Previewing who the Dolphins might pick in the 2017 NFL Draft
Editor’s note: Portions of this column were posted in April of 2016. They have been updated to include the latest information on the topic.
In six of the eight years Stephen Ross has owned the Miami Dolphins, he has suggested at least one trade or dynamic roster move to his top talent acquisition men -- first with Jeff Ireland, then Dennis Hickey and lately with executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum.
There have been spurts when calls suggesting a trade or some other "outside the box move" from Ross's New York office to the Dolphins’ Florida training facility have come much more frequently than just once a year.
It seems the owner really likes thinking of imaginative ways to possibly upgrade his team and he doesn't mind sharing his thoughts with his football people who always have the power -- partly because of language in their contracts -- to act on the suggestion or not. More often not.
Those suggestions are much more frequent this time of year because, well, the offseason is a time for trades, and the draft is all about adding talent.
So what’s Ross suggesting this year?
The owner said he’d “love to see” Tannenbaum and general manager Chris Grier somehow select a University of Michigan player in the draft.
“We were up there at their pro day and it was great being up there,” Ross said recently, “but I’ve told Mike that he doesn’t have to listen to me when I tell him [who to pick]. So therefore it’s really a decision they make.
“You’re right I’m going to say something. But I’m not the one that’s going to make that decision.”
Suggestions or not, Tannenbaum working for Ross is a perfect match in this regard:
Tannenbaum is working for an owner who wants his football guys to make moves. And Tannenbaum, in his second offseason with the ultimate power to make moves, really loves to make moves.
That was his history as general manager of the New York Jets. That's been his history with the Dolphins.
Last year Tannebaum traded down in the draft with Philadelphia a few weeks prior to the draft. He gave up five spots in the first round, moving from No. 8 overall to No. 13, in exchange for cornerback Byron Maxwell and linebacker Kiko Alonso.
This year, Tannenbaum has already made one trade, sending left tackle Branden Albert to Jacksonville for a conditional seventh round pick in 2018 while also acquiring tight end Julius Thomas from the Jaguars while giving up a seventh-round pick in this year’s draft.
Surprising? It shouldn’t be.
Tannenbaum loves to trade. He loves it!
Tannenbaum was general manager in New York from 2006 to 2012. In those seven seasons, Tannenbaum made 18 trades that dealt away 28 draft choices and eight players and acquired for New York 14 draft choices and five players.
And if that seems unbalanced, consider that Tannenbaum wasn't just dealing with other teams straight up. He was often trying to vault up draft charts to position the Jets with higher picks few believed he could or should be acquiring.
The fact is Tannenbaum made four trades involving first round picks.
He made five trades involving second-round picks. He made three trades involving third-round picks.
Tannenbaum either traded into or traded up in the first round each of the first four drafts he ran in New York. In 2009 he made a trade that moved the Jets from the No. 17 overall spot in the first round to No. 5 overall.
And Tannenbaum didn't blink in trading his first (No. 17), a second (No. 56) and three players on his roster to do it.
Why is this pertinent now as Tannenbaum starts what is effectively his fourth season with the Miami Dolphins?
Well, in his first season in 2014, Tannenbaum was positioned as a consultant, helping with the team's burgeoning analytics department so he wasn’t in a position to make the moves. In 2015, Tannenbaum was named EVP of football operations but the power to make trades and run the draft remained with then GM Dennis Hickey.
Starting last year, Tannenbaum could pretty much do whatever he pleased because Hickey was no longer with the team and new general manager Chris Grier answers to him.
So Tannenbaum not only made the Maxwell-Alonso deal before the draft but added five trades during the draft -- including deals in the second and third rounds and another deal to divest from cornerback Jamar Taylor.
“I think it’s an underrated aspect,” Tannenbaum said of trading. “But I also think it’s really important that you have 31 trade partners and you really want to come up with solutions that works well for both teams. You go back to the trade last year with Philadelphia, for example ... I don’t want to speak for them but I think they’re pretty happy with Carson Wentz. For us to get [Laremy] Tunsil, Maxwell and Kiko, we feel good about that.
“So I think it’s really important to be a good listener and understand what the other side wants to do, be it Julius Thomas or Branden Albert to make a trade with Jacksonville, understand what they want to do, so they feel good about the trade, so that in the future we can work with them again. Because in a cap system, you have finite resources to get better. So I think trades are an area you have to look at as a viable way to help yourself.”
So what now? Does Tannenbaum, having already lived up to his reputation as a trade machine last offseason and already having dealt a veteran starter this season, shut it down?
The Dolphins were rumored to be interested in a veteran cornerback months ago and recently it has become quite public that Richard Sherman is on the trade block. So does Tannenbaum go get perhaps the best cornerback in the NFL?
That one seems remote but, hey, Tannenbaum!
Sherman, 29, comes with prohibitive salary cap costs (not to mention trade compensation costs) so that probably eliminates the Dolphins right there. But, but, Tannenbaum!
Because the Dolphins, a very young team about to get younger in this draft, need some veteran presence and leadership and better cornerback play, this one cannot be completely, totally, absolutely disregarded.
Maybe Miami’s need at linebacker moves Tannenbaum. In that case, perhaps New Orleans former first round pick Stephone Anthony might be a consideration.
No, Anthony has not lived up to his draft status his first two seasons. But multiple high draft picks often play better for a new team once they get a change of scenery. Taylor not looking terrible in Cleveland comes to mind. So perhaps Anthony, a former Clemson standout, falls under that category.
The Dolphins like former Clemson reclamation projects as Maxwell and Andre Branch prove.
It should be said that Tannenbaum's success rate as the Jets trade maven was mixed. His success rate with the Dolphins last year was much, much better based on the Eagles trade.
(The trade of a third- and fourth-round pick in this year’s draft to draft receiver Leonte Carroo last year doesn’t look too good at the moment but that one is still fluid.)
In 2006 Tannenbaum acquired a second pick in the first round by trading away aging pass rusher John Abraham to Atlanta and used it to select center Nick Mangold, who was the anchor of that team's offensive line for a decade until last season. That was after he picked offensive tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson with an earlier first-rounder.
The following year, Tannenbaum traded up 11 spots in the first round to pick cornerback Darrelle Revis. I'm a Pro Football Hall of Fame voter and my sense is Revis's candidacy for the HOF will someday be discussed by the panel of voters I sit on. Tannenbaum also traded up in the second round in 2007, giving up his second, third- and fifth-rounder to move up and draft linebacker David Harris -- another very good player.
Tannenbaum traded into the first round in 2008 to pick tight end Dustin Keller. He traded his third-round pick for Carolina defensive tackle Kris Jenkins. He traded away inside linebacker Jonathan Vilma to the Saints. The guy was busy.
Tannenbaum acquired cornerback Antonio Cromartie via trade in 2011, and he traded into the fifth round that same year to select Jeremy Kerley.
And all those worked wonderfully for the Jets.
But -- you knew it was coming, Mike -- there were moves that bombed as well.
Most of the disasters involved quarterbacks.
Tannenbaum traded up in the second round in 2006 to draft Kellen Clemens.
Then that blockbuster in 2009 that sent two picks and three players to Cleveland for the No. 5 overall selection? It was to pick Mark Sanchez. And, Tannenbaum might argue, Sanchez helped get the Jets to the AFC title game two years in a row. And I completely reject that because Sanchez was mostly along for a ride authored by the NFL’s No. 1 defense and and No. 1 running game. And when those facets declined, Sanchez was exposed as a backup posing as a starter.
Sanchez was and remains an interception machine who was not big enough for the New York stage. Or any stage that cast him as a starter, for that matter.
Tannenbaum in 2008 sent a fourth-round pick to Green Bay for Brett Favre. And if Jets fans can forgive that Favre didn't work out and was gone within a year, it must still sting that Tannenbaum cut Chad Pennington as a result of that trade. And Pennington signed as a free agent with Miami and led the Dolphins to the AFC East title.
Tannenbaum in 2012 sent a fourth-round pick to Denver for Tim Tebow. (And there were reports this move was ordered by owner Woody Johnson. See? Tannenbaum is open to doing dumb things the owner suggests or orders).
He traded up in the second round that same year to select wide receiver Stephen Hill who lasted two seasons before being cut.
Tannenbaum was fired by the Jets after the 2012 season. And say what you will of his record, he was not afraid of going for the big move.
Now working for an owner that in the past has pitched big moves only to be held off by more cautious football men, things are bound to be interesting in Miami because this is the offseason and we’re nearing the NFL draft.
It’s Mike Tannenbaum’s time.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero