As the impending end to the regular season approaches, the discussions surrounding the Miami Dolphins have rapidly changed to 2015. Hopefully, next season it will be about the playoffs. The hot topic of course is who will manage and coach the team next season.
This is a very fluid situation and we at PhinManiacs have been keeping our eyes and ears open as much as possible. I personally think the only coach that would replace Joe Philbin if they go 9-7 is Jim Harbaugh. I think they have to go 8-8 or worse for other names to enter into the mix and for Philbin to be let go. With that in mind, I don’t think it is worthwhile to speculate on other coaches until after the Minnesota Vikings game.
The hot name all over the place is of course Harbaugh. Things really heated up this week when it was reported that Michigan made a massive offer to make him the highest paid coach in college football. This is very interesting because Steven Ross is a MAJOR contributor to the University of Michigan and almost surely will have heavy influence in the next coach there. As you recall, Ross chased Harbaugh back in 2011 so it is clear he likes him.
Now, for the good stuff. On Saturday, we checked with a source from Michigan who is very close to the football program.
The source told us that nothing was imminent and they expected that there would be an answer by the end of the month. This tells us a few things. First, it would appear the Harbaugh is going to wait to evaluate his NFL options (which can’t come until the 49ers part ways with him). Second, I think it is becoming more obvious that the person who leaked the contract offer information came from the Harbaugh camp, mostly likely his agent. This leads me to think that Harbaugh is only really interested in using Michigan as leverage. I don’t think he would want the information leaked if he was planning to go there and take their offer. Finally, Michigan will likely move on if Harbaugh does not agree to coach them before January 1. This is not surprising because Michigan needs to be going all out recruiting; not having a head coach makes that near impossible.
With that said, I am led to believe that this is a dual offer from Ross. In other words, he is making a massive contract offer to Harbaugh to coach either Michigan or Miami. If Harbaugh wants to stay in the NFL, that offer will stand as the Dolphins offer. If Harbaugh would rather coach in the NCAA, then the same offer is there from Michigan. The timing is where it protects Ross. Obviously, the Michigan side does not want Ross trying to take Harbaugh from them. Likewise, Miami does not want Ross pulling Harbaugh to Michigan. So it is simple. You make him a dual offer. If he wants the Michigan job, he takes it before January 1 while he is under contract with the 49ers and Philbin is under contract with the Dolphins. This way, there is no competition from Miami or tampering. After January 1, Michigan moves on and they are not competing with the Dolphins and then Miami will take over the pursuit of him.
Does that mean the Dolphins are going to get him since he is delaying Michigan? I don’t think even Harbaugh knows that yet. Based on my conversations, I will say that it looks unlikely that he is going to Michigan.
If Harbaugh wants to go to the NCAA then he will make the choice to go there sooner than later. This is mainly because he would want to get a jump start on recruiting. The only way I see him going to Michigan later is if no NFL team comes close to what Michigan is offering or if the 49ers choose to keep him as the head coach.
So, if we continue forward with the logic that Harbaugh is more interested in the NFL, then who is really in play? The obvious openings for him are Oakland, New York (Jets), and Miami. I would not discount other locations as well such as Chicago.
If you want to pretend you are Jim Harbaugh for a minute, then compare it for yourself.
Miami – Full control, most money, Ryan Tannehill, most playoff ready roster, and some salary cap room. Full complement of draft picks, need to relocate to Miami.
Oakland – Full control, less money, Derek Carr, roster in need of massive overhaul, lots of cap space, high draft picks in 2015, no need to relocate.
NY Jets – Will likely not get full control, no quarterback, roster in massive need of overhaul, some cap space, some high picks (but one less for Harvin), need to relocate.
Chicago - Without going into to full details, you have a high salary to Cutler and some major holes to fill. Sorry Bears fans, you probably are going to have to suffer through another down year or two and do some purging before you ready to hit reset. Not a real attractive job right now. I would keep the current coach if I were them.
In my mind, it is really between the Raiders and the Dolphins. I have to admit I am bias but I think Tannehill is significantly better than Carr right now. That is not to say Carr won’t make big strides and develop into a solid QB. But it may take another season for him to really come into his own.
Miami has significantly better talent on their current roster. Yes, I know we have some holes on defense but the fact remains we have a shutdown cornerback, an All-Pro safety, and some very talented defensive linemen. On offense, Mike Wallace, Jarvis Landry, Brian Hartline, Brandon Gibson and Lamar Miller are all under contract and quite a bit better than what the Raiders have. The Raiders offset that a bit by having higher draft picks and more cap space.
From a divisional standpoint the Dolphins have the mess that is Jets, who are clearly going to be in re-building mode for the next few years. The Buffalo Bills have Kyle Orton, no first round pick in 2015 and not much talent on offense outside of Sammy Watkins. Then, of course, you have the New England Patriots who have been dominant for the past decade.
In the AFC West, you have a very good Denver Broncos as well as solid teams in the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers. Breaking it down, it would appear on paper that it will be easier to win in Miami the next couple years compared to Oakland. In the NFL, if you don’t win in 3-4 years and make it to the playoffs, it is over. That’s why the Raiders job is more difficult.
In terms of ownership, Ross is wealthier and will pay Harbaugh more. Through conversations that others on this site have had with numerous people, we are led to believe that Harbaugh will in fact chase the money and that will be a huge factor in deciding where he goes.
Furthermore, Ross will give him an open check book to sign whoever he wants for the entire term of his contract. Again, this is important because Harbaugh was once quoted as saying that you can never have a weak coach on your staff. An open check book will allow him to bring in anyone he wants without having to worry about whether or not the team can afford it.
I am not so sure Mark Davis will be on board with Harbaugh spending what he needs to get his assistants and his players during his whole tenure there. The Raiders have not done it in the past so you have to wonder. Yes, they do offer the advantage of being on the west coast. Harbaugh would not need to re-locate and could stay in the Bay Area.
Upon final review, I think the Dolphins job is a better one but the Raiders would also have some appeal. We know what Harbaugh values more. For him to come to Miami though, various things need to happen and everything needs to fall into place. The chips have been set and put into place. Now, we will see where they fall over the next two weeks.
This column was written by Chad Ronnebaum. Follow him on Twitter: @GoFins4SB