Tank for Tua.
It’s catchy. It’s hope-inspiring.
But it might also be fool’s gold.
Truth is, the odds are just as good that in 16 months, we will be saying this instead:
Tanks for Nothing.
The Dolphins are embarking on a rebuild, one that will only work if they make a string of good decisions — starting with hiring the right head coach.
But they need to get lucky, too.
So as Dolphins fans prepare for a season of short-term pain, realize that it does not guarantee long-term gain.
Evidence supporting this is everywhere.
Yes, stars (or is it black holes?) could align, the Dolphins could be unspeakably bad this fall and still not land Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama’s otherworldly sophomore quarterback, in the 2020 NFL Draft.
There could quarterback-needy be teams that manage to finish with a worse record than Miami. (It happened to the Jets in 2017; despite gutting their roster, they won more games than expected and had to surrender four picks to land Sam Darnold at No. 3).
Furthermore, Tagovailoa could elect to return for his senior season at Alabama and get his degree. (That’s a real possibility, plugged-in people say.)
And even if he goes pro and the Dolphins do land him, there’s no guarantee he’s a star.
For every Andrew Luck, there’s a Jameis Winston.
Yes, the Rams got it right with Jared Goff and might win a Super Bowl this season. But the Raiders and Jaguars — who basically tanked for a decade — had short-term success but stumbled in 2018 and are starting over once again.
Cam Newton was the top pick of the 2011 draft, and went on to win the league MVP and reached the Super Bowl in 2016.
But the No. 1 picks in the two years that preceded — Sam Bradford and Matthew Stafford — have never won a playoff game.
Plus, losing on purpose runs counter to everything coaches and players have been taught since Pop Warner. How do you ask professional athletes to put their health at risk — and how do you ask coaches to log 100-hour work weeks — if there’s an organizational edict to lose?
It’s unnatural, and a big reason tank is truly a four-letter word in professional football.
“I haven’t put any thought into such a possibility,” an NFL personnel executive told the Miami Herald, “because it would never be a possibility, in my view.”
The source added: “If, and I mean if, that were to ever happen, you would need full support from ownership, the coach, GM and that staff would need that be made clear 100 percent and reflect as such in long-term contracts and that the leadership in the organization all understand it’s a rebuild. In addition, if you did decide to do that, you would start to identify assets that have value who are not part of your long-term plan and begin to acquire and stock pile picks, if you can.”
Ask Sashi Brown how well that went for him.
The Cleveland Browns, under Brown’s leadership, went full tank for three years, winning four games from 2015-2017. They didn’t spend on free agents. They made a series of trades to stockpile picks in the 2018 draft.
And while it’s far too early to crown them, the plan seems to have worked. They got their franchise quarterback in Baker Mayfield and have one the best collections of young talent in football.
Too bad Brown isn’t around to enjoy it.
Browns owner Jimmy Haslem canned Brown after the 2017 season, and Brown’s replacement, John Dorsey, reaped the rewards. Dorsey inherited a team with some $70 million in cap space and four of the top 35 picks of the 2018 draft.
Put another way: Sashi’s vision worked. But the owner ran out of patience before it could be fully executed.
Will the same happen to Chris Grier, named the team’s head of football operations on Monday?
That’s a concern for those familiar with Stephen Ross, who turns 79 in May. Ross wants to win every year, but signaled after another failed season that he is finally willing to endure some suffering to land a top quarterback.
“We’re no further along than when I really bought the team,” Ross said Monday. “We’ve been operating under a philosophy that we had a good young roster and it needed maybe free agents and draft choices and we’d be very competitive. To keep operating under that philosophy would be like the definition of insanity: doing the same thing and really expecting a different result.
“So I thought it was time for the organization to take a different approach,” Ross continued. “... Basically, the thought is we’re going to look to really build this organization based on our needs and if it takes a year or so — two years, three years — we’re going to be there and we’re going to be an organization.”
In other words, here comes a complete rebuild based on young, cheap players. Free agent splash signing are a thing of the past (for now). The team will draft a quarterback high at some point, but this might not be the year to do it. The Dolphins own the 13th pick, and the 2019 class looks much weaker than the 2020 class.
So while the Dolphins aren’t saying this on the record, Tua (if not Georgia’s Jake Fromm or Oregon’s Justin Herbert) might be the target, and the team might need to take extreme measures to get him.
Even if that means going 3-13 this year?
“I would hope I don’t have to go 3-13; but whatever it’s going to take, we’re going to build that organization with the right players that want to win,” Ross said. “They’re coming here to win.”
Of course, that’s easy to say in January.
Check back in September, cynics counter.
When asked if Ross would be OK tanking a season, a person close to Ross responded:
“No chance. For like 3 games.”
Added another NFL source: “I hope [Grier] has the full long term support from the top. And all around ownership understand that too.”