Seventh in an occasional eight-part series examining the Dolphins’ future by position.
Finding a great quarterback? There are fewer things more difficult to do in sports if you’re a personnel man.
But finding a mediocre one? Now that’s something the Dolphins have mastered throughout this century.
And they’ll have a choice of a couple dozen of them this offseason as they determine who will compete to guide this offense through a bridge season when the priority will be player development and embarking on a rebuilding program.
The Dolphins would be perfectly content to wait until 2020 to find their quarterback of the future, with Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa of particular interest to them.
Finding that quarterback of the future in the 2019 draft appears unlikely, with Kyler Murray of Oklahoma and Dwyane Haskins of Ohio State expected to be selected before Miami picks 13th. And the next highest-rated quarterbacks - Missouri’s Drew Lock, Duke’s Daniel Jones and West Virginia’s Will Grier - are far from can’t-miss prospects.
Five quarterbacks are under contract at the moment, but that’s going to change very soon. As the world knows, the Dolphins will part ways with Ryan Tannehill.
David Fales and Brock Osweiler will be free agents. Former Lions backup Jake Rudock, signed in January, will be with the team throughout the offseason program, and Luke Falk likely will be too.
According to an associate with St. Thomas Aquinas ties, Rudock wasn’t specifically told by the Dolphins that starting is a possibility or not a possibility. But he was told he will have a chance to compete and that the Dolphins’ quarterback room will be much different than it was last season.
Though Falk was the personal pet project of Adam Gase, there are some Dolphins people who like him, and he too is expected to be given a look.
Falk has recovered from a broken wrist on his non-throwing hand that was sustained in a practice session after he joined the Dolphins last season.
Fales would be a stopgap during a rebuilding year, because he’s conscientious, knows the team’s personnel and isn’t likely going to win too much to risk high draft position.
So what free agents would make sense to compete with Rudock and Falk?
First, let’s rule out Nick Foles, who’s expected to sign with Jacksonville.
Miami Herald colleague Armando Salguero has reported the Dolphins won’t pursue free agent Teddy Bridgewater. It will be interesting to see if that could possibly change if the market for Bridgewater dries up and he is forced to accept a contract well below what he expects. The risk with signing Bridgewater is that he might get you to that 6 to 10 win range that owner Stephen Ross has adamantly said he would like to avoid in 2019.
There has been unsubstantiated speculation that Miami might trade for Colts backup Jacoby Brissett, who threw four passes last season and has 13 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a mediocre 81.6 career passer rating in 23 games, including 17 starts.
But unless it’s a very low draft pick, it’s difficult to envision Miami trading a draft choice - one of the prized commodities of its rebuilding program - for a stopgap quarterback when others can be signed as free agents without draft pick compensation.
Beyond Foles and Bridgewater, examining the remaining unrestricted free agent options:
▪ The old men (all 35 or over): Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh McCown, Matt Cassel, Brandon Weeden:
Fitzpatrick would be too risky because he can be just good enough to take you out of the top 10 of the draft; remember, he had 17 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and 100.4 rating for Tampa last season. So I wouldn’t go in that direction.
Cassel has 8 TDs and 12 INTs as a backup the past four years but knows Brian Flores from New England. But he’s 36 and clearly in decline, so Cassel wouldn’t seem to make sense….
McCown, liked and respected by teammates, could help mentor Rudock, Falk and perhaps a second- or third-day draft pick. So a case could be made for McCown…. Weeden has played in one game the past three years; not sure the Dolphins need to stoop that low.
▪ The young-veteran-to-middle-aged journeymen who were former starters (more than 10 games started in the NFL): Tyrod Taylor, Sam Bradford, Geno Smith, Robert Griffin III, Mark Sanchez, Trevor Siemian.
Taylor has made 46 starts and is 23-21-1. He had 89 passer ratings in Buffalo in both 2016 and 2017 but didn’t play well in limited playing time for Cleveland last season (42 for 85, two TDs, two picks). Because the goal is a high draft pick or being in position to acquire a high draft pick, signing Taylor might seem too risky to me. But a case certainly could be made for Taylor as your one-year bridge QB.
Bradford, 31, lasted only three games as Arizona’s starter last season, throwing two touchdowns and four interceptions and producing a dismal 62.5 rating. The former No. 1 overall pick has a career 84.5 passer rating.
As for the other journeymen type who aren’t yet on Social Security:
Smith, with the Chargers this past season, has started 31 games (mostly for the Jets) and is 12-19 but has only two starts the past four years....
Griffin is 15-25 in 40 career starts, was out of the league in 2017, and completed 2 of 6 passes last season as a Ravens backup....
Sanchez, 32, threw no touchdowns and three interceptions in 35 passes as a late-season injury replacement in Washington in 2018. He didn’t play in 2017 and threw no TDs and two interceptions in Dallas in 2016. So yes, he would be bad enough to likely get you near the top of the draft....
Siemian is 13-11 as a starter, all with Denver, with 30 touchdowns and 24 interceptions and a 79.9 rating. He spent last season as a Vikings backup. There might still be upside there, but the ceiling is limited.
▪ The not-yet-too-old-journeymen who haven’t started more than 10 NFL games: Joe Webb, Josh Johnson, Sean Mannion, Tom Savage, Taylor Heinicke and Brett Hundley.
The most intriguing of the group might be Mannion, who was a third-round pick by the Rams out of Oregon State in 2015, and is 33 for 53 for 258 yards with no TDs and one pick in a four-year career, including one start. Plus, he knows Rams coach Sean McVay!
Hundley was 3-6 as a fill-in starter for injured Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay and was a Seattle backup last season. He has nine career touchdowns, 13 interceptions and a 67.9 rating.
Heinicke was 0-1 in one NFL start (with Carolina last season) and has thrown 58 passes with one touchdown and three interceptions in his career.
Johnson has eight career starts (1-7 record), a 61.7 rating and threw three TDs and four picks in a three-game stint as a fill-in starter for Washington this past season.
Webb has four career starts and a 63.1 rating. Savage was 2-7 in nine career starts, all for Houston, with a 72.5 rating, and spent time with the 49ers and Bengals last season.
After examining all of those names, a case could be made to let Rudock and Falk compete for the job during a rebuilding year, then add another veteran if the Dolphins don’t draft a quarterback.
Falk, a sixth-round pick of Tennessee in 2018, hasn’t thrown an NFL regular season pass.
Rudock, who was on Detroit’s practice squad last season when the Lions opted to keep Cassel as the backup quarterback instead, is 3 for 5 for 24 yards and an interception in three seasons, with all of those passes thrown in 2017.
▪ Others who could become available: Besides Tannehill, other quarterbacks who likely will be cut include Blake Bortles (Jacksonville would get a $4.3 million cap savings by releasing him), Keenum (likely to be released after Denver’s not-yet-official acquisition of Joe Flacco from Baltimore; Denver would get $11 million savings by cutting Keenum) and A.J. McCarron (Oakland would get $5 million savings).
Bortles would seem unlikely. Not sure the appeal of McCarron and Keenum, because Keenum could push the Dolphins closer to mediocre – where they prefer not to be. Remember, six to 10 wins is a bad thing, says owner Ross.
The Arizona Cardinals could shop Josh Rosen, a year after drafting him in the first round, if they select Oklahoma’s Murray with the first pick. But keep in mind the Dolphins weren’t enamored with Rosen in last year’s draft; they preferred Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen.
Of course, there’s one other option: Colin Kaepernick. The Dolphins bypassed him multiple times before, but he is better than most on this list. The downside is he hasn’t played since 2016. The upside is he has 72 career touchdown passes compared with 30 interceptions and would make a rebuilding year interesting.
But during a season when winning is largely irrelevant, the Dolphins might be inclined to avoid the circus surrounding Kaepernick.
According to ESPN’s Josina Anderson, the Dolphins are among four teams to express preliminary interest in meeting with veteran tight end Dwayne Allen, who was released by the Patriots on Monday. New England saved $7.3 million by releasing him but reportedly wants to sign him to a lower salary.
Buffalo, Detroit and Baltimore were the other teams identified as having interest in meeting with Allen. Pro Football Talk said he visit four teams this week.
Allen had just three catches for 27 yards in 13 games for New England last season, including eight starts, but is a skilled blocker. He played 365 snaps on offense (32.6 percent) for the Pats this past season, per PFF. Allen has 139 receptions for 1564 yards and 20 touchdown receptions in seven NFL seasons.
The Dolphins have three tight ends under contract - Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe and Nick O’Leary. MarQueis Gray is eligible to become a free agent next week.
Here was my Monday news story with information on where things stand with Frank Gore and the Dolphins and Minkah Fitzpatrick’s future position.
Here was my piece from January with feedback on the draft-eligible quarterbacks.
Here was part 1 of my series on the Dolphins’ running back situation, including eye-opening numbers on Kenyan Drake.
Here was part 2 of my series on the Dolphins’ receiver situation.
Here was part 3 of my series examining percolating issues in the defensive backfield.
Here was part 4 of my series examining the offensive line.
Here was part 5 of my series on the future at linebacker.
He was part 6 of my series on where things stand with the defensive line.