Greg Cote

Dolphins needed boldness but played it safe and got their pocket picked — twice

The Pats’ Rob Gronkowski carries Dolphins safety Reshad Jones into the end zone in a 35-17 New England win over Miami last November in Foxborough, Mass.
The Pats’ Rob Gronkowski carries Dolphins safety Reshad Jones into the end zone in a 35-17 New England win over Miami last November in Foxborough, Mass. AP

I don't consider myself to be a rain-on-your parade kind of guy by nature. I try to root for others' happiness, and Miami Dolphins fans fans surely could use some of that more than most.

And I do sort of get why most Dolfans seem pleased with Miami selecting Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick in the first round of the NFL Draft. Maybe they think it's a package deal that brings back Nick Saban as coach. Maybe they have always dreamed of cheering for a player named "Minkah." I dunno. In any case about two-thirds in a Miami Herald quick-reaction poll liked or loved the pick, while only one-third voted so-so, dislike or hate it.

The enthusiastic reaction of most in the South Florida media is understandable as well. The Dolphins feed the company line quite expertly. The player is good enough to be an easy sell. And when Dolphins general manager Chris Grier calls Fitzpatrick "a Swiss Army knife" and the player describes himself as a "chess piece" you can move all around, well, metaphor opportunities like that make a reporter swoon.

Grier called Fitzpatrick a "targeted player" by Miami, which clearly hopes to deploy him as a free safety charged mostly with covering other teams' tight ends. Fins gave up more catches to tight ends than anybody last season, and (you may have heard) New England's tight end is a huge reason why the Patriots have been AFC East landlords for forever.

But here's the thing. I am imagining the reaction of the Patriots — picturing a smirk by Tom Brady and the usual loopy grin from Rob Gronkowski — when they hear that Miami tailored its first-round pick with stopping Gronk in mind.

Fitzpatrick is 6-foot even and barely 200 pounds, small for an NFL safety.

Gronk is 6-6 and 265 pounds, with the wingspan of a condor.

I don't care how physical Fitzpatrick is, his edge in speed or his vertical leap, no 6-foot safety is going to is going to impede Brady's well-honed knack of throwing a football high enough that only Gronk can get it.

You could almost say it's like bringing a Swiss Army knife to a sword fight.

Fitzpatrick wasn't even the highest-graded safety in this draft; Florida State's Derwin James was. prospect ratings put Fitzpatrick at 6.19, in the range of "should become instant starter" but short of "chance to become Pro Bowl caliber." This kid's solid, with a nice college pedigree., but let's not turn him into Ronnie Lott or Ed Reed, OK?

I wonder about picking a safety No. 1 in the first place. Reshad Jones is already back there — the only team-drafted player left who has made a Pro Bowl, after the recent talent-drain purge of Jarvis Landry, Ndamukong Suh, Mike Pouncey and Jay Ajayi.

They loaded up at safety when the secondary was a distant third by my eye in defensive needs, after a dynamic outside linebacker (could have had Virginia Tech's Tremaine Edmunds) or a run-stopper to replace Suh (could have had Washington's Vita Vea or Alabama's Da'Ron Payne).

Of course it's what else the Dolphins could have had Thursday night but didn't get — a franchise quarterback — that mostly frames the Fitzpatrick choice as questionable.

"Ryan [Tannehill] is our guy," Grier said. "We believe in Ryan."

At some point, admirable traits like loyalty and faith can begin to seem delusional. Once again: Tannehill is just good enough to make you think he's fine (make you think you can afford to draft a safety), but not good enough to be a difference-maker and lift a team. We have had six years of proof, of a 37-40 career record and zero playoff wins. Now Tannehill is about to turn 30 and coming off a couple of knee issues including major surgery. He has become the middling stopgap quarterback the Dolphins continue to mistake for a franchise grand marshal.

Buffalo aggressively traded up — from 12th, one below Miami — to draft its QB future in Josh Allen, even though the Bills recently signed A.J. McCarron.

Arizona aggressively moved up — to 10th, one above Miami — to draft its QB future in Josh Rosen.

Quite literally, the Bills and Cardinals both picked Miami's pocket.

While the Dolphins passively stayed put, showing way too much patience for a 6-10 team that hasn't won anything this century, and picked a safety.

Had Allen or Rosen been available at No. 11?

"We would have talked about it," said Grier. "But we just didn't think anybody would be there."

Did they consider moving up like the Bills or Cards to get a QB?

"We had a couple of calls with teams, but it didn't get very serious," said the GM. "Moving up, they wanted a lot."

You get what you pay for, which is not guaranteed greatness from Allen or Rosen (or Lamar Jackson), but at least a chance at it. And Miami had the capital to trade up, with a pick in the second round and the third, and two in the fourth. This was the first time since 2013 that Miami had four picks in Rounds 2-4.

This was the draft to move up, to aim higher than Tannehill, to take a shot at greatness. This was the first time since 1999 that five QBs went in the first round and, with a little ingenuity and boldness, three of them were within reach for Miami.

The Dolphins needed a cannon.

They drafted a Swiss Army knife.

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