On Tuesday, January 6, the Miami Dolphins franchise changed and no one yet knows if it will be for better or for worse. This is because Mike Tannebaum, former general manager of the New York Jets, was named the Executive Vice President of Football by Stephen Ross.
Tannebaum has been a consultant with the Miami Dolphins since August 2014 when he was brought on to dig deeper into the analytical and sports science world. Over the past few months, he has become a trusted and valued confidant of Ross. As the 2014 season progressed and front office dynamics truly began taking shape, Tannebaum and Ross started talking about a return to the front office. The conversation, according to Tannebaum heated up two weeks ago when everything was put into motion, which leads us to now.
The vast majority of fans and media were very puzzled by this move. It became more confusing when the power structure was announced. That’s because it was announced by the Miami Dolphins that general manager Dennis Hickey would now report to Tannebaum, who would report to Ross. Joe Philbin would still report to Ross and Tannebaum, at least on paper and in the public eye, will have no impact on Philbin’s job status moving forward. However, you can be sure that Tannebaum will have a huge voice when it comes to deciding his status at the end of the 2015 season. Confused? Me too. But that's not the biggest storyline heading into the future.
Now that we have the background out of the way, my main point can be made. In a world where we thrive and want instant results, Ross has taken a step back and has set this organization up for the future for better or for worse.
This is only the beginning of what the Dolphins front office will look like for years to come. Following the 2015 season, I expect another re-structuring where things are more clearly defined and the power structure is streamlined. I would expect that Tannebaum be given full authority over all football operations. This would include the head coach and general manager reporting to him, as some organizations throughout the NFL currently have set up. While he wouldn’t have authority to fire and hire the head coach since Ross said he won’t be giving up that power, I would expect that he would still oversee the head coach and have a tremendous amount of input in regards to their job status.
You might be asking yourself why Ross didn’t set it up this way right away. To begin, Tannebaum isn’t starting until February 1. While that may not seem crazy, remember that it’s already a month into the offseason and things have been set into motion since the day after the season finale to the Jets. Re-structuring the entire front office at that point would have set the team back because realistically, it would’ve taken another few weeks for everyone to get adjusted and settle into their new roles. Now, you're talking about March where things settle down with free agency and the draft coming right around the corner. Certainly, that's not a recipe for success in 2015.
Second, Philbin has one year left on his contract and is essentially a lame duck. He is already going to have enough pressure to perform well, produce wins and clinch a playoff berth for the Dolphins. Giving him a new boss in this type of situation would only add to the stress and pressure and wouldn’t create a successful environment.
Ross wanted Tannebaum in the front office as soon as possible and setting up the power structure this way was the best thing that he could do to maximize potential success on the field. With that said, you may argue that putting Tannebaum into this situation now dooms the Dolphins season regardless of how much Ross tries to succeed.
If you're thinking that, you're probably right. In order to be successful on the field, you need to be successful off it as well. This current power structure, at least on the surface, does not do anything to breed success. In fact, the Dolphins are the only organization in the entire NFL to have a power structure such as this. The St. Louis Rams have a similar structure but their Executive Vice President is much more involved in the business side of things as well.
However, even if it does doom the Dolphins in 2015, I don’t believe that Ross is concerned. Perhaps that he understands that the Dolphins need to hit rock bottom again before rising from the ashes. Either Philbin is going to succeed in his contract year or he’s going to fail and whatever happens, I believe that Ross will be just fine.
If you think that a losing and rock bottom season will financially hurt the Dolphins, take a peek at the home schedule. Remember that the team already gave up one home game to the Jets so they are left with 7 games. This includes match-ups against Buffalo, New England, Houston, Indianapolis, Dallas, NY Giants and Baltimore.
The hardcore Dolphins fans will still continue to come to the stadium. Others on the fence may come if they see a good opponent. But the biggest thing is that the Dolphins are playing teams that all travel very well. Sun Life Stadium will be close to capacity based on the away crowd alone. Money will not be an issue.
This is not to say that Ross is tanking the season on purpose. In no way, shape or form do I believe that. However, I do believe that Ross understands the risks of bringing Tannebaum into a power structure like this and understands the fact that this could have a negative impact on the field in 2015.
Then there's this. Philbin and Hickey know they need to do everything they can to survive this season. They know that if they don't make the playoffs, they will be gone. When people are pushed back into a wall and into a corner, they do things they normally wouldn't do. That's why having Tannebaum in there is good in 2015. He will certainly keep the free agency spending in check and will also make sure that Hickey doesn't trade away any valuable draft picks in the future. The last thing we want is Hickey to throw big money at a few players and trade away future draft picks because they are desperate. This will certainly not be happening, which of course, is a good thing.
All of this sets the stage for a revised power structure in 2016. Philbin and Hickey’s contracts will both be up and Ross, Tannebaum and CEO Tom Garfinkel will be able to set the course of the franchise in 2016 and beyond. Tannebaum in all likelihood will assume all control of the football operations and will lead the team into the future – for better or for worse.
So, while whole situation may seem like a mess in 2015 – and it is – try to take a step back and understand this is the first step in setting up the future of the franchise.
This column was written by Matthew Cannata. Follow him on Twitter: @PhinManiacs