and owner Stephen Ross, two men who desperately need to land Manning to instantly turn the fanbase in their favor while removing the sting of the strange dysfunctions (i.e. Jeff Fisher, Jim Harbaugh) of the last two years.

Some want to say Ross, Ireland and Philbin will be wrongfully pegged as the men worthy of the blame if Manning signs elsewhere. It's Manning's choice, you say? Maybe so. But I believe this one does fall squarely on the trio, to an even greater degree than the recent cold shoulder from Fisher.

It's time for the Dolphins to bring it. It's time for them to recognize the importance of this moment, to realize the opportunity that's staring directly into their faces. The fanbase has spoken: They want Manning. They need Manning.

And it's up to Philbin, Ireland and Ross to make it happen.

Look, I understand none of these three men have a long, outstanding relationship with Manning. I get Denver's advantage of putting Manning in front of two friends cut from the same cloth, John Fox and John Elway. I realize Manning is golfing buddies with Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt.

So what?

This is the time when the Dolphins need to get creative -- a time when all three men need to call in every South Florida favor they have. Get Don Shula and Dan Marino to the training facility as soon as possible. Put them at the entrance, waiting to shake Manning's hand as soon as he crosses the threshold.

Find out Manning's favorite restaurants in Miami. Call Brandon Marshall and Davone Bess and any other star players living in South Florida during the offseason over to the facility, too. Have them seated around tables in the team's dining area with crab claws piled to the ceiling to greet Manning when he swings open that door.

Polish up the team's two Lombardi Trophies. Put Manning's nameplate above every locker and tell him to pick the space he wants. But don't look desperate. Look classy. Look confident. Look like an organization that needs only one piece of the puzzle -- the piece under center -- to bring a championship back to Miami for the first time since 1973.

When you show him the draft room, point to the wall with all of the best right tackles in the college game, and tell Manning you're going to get him one.

If all of this sounds ridiculous, if it all sounds like too much hoopla for a simple man like Manning, you might be missing the point. On the surface, the Dolphins look like a team laden with issues, and this is the time for them to break that label.

This is an organization rich in history. It's a team that has players -- like Marshall, Jake Long and Reggie Bush -- in their primes. It has a defense that could be one of the best in the league in 2012. This is a team that's not as screwed up as it might seem. It's a team where Manning fits, and it's going to be critical for the Dolphins to prove just that.

When Riley recruited James, do you think he took a casual approach? No, he flew to Ohio, rolled up to James' business office with two black SUVs filled with the most powerful members of the Heat organization and pulled out his seven NBA championship rings for James to drool over.

You might call that corny. I call it inspiring. You might call it buying his affection. I call it selling your brand.

Six years ago, under a different Dolphins owner and a different Dolphins coach, Saints quarterback Drew Brees was all but ready to sign with the Dolphins. He enjoyed a great dinner with Nick Saban and Wayne Huizenga. Everything was going smoothly -- until the following day when Brees showed up to the team's facility.

The medical staff poked and prodded his shoulder. The team began to make Brees feel like a liability, not an answer.

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"The impression I get from the Dolphins was I should feel lucky they were even looking at me," Brees wrote in his biography, titled "Coming Back Stronger." "It just wasn't a welcoming feeling."

I understand Ireland and Ross hadn't yet taken their respective positions with the Dolphins, but there is still a lesson to be learned here: Just as Brees wanted to find an organization that believed in him, Manning is going to want the same. This is a courtship in every sense of the word. It is a recruitment. And it should be treated as such.

Amid reports that Manning's top two options have now become Arizona and Denver, it is never easy to know for sure whether such information is being generated for the sake of leverage or whether it is the genuine beliefs of the Manning camp.

The Dolphins, though, are in no position to question it.

Whenever Manning meets with Miami -- whether it's Sunday night, Monday or Tuesday -- it's time for the Dolphins to pull out all of the stops. Thousands of season tickets are depending on it. So is a chance to return to glory.

This is an organization that takes every opportunity to remind the world that they fielded the only undefeated and untied season in the history of the NFL. Now, as Manning heads to town to decide the fate of his future, it's about time they started acting like it.

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington.

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