Miami Dolphins  

 

Joe Philbin's Miami Dolphins embrace change in busy offseason

DAVIE, Fla. -- Inside the lobby of the Miami Dolphins' training facility, all around those two static Super Bowl trophies perched at the center of the room, an identity crisis of sorts has finally been remedied.

No longer will you find former left tackle Jake Long's jersey. Or memorabilia recognizing the leaders of 2012, like Reggie Bush and Davone Bess and Sean Smith. Even the placards identifying the men's room and the ladies' room have been updated, with new logos bearing a porpoise in an altered position.

Around the League examines the aftershocks of the 2013 NFL Draft for each team:

AFC East
» Bills | Dolphins | Jets | Patriots
AFC North
» Bengals | Browns | Ravens | Steelers
AFC South
» Colts | Jaguars | Texans | Titans
AFC West
» Broncos | Chargers | Chiefs | Raiders
NFC East
» Cowboys | Eagles | Giants | Redskins
NFC North
» Bears | Lions | Packers | Vikings
NFC South
» Buccaneers | Falcons | Panthers | Saints
NFC West
» 49ers | Cardinals | Rams | Seahawks

Yes, slowly but surely, the organization is managing to catch up with itself. Miami has successfully renewed the aesthetics of the building in the midst of a wild offseason featuring a flurry of decisions that have rebranded this team, on and off the field. And it's all starting to look pretty good.

"I have to check what I'm wearing half the time," Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said with a laugh during a conversation last Friday with NFL.com.

But don't let Philbin fool you. He's only laughing because he's trying to be friendly in the wake of a cheesy joke about the fact that he's wearing the "old" logo on his shirt while he awaits Nike's production of the team's new attire. Philbin, you can be certain, doesn't care about any of that.

He isn't concerned with the past. Or the marketing. Or the team's new branding, which seemingly has captivated the minds of obsessed Dolphins fans debating whether the new logo looks more like a porpoise or a whale, or whether the new uniforms have enough orange in them.

Philbin also isn't worried about the recently evaporated efforts by ownership to update the stadium -- an attempt that was thwarted by Florida's House of Representatives last week over issues far more complicated than first downs or touchdowns.

You know what Philbin cares about instead?

New energy. New leadership in the locker room. New direction. New, bold moves that suggest even general manager Jeff Ireland is enduring a maturation process that has him making decisions in a way that could lead to something more than the boring, wasted seasons of old.

Philbin is concerned with getting his team to a Super Bowl -- and you can bet he doesn't care where it's held or what his team is wearing when it gets there. Believe it or not, he and Ireland have put in the work this offseason, strictly from a football standpoint, to get the Dolphins as close as they've been in years.

Within the past two months, no team in the NFL has made more dramatic decisions. No team has proven, whether for the sake of saving jobs or selling tickets or winning games, to be more invested in making a drastic turnaround for the season ahead.

Consider the following ...

The Dolphins signed wide receiver Mike Wallace to a $60 million contract. They surprisingly snagged linebacker Dannell Ellerbe from the grips of the Baltimore Ravens, who seemed poised to bring Ellerbe back when free agency began. They signed cornerback Brent Grimes to a one-year-deal that could significantly help the secondary.

And then, on the first day of the 2013 NFL Draft, when Ireland realized he wasn't going to be able to move up from the No. 12 spot to a position that would make it possible to land wide receiver Tavon Austin, he pressed his foot to the gas pedal rather than hitting the brakes. Ireland approached Philbin with the prospect of trying to move up to No. 3 to get a player the organization had rated even higher than Austin: DE/OLB Dion Jordan.

On Friday, Philbin told NFL.com he was "a hair surprised" that Miami was able to make the deal happen while giving up just a second-round pick (in addition to the 12th overall selection). The coach was quick to note, though, that extensive draft preparations were what led to the acquisition of Jordan.

"He was a player we felt like, if there was an opportunity to move up at a reasonable cost, he was a guy we'd pursue," Philbin said. "So Jeff made the call, and we worked out a deal.

"Time will tell, but he's a guy we thought a lot about. He fit our big picture. All offseason, we were thinking, 'Can we get some pass rush?' Last season, we gave up too many explosive passes and we didn't have enough takeaways. That's how you can combat that. You can increase the pressure on the quarterback. Hopefully, we accomplished that."

Does some of it feel desperate? Of course it does, particularly with Ireland's new spending habits materializing during the last year of his contract. But whatever the motive, it legitimately might be enough to at least boost the Dolphins into the New England Patriots' layer of the AFC East's atmosphere, which is more than anyone is currently saying about the New York Jets or Buffalo Bills.

Miami still has its holes. We'll see if Grimes can return from the Achilles injury that allowed the Dolphins to snag him with such a reasonable deal. We'll see if they regret letting Long go to the St. Louis Rams, choosing to rely on the newly signed Tyson Clabo to play right tackle while an unproven Jonathan Martin moves to the left side.

But no team can solve all of its problems at once. At this point in time, Miami has addressed many of them.

Last year, the Dolphins had three clear flaws:

1) Aside from Cameron Wake's production, they didn't have enough sacks.

2) They dropped far too many interceptions, which factored into the decision to let Smith walk during free agency.

3) And they didn't have enough weapons for Ryan Tannehill, who has every single quality -- from leadership to ability to commitment -- that you look for in a franchise quarterback.

Miami unquestionably took these issues to heart over a few active months.

"I thought the process of the offseason, both during free agency and during the draft, went extremely smooth," Philbin said. "Everyone worked well together."

It's interesting, isn't it? Plenty will openly criticize Miami for being desperate. They'll say the Dolphins are spending money wildly with no regard for the future of their salary cap. Much of this, undoubtedly, stems from years of inconsistencies and flawed approaches and missed draft picks and acquisitions gone sour.

Much of it can also be blamed on years of offseason relevance being followed by irrelevance during the real season. That's why, as the Dolphins transform their logos and uniforms, they recognize on-field results must change before their new identity is truly redefined.

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"Hopefully, the fans are excited," Philbin said.

Oh, you can bet they're excited. Change is on its way. New hope once again exists.

But what kind of change will we see? What type of identity is forming? A new look? Or new results and new energy?

Inside the Dolphins' training facility, with Philbin sporting an old logo amid a sea of new symbols, this isn't about the materialistic. It's about a team, a coach and a general manager focused on everything but.

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington.

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