The Miami Dolphins are winning the 2020 draft and it hasn’t even started yet. I’ve had a very low opinion of the Miami front office over the years. I think their 2020 free agency plunder is overrated. (Ereck Flowers is garbage, just stop, and you don’t get an “A” for giving someone a top of the market contract, even if he is elite at his position. “A’s” are for outstanding value. Fair market value is by definition not outstanding.) Their draft maneuvers are bewildering (I’m never going to let the Leonte Carroo trade go. Never).
But, I’m willing to give credit where it is due. Last year, Miami turned the 48th pick into Josh Rosen and the 56th pick this year. At the time I called it the single best move of the draft. Despite Rosen not panning out, I stand by that assessment. #TrustTheProcess
The Laremy Tunsil trade was a heist. Sure, it’s easy to rip of ole BOB, but still. Two firsts and moving up from the fourth to the second for the privilege of letting someone else overpay for a decent starting left tackle? Yea, nailed it. I didn’t like the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade and I won’t change my mind about the process. However, Miami might luck their way into a good offensive tackle with the 18th pick.
That capital, along with how well Miami is controlling the rumor mill and media narrative, have them in a runaway pole position ahead of April 23rd.
Draft Season is Smoke Season
You know the whole, “don’t believe anything you hear this time of year”? The problem is there are good reporters out there with trustworthy sources. And where there’s smoke there’s fire, right?
So, the hot new topic is whether or not Miami loves Tua Tagovailoa. Or maybe if they even like him. The bread crumbs have been there since the combine:
Multiple NFL personnel people are starting to link Herbert to the Dolphins.
And, no, it’s not a done deal. It would not be correct to say it’s even close.
The Dolphins both publicly and privately insist their process continues as does their search for a quarterback who can perhaps someday lead them to championships.. But Herbert currently looks like the guy with the slight lead over Tua Tagovailoa to be Miami’s No. 5 overall selection.
Dolphins fans might want to begin thinking about life without Tua Tagovailoa as their quarterback after months of “Tank for Tua” talk. I’m told by multiple league sources that the Dolphins aren’t convinced Tua is the best option and could instead target Oregon’s Justin Herbert. The situation is fluid, but the buzz around the league is that Herbert has the most fans in the Dolphins’ draft room.
This simultaneously does and doesn’t make sense. If Miami loves Tua they would want the world to think they don’t. Duh. If Miami has concerns over his injuries that are exacerbated by this bizarre draft season that also makes sense.
Bottom line: Advantage Miami
As a result of the pandemic, the Dolphins can’t get as in depth of an evaluation on Tua’s health as they would like. Or at least, they have a perfect cover to claim as such. While perhaps Miami can’t deploy their own medical staff to have a look at Tagovailoa, what medical information exists is distributed to all 32 teams. If any team is scared off by not having their own guys get a closer look, that’s entirely fair.
So, even if they’re full of shit, why wouldn’t the Dolphins just put this out there? If Washington and Detroit are negotiating from a position where it’s common knowledge Miami is all in on Tua, they can simply ask for the moon in a trade. If the Dolphins are too scared of unknown medical information, Washington and Detroit just lost most of that leverage.
It’s worth mentioning that in Matt Miller’s article he spoke to multiple scouts and decision-makers that are down on Tua for on-field reasons. It’s possible that includes Miami, or Los Angeles for that matter. But it’s certainly possible it doesn’t and one of my least favorite things that happens in draft-aggregated-reporting is extrapolating “this one scout said,” into “the league thinks,” so we’re just going to leave Miami’s concerns as medical only as it’s the most logical.
Miami Prefers Herbert
This could be true, sure. I’m not saying it’s not. But having it in the ether helps Miami if they prefer Tagovailoa. Why pay an arm and a leg to move up when you can get your guy where you are? Is Washington, Detroit or New York taking Herbert? Remember what Armando said, “Herbert.. looks like the guy with the slight lead.” If the Dolphins view these two as a coin flip, why be aggressive in getting one? Why would a team have the confidence to ask for premium draft compensation when they think you are quite content getting one of two options where you currently are?
It’s long been assumed the Chargers will sit at six and take whichever quarterback gets to them. If that’s the case, Miami wouldn’t need to move up for their preference, if they even have one. Again, this destroys Washington’s and Detroit’s leverage.
The only leverage left for those two teams is playing the Dolphins and the Chargers off each other. If they both have the same preference, then one better pay up to secure him. Maybe Miami and Los Angeles simply told each other who they prefer, it turned out to be different, and are colluding against Washington and Detroit. If true, that would be quite the prisoner’s dilemma playing out in the Miami and Los Angeles virtual war rooms on April 23rd.
Once upon a time I wrote about how Washington controls the draft. The idea was they are the first, and a crucially powerful, pivot point. They could draft Tua themselves, draft Chase Young, or auction the pick off to the highest bidder, presumably Miami. That last scenario no longer appears to be in the cards.
However, the article did help create a hypothetical construct for what a trade up could be should Miami be willing to part with their arsenal. Regardless of if a trade happens at two or three, the theory is based on modern historical context. So here, again, is every major quarterback draft trade since Eli Manning according to the Chase Stuart draft chart.
Modern Trade History
To go from #4 to #1 for Eli Manning in 2004, the Giants gave up #4, #11, #65, and #141. San Diego profited 21.6 points of draft capital. The 8th pick is worth 21.4 points.
To go from #6 to #2 for Robert Griffin in 2012, Washington gave up #2, #6, #22, and #36. St. Louis profited 49.9 points. The 1st pick is worth 34.6 points and the 21st pick is worth 15.2 points.
To go from #15 to #1 for Jared Goff in 2016, the St. Louis gave up #5, #15, #43, #45, #76, and #100 for #1, #113, and #117. Tennessee profited 34.3 points. The 1st pick is worth 34.6 points.
To go from #8 to #2 for Carson Wentz in 2016, the Philadelphia gave up #8, #12, #64, #77, and #100 for #2, and #139. Cleveland profited 27.1 points. The 3rd pick is worth 27.6 points.
To go from #3 to #2 for Mitch Trubisky in 2017, the Chicago gave up #3, #67, #70, and #111. San Francisco profited 17.3 points. The 15th pick is worth 17.4 points.
To go from #27 to #10 for Patrick Mahomes in 2017, Kansas City gave up #22, #27, and #91. Buffalo profited 14.5 points. The 23rd pick is worth 14.6 points and the 24th pick is worth 14.4 points.
To go from #24 to #12 for Deshaun Watson in 2017, Houston gave up #4 and #24. Cleveland profited 21.4 points. The 8th pick is worth 21.4 points.
To go from #6 to #3 for Sam Darnold in 2018, the Jets gave up #6, #34, #37, and #49. Indianapolis profited 29.1 points. The second pick is worth 30.2 points.
To go from #12 to #7 for Josh Allen in 2018, Buffalo gave up #12, #53, and #56. Tampa Bay profited 14.9 points. The 22nd pick is worth 14.9 points.
To go from #15 to #10 for Josh Rosen in 2018, Arizona gave up #15, #79, and #152. Oakland profited 6.9 points. The 77th pick is worth 6.9 points.
Back 2020 Math
Here is the value of the main ammo Miami holds in the 2020 draft:
5th pick – 24.3 points
18th pick – 16.2
26th pick – 13.9
39th pick – 11.3
56th pick – 9
70th pick – 7.5
If we narrow the scope of the historical precedent to trades that happened only in the top three, then we’re only looking at Eli, RGIII, Goff, Wentz, Trubisky, and Darnold. A simple average of those trades (which eschews many important factors such as distance traveled up the board, quality of quarterback prospect, and quality of the draft class) gives us a profit of 30.1 points for the team trading down. It seems fair to not include the RGIII trade, so adjusting for that we get 26.2.
At this point it would appear Detroit is the most likely trade partner for the Dolphins should they move up. The 3rd pick is worth 27.6 points, meaning, by historical average, Miami would have to fork over 53.8 points worth of capital. Picks 5, 18, and 26 combine for 54.4 points. Can we all agree that simply isn’t happening?
In my most recent mock I had the Dolphins giving the Lions 5, 18, and 70 to get up to 3. Detroit profits 20.4 points. That’s nearly identical to what the Chargers got for Eli. Miami walks away with Tua or Herbert, and keeps 26 and both second rounders. It really doesn’t seem that far fetched.
Suppressing Their Own Value
Of course, without a strong preference, why bother moving up at all? Miami could offer 5 and 26 and tell Detroit to take it or leave it. They could offer 5 and 39. They could offer nothing. If the world thinks the Dolphins don’t love Tua and can’t decide which quarterback they have second on their board, then it’s a clear indication they won’t be sending out any offers that can’t be refused.
If the first two picks go as planned – Burrow, Young – then the only thing standing in the way of Miami getting their QB2 at 5 is two trades happening right in front of them. Never say never but, that’s not happening. In my last mock I said Miami was driving down it’s own cost of business by realizing they’re the only buyer in town and holding out for what they want to pay, which is exactly what they did last year in the Rosen deal.
That oversimplified things. It’s not impossible the Chargers want to move up. But even if the Chargers have a strong preference between Tagovailoa and Herbert, someone else would have to swoop in and trade with the Giants. And while New York claims to be “open for business,” at #4, that sounds a lot more like Gettleman behaving like the 3rd stringer on varsity who shows up to poker night with five pizzas he paid for, and then just leaves the festivities after 20 minutes, because he so desperately wants people to think he’s cool too.
Threat of Other Trades
Besides, it takes two to tango. Who is this other team that is going to come up the board to leapfrog Miami after the Chargers already moved up for one of Tua or Herbert? Staying in the top 10, maybe the Jaguars, and they do have two first rounders in 2020. However, it seems more likely they’re going to see what they have in Minshew and then not be upset when what they have in Minshew is the #1 pick in 2021.
Vegas? As much as Gruden loves stockpiling quarterbacks, unless someone falls to him it doesn’t seem likely he goes flying up the board for someone who isn’t ready right now when the team wants to win right now and made Marcus Mariota a handsomely paid backup.
After that there’s no one until New England. There’s the Saban connection to Tagovailoa, but 23 to 4 is a long ways to go. That is a lot of future picks, and Belichick won’t hamstring his \flexibility like that. And would Gettleman even be interested in moving down that far? Miami could lowball them if they got nervous and wanted to move up 1 spot, but they can offer New York something no one else can; an extra pick and the chance to still draft the guy you would have taken at 4.
So there just isn’t a second team. There is also a strong likelihood even the Lions don’t want to drop past six. The goal is to move down to 5 or 6 and still land Okudah. Trade with the Jaguars and there is no shot Okudah is making it past both Carolina and Arizona.
Miami is Winning
The Dolphins know all this. They probably have a huge game theory board in a Google doc and it’s all coming up Miami. I was wrong back in February; Washington doesn’t control this draft, Miami does. If their evaluations on Tua and Herbert are identical or the two are graded barely different, they can happily sit at 5 and take whichever gets to them. Hell, they still might be able to choose between the two. If they want to make sure they get the one they want they can send a lowball offer. If the offer is rejected, it would take additional trades for a second and third quarterback to go before 5 in addition to Burrow, because Washington, Detroit, and New York are not drafting quarterbacks.
Oh, and about those on the clock trades. Let’s circle back to COVID-19 for a second. I’m not saying this will happen, I have no idea, but it’s certainly possible that with the virtual workplace that is going to substitute for these draft rooms this year, on the clock trades in 2020 will just be more difficult to accomplish due to everyone not being in the same room together and listening to the same speaker phone.
All Those Picks
If the Dolphins can stomach sitting there for the first 40 minutes of Thursday night and hoping this plan doesn’t completely blow up in their face, then they’re going to walk away with a quarterback and five other top 70 picks. 18 is a prime spot to to add an offensive tackle. Worst case Josh Jones should be available with a better case being one of the top four tackles is still on the board.
At 26 Miami could potentially look for a slot weapon to compliment Parker and Williams. They could also look for a Fitzpatrick replacement, especially if Xavier McKinney is still sitting there. Doubling down at offensive tackle shouldn’t be off the table, either here or at 39, 56, or 70. In fact it would be wise to spend two of these picks on an offensive tackle.
At 39, if the Dolphins really want to add a running back then I guess at least they didn’t do it in the first round? Just make it someone that can catch. But more importantly, don’t draft a running back. Of course, 39, 56, and 70 will all depend on how 18 and 26 go, but make it a priority to invest in your new quarterback. Continue taking swings at wide receiver and offensive line. The smartest thing the Dolphins can do after taking a quarterback at 5 is, between 18, 26, 39, 56, and 70, take two offensive lineman and two receivers. Doubling down works. Putting Tua/Herbert in a position to succeed is essential.
Let’s just say 18 is an OT and 26 is Xavier McKinney. At 39 if Aiyuk or Hamler are on the board Miami should turbo charge their draft e-card. 56 should have value along the interior of the offensive line. The bigger need would be guard in this scenario so they should be able to add Damien Lewis or Jonah Jackson. Or they can wait on the interior and double down on receiver at 56. Given the depth of the class they could wait until 70 for a second receiver. Either way, it would be a good split.
So staying put, and it working, may result in:
#5 – QB Tua Tagovalio, Alabama or QB Justin Herbert, Oregon
#18 – OT Josh Jones, Houston or WR Justin Jefferson, LSU
#26 – S Xavier McKinney, Alabama or OT Josh Jones, Houston or reaching for a different OT
#39 – WR Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State or WR K.J. Hamler, Penn State
#56 – WR K.J. Hamler, Penn State, or OG Damien Lewis, LSU, or OG Jonah Jackson, Ohio State
#70 – OG Damien Lewis, LSU, or OG Jonah Jackson, Ohio State or WR K.J. Hill, Ohio State
Mix and match as you wish, the point is that is a loaded class regardless. Not only does Miami have an embarrassment of draft capital but they are playing the rumor mill to perfection. They’re already winning the draft.