The Dolphins aren’t going to botch this, are they?
Can they possibly bungle the easiest step of the tanking/rebuilding process — being bad enough to secure the best quarterback in the 2020 draft?
Dolphins fans shouldn’t necessarily be panicked because there’s more opportunity to add more mediocrity and incompetence to a roster that already ranks among the NFL’s worst.
But I would be a bit concerned because Ryan Fitzpatrick is capable of getting hot enough, over short stretches, to help you win three or four games.
And do you know how damaging winning three or four games could be?
Not a single team that won four games this decade secured the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. And over the past 30 years, just one of 70 teams that finished with four wins secured the top pick in the draft, per Dolphins podcaster Chris Kouffman.
And over the past 30 years, how many teams that won three games ended up with the first pick? Just 6 of 34, per Kouffman.
This decade, only one team that went 3-13 (the 2015 Titans) landed the No. 1 pick, which Tennessee traded to the Rams. Cleveland also won three games but had to settle for the No. 2 pick, which was dealt to the Eagles.
Keep in mind that in his three seasons as a full-time starter, Fitzpatrick’s teams won six, six and 10 games (in 2011, 2012, 2015). His Jets team won three games in 11 starts in 2016. And no team that won five games has secured the No. 1 pick in the past 30 years.
Some would suggest that it doesn’t matter if Fitzpatrick has short spurts of production because the Dolphins’ offensive and defensive lines will be deficient enough to guarantee a high draft pick. And that’s a fair point, unless those lines are augmented appreciably in the coming months.
But here’s my response: Why risk this at all? If the priority this season is putting yourself in position to get the top quarterback in the 2020 draft (and most would say that’s Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa), why do anything to diminish those chances?
If the Dolphins had simply stuck with the quarterbacks on the roster — Jake Rudock and Luke Falk — plus the possible addition of a rookie or a far less accomplished veteran retread, Miami could go into this season feeling more confident about its chances of landing the top overall pick.
So why leave this to chance by signing a quarterback who tied an NFL record with four 400-yard passing games last season?
Now here’s the important caveat: If the Dolphins somehow end up with Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray or Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins in this draft, then the Fitzpatrick signing would be thoroughly justified because losing enough to draft a quarterback would no longer be the priority.
Either way, we understand the case to sign Fitzpatrick, and the arguments have merit.
He can be a capable backup once Miami drafts its quarterback of the future. His presence will convince players in the locker room that Miami is at least trying to win, though players trying to maximize their earning potential presumably would play hard no matter who’s behind center.
He’s respected and skilled enough to likely keep this team from being a clown show or an unspeakable embarrassment.
But here’s my response: You think the fact the Browns were an 0-16 embarrassment two years ago has anyone bothered about that now, with Cleveland in position to contend for years?
If my choice is being embarrassed for a year — or potentially losing out on the best quarterback in the 2020 draft — I opt for embarrassment.
How will the Dolphins — and their fans — feel if Fitzpatrick plays well enough to steal a couple of wins and Miami finishes with the third worst record, behind say, the Giants and Bengals – two other quarterback-needy teams?
And don’t assume that if Miami finishes with the third-worst record, it has the assets to trade up to draft for the top quarterback. The teams picking ahead of Miami might covet a quarterback, too.
For those suggesting we’re overestimating Fitzpatrick, let’s make this clear: This quarterback — and this team — aren’t going to approach .500.
But over the past 30 years, only 12 of the 21 teams that finished with two wins landed the top pick. And Fitzpatrick and his offensive arsenal are good enough to at least achieve that.
Consider where Fitzpatrick ranked in key categories last season: ninth in passer rating, eighth in deep ball accuracy, ninth in Pro Football Focus’ metric based analysis of quarterbacks and top half of the league in several other metrics.
Yes, standout receivers DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans helped him achieve that, but Fitzpatrick deserves credit for making the throws.
And Fitzpatrick will have big-play weapons here, with Albert Wilson, Kenny Stills, Jakeem Grant and Kenyan Drake, to go along with DeVante Parker and Brice Butler and Kalen Ballage, among others.
So here’s the question: If Fitzpatrick and his skilled receivers connect on a few big plays to pull out three or four wins, will the fleeting joy of victory have been worth it if it means settling for the second- or third-best quarterback in the 2020 draft instead of the first?
Will it have been worth it if Tagovailoa goes to the Giants or Bengals first overall and has a much better NFL career than Oregon’s Justin Herbert or Georgia’s Jake Fromm?
I think you know the answer.
“Tua looks big time to me,” Jimmy Johnson said. “Herbert I’m not nearly as excited about as I am with Tua.”
Would you prefer not to be a clown show next season and the butt of the jokes on late night talk shows?
But is that temporary discomfort really worth risking the chance to land the best quarterback in next year’s draft?