Miami reinvented the term “news dump Friday” on March 26th 2021. Functionally five weeks out from the draft the Dolphins sold off the third pick for a haul. That wasn’t the end of it, however. In the span of 29 minutes Miami ended up twice reshuffling the draft order. After falling back from three to twelve, Miami then jumped back up to six.
You know all know this by now, but to recap:
First trade – The Dolphins sent #3 to San Francisco for #12, a 2022 first, a 2022 third, and a 2023 first
Second trade – The Dolphins sent #12 and #123 and their own 2022 first to Philadelphia for #6 and #156
The spark notes version from Miami’s perspective is first trade excellent, second trade bad, the aggregate meh. To lay the foundation for the rest of the article, here is every major quarterback draft trade since Eli Manning in terms of draft capital value according to the Chase Stuart draft chart:
Modern Draft Trade History
Eli Manning – To go from #4 to #1 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.
Robert Griffin III – To go from #6 to #2 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.
Jared Goff – To go from #15 to #1 in 2016, 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.
Carson Wentz – To go from #8 to #2 in 2016, 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.
Mitch Trubisky – To go from #3 to #2 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.
Patrick Mahomes – To go from #27 to #10 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.
Deshaun Watson – To go from #24 to #12 in 2017, Houston gave up #4 and #24. Cleveland profited 21.4 points. The 8th pick is worth 21.4 points.
Sam Darnold – To go from #6 to #3 in 2018, the Jets gave up #6, #34, #37, and #49. Indianapolis profited 29.1 points. The second pick is worth 30.2 points.
Josh Allen – To go from #12 to #7 in 2018, Buffalo gave up #12, #53, and #56. Tampa Bay profited 14.9 points. The 22nd pick is worth 14.9 points.
Josh Rosen – To go from #15 to #10 in 2018, Arizona gave up #15, #79, and #152. Oakland profited 6.9 points. The 77th pick is worth 6.9 points.
In no uncertain terms the Dolphins cleaned up in the first trade. Since we don’t yet know where the 49ers picks will land we have to do some projection. More on this in a minute, but according to a confidence outlay the median outcome for the future firsts is the 22nd pick. As such, we will do the math with the 22nd pick in mind. As for the future third, it’s the 49ers’ comp pick for the Robert Saleh hire, which Chase Stuart himself is assuming to be the 100th pick for the purposes of a similar exercise.
So, with a grain of salt, here’s the math:
QB3 – To go from #12 to #3 in 2021, San Francisco gave up #12, #22, #22, and #100. Miami profited 26.3 points of draft capital. The 4th pick is worth 25.8 points.
The median projected outcome is Miami just created the equivalency of the 4th pick out of thin air. *Insert Larry David GIF*
In terms of the net positive, the closest comparison is the Wentz trade, though it’s not far off from the Darnold trade which Miami’s dual maneuver is being compared to a lot (more on that later). The first trade, in isolation, is a massive win for the Dolphins. If they weren’t going to draft a quarterback themselves then in order to maximize the value of the third pick they needed to sell it off to the highest bidder, and they did just that (or did they?). Sitting there and drafting a non-quarterback would have been the worst of all their options.
In terms of “win probability” for each side of the trade, Miami wins this swap 74.3% of the time:
I wasn't too positive on their second trade, but the trade with the 49ers was an absolute haul for the Dolphins.
And that's using a 49ers playoff spot as the expectation for the future picks from the 49ers. pic.twitter.com/UtGptTR3Gf
— Moo (@PFF_Moo) March 26, 2021
In no uncertain terms the second trade is bad for Miami. Again, the math for now involves projection. You can claim this is too arbitrary (and that’s fine) but I’m using the 20th pick for Miami’s 2022 first. The Dolphins just missed the playoffs in 2020 and their own selection is 18. Another year under Flores, the incoming talent in this draft, and progression from Tua could push their pick into the mid-to-late 20’s. On the other hand, defensive regression (they were 11th by DVOA in 2020 and defense isn’t very stable year over year) and stagnation from Tua could swing against Miami. Thus, the 20th pick.
The second trade works out to a net negative of 12.7 points worth of draft capital for the Dolphins. The 31st pick of the draft is worth 12.7 points. Miami essentially threw away the 31st pick in order to jump back up from twelve to six.
All told, (theoretically) Miami flipped #3 and #123 for #6, #22, #100, and #156, netting them a profit of 14.2 points worth of draft capital. The 25th pick of the draft is worth 14.1 points.
The positive spin on the dual transactions is Miami picked up a first and third to move down three spots and still land one of the five elite non-quarterback prospects (Sewell, Chase, Smith, Waddle, Pitts). Surface level that sounds all well and good. It’s hard not to think of this as a three team trade, since Adam Schefter’s time stamps announcing the deals were 29 minutes apart. Miami and Philadelphia did not hash this out in under 30 minutes from scratch. This was premeditated. The Dolphins wanted to fall down the board, but not *that* far down.
Carolina at eight made a lot of sense as a cut off point. If Miami sold the third pick to the Panthers it would have guaranteed three quarterbacks in the top three. All Miami would have had to do at eight is sit there and take the last remaining elite non-quarterback if Trey Lance didn’t come off the board first.
Even if you view this as one three-team deal, the second trade really takes the wind out of the sails here.
I said more on the Darnold comparison later. Well, it’s later. In both instances the team originally picking at three dropped down to six with someone going up for a quarterback. In the case of Darnold and Indianapolis, the Colts absolutely maximized their value. Indianapolis nearly created the second pick out of thin air by acquiring three second round picks from the Jets. In terms of win probability, the Colts easily outclassed Miami.
If you want to look at the net value, it's of course positive for the Dolphins. However, the Colts did the same net trade (3 to 6) in 2018 and here is a comparison of what they got in return.
Colts got a better haul. pic.twitter.com/miqox596Ag
— Moo (@PFF_Moo) March 26, 2021
Here’s the draft capital profit if we narrow it down to teams auctioning off a top three pick (sans RGIII):
I’d say guess who the 14.1 is but I just told you like three paragraphs ago. The only one in Miami’s ballpark is the Trubisky trade. First off, the 9ers only dropped down one spot. Second, the top three quarterbacks of this draft are a whole ‘nother class of prospect in comparison to Trubisky.
If you remember, the 29.1 is the Darnold trade. Pitted directly against the 14.1 Miami profited of the exact same drop – 3 to 6 – illustrates how badly the Philadelphia trade tanked the Dolphins’ efforts. Miami should have walked away from this entire endeavor with a bounty similar to the Wentz and Darnold trades, and they came up severely short.
I have to ask this of both Miami trades; why now? San Francisco was willing to pony up a ransom so perhaps the Dolphins opted for the one in the hand. However, it’s obvious Miami didn’t want to fall all the way down to 12. So, why not ride it out until closer to the draft, if not while on the clock? A logical assumption would be as the draft drew nearer, teams would continue bidding more. Perhaps the 9ers themselves wouldn’t have topped their own offer, but who is to say that Detroit, Carolina, or Denver would have blinked under the gun and offered a similar package that wouldn’t have had Miami dropped too low?
As for moving back up with Philadelphia, why now? The elite five non-quarterbacks is almost universal, so why go up to six while it’s the end of March? Miami could have played the board the night of the draft and swooped in late, and cheap, as they gauged how things were shaking out.
The rush to jump back up would seem to indicate that the Dolphins have three guys in mind, and want to ensure one of them. I won’t argue with them saying it’s three guys not five, but they still could have played the board on draft night. More importantly, however, is the decision to move up for presumably a non-quarterback. Consolidating draft picks to move up the board is seldom a good idea if you don’t draft a quarterback. Top draft picks are significantly overrated, and a major downfall of front offices is an overconfidence in their own evaluation abilities. Too much human error and biases creep into the decision making process, be it bad memories, confirmation or outcome bias, or superstitious learning. There is no correlation between draft team performance year-over-year, and a 2013 study of the 2008-2012 drafts found “that 60% of the running backs and wide receivers in the 3rd-7th round sample have amassed greater average career statistics than the 1st and 2nd round players they were compared with.”
In April 2020 Justin Jefferson was the 5th receiver selected in the draft. All he did his rookie year was break Randy Moss’s rookie receiving yards record. I’m not even going to google if that record is a Vikings record or an NFL record because who gives a shit? The 5th receiver off the board broke Randy Moss’s record. It doesn’t matter how much the Dolphins love the guys they’re targeting at 6, the odds are there is not a significantly meaningful greater chance the guy they take at 6 is leaps and bounds better than the guy they could have taken at 12. Add in it’s nearly impossible for one non-quarterback to end up more valuable than two non-quarterbacks and lighting that second first rounder on fire to move up six spots was a massive mistake.
Let’s look at the other teams involved. While the value of the assets surrender by San Francisco to jump up the board is in line with recent trades of the past half decade, the picks themselves can’t help but stand out. This is the first time since the RGIII trade a team shipped off three first round picks in one of these deals. In hindsight, that trade (RGIII) ended up disastrous. As a community I think we all thought we’d never again see a package of three firsts for a draft prospect.
The 49ers are walking a fine line here. There is nothing more valuable than a good quarterback on a rookie scale deal, and Shanahan wants his own quarterback for once. The bonus to a cheap quarterback is the ability to build out the rest of the roster.
However, soon enough, Nick Bosa, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Mike McGlinchey, Javon Kinlaw, and Fred Warner will all need extensions and raises, and none of them even address the corner position. San Francisco won’t be able to keep them all, but at the cost of a true franchise quarterback, losing one of some is worth it. The real issue lies in the 49ers now having less opportunity to place cheap talent in the pipeline for when they need to let some of the above walk.
The trade itself for San Francisco is fine. Teams should shoot their shot at quarterback and they paid the going rate in order to do so.
I’m going to ask again; why now? The first three picks of 2021 are going to be quarterbacks. Given this, there was a very plausible universe where the last remaining of the big 4 got to Philadelphia on draft night, invoking the scarcity principle, and the Eagles would have been able to auction off #6 for an even better offer from a desperate team than what they just secured from Miami.
I also don’t think Philadelphia should have passed on this quarterback class. Classes like this don’t grow on trees, and they were within striking distance to get one of the four. This idea that the Eagles added ammo to go up in 2022 should Hurts falter sounds nice at face value, but is the draft equivalent of “it’s not that bad a contract because we can get out of it in two years” defense. Spending 2021 seeing what you have in Hurts isn’t the worst idea in the world, but in today’s climate you need to keep swinging for the fences at quarterback until you hit one out of the park. Philadelphia just threw away their shot in exchange for maybe being able to pull it off next year.
In a vacuum this trade is really good. The Eagles added a future first and moved up 33 spots on Day 3, just to fall from six to twelve. That’s good business. While it is true they now have ammo for 2022 to go get a quarterback should Hurts flop, I don’t quite love this given the environmental forces.