In the past 20 years, the Miami Dolphins have had 21 different starting quarterbacks. Some of them were pretty good, some were downright awful, and none of them came within a 10-foot pole of touching the level of play that Dan Marino spoiled everyone with for his 17 years as a Dolphin.
And as the 2020 NFL draft approaches, Dolphins twitter is alive with healthy debate over who the next quarterback should be. Okay, maybe some of the debate isn’t all that healthy, but it rages on nonetheless.
Check out comments online and you’ll see some fans pounding the table for the pre-2019 season darling, a kid from Alabama by way of Hawaii named Tuanigmanuolepola Tagovailoa (who thankfully goes by the much easier to pronounce name of Tua). Others want to mortgage the farm and trade up to the #1 spot and draft Joe Burrow. Some would argue Justin Herbert is the best fit for the team, and still others will tell you that Jordan Love is the next Patrick Mahomes and can be had later in the draft.
Who is right?
Well, me, of course. No, I don’t know who the team is locked in on, or if they are really even locked in on one particular guy. This time of year on the NFL calendar is referred to as Silly Season, or Smoke and Mirrors Season, or several variants of Poker Season. NFL Teams, and especially the tight-lipped Dolphins, aren’t tipping their hands on their draft and free agency intentions, but the morsels of leaked news and/or nuggets dropped by those that specialize in both subtle and sensationalized speculation are juuuuust enough to make most fans more than a little crazy as they flounder through this part of the year.
So let’s take a few minutes and dissect some of the possible scenarios that may or may not play out come Draft Night 2020 on April 23.
Prior to the 2019 season, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Tua Tagovailoa was the top prospect at quarterback. Period. The Dolphins owner, Stephen Ross, even went so far as to tell people that the team was committed to being in position to draft Tagovailoa. The team started the season 0-7, and by all accounts was well on their way to securing their guy.
Then Tagovailoa got bounced off the turf in November and came up hobbled. Not just hobbled, but with a dislocated hip, ending his season and putting his football future in question.
About that same time, the Dolphins found new life, finally gelling into the team that head coach Brian Flores envisioned, refusing to go down without a fight, and ending the year with five wins in the final nine games. By season’s end, they had secured the #5 overall selection in the NFL draft. And just like that, getting “their guy” was no longer as easy or defined as it had been in September.
In the opinion of this writer, if 100% healthy, there is still no doubt that Tagovailoa would still be the top pick of the draft, ahead of Burrow, who had a record-setting season at LSU to become the darling of this draft. But as of this writing, Tagovailoa had yet to resume full football drills and motions (he was scheduled to have tests on March 9 to clear him for those activities). And even if every detail of his medicals records indicates he will have a full recovery, he’s very likely not going to reach that full recovery until roughly a year after the injury, with would be sometime in the 2020 season.
With that in mind, it’s unlikely that a team will draft Tagovailoa unless they are in a position to wait for most of, if not all of the 2020 season before reaping any reward on their investment. Most of the QB-needy teams in this year’s draft will want a guy that can come in and compete for the starting job on opening day. And of the four teams picking ahead of the Dolphins, only the Bengals appear to be in a position to draft Tagovailoa, a situation that would then have them keeping and starting Andy Dalton for one more year.
The Bengals appear to be ready to part ways with Dalton, as most indications at this point have them drafting Joe Burrow with the first overall pick. However, if Tagovailoa’s medical reports come back clean with a superb chance of full recovery, that could change.
If the Bengals were to take Burrow, the remaining three teams do not appear likely to have a need at QB. The Washington Redskins are committed to Dwayne Haskins, the Detroit Lions have a freshly-declared-100%-healthy Matt Stafford, and the New York Giants are committed to Daniel Jones.
So the next logical step for Dolphins fans to consider is if a team behind the Dolphins will trade up in front of them to select one of the top quarterbacks. And in this case, the worry shouldn’t be too great, as again, almost every QB-needy team doesn’t have the luxury of being able to wait a year for their starter. If any team does trade up, it would most likely be for Justin Herbert, whose showing at the NFL Combine boosted his stock to a potential top-5 pick.
On the flip side, were the Bengals to draft Tagovailoa, several teams, including the Dolphins, could very well try to jump into the fray for the rights to draft Burrow, who could well be a Day One starter.
But in my opinion, Washington will not be a player in the trade-up sweepstakes. I think they will stay put as they have first dibs on the player universally agreed to be the best of the draft in defensive end Chase Young. I can’t imagine them trading down and taking the chance of losing out on Young.
That leaves Detroit holding the cards for the QB scramble. That falls in Miami’s favor, as head coach Brian Flores and Lions head coach Matt Patricia are friends, having coached together for years in New England. While neither serves as the de facto general manager of his team, both do hold enough sway that it’s almost a given that Patricia would give Flores the right of first refusal for any trade offers the Lions receive for that #3 overall pick.
Still following? In essence, if the Bengals select Tagovailoa and the target for the Dolphins is Joe Burrow or Justin Herbert, they would very likely have first dibs on a trade with Detroit to get in position to take their guy. And they certainly have the ammo to do so, likely needing to send picks #5 and #26 to Detroit for pick #3. That price is slightly above the trade chart values assigned to draft picks, but remember, the Dolphins would need to outbid any other offers that Detroit receives, thus a premium price is likely.
If the price is too steep, or maybe, just maybe, the Dolphins are equally enamored with one of the others QBs available, Miami could sit tight at #5 and see which of Burrow, Herbert, and Jordan Love fall to them. It is very likely two of them will be there for the taking.
But let’s go back to the more likely scenario. If the Bengals select Burrow, and the Redskins take Young, the Dolphins may very well not need to trade away any of their draft capital and move up.
Why, you ask?
I’m assuming the Dolphins target in this case is Tagovailoa. The Lions and Giants will pass on him, and the teams behind Miami (Los Angeles Chargers, the Carolina Panthers, possibly the Las Vegas Raiders) need Day One starters. Thus only Herbert would likely be worth a trade up to acquire. That leaves Miami with all their draft capital intact and still getting their guy.
And if by chance a team does trade up and select Tagovailoa ahead of them, Miami still has the same options as the earlier scenario, with one of Herbert/Love available when it’s their turn to pick. Herbert could come in and compete right away with current Dolphins QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, while the selection of Love would likely have them in the same position as with Tagovailoa, sitting him for a redshirt year, although Love could press for a promotion earlier if the team or Fitzpatrick struggles.
As for trading down if they ‘settle’ for Herbert/Love? I don’t see that happening at all. Worst case scenario, the Dolphins take Love at #5, which would be considered an overreach by most draft pundits. But considering that the Chargers sit one spot behind Miami and are in dire need of a quarterback, I don’t see Miami trading back and taking the chance on losing out on all four of the top QBs in this draft.
Because the Dolphins are in a unique position of having a high draft pick AND not need a Day One starter, I fully expect Miami to stay at #5 overall and take the highest-rated QB that falls to them. I fully expect that QB to be Tua Tagovailoa.
And if by chance they miss on Tagovailoa? There are two very good prospects in Herbert and Love that carry just as much hope and potential as the other two QBs in this draft. As history has shown time and time again, the first QB selected doesn’t always end up being the best NFL QB down the road.
So while fans have their favorite QB, and some are insistent that the Dolphins need to do anything and everything they can to make sure they get 'their guy,' the simple fact of the matter is that there are several options, and the Dolphins are in a prime position to get their guy.
So relax, folks. It’s going to be all right.
The article was written by Eldon Jenson. Follow him on Twitter @EJFootball.