Forget the depressing drubbings we’ve witnessed the past two Sundays. Don’t spend another minute bemoaning the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade. And definitely, do not shed a single tear about the Dolphins being on pace to shatter most of the NFL’s offensive and defensive futility records.
We’re all aboard the Tua Tank Train and you better enjoy the damn ride because there’s no turning back.
If you’re into hope trafficking, 10 legitimate reasons to be excited about the Dolphins’ plan:
▪ Barring a surprising turn of events, the Dolphins are finally going to get a quarterback at the top of the draft (likely Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa), and his legend keeps growing.
That is their plan, regardless of how Josh Rosen plays beginning Sunday in Dallas.
Tagovailoa has been exceptional to start the season, with 1007 passing yards, 12 touchdowns and no interceptions while completing a remarkable 77 percent of his passes (70 of 91). He has an absurd touchdown to interception ratio in his career (66 to 8).
“Simply put, Tagovailoa is a special talent,” ESPN’s Todd McShay wrote Tuesday. “The lefty has elite accuracy at all three levels, displaying a smooth delivery, solid arm strength and excellent touch. His anticipation and fast eyes are high-end.”
▪ The Dolphins’ draft haul keeps growing.
If the draft were held today, Miami would have four of the top 34 picks and seven of the top 98 - three first-rounders (its own, Houston’s, Pittsburgh’s), two second-rounders (its own and the Saints’) and two third-rounders (its own and a compensatory pick for losing Ja’Wuan James).
As a fun exercise, let’s look what the 2016 NFL Draft yielded with the exact picks Miami would currently own:
Chargers Pro Bowl defensive end Joey Bosa (third pick that year), Titans one-time All Pro offensive tackle Jack Conklin (8th), Vikings receiver Josh Doctson (44 catches, 432 yards for Redskins last year); Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith (34th; 121 tackles, four sacks), Saints receiver Michael Thomas (47th; first-team All Pro last year), defensive end Carl Nassib (65th pick by Cleveland; 6.5 sacks for Tampa last year), and Denver starting safety Justin Simmons (98).
That’s three exceptional players and seven starters, and clearly a best-case scenario.
We’re happy-happy, joy-joy today, so we won’t mention that in 2014, those same three first-round picks were used on Blake Bortles, cornerback Justin Gilbert (out of league since a 2017 suspension for substance abuse) and Johnny Manziel. But two-time Pro Bowler DeMarcus Lawrence went 34th to Dallas that year!
▪ The cap space keeps growing.
According to the NFL players union, Miami has $36.9 million in available 2019 space (slightly less after the Taco Charlton waiver claim) that it can carry over and added to Miami’s current $87 million in 2020 space. So that’s nearly $123 million in cap space. At least $20 million of that will be needed to sign the draft class and a practice squad, and few million must be allocated to restricted or exclusive rights free agents such as Vince Biegel, Matt Haack and Mark Walton.
▪ Even more cap space could be created after this season.
Miami can open up another $7.5 million by moving on from Reshad Jones, $4 million by dumping Ryan Fitzpatrick and $5 million if it decides to move on from DeVante Parker. And if Albert Wilson remains slowed by injuries, Miami could move on with $9.5 million in cap savings, though the hope is he gets healthy and regains his pre-hip injury form. So that would be $148 million or so in space.
▪ The free agent class is deep in Dolphins need areas, which are most positions on the team.
Quality starters are potentially available with pass rushers (Chris Jones, Vic Beasley, Yannick Ngakoue and others), cornerbacks (Marcus Peter, Byron Jones, etc.) and offensive linemen (guards Brandon Scherff and Joe Thuney, tackle Bryan Bulaga, etc.)
▪ With Pittsburgh left with Mason Rudolph at quarterback after Ben Roethlisberger’s season-ending injury and a defense that’s fourth-worst in the league, that Steelers first-round pick headed to Miami could end up being a gem.
ESPN’s computer says it has a 29 percent chance of being in the top five, 62 percent of being in the top 10. That, for Miami, could mean landing a top receiver to catch passes from Tua (Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy, Oklahoma’s CeeDey Lamb), the draft’s best edge rusher (Ohio State’s Chase Young), a top corner (Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah or LSU’s Kristian Fulton) or the draft’s best safety (LSU’s Grant Delpit).
The Steelers’ schedule includes an Oct. 28 Monday night home game against the Dolphins, and a handful of difficult games - at Cleveland, at Baltimore, at the Chargers and home against the Rams.
▪ And about that Houston pick, don’t be surprised if it’s in the teens.
Despite acquiring Laremy Tunsil, the Texans (1-1) have allowed 10 sacks (after relinquishing a league-high 62 last season) and will be underdogs at the Chargers, at Chiefs, at Ravens, likely at home against the Patriots and potentially at Tennessee, with tough home games against the Titans, Falcons and Panthers. A pick in the teens would give Miami a choice of several Alabama defensive studs and top offensive tackle prospects.
▪ The run defense has some solid pieces.
Pro Football Focus ranks Raekwon McMillan fifth among all linebackers through two weeks and Davon Godchaux fifth among all defensive tackles. Christian Wilkins played better Sunday after a poor opener.
▪ A few of the other young players are flashing.
PFF rates Michael Deiter a solid 27th among all guards through two weeks. He has permitted just two hurries and no sacks, though Deiter said Thursday “I’ve not done a good enough job as a pass blocker. I’m not super jacked about my performance.”
Preston Williams (seven catches, 87 yards, Miami’s only TD) looks like a longterm receiver rotation piece. Linebacker Vince Biegel, picked in the fourth round in 2017, has displayed pass rush skills. And tight end Mike Gesicki is doing a better job getting open.
▪ Miami will have considerable 2021 ammunition to fill needs that aren’t addressed next offseason.
If contracts are structured prudently, the Dolphins could have decent cap space in March 2021. They have both their own and Houston’s first- and second-rounders in 2021.
How about this scenario: If Miami is OK with how Tua plays next season but decides Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence is better, the Dolphins - if picking in the top 10 in 2021 - could dangle both first-rounders and a second to move up to get Trevor - if the team picking first already has its future QB (a big if, obviously). And then Miami could trade Tua for a first-rounder.
Most doors and opportunities are open to Miami now, and that gives the franchise unprecedented flexibility.
Here’s my Thursday Dolphins six-pack.
Here’s my Thursday Panthers six-pack.
Here’s my Thursday Heat six-pack.