Maybe we've been watching too much House of Cards, but with all we've heard in the last few days about Dawn Aponte, the Miami Dolphins' executive vice president of football administration, it's hard not to imagine her as some sort of female Frank Underwood, ruthlessly navigating the halls of power in order to oust her enemies and seize more power for herself.
Maybe most Dolphins fans hadn't realized it, but Aponte had quietly become one of the most powerful women ever associated with an NFL franchise (who wasn't related to the owner, of course.) She played a key part in General Manager Jeff Ireland's exit and, according to some hushed rumors she could be a dark horse candidate for his old job. That is, if she doesn't get an even more powerful job either within the Dolphins organization or at the league's front office.
Here's what we know about Aponte:
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- She's a 23-year veteran of the league, with stints before with the Jets, Browns and at the NFL front office. Bill Parcels hired her in 2010 to become the Dolphin's capologist.
She's tougher than Jeff Ireland. A report from April characterized Ireland and Aponte as something of a good cop/bad cop team when it came to contract negotiations, with Aponte being the bad cop.
"Dawn will say 'no' when Jeff won't," a source said at the time. "She doesn't really have extemporaneous conversations. And she's very 'by the book' with whatever stance the team has. But she's done a fantastic job with making sure they're one of the cap-healthiest teams in the NFL."
Just imagine someone playing the bad cop to Jeff Ireland of 'Was your mom a whore?' fame.
- But she certainly wasn't a fan of Ireland and viewed him as a threat. When Parcells left and Ireland took full control she started worrying about her power within the team according to Armando Salguero's juicy take at The Herald. She grew close to owner Stephen Ross by catching rides on his private jet and through a friendship she had made while at the New York Jets with Jay Cross, now a president at Ross's Related Group. Ireland grew wary of her influence and asked Ross to fire her. Instead Ross appointed her to an Executive VP role and doubled her salary.
- She formed an alliance with Joe Philbin. As part of her promotion she started reporting not to Ireland but rather to Philbin.According to Salguero she took great interest in prepping Philbin for media appearances, even going so far as to personally editing the videos of Philbin's post game speech that ended up on the team's website.
With Ireland gone, Philbin and Aponte don't want a new GM who would threaten them.
The bottom line is now Philbin and Aponte -- fresh off a victory over the last general manager -- want to make sure the next general manager is not truly empowered. The last thing they want is for Ross to hire a guy who will have the power to hire and perhaps fire Philbin and or Aponte.
They want a puppet person that will merely evaluate talent and handle the draft and keep his mouth shut and business to himself.
- She could be a candidate herself. Salguero infers she may be angling for the job, and Phinsiders listed her first on their roundup of rumored candidates. She's long been talked about as the most likely person to become the league's first female GM. Lets put it this way, with her close relations to both the owner and coach and a stellar job in her previous role as capologist this certainly wouldn't seem farfetched if she was a man.
- Or she could wind up in a position more powerful than GM with the Dolphins. Reports CBS Sports: "[Ross] is contemplating a restructuring where a new general manager would report to Aponte, and not the owner, and thus she would truly head football operations." In fact, Ireland is said to have left because Ross was considering a restructuring that would have left the GM role with significantly reduced power.
But she may be up for an even more powerful job at NFL HQ. Around the New Year she was reported as one of a few candidates for the job of the league's soon-to-be-vacant vice president of football operations. Interestingly, the other reported external candidate for the job is former Chiefs GM Scott Pioli, who some rumors say could be a candidate for the Fins GM position (under Aponte, naturally).
Update: Never mind, several minutes after posting this we found this tweet from a CBS reporter:
Dolphins Executive VP Dawn Aponte, who was a candidate for NFL's VP of football ops, withdrew from consideration recently sources said...
— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) January 9, 2014
Seems like her future with the Fins is safe.
So there you have it. Dawn Aponte has worked her way up from obscure front office figure to the most interesting woman in the NFL, and possibly very soon the most powerful person within the Dolphins organization. Frank Underwood would be proud.