You think it’s going to be easy, don’t you? You think the Miami Dolphins, for years just holding serve on mediocrity while trying to ace a championship roster, have the right idea now and that is to sign a 36-year-old quarterback then draft someone, and that will definitely lead a rally to greatness.
(All the above tennis terms in honor of the Miami Open at Hard Rock Stadium).
Well, it’s not so easy.
It’s going to be difficult, folks.
It’s going to be fraught with hard decisions. It’s going to be about managing one dilemma after another.
This rebuild-tank-reconstruction-do over the Dolphins are undergoing in 2019 and presumably 2020 is going to be a bear...
.... A bear that hasn’t eaten in 15 days.
.... A bear that hasn’t eaten in 15 days and only likes salmon.
A bear that hasn’t eaten in 15 days, only likes salmon, but lives nowhere near a salmon spawning run.
So, yes, hard.
And this isn’t a negative spin on what the Dolphins are facing. This isn’t pessimism. This is the reality.
Because there might not be a lot of obvious answers available right away. And of those few, the Dolphins cannot afford to be wrong very often to get this rebuild-tank-reconstruction-do over right as soon as possible.
And the folks who have to hit home run after home run in the next couple of drafts to make this a huge win don’t have a home run hitter’s record lately.
Dolphins GM Chris Grier got an extra base hit with first-round pick Laremy Tunsil and a home run with second-rounder Xavien Howard in 2016.
But so far it seems he struck out in 2017 on first-rounder Charles Harris and third rounder Cordrea Tankersley. And second-round pick Raekwon McMillan is still neither a hit nor a miss.
So the average, which needs to be amazing, has so far not been that. But that’s the past.
About the future:
The Dolphins obviously are trying to add draft picks for 2020 and are hoarding salary cap space for 2020. The team added a 2020 fourth -round pick in the Ryan Tannehill trade. By conservative estimates Miami might also have more than $100 million in cap space next spring when the league year begins.
Overthecap.com has Miami at around $107 million in cap space for 2020. Obviously that’s an early working number because the Dolphins will be signing players and cutting players and we don’t know where the NFL will set the 2020 salary cap.
But suffice to say, the Dolphins will have the ability to do work in the 2020 offseason.
So the easy, perfect, fast scenario sounds like the Dolphins should simply pick their forever franchise quarterback this coming draft, fill in around him in the rest of this draft, then fill in some more in 2020.
Easy, right? That dumb salmon-eating bear has no teeth!
Except no one espousing this scenario can give that fabulous forever elite quarterback’s name. And that’s kind of a big detail to the Dolphins.
Because today, right now, the Dolphins don’t know what quarterback they will have an opportunity to draft next month who absolutely, without question, will grow into an elite NFL quarterback.
They don’t know if it’s Daniel Jones. Or Drew Lock. Or Dwayne Haskins. Or someone else.
They don’t know if it’s Kyler Murray. They don’t even know if Kyler Murray will be available or even within reach of their 13th overall selection (he won’t, but that’s just a guess).
And on draft day the Miami Dolphins might like one or two of those names. But so might three or four other teams that are either already in position to pick one of those players or more capable of flying up the draft board to snatch one of those guys.
Last year the Dolphins loved Baker Mayfield and liked Josh Allen a lot as well. They couldn’t get to Mayfield, who went No. 1 to Cleveland. They didn’t trade up for Allen, who went No. 7 overall to Buffalo.
The Bills traded up from No. 12 to take Allen.
The Dolphins, picking No. 11, did not trade up even though some within the organization suggested that should happen. (Owner Stephen Ross suggested the Dolphins trade down and that didn’t happen, either).
So teams picking where the Dolphins are picking in 2019 sometimes need to go higher to land the quarterback they covet. That’s what the Dolphins might have to do to get a quarterback they covet.
And this is where it gets interesting:
If the Dolphins can trade up to draft their new quarterback this year, they’re going to have to trade significant draft assets to do it. They might have to trade a second-round pick this year and another second-rounder next year.
They might even have to trade next year’s first-round pick plus more picks this year if they want to vault high into the top five this draft.
That seems worth it if the player turns out to be great. But teams have at times made moves up the draft board to pick a quarterback —- the Redskins for Robert Griffin III, the Browns for Johnny Manziel, Jacksonville for Blaine Gabbert — and ended up picking the wrong player.
And they set themselves back years.
There are other dangers in doing this that have repercussions on other positions.
The Dolphins have needs at right tackle. And left guard. They need edge rushers. And they need a starting boundary cornerback.
Using extra picks to get at the quarterback means those other positions cannot be addressed with premium picks in this draft or perhaps even next year’s draft in some scenarios.
And that might create a Miami team that is hoping to compete for championships but isn’t even the equal of, say, the Indianapolis Colts.
The Colts picked Andrew Luck No. 1 overall in 2012. But for multiple reasons the team was unable to surround him with sufficient talent for much of the past seven seasons. Yes, Luck has been able to get the team into the playoffs and even to the AFC Championship Game once.
But the team is still building, eight seasons after he was drafted. And Indy used only one pick on Luck. Imagine needing multiple picks to add that one player.
The point is finding the quarterback alone after investing multiple premium picks to get him is not a certain formula for a title turnaround.
So the answer is simple, right?
Wait to pick a quarterback next year. Address the offensive line and defensive line this year. Let Ryan Fitzpatrick figure things out (lose) in the interim.
That’s Fake GM Mando’s preference. This scenario bets on the Dolphins winning maybe two or three games in 2019 and having a very high pick next year along with more draft assets to move up from that already higher perch if the team doesn’t already own the first or second overall pick.
This scenario has the added benefit that the team the 2020 QB joins would be better because the 2019 draft presumably filled in some obvious holes.
But this scenario is also admittedly plagued by uncertainty.
Sure, the Dolphins could hope either Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa or Oregon’s Justin Herbert is available to them in 2020. Either of those players would be a top six pick in this year’s draft so, yes, they’re pretty good.
But what if Tagovailoa decides to stay in school for his senior season?
What if Fitzpatrick goes crazy in five games and the Dolphins end up picking late in the top 10, which is high but not high enough to land the best QB prospect in most drafts?
What if Tagovailoa and Herbert are terrible in 2019 (unlikely) or Dolphins personnel people cannot commit to either after doing close research on them?
The point is there’s one uncertainty after another with the 2020 scenario as well.
This much is certain: The people in the Dolphins’ personnel department know, more than anything else, that finding the right young quarterback is the move that will most easily return the team to relevance.
So as soon as the team identifies that right guy, there will likely be a strong push to land him — assuming the price is doable.
If that means picking in 2019, so be it. If that means waiting until 2020, so be it.
But none of this is an exact science. None of it is likely to be easy.