It’s an odd dynamic in a most unusual season.
And yes, several Dolphins players are very much aware of this reality about their fan base:
Some of them will be rooting for the Dolphins to lose Sunday’s home game against the Washington Redskins because a win would hurt the team’s chances of landing the top pick in April’s NFL Draft.
And that top pick would come with a franchise quarterback — Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa or less likely, Oregon’s Justin Herbert.
“It’s funny how they think we should tank and lose every game to get that No. 1 pick,” left tackle Jesse Davis said. “It’s funny to think about it.”
Linebacker Jerome Baker finds the whole notion distasteful.
“You’re not a real fan if you’re rooting for us to lose, no matter what [the reason] is,” Baker said. “We try to win every chance we get. If we come up short, it’s not because we come up short for the future. I’ve seen the tanking and all that.
“From outside looking in, you essentially think we’re just tanking. But we go out there and try to perform. If you are not performing, they get you out of here. Every guy wants to play well and ultimately stay as long as we can.”
Now let’s be clear: No reasonable person would ever suggest that players are in on “the tank.” Players are very much trying to win. Coaches are trying to win. But the roster was constructed in a way to land a high draft pick and solve the team’s quarterback problem.
And that has led to some Dolphins fans worrying what might happen if the Dolphins lose to two other winless teams who are in contention for the top picks — the Redskins and the Cincinnati Bengals, who visit Dec. 22.
“For someone to want [the Dolphins to lose], I get that,” center Daniel Kilgore said. “I look at the whole picture. But how many high draft picks have the Dolphins had in the last 10 to 15 years?”
Kilgore was told that the Dolphins’ only top five picks in the past 15 years resulted in left tackle Jake Long (who made four Pro Bowls), running back Ronnie Brown (who had a good, but not great career) and defensive end Dion Jordan, who was a bust.
“It’s tough because I understand what they’re talking about,” Kilgore said. “But as a person going out to do a job, it’s [tough to hear]. Say I worked as a construction guy for Florida Highways and I went out to patch a hole in the highway. Would I do a half-ass job hoping people get in a car wreck? Probably not. I want to go out and do my job and will always compete to win.”
But what about the fans wanting to solve quarterback once and for all. Isn’t that justified?
“Who’s to say they’re going to get a quarterback?” Kilgore said. “That’s why they hire Chris Grier and Brian Flores to make those decisions. They don’t hire Jimbo on the street. Everybody will speculate and that’s fine, but who’s to say they draft a quarterback? When I was in San Francisco, they kept saying quarterback and we took defensive guys with high picks. That’s what makes the NFL Draft so exciting.”
For the record, the Dolphins intend to select a quarterback high in the draft barring an unexpected change of heart, according to multiple sources.
And Tagovailoa has tantalized Dolphins fans with exceptional play to start the season.
In five games, Tagovailoa already has thrown for 1,718 yards while completing an absurd 76.4 percent of his passes, with 23 touchdowns and no interceptions. In his college career, he has 77 touchdowns passes and just eight interceptions.
ESPN NFL analyst Steve Young, in a podcast with Adam Schefter, said Tagovailoa has the “it” factor that teams covet at the position.
“There is natural ability,” Young said. “We can develop it on the edges, but accuracy is natural. Having that three-dimensional chess in your head throwing people open. You can learn it on the edges, but it has to be fundamental. Tua just seems like somebody who has that intuition and has the physical ability to do it.”
But not everyone considers him a can’t-miss future NFL star. In Pete Thamel’s thorough look at the top QB prospects on Yahoo Sports, he noted “with Tagovailoa, the first negative point mentioned [by NFL people] is that he’s left-handed. There are currently no lefty quarterbacks in the NFL.
“Drafting a left-handed quarterback involves a directional reversal of how an offense would work, which is much more complicated in reality that many would perceive. The last lefty in the NFL was Kellen Moore, now Dallas’ offensive coordinator, and the last lefty touchdown pass was from Dez Bryant on a trick play.”
Also, in the piece, former NFL personnel director Mike Williams told Thamel: “When the big games have come so far, he hasn’t performed as well. There’s still time for him to make up for that or prove people wrong on that point.”
Williams, in that piece, notes that Oregon’s Herbert “doesn’t have an especially quick delivery, but to offset that I think his motion is really efficient.”
But Herbert has the size (6-6) and arm strength that teams covet. His overall numbers are very good through five games: 15 touchdowns, one interception, 71.6 percent completion percentage. But his performance was average against California on Saturday. He was good (threw for 242 yards) but not great in a season-opening loss to Auburn.
So with two highly skilled quarterbacks at the top of the draft, some Dolphins players can at least understand fans rooting for losses.
“Whatever they’re saying or how they feel about certain things, they’re entitled to it,” defensive lineman John Jenkins said.
Here’s my Tuesday Dolphins notebook, with news on Mark Walton and the offensive line.