Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey has a problem. Even with four sure-fire offensive tackles set to be selected in the first round of Thursday’s NFL Draft, none are likely to drop to the No. 19 spot where Hickey is scheduled to make his first pick for his new employer.
So no Greg Robinson.
No Taylor Lewan.
No Jake Matthews.
No Zack Martin.
And for the Dolphins, a team that yielded a franchise-record and NFL-leading 58 sacks last season, a team that today cannot line up because it does not have a starting right tackle candidate on the roster, that is a significant problem.
So what’s the solution?
There are three that are obvious:
Trade up to be in position to snag one of the top four tackles.
Trade back from the No. 19 spot, get closer to a slot where lesser right tackle candidates such as Joel Bitonio and Ja’Wuan James are a value, pick one of them there, and do all this while adding extra picks later in the draft.
Then there’s that other solution.
The Dolphins can lie to themselves and anyone who wants to listen by saying there are more than just four first-round tackles available in the top 19 picks.
The Dolphins can decide Bitonio or James is a first-round right tackle worth the No. 19 overall selection. They can decide that after much tape study and multiple interviews and all the “cumulative work” the entire organization has done, either Bitonio or James get a first-round “Dolphins grade.”
Don’t believe your own smokescreen, Miami Dolphins.
Both James and Bitonio are good prospects and will be good NFL players but neither is a value pick at No. 19. (Neither is Cyrus Kouandjio nor Morgan Moses, by the way, so there’s that.)
So move heaven and Earth and convince someone — perhaps Cleveland or San Francisco — that moving up to No. 19 is in their best interests as long as they give up, say, one of their extra third-round picks that each of their GMs has in his draft quiver.
Hickey, it must be noted, is apparently ready for the possibility of such work.
He has been working the phones to gauge how peers feel about draft-day trades.
“We definitely explore all avenues that we feel like we can help the team,” he said. “We’re in contact with other GMs to see where they stand and what their ideas and thoughts are going into the draft. We’re exploring all avenues — trading up, trading down — and we’re prepared for that.”
Well if trading is a possibility then why not go up?
That’s hard to fathom this year because the Dolphins have other needs — cornerback, middle linebacker, wide receiver and perhaps safety — that will require draft choices after the first day. And if the Dolphins are going up, they must yield those draft choices as part of the package.
A trade up would be a worthwhile move for a quarterback or other playmaker on a team that is one or two players away from competing for a championship. But trading up for a right tackle? By a team that’s five seasons removed from the playoffs and must fill multiple other needs to bridge the gap?
Doesn’t make great sense.
Hickey admits the idea of having more picks (usually the result of a trade back) is more palatable than having higher picks (the result of a trade up).
“I always like more picks,” he said. “I always want to have more picks.”
There is, of course, the possibility the Dolphins general manager decides he can address his glowing-in-neon right tackle need later in the draft. Maybe he picks a middle linebacker such as C.J. Mosley at No. 19 and circles back to right tackle in the second round.
But with that second round pick coming at 50th overall, the chance exists James, Bitonio, Kouandjio and Moses will all be gone by then. Then what?
No, this draft has to resolve the glaring problem the Dolphins have at right tackle for it to be considered successful.
“Miami has to get lined up,” current ESPN analyst and former NFL Executive of the Year Bill Polian said recently. “First thing you have to do as a general manager is get lined up. They need offensive line help. Trade up, or if you have to, take Bitonio there. They need smarts. They need toughness. Get it done!
“The job of the draft is to find football players, not get value from the pick. Get football players that help the team. They need offensive linemen.”
I wouldn’t go that far. The draft is not just about the first round. But Polian’s point is well made in that right tackle is the Dolphins’ biggest problem.
Think about it this way: Last season right tackle Tyson Clabo, a try-hard player who at times was asked to do too much for his ability level, lost two games for the Dolphins when he gave up key sacks late in home games against Baltimore and Buffalo.
The 8-8 Dolphins might have been 10-6 and in the playoffs were it not for the handful of bad plays at right tackle.
That’s how important finding that good starting right tackle is now.
At least Hickey will have three choices for how to do that in the first round.