Front Office Schism Causes Concern for Miami Dolphins Heading into 2015 NFL Draft


There is a reason most NFL organizations like to first hire a general manager and then allow him to pick his head coach. When things are done in reverse, drama almost always ensues. Just look at last year’s New York Jets, where second-year GM John Idzik was trying to build a team that incumbent coach Rex Ryan would not be around to coach. The result was competing agendas and endless infighting that played a major role in the team’s 4-12 record.

New York’s division rivals, the Miami Dolphins, were also built backwards. Head coach Joe Philbin was hired by former GM Jeff Ireland back in 2012. Ireland was let go following the 2013 season and replaced by Dennis Hickey. Miami went and added another level to the complication earlier this offseason, bringing aboard Mike Tannenbaum as vice president of football operations.

It’s a delicate power structure, to say the least, and one that will be tested here shortly during the NFL Draft. All three men have different opinions — and more importantly — different agendas.

Coach Philbin enters the season on the hot seat. The Dolphins have not been able to climb north of .500 during his three-year stewardship, so it is widely assumed he will be fired if he does not lead Miami into the playoffs this season. He will be looking for players who can help his team win immediately, which may mean spending middle-round picks on players who can contribute on special teams rather than developmental prospects with more upside, for example.

Philbin received a one-year extension this offseason, but owner Steven Ross made it clear the reason for the extension was not the team’s faith in its head coach. As Ross explained it: “You don’t get the best from someone when operating with a gun to their head.”

Philbin is not the only one in the crosshairs. Hickey did not exactly set the world on fire in his first go-round as general manager, which is a big reason why the team brought in Tannenbaum. Hickey’s most questionable decisions came in last year’s draft, when he fell in love with the romantic idea of uncovering “diamond in the rough” players from small schools. He drafted players from North Dakota State, Liberty, Montana, Coastal Carolina and Marist. None of those players made much of an impact, meaning first-round pick Ju’Wuan James and second-round pick Jarvis Landry were the team’s only significant rookie contributors.

Enter Tannenbaum, and with him, the league’s most complicated power s structure. Tannenbaum says Hickey will continue to have final say on all draft decisions, yet he insists he is still Hickey’s boss.

“We have a great debate,” Tannenbaum said. “But the final decision rests with Dennis.”

The trio of Philbin, Hickey and Tannenbaum will have to align their goals in time for the draft, which will be a critical one of the Dolphins. Miami still has some significant holes to fill despite an extremely active and aggressive offseason, Another receiver is needed to round out a group that was completely gutted during free agency. Also, another linebacker is also a must-add for a group that has Koa Misi and a bunch of back-up level talent. More help is needed in the secondary, too, both at cornerback and safety.

Only adding to the pressure is the progress made by the other teams in the division. The threat from New England is a given, as the reigning Super Bowl champions have owned the AFC East since 2001. But the Bills and Jets have been big winners this offseason, as well, bringing in ample star power of their own. All four teams in the division harbor legitimate playoff aspirations, so if the Dolphins somehow bungle this draft, there is a very real chance they could finish in the AFC East cellar.

Because of all of this, Miami is the must-watch team in this year’s draft. Will Hickey do better than last year with Tannenbaum looking over his shoulder? Will Philbin — and his palpable sense of urgency — be given a voice at the table? Who has the most support from Mr. Ross?

It is true that too many cooks usually spoil the soup. However, anyone who has seen Disney’s Ratatouille can attest that is not always the case. Maybe Miami’s oddly structured front office can come together to cook up a tasty draft-day dish and get their team’s arrow pointed upward once again. If not, Sun Life Stadium is liable to turn into Hell’s Kitchen.

Want to talk more about the Dolphins and their oddly structured front office? Join Michael Lombardo for his weekly NFL Chat on Friday at 2pm EST. But you don’t have to wait until then … you can ask your question now

About Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo has spent more than 10 years as a team expert at, primarily covering the Chargers, Cardinals and Panthers. He has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and other venues.