Since Stephen Ross completed his purchase of the Miami Dolphins in 2009, the team has posted records of 7-9, 7-9, 6-10, and (wait for it) 7-9. But even though his team has faded into irrelevance and put up the kind of attendance numbers that would make even even Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria blush, Ross expressed optimism at his end-of-season press conference on Monday.
"The good certainly outweighed a lot of the bad here," he said of the 2012 season. Miami started 2012 on the upswing, going 4-3 in the first seven games of the season. But a late-season slide pushed Miami out of playoff contention for the fourth straight year.
But the emergence of rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill and head coach Joe Philbin (who just completed his first season with the team) have Ross seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
"The two biggest ingredients in a winning team are your coach — and I think we have our head coach — and second is a quarterback you can build around," Ross said. "This is a quarterback-centric league, and you see every great team that is there consistently has a quarterback. I think we have our quarterback.
"Once you are there, it is a lot easier, I think, to put the building blocks around them."
And the Dolphins will certainly have a chance to build around Tannehill. The team has five picks in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft in April, with about $48 million in cap space as well. This gives the Dolphins hope to re-sign key free agents like Reggie Bush and Brian Hartline, add another big name or two through free agency, and draft more core players over the offseason.
The only problem, in the eyes of many Dolfans, is that the man who will execute Miami's offseason plans does not have a great track record when it comes to personnel decisions. General manager Jeff Ireland has Ross' blessing, though, and that is all that matters to either of them.
Ross was asked why Ireland is the only figure remaining from the Bill Parcells regime he inherited in 2009. "His football intelligence, his knowledge, his hard work," Ross said. "He has the respect of his peers and he is one of the youngest general managers around. I like dealing with youth and enthusiasm. And I think he has the knowledge and desire. He is smart, and he is committed."
Ireland's wish-list heading into the offseason is pretty big, and likely includes an impact receiver, help in the defensive backfield, and more depth on the offensive and defensive lines.
Ross has a lot riding on this offseason. The Dolphins' home attendance has declined steadily since the team's last playoff appearance in 2008. In 2012, Miami posted the fourth-worst attendance in the NFL (57,379 per game).
"I can understand, when you're not winning, why some people might not show up. We put a winning team on the field, I think we'll fill up the stadium," Ross said. "We're moving in the right direction, and I feel good about it, more so today than I ever have."