Regardless of whether you call it tanking or rebuilding, what the Dolphins are doing this offseason is pretty polarizing — particularly the unique approach they’re taking in two cases by essentially trading cash for draft picks.
And two longtime NFL executives have vastly different opinions on how the Dolphins are handling parts of this rebuild.
Longtime former Philadelphia Eagles president Joe Banner, who also previously served as CEO of the Cleveland Browns, strongly disagrees with the Dolphins’ decision to pay part of the salaries of at least one — and likely two — players in exchange for draft picks.
In exchange for the Dolphins agreeing to pay $5 million of Ryan Tannehill’s $7 million base salary this coming season, Tennessee agreed to give the Dolphins a fourth-round pick in 2020. (Miami also traded a future sixth-round pick to the Titans for a future seventh-rounder.)
Miami has been trying to do something similar in trade discussions with Dallas and New Orleans involving defensive end Robert Quinn.
“Paying for draft picks that you have a tiny chance of hitting on is an awful idea,” Banner tweeted. “They already paid $5M for a 4th round pick. They may not be good at knowing how to tank.”
Banner also cautions that the fact Miami could have 10 draft picks and $120 million in cap space next offseason shouldn’t be overstated.
“Since most [free agents] fail & hardly any young quality players at important positions hit the market, can you explain the plan?” Banner tweeted. “They also don’t have a high enough pick to get a stud QB like the Jets & Browns did. The only way this plan works if they prove to be exceptional evaluators.”
Conversely, Mike Lombardi — a former personnel executive with the Raiders, Eagles and Browns — sees merit in what the Dolphins are doing.
In a piece for The Athletic, Lombardi said “the 2019 Dolphins have many around the league claiming they might be the first to follow the 76ers’ plan of all-out tanking. But I see what the Dolphins are doing as more than that — I see it as laying a cultural foundation. And that foundation might be their best long-term solution to the never-ending issue of catching the Patriots in the AFC East. Tanking alone does not assure a bright future. Tanking while installing a culture might.”
Lombardi makes a bunch of other sound points. Among them:
“They know that Fitzpatrick gives them a well-liked, capable veteran starter who can compete, and they were able to get him at an affordable price that allows them to pay attention to the many other gaps they need to fill while Flores builds a team that fits to his culture and style of coaching. If a team goes young, spends to the minimum of the cap and not a penny more and then waits until it can solve the long-term issue at quarterback, which for the Dolphins will likely be in the 2020 draft, their “tanking” period might only take a year or so, as long as they spend time on culture. If a team loses without everyone buying into the culture just to get a draft pick, it will become harder to get back on the winning track.”
The view here: I opposed tanking at the outset, believing the Dolphins could become a contender if they boldly moved up for a quarterback in the 2019 or 2020 drafts and made smarter personnel decisions overall, such as avoiding past-their-prime players who have an association with their head coach (problematic during Adam Gase’s tenure).
But now that it’s clear they’re going to stink this season, I agree with the veteran purging and with most everything they’ve done except the Ryan Fitzpatrick signing (as I explained here).
Is it wise to use cap space and cash to acquire one or two mid-round picks?
That isn’t clear-cut – a reasonable case could be made either way - but owner Stephen Ross deserves credit for spending the money needed to execute the plan.
▪ Here’s a smart, under-the-radar thing the Dolphins are doing: Signing players who are non-tendered restricted free agents. Former Jets tight end Clive Walford and former Jaguars guard Chris Reed are two such examples.
That’s because those players don’t count in the NFL’s formula of calculating compensatory picks, according to overthecap.com’s Nick Korte.
And Dwyane Allen won’t count against the compensatory formula, because the Patriots released him before Miami signed him.
But the Fitzpatrick and Eric Rowe signings will slightly work against the Dolphins, because both were unrestricted free agents. Fitzpatrick could cancel out a fifth or seventh rounder, Rowe potentially a seventh-rounder.
But the loss of Ja’Wuan James in free agency to Denver should ensure a compensatory third-rounder is awarded to Miami in the 2020 draft – to go along with its own third-round pick.
And the Dolphins could still pick up an additional one or two third-day compensatory draft picks depending on how the rest of free agency plays out.
▪ Dolphins officials dined with Missouri quarterback Drew Lock on Wednesday night and had him diagram plays on a whiteboard, according to the Tigers’ beat writer for The Athletic. The Dolphins are planning some level of personal contact with all of the draft’s top quarterbacks, a group headed by Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray and Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins.
Lock is projected to be drafted in the general range of Miami’s pick at No. 13.