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April 18, 2008
DAVIE, Fla. ? Perhaps it was a slip of the tongue, or subterfuge scripted by Bill Parcells.
Or maybe Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland inadvertently tipped his hand regarding the team's plan with the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft.
At a news conference Thursday to discuss the draft, Ireland said he wouldn't talk about the Dolphins' strategy, and he didn't discuss specific players. But one comment he made was surprisingly specific.
"Of course I want guys that have great upside," Ireland said. "This is the first pick in the draft. This guy is going to be ? you hope that he's a pillar of your defense for a long time."
Defense? That would be news. As Ireland continued, the room broke out in laughter.
"What did I say?" he asked.
"You said, 'pillar of your defense,"' someone replied.
Ireland's face began to turn red.
"Pillar of your defense, or offense, or team," he said to more laughter. "That's a Freudian slip."
Or perhaps a smoke screen, someone suggested.
"I'll let you guys decide," Ireland said.
His boss, Parcells, would be the sort to devise that sort of misdirection. It counters speculation the Dolphins want to sign Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long as their top pick before the draft starts April 26. Miami began negotiations last week with Long's agent.
If the Dolphins have instead decided to pick a defensive player, the likely choice will be Virginia defensive end Chris Long, Ohio State linebacker Vernon Gholston or LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey.
The Dolphins' preference is difficult to guess because the top prospects are considered comparable in talent, and Miami's needs are many.
"There are certain core positions you have to have," Ireland said, listing cornerback, left tackle, a pass rusher, quarterback, a top receiver and nose tackle. "We don't have a whole lot of those core positions right now, to be honest with you. We need probably all of them."
The draft will be the first in Miami for the regime led by Parcells, Ireland and coach Tony Sparano after the Dolphins went 1-15 last year.
At the Senior Bowl, Ireland said the Dolphins were interested in trading the top pick. With so many needs, they'd rather have multiple lower selections.
Economics drive that preference, too. Last year's first choice, JaMarcus Russell, signed a $61 million deal with the Oakland Raiders.
Miami would rather avoid such a heavy financial obligation to one player. But other teams would, too, and business has been less than brisk regarding trade talks.
"Have I fielded a ton of calls? I've fielded some," Ireland said. "I think people are always interested in the first pick. Usually they do heat up a little bit next week.
"I'm actually excited about being in this position, because I think we're going to pick a good player."
The Dolphins have nine picks, including four of the first 64. They're still working on their draft board and will complete it by Monday, Ireland said.
They hope to keep other teams guessing until the last minute.
"In the entire league, there are some smoke screens out there," Ireland said. "You need to have some strategy and set some smoke screens. I've certainly set some. Bill has set some. Everybody has set some in their career."
Which means the Dolphins may devote their first pick to defense. Or they may not.