Welcome, at last, to the 2015 NFL Draft, where ‒ barring a trade ‒ the Dolphins will go on the clock some time around 10 p.m. Thursday.
And as soon as accounting manager Craig Heil — one of two Dolphins representatives in Chicago — turns in the card to the league, it will reveal more than the Dolphins’ first-round selection.
He will, by extension, hint at the team’s thinking for 2015 and perhaps who is truly in control of the front office.
The Dolphins have insisted time and again that Dennis Hickey is in charge of the 53-man roster and the draft room.
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But there’s also no question that Mike Tannenbaum runs the building. Stephen Ross solved that mystery the day the Dolphins introduced Ndamukong Suh, and Greg Jennings reinforced it the day he signed with Miami.
“Talking with Mike Tannenbaum and Joe and coming to terms on the deal that everyone was excited about and satisfied with, it really didn’t take a whole lot,” Jennings said, signaling that Tannenbaum, and not Hickey, handled the negotiations.
So why is this palace intrigue the slightest bit relevant to Dolphins fans?
Because it could determine whom they take at 14.
Tannenbaum has talked at length about a three-year plan. Yet Philbin (and probably by extension Hickey) have one year to prove to Ross they should keep their jobs.
Translation: Tannenbaum can draft someone with the long view; Hickey probably cannot.
That’s why decision-makers around the league have a strong suspicion that if Tannenbaum is indeed calling the shots, the Dolphins will select Georgia running Todd Gurley, if he’s still available at 14. The smoke around Gurley is thicker than the Everglades in June. If Dolphins’ interest is an elaborate ruse, Tannenbaum is the second coming of Niccolo Machiavelli.
Or how about this possibility: Tannenbaum packages the few draft assets the Dolphins have and trades into the top 10 ‒ or higher ‒ to grab an elite player such as Amari Cooper, Kevin White, or Gurley (if they believe he won’t last to 14). Such a move would be well in line with Tannenbaum’s wheeling-dealing past with the Jets.
Yet if Hickey truly owns the draft board, the Dolphins might again take someone, as they did in 2014, based on pure need, and select the best-available corner (like Michigan State’s Trae Waynes or Wake Forest’s Kevin Johnson) or offensive lineman (particularly if Brandon Scherff somehow falls to them).
Look back to just last year for proof. The Dolphins had a major need at right tackle. They used the 19th overall pick to fill it, taking Ja’Wuan James, a solid player who probably wasn’t the draft class’ 19th-best overall player.
“We always look at things in short-term value and long-term,” Hickey said last week. “It’s a balance. Obviously, some guys have more payoff in dividends in the longer term and others in the short term. You weigh that with every prospect and that’s how you place them on the board.”
Gurley is the ultimate long-term pick. He doesn’t fill an immediate need; Lamar Miller returns after a 1,000-yard season. And Gurley might not even be ready for the start of the season; he’s just five months removed from reconstructive knee surgery. But scouts see Gurley as a generational talent; NFL Network reported Wednesday that at least one team has Gurley the No. 1 overall prospect in this year’s draft.
What will truly be fascinating is if the Dolphins are lucky enough to choose between Gurley and Louisville’s DeVante Parker, a wide receiver who’s also high on their board. Even after adding Jennings last week, the Dolphins still are in the market for a No. 1 wideout, and Parker would fit the bill. Breshad Perriman is a very real option, too, but he might be a reach at 14.
There’s also the possibility the Dolphins try to trade back, particularly if their top targets are gone by the 14th pick. They lost their third-round pick in the Kenny Stills trade, and have just six selections in total ‒ including two in the first 113 selections.
As for players whom the Dolphins will not take Thursday, that list almost certainly includes anyone with significant red flags, particularly after learning Dion Jordan ‒ the No. 3 overall pick in the 2013 draft ‒ will miss the entire season after violating the league’s substance abuse policy for a third time.
That probably makes Missouri defensive end Shane Ray, Louisiana State corner Jalen Collins and perhaps LSU lineman La’El Collins too hot for the Dolphins to handle.
▪ In a move telegraphed over the past three months, the Dolphins plan to pick up the fifth-year option on Ryan Tannehill’s contract, Pro Football Talk reported Wednesday. The option, which is guaranteed only in the case of emergency, will pay Tannehill $16.2 million in 2016.
NFL Draft at a glance
8 p.m. Thursday
Dolphins pick: 14th
7 p.m. Friday