Greg Cote

No sacrifice too great for hell-bent, Tanking for Tua Dolphins to find their Holy Grail | Opinion

Tua Tagovailoa by gradual degrees appears more and more in focus to Miami Dolphins fans. Nearer and nearer. More and more real. But he appears less like a quarterback in Alabama red than as a savior in a flowing robe, back-lit by a halo of sunlight. That sound ... are those angels singing?

A dispatch from Tanking Central:

This is like few seasons ever seen in sports and none ever experienced in South Florida: One team so strategically awful, with one player in mind — and no sacrifice too great to reach that Holy Grail.

Perversely, the historically bad, winless Dolphins in the midst of overtly Tanking for Tua might be the biggest story of this NFL season. It has become a national controversy. It has split a fan base with winning versus tanking the wedge.

This franchise hasn’t made this much news for being this embarrassing since, well, OK, I would say since knucklehead Richie Incognito was bullying a teammate, except that the offensive-line coach caught snorting white powder off his desk happened more recently.

But this embarrassment is happening on the field. In the open. It’s being televised!

Miami’s offense is historically bad thus far. Only five games in, yes, but the Fins are averaging 8.4 points per game, on pace for 134 through 16 games. That would be a record low since the 16-game era started in 1978. No team has scored less in any season since Tampa Bay averaged 7.4 points in 1977 — 42 years ago.

I would make clear, again, that this is a franchise tanking, not a team. There is a difference. Management traded all those top players to accrue all of those high future draft picks. I think that’s smart. Needed. But it makes first-year coach Brian Flores and the remaining players the victims of the tank job here, not the perpetrators.

As we saw in Sunday’s fourth-quarter rally, this is a Fins team actually trying to win, it just isn’t good enough. Conspiracy theorists are out in force arguing that Sunday’s botched two-point attempt to win meant Miami was going for Tua instead of going for two. To my eyes, it was just a bad play by a bad team. For me, the fact Flores rightly played to win rather than tie refutes the notion this coach and these players are tanking.

AP19286041298030.jpg
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13) passes downfield against Texas A&M during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, in College Station, Texas. Sam Craft AP

No need to parse whether this is losing with intent or by simple lack of talent. The bottom line is the same: ESPN’s Football Power Index computer now gives 0-5 Miami an 89% chance of “earning” the No. 1 overall pick, aka Tua in the 2020 NFL Draft.

South Florida’s experience with epic badness has never before included this focused anticipation, this specific savior and prize.

The 1998 Marlins were a franchise-worst 54-108 after utterly dismantling the ‘97 championship team in the only fire sale/tanking we have seen even more blatant than the ‘19 Fins. The Fish ended up getting a nice No. 1 pick from that lost season (Josh Beckett), but MLB drafts are not like in football and basketball. We don’t know the names, and players take years to rise through the system.

The Dolphins were a franchise-worst 1-15 in 2007, fittingly quarterbacked by a man named Lemon. But there was not nearly the look-ahead to the coming draft that there is now. The ‘08 NFL Draft was not seen as great. The Dolphins picked offensive tackle Jake Long No. 1 overall, a safe but boring choice that worked out OK but was not a difference-maker. They could have had the quarterback who went third overall. He’s still playing, and starring. Name’s Matt Ryan.

The Heat was a franchise worst 15-67 in 2007-08 but there were reasons to watch. Dwyane Wade was entering his prime and there were partial seasons of Shaquille O’Neal and Shawn Marion. Plus the coming draft was not considered great, and there was no buildup of anticipation on which player Miami might take No. 2 overall. After Chicago picked Derrick Rose No. 1, the Heat misfired on Michael Beasley. (Taken fourth? Some guy named Russell Westbrook. Oops.).

Now, there is no doubt who the Dolphins would take No. 1 and as little doubt as there can be that Tagovailoa will be the man out front in making a once-proud franchise win again and matter again.

It was beyond ludicrous to see former NFL player Lawrence Tynes — a placekicker (!), writing on Twitter (!) — recently criticize Miami’s tanking because Tagovailoa “will not be a starter in the NFL. No way no how. I’d take him in the 5-7th round as a backup at best.”

No competition for that take, Lawrence. You own it!

The consensus on Tagovailoa is better expressed by ESPN’s draft experts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay, who just Tuesday had this exchange as they debated the top five QBs in the ‘20 draft:

Kiper: “We’re in agreement that Tagovailoa is the clear No. 1 quarterback in this class, right?”

McShay: “Absolutely. His deep-ball accuracy is a unique trait, and I love his natural instincts. And he is doing a better job of going through his progressions and full-field reads this season. His 96.1 Total QBR leads college football and he has a crazy 27:1 TD-INT ratio. He remains not only at the top of my QB rankings, but No. 1 overall on my board.”

Oregon’s Justin Herbert is the only other elite-level QB in the ‘20 draft, but Tagovailoa’s greatly superior accuracy gives him a clear, strong edge.

Evidence that Dolfans are buying into the Tanking for Tua is anecdotal, unscientific, but it’s there. In the Miami Herald’s postgame polls, satisfaction in the Dolphins and the season has grown every game, with every loss. After Sunday’s loss it was up to 53.5%, a majority for the first time.

It seems Flores’ and his players’ embarrassment and misery is worth it to fans dreaming of next April.

The Dolphins’ haplessness is Dolfans’ hope.

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