The Dolphins take the field for one last time on Sunday.
Then the action really begins.
As soon as the 5-10 Dolphins wrap up their disappointing season against New England, they will begin searching for a new coach — and possibly a general manager.
Mike Tannenbaum, Miami’s executive vice president of football operations, will lead the coaching search and he’ll be doing it without general manager Dennis Hickey, who appears to be on his way out.
Hickey has been with the Dolphins for two seasons but his standing with the organization was perilous as soon as Tannenbaum was hired this season as the team’s head executive.
Pro Football Talk reported Saturday that Hickey is likely out as GM and is expected to be replaced by Chris Grier, Miami’s director of college scouting.
Grier interviewed for the New York Jets general manager vacancy a year ago.
While replacing Hickey would be an internal shakeup, the organizational power lies with Tannenbaum.
There was mild speculation that owner Stephen Ross would completely blow up the team and consider replacing Tannenbaum.
But Ross made it clear in a letter to season ticket holders that Tannenbaum is leading the coaching search.
Here’s what else the Palm Beach Post has learned about the coaching search:
1. Dan Campbell is a real candidate: That might be hard to believe considering the Dolphins are 4-7 since he took over as interim coach.
But he’s viewed in the organization as a natural leader — and someone who had no time to prepare for the job but could vastly improve with experience and the right staff behind him.
Campbell is also seen as more than just a fiery, energy guy. His strategic knowledge is respected in the organization although it would be important to surround him with the right staff.
It might come down to other coaching vacancies and who gets snatched up elsewhere. So don’t rule out Campbell.
2. Sean Payton is not a likely candidate: While the Dolphins might be able to get him for a second-round pick, trading for Payton — and giving up draft picks – is not viewed as a realistic scenario within the organization.
3. Consider Chip Kelly a long shot: The Dolphins might give the recently-fired Eagles coach some consideration — and Kelly said recently he doesn’t need personnel control at his next stop — but his questionable roster moves in Philadelphia raised plenty of eyebrows in Miami.
Kelly’s issues getting along with his own players is also concern.
Kelly’s failure in Philadelphia could also make the Dolphins, and other NFL teams, gun shy about hiring a college coach this offseason.
The Dolphins will consider hiring a college coach, but it sounds like a coach with NFL experience is more likely — even if that experience is on the coordinator ranks.
Miami ideally would like someone with head coaching experience but the Dolphins are going to be vying with multiple other teams for a coach.
4. The Dolphins don’t believe they’re in rebuild mode: The Dolphins don’t believe they’re in rebuild mode: It seems like the Dolphins need to blow up the entire roster. There are questions in the secondary, at linebacker and on the offensive and defensive lines.
However, it’s not believed within the organization that a reboot is necessary. The Dolphins don’t think they’re far away from competing with the right coach and some roster tweaks.
They’re also hoping that owner Stephen Ross is a selling point and not a turn-off.
Ross struggled to land top GM candidates in 2013. But he was loyal to former coach Joe Philbin — possibly to a fault. He brought him back for a fourth season and gave him a contact extension before this season.
Expect the Dolphins to consider a lot of the top names that are out there, including Cincinnati offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, Carolina offensive coordinator Mike Shula, New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Chicago offensive coordinator Adam Gase, Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Todd Haley and possibly Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano, who is likely to be fired.
UCLA coach Jim Mora Jr. — who was previously head coach of the Falcons and Seahawks — is also a possibility.
Timing could be everything. Since the Dolphins will be competing with other teams, they may or may not wait around if a candidate they like goes deep in to the playoffs with his current team.
San Francisco defensive coordinator Eric Mangini, who was coach of the Jets under Mike Tannenbaum, is not considered a likely candidate despite his history with Tannenbaum.
In a letter to season ticket holders, Ross said that the search will “not be constrained by convention in our approach.” So there could be some more interesting names out there.
5. Tannenbaum is leading the charge: While there was some talk that Ross would consider blowing up the entire organization — including Tannenbaum — that’s not the case.
Ross made it clear in his letter that Tannenbaum, who is wrapping up his first season with Miami as the team’s head exec, is leading the coaching search.
The search committee will also include Matt Higgins — the CEO of Ross’ RSE Ventures and Dolphins CEO Tom Garfinkel.
It was reported elsewhere that Dawn Aponte, the Dolphins executive vice president of football administration, would also be part of the search committee. However, that is not accurate.
Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey was not even mentioned in Ross’ letter so his absence certainly raises questions about his future with the team.
6. The next coach doesn’t have to love Ryan Tannehill: The Dolphins really want Ryan Tannehill to exceed as the franchise quarterback.
But the team likes the flexibility they have with his contract and are only considering him a definite starter for 2016.
So it’s not a prerequisite that the next coach views Tannehill as the team’s future.
The Dolphins will likely see how it plays out with Tannehill in 2016 and then decide if they want to go in a different direction.
Tannehill’s $18 million salary in 2017 isn’t guaranteed except for injury.
However, $3.5 million of Tannehill’s 2017 salary becomes guaranteed this March.
Because of the remaining signing bonus cap hits, the Dolphins take a $10.4 million cap hit in 2017 if Tannehill is released.
If Tannehill struggles in 2016 and the team wants to move in a different direction, it’s conceivable they could decide it’s worth taking a $10.4 million hit rather than paying him $18 million.
It goes without saying that 2016 is a big year for Tannehill.
7. Other roster decisions undecided: There won’t be any decision on the future of running back Lamar Miller or defensive end Olivier Vernon until a new coach is in place.
They will both be free agents if they’re not re-signed by early March.
The same goes for the future of defensive end Cameron Wake and cornerback Brent Grimes, who are both under contract in 2016 but have non-guaranteed deals.
Wake, who will be 34 next season, is coming off an Achilles’ tear. If the Dolphins keep him at his current salary, they’d have a $9.8 million cap hit next season. If they release him, they’d save $8.4 million.
Grimes will be 33 next season. He has four interceptions this year but has struggled at times against top-tier receivers.
He’s a $9.5 million cap hit next year. The Dolphins would save $6.5 million by releasing him.
The Dolphins could try to renegotiate the deals if they want Wake or Grimes back but at a reduced rate.