The Miami Dolphins have stepped into what I believe is their most important week of the offseason, the week of the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, where intentions for the April NFL Draft begin to sharpen into focus.
This is a week when Dolphins brass will have private meetings with top players on their radar, and when candidates for Miami’s No. 1 pick, 11th overall, might be compared not just on film, but in the flesh, on the same field.
Have I mentioned that coming Saturday is quarterbacks day at the Combine?
That is the day when this franchise must find its future.
This figures as one of the most quarterback-rich drafts in league history. The starving Dolphins are about to walk into a sumptuous banquet hall. Now all they have to do is decide to partake.
Miami’s standard operating procedure — Best Available Athlete, obedience to the holy draft-board rankings — ain’t working. You might have noticed. Fans who were 21 when the Dolphins last won a Super Bowl are now getting senior discounts. Miami’s most recent playoff win, in the 2000 season, marks the fifth-longest drought of any team.
Since that 2000 season Miami has spent more No. 1 picks on offensive linemen (five) than on any other position. No other team in that span has top-drafted more blockers. Not working! Great quarterbacks are still great behind so-so lines. So-so quarterbacks do not become great because their lines are.
Since taking a chance on Dan Marino and hitting the Lotto in 1983, Miami’s only first-round QB has been Ryan Tannehill in 2012. He has been OK, not a bust, but also not top-10 great, not someone who can lift and carry a team. And he will turn 30 during training camp and is coming off major knee surgery.
Tannehill has stopped being the long-term answer and instead become the short-term bridge — the guy good enough to take your snaps until the better answer arrives.
For the Dolphins or fans to think, “Oh, Tannehill’s fine, we have more pressing needs,” would be the same cautious thinking that has left this franchise in a rut for most of the past 15-plus years.
Sure, the Dolphins need a linebacker and a guard. Teams coming off 6-10 seasons tend to have more holes than a colander, yes. But Miami needs nothing more than a great quarterback, a difference maker.
Prolific but pricey Kirk Cousins is unexpectedly available in free agency, and chances are one of the four most highly-regarded college QBs could fall to Miami.
This looks like the year to take a leap of faith, have a conviction and take a shot at greatness.
The record for most quarterbacks drafted in the top five is three. It has happened only three times, in 1954, in 1971 and most recently in 1999 with Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb and Akili Smith. But it could happen again in 2018.
The record for most quarterbacks drafted in the top 10 is four. That was done for the only time way back in 1949. But it could happen again in 2018.
The record for most quarterbacks drafted in the first round is six. That, of course, famously happened in 1983, with John Elway, Todd Blackledge, Jim Kelly, Tony Eason, Ken O’Brien and Marino. But even that long-standing record could be threatened in 2018.
There is argument among the top mock drafts which QB will go No. 1 overall. That might be because nobody is a sure-fire franchise guy without flaw. No Peyton Mannings. Or it might be that any of the top four, or all of them, will prove to be franchise-changers.
The big four are (alphabetically) Wyoming’s Josh Allen, Southern Cal’s Sam Darnold, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and UCLA’s Josh Rosen. Todd McShay’s newest mock draft for ESPN has all four gobbled up among the top six selections. But Mel Kiper Jr. thinks one (Rosen) could fall to Miami at 11th.
A wild-card possibility worth mentioning is Lamar Jackson, the former Heisman Trophy winner from Louisville. He is generally pegged as a late first-rounder or even second, but for Miami, if the big four are gone, Jackson could be a bold move with tremendous upside.
Miami won’t bring temp-arm Jay Cutler back. Longtime second-stringer Matt Moore is a free agent. The backup presently is Brandon Doughty, a seventh-rounder with zero NFL pass attempts. And Tannehill is Tannehill: Not bad, but not good enough.
For the Dolphins, the future should be now. But the team first must be bold enough — beginning this week — to make that decision and chart that course.