Analysis

Miami Dolphins making all the right moves in inspired offseason

Ryan Tannehill waited in the lobby of a country club near the Miami Dolphins' training facility three months ago, sharply dressed for a business meeting with no clear itinerary. He only knew the big boss, owner Stephen Ross, wanted to meet for lunch.

So Tannehill got there early, typical for him, on a mid-February afternoon when football was no longer in session. When Ross arrived, joined by newly hired vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum, the three headed to a private banquet room.

"We have a plan," Ross told Tannehill, once seated at their table. "We want you to be the face of our franchise. We want you to lead us to a championship."

And that, without fanfare, onlookers or negotiations, would begin the dialogue that resulted in this week's decision to lock up Tannehill with a contract worth $77 million in new money that looks smart for both sides, no matter how you dice it up.

Ross simply wanted Tannehill to hear it from him first, before the real negotiations began, in a setting intimate enough to show it was both personal and professional, thus continuing a string of moves made by Miami's owner that might be signaling a changing tide in his pursuit to bring good vibes back to South Florida's football team.

Yes, after seven long years, it seems Ross might finally be finding his groove. The man is taking, for lack of a better word, ownership of his team -- and it no longer feels nearly as awkward, clumsy or uninformed as it once did. Most importantly, he is injecting himself at appropriate times before delegating authority to the right people.

Quite frankly, in the wake of the Tannehill extension, the Dolphins might be rivaled only by the Jets in terms of the amount of change-for-the-better energy that exists since last season's end -- and Miami did this despite retaining Joe Philbin even when his departure could have been more justified than Rex Ryan leaving Gang Green.

Think about it: The Dolphinsgot rid of wide receiver Mike Wallace, who cost (and quit) too much. They landed Ndamukong Suh, arguably the most coveted defensive free agent since Reggie White hit the open market in 1993. They extended Mike Pouncey, one of the best centers in football. They stole wide receiver Kenny Stillsand tight end Jordan Cameron. And with their 14th overall pick, they managed to draft DeVante Parker, who could be the best selection -- in terms of value and need -- that Miami has made in decades.

Oh, right: Then they locked up a franchise quarterback with a deal that pays him for success, all just a year removed from signing the best left tackle on the free-agent market (Branden Albert) and drafting two rising studs (Ja'Wuan James and Jarvis Landry).

Look, it's not hard to call this anything less than a massive surprise, especially after the horror stories that came from people who described the hiring search for a general manager to replace Jeff Ireland. Ross might've actually fumbled his way into Dennis Hickey, whose logical and calming approach has been an unexpected breath of fresh air.

And when Ross hired longtime consultant Tannenbaum to head the football operations and extended Philbin (following the team's second consecutive late-season collapse), the owner seemed destined to let his strange loyalty get in the way once again.

It begs a reasonable question: Are the Dolphins simply stumbling into some nice moves? Or is this truly part of a perfectly executed master plan? Either way, does that really matter? Consider, for instance, that the Patriots stumbled into hiring a coach (Bill Belichick) who'd previously been fired by the Browns following a 5-11 season before drafting an all-time quarterback (Tom Brady) in the sixth round.

Sometimes, success in football can be the result of timing, luck and logic. For the Dolphins, it has been a very long time since even one of those three elements has clicked. With all three, perhaps, now working in this team's favor, it will be on Philbin to keep this thing moving in the right direction.

To do so, yes, he will need to take better ownership of his locker room, which includes avoiding illogical decisions like publicly suggesting Tannehill might not be the team's starter because of some absurd protocol that he refused to stray from. He will need to be a better leader of men, employing his players to inspire one another if he can't.

And he will need to coach Tannehill with the same trust and conviction that he coached Aaron Rodgers with in Green Bay, not taking his foot off the pedal at the ends of games out of fear. This is all possible, no doubt. And it is difficult to argue otherwise after an offseason that has already defied expectations.

Beyond the questions regarding the head coach -- OK, OK ... Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the show? -- it is still impressively clear that Ross seems to suddenly have a better understanding of his role as an owner. He seems to be making decisions that should be earning him the respect of the South Florida community.

And it isn't simply related to the football operations.

In the past few years, after Ross' continued efforts to lobby for private funding for stadium renovations, he became incredibly frustrated by the politics that were thwarting his efforts. So frustrated, some will tell you, he even, at one point, considered selling altogether. Instead, something changed.

Ross, with billions of dollars at 75 years old, became convinced that he wanted to enjoy his time as the owner of the team he grew up loving. He did not want to continue beating his fist and his head against the table to get public funding when his own wallet was already overflowing. This does not make him a saint, of course, since taxpayers will argue that's the way it should always be.

But it does prove he is something many fans have lamented he isn't: logical. Ross employed CEO Tom Garfinkel, a man of sound business and stylistic judgment, to oversee a $400 million stadium renovation that is likely to overwhelm fans when they get a look at the finished product.

Ross' decision is already paying off.

On Tuesday, the NFL announced that Miami is one of five finalists to host the Super Bowl in 2019 or 2020 -- something that would have never happened if the Dolphins hadn't put together such a respectable renovation.

Pessimistic Dolphins fans will no doubt view all of these changing fortunes as more teases, more proof that Miami is nothing more than a relevant offseason organization and an irrelevant in-season football team -- and who can blame them?

But Ross, perhaps, might instead prefer to envision something else. He might see Tannehill, Suh, Pouncey, Landry and Parker all on the same field in 2019, all under contract, all under a new roof at Sun Life Stadium, all on football's biggest stage.

A dreamer's vision? Perhaps.

But at least the Dolphins owner is finally making decisions to back it up.

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington.

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