Miami Dolphins

Trading places: Is this the year the Dolphins make the smart move — and move back?

Dolphins GM Chris Grier agrees this needs to be a ‘great draft’

Miami Dolphins GM Chris Grier agrees the 2019 NFL Draft needs to be a "great draft" for their rebuilding effort, April 17, 2019.
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Miami Dolphins GM Chris Grier agrees the 2019 NFL Draft needs to be a "great draft" for their rebuilding effort, April 17, 2019.

Draft weekend is Chris Grier’s show, and he intends to put on a good one.

But the second-most important person in the Dolphins’ draft room might just be the most unassuming.

Brandon Shore, the team’s low-key vice president of football administration, has many roles.

Among them: the unofficial keeper of the chart.

The draft trade chart that is, the sliding scale that gives a value to each draft pick, from 1 to 254.

The theory is intuitive. The value, in points, that you get back from another team better have a higher total score than what you ship out.

Crafting the chart is a team effort, with plenty of input from the team’s analytics department.

And to be sure, Grier, the Dolphins’ general manager, is the decider. All trades will flow through him.

But Grier suggested Wednesday that Shore — who has an accounting degree from Elon and a law degree from Miami — will be a major resource next week. And he should. Given their many needs, this is a prime draft for the Dolphins to trade back from 13 and accumulate more than their seven current picks.

“You talk about scenarios, whether it’s trading up, trading down, what will it take to move here, move there or what would we want if someone came up,” Grier said. “You start talking about all that stuff and we’ve been doing that with Brandon Shore as well, so it’s been fun.”

Shore, in his 30s, is young. And he’s plenty capable, working up from staff assistant to human resources director to VP in less than a decade with the organization.

He knows how to read a spreadsheet.

So Shore must believe that the smart money in pro football is to trade back, not up, in the NFL Draft.

Which makes the Dolphins’ recent history all the more surprising.

In the past 14 years, they have made a picks-for-picks trade back in the first round just once.

That was in 2010, when they dealt the 12th pick plus a fourth- and sixth-rounder to the Chargers for a late first (28th overall), a second and a fourth-round pick and linebacker Tim Dobbins. (They did slide from 8 to 13 in 2016, but that was to acquire veterans Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell from the Eagles.)

The Dolphins won that 2010 trade, drafting two solid starters (Jared Odrick and Koa Misi) while San Diego took Ryan Mathews, who turned out to be a decent but not spectacular back.

Last April, the Dolphins could have done something similar. They had at least one offer for the 11th pick. Stephen Ross wanted them to take it. But Grier was enamored with Minkah Fitzpatrick, seeing the Alabama defensive back as too valuable to pass up.

Was it the right move? We won’t know for a few more years.

But we can definitively say that the Dolphins blew it in 2013.

Miami, led by then-general manager Jeff Ireland, owned three of the top 54 picks, including the 12th overall. They could have emerged from the weekend with two, if not three starters.

Instead, they packaged a first- and a second-rounder to move up to take Dion Jordan at 3. Jordan ended up with as many suspensions as he had sacks as a Dolphin and is widely seen as the biggest draft bust in team history.

Has Grier learned from that mistake? At the very least, he seems open to moving back. Grier said Wednesday that trade talks with other organizations began at last month’s NFL annual meeting.

“Every team does it,” Grier said. “Every guy comes up, ‘Hey, if you’re interested in coming down,’ or ‘We might be interested in coming up.’ You stay in touch with a few teams here or there, but over the next week or so, it’ll really start to heat up — I would guess probably especially next Monday, Tuesday.”

Every team does it. But not every team does it well.

In 2015, Warren Sharp at SharpFootballAnalysis.com ran the numbers and determined that teams trading up lose value 79 percent of the time.

The average value lost? An early fifth-round draft pick.

Successful teams like the Seahawks and Patriots traded down at least twice as often as they traded up. Losing teams, meanwhile, went the other direction in the draft, and often paid the price.

The Harvard Sports Analysis Collective put it bluntly in a 2012 blog post.

The headline: “Don’t trade up in the NFL Draft.”

Results from their historical analysis determined that “teams tend to overpay for earlier draft picks — or at least they did during the 1990s. … Teams that can resist the urge to trade up would likely gain a competitive advantage over teams that overpay for the right to choose, and would benefit even more by taking advantage of their competitor’s overconfidence and trading down instead.”

Is that still the case in 2019?

Well, it was in 2018. The Saints surrendered two firsts and a fifth to land edge rusher Marcus Davenport. Harvard’s chart suggests they grossly overpaid; moving from the 27th pick to 14 is only worth a sixth-rounder, “based off of real, historical, on-field performance.”

Of course, Harvard is not the only analytics shop around. Pro Football Reference has a metric called approximate value (AV), which puts a single number on the seasonal value of every player in the league, and uses that system to give each draft slot a value.

That site’s chart also says that the Saints should have only surrendered a sixth to make their trade, an offer the Packers, who owned the 14th pick, would have surely rejected.

Why? The market has been set for teams to overpay, and to recalibrate it would take years of discipline that many executives don’t possess.

But the Dolphins, with a multiyear plan, have the luxury of time.

They have stripped the roster down the studs and plan to rebuild it through the draft.

In that way, their plan resembles that of the Browns, who are an ascending team after a generation in the wilderness.

The Browns in 2016 were in the same position the Dolphins are currently: rebuilding, with holes everywhere and no franchise quarterback. Instead of taking one with the No. 2 overall pick that year, they traded down and, through a series of trades, turned it into three first-rounders and 12 picks total over three seasons.

In that regard, Sashi Brown — Cleveland’s former Moneyball executive — was a genius. He essentially got two entire drafts for one pick.

Unfortunately, he was not nearly as skilled at using his picks as he was accumulating them. Seven of the 12 selections acquired in that trade were in the 2016 draft; none of those seven players are still on the team.

Plus in trading down, Brown passed on quarterbacks Carson Wentz in 2016 and Deshaun Watson in 2017, which is probably the No. 1 reason he no longer works for the Browns. There’s almost no price too high for a franchise quarterback.

But is there one as good as Wentz or Watson in this year’s draft, outside of perhaps Kyler Murray?

Many experts say no. And yet, all it takes is one team to fall for Dwayne Haskins, Daniel Jones or Drew Lock, and the Dolphins might have a deal, assuming one of those three falls to 13.

“I would say you should always have — and again this is just me — a list of maybe a handful of guys that you definitely take no matter where,” Grier said. “They’re there, these are the guys you’re taking and these are the guys we feel are impact players. As you move down and get closer and you get there and there’s a group of players who are good players and we’ve got three at that pick, you may say, ‘Alright, we can move back a few spots and get one of these guys for sure and create some more picks for later in the draft.’”

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