The 2020 NFL Draft is only days away and despite the CO-VID 19 pandemic taking much of the glitz from the event it is not stopping the rumor mill from going into overdrive.
Much of the recent speculation has centered around the Dallas Cowboys and their star quarterback Dak Prescott. Both sides are mired in increasingly tense contract negotiations. Prescott and his agent have seeking a long term deal that would pay him up to $40 million annually, a figure that the Cowboys evidently balk at. Even with Dallas using the franchise tag on Prescott this year guaranteeing him a salary of $33 million the situation currently sits on a stalemate.
The prospect of Prescott walking away for nothing is a very real one to the Cowboys so entertaining trade scenarios makes sense.
Enter the Miami Dolphins, a team who has been accumulating various draft picks last season in trades of key players including two first round picks this year to accompany their own.
The Dolphins have been making noise this year. The team started by making big signings like cornerback Byron Jones and linebacker Kyle Van Noy while still maintaining significant cap space. Now Miami is being tied to the top three quarterbacks in the draft, Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, and the consensus #1 pick Joe Burrow.
However could the Dolphins decide to go in a different direction on draft night and trade for a established quarterback like Prescott?
The speculation was kicked up a notch first by a March 5 proposed trade from CBS Sports in which Miami would send their two first round picks this year to Dallas for Prescott on draft night. Then on April 13 Bill Barnwell of ESPN proposed a similar trade in his mock draft where the Cowboys would send Prescott and their 17th overall pick to the Dolphins for Miami’s fifth overall pick and third round pick this year.
For the Dolphins trading for Prescott does make some sense. Thanks to Tom Brady leaving the New England Patriots for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the AFC East division can be seen as wide open for the first time in almost two decades. While the other division rivals go with young quarterbacks (the New York Jets with Sam Darnold and the Buffalo Bills with Josh Allen) Miami can jump out of the gate with an established Pro Bowler who is considered a top ten player in his position at minimum with Prescott.
Financially the Dolphins are more than capable of giving Prescott the contract he’s seeking but it might come at a price that is more than monetary and one that Miami is all too familiar with.
Since the retirement of Dan Marino in 2000 Miami has been on an odyssey to find the team’s next great franchise quarterback. From Jay Fiedler to most recently Ryan Tannerhill the Dolphins haven’t been able to find a long term solution at quarterback. The team’s current situation is similar to what it faced in 2006.
In the lead up to that year’s season Miami was looking at making a big quarterback acquisition. The team narrowed down their choices to then-Minnesota Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper and free agent Drew Brees. Both players were comings off injuries, Culpepper to his knee and Brees to his shoulder. The Dolphins’ team doctors advised against signing Brees fearing his shoulder was not yet fully healed. The team ultimately heeded that advice and traded for Culpepper.
The decision turned out to be a foolhardy one. Culpepper only started four games for Miami before being benched by then-head coach Nick Saban and then released in 2007 after a bitter stalemate. Brees meanwhile signed with the New Orleans Saints and went on to win Super Bowl XLIV and is now considered one of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks.
This year the Dolphins have heavily looked into Tagovailoa, a 2017 national championship winner with the University of Alabama. Before he suffered a dislocated hip in the 2019 college season Tagovailoa was considered the consensus #1 pick of the draft. That injury has him dropping in various mock draft projections.
Despite this Miami might be too spooked by the specter of 2006 to not take Tagavailoa in favor of Prescott for various reasons.
One key reason may that despite being able to sign Prescott to the contract he wants it will leave the Dolphins with very little cap left to build a contending team around him on offense. Most of the pieces that the team would have used to fortify their offensive core like offensive tackle Lamery Tunsil, wide receiver Kenny Stills, and running back Kenyan Drake have instead being traded for draft capital. The trade of Tunsil would look even worse in hindsight if a trade for Prescott.
Another reason for the hesitation is centered around head coach Brian Flores.
Like most young coaches Flores, going into his second season in Miami, will likely want to prove himself with a young quarterback he can develop from day one. Flores wasn’t afforded that in his rookie campaign with the Dolphins giving him a depth chart of veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick and second year prospect Josh Rosen. Fitzpatrick has long had a reputation of playing well in situations but not long enough to be deemed a long term solution. Rosen was coming off a rough rookie season with the Arizona Cardinals finishing with a 3-10 record. It felt like a situation designed to fail and one leaving Flores as the fall guy. The late season rally Miami experienced has built confidence in Flores so rewarding him with a young quarterback he can mold is a plausible outcome.
Lastly the Dolphins as an organization may be experiencing a culture change. Since his purchase of the team in 2008 Stephen Ross has been more about making flashy moves such as bringing in celebrities to hold minimal ownership stakes. Recently though Ross has shown a shift in his thinking. He was the only owner to vote against the moves of the then-Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas and the then-San Diego Chargers to Los Angeles.
He also chose along with the NFL to privately fund the renovations to Hard Rock Stadium rather than play the tired card of scaring the fanbase with the team moving after failing to get public funding for the project. While the prospect of being able to compete for hosting rights to future Super Bowls were a key factor in this move it has garnered trust in a city long used to its sports teams lying to the populace.
Prescott is an attractive target to seek and the temptation to jump out the gate in the post-Brady AFC East is strong. However it should be more prudent to be patient and to trust in Flores who has gained respect leaguewide with how hard the Dolphins played in the second half of 2019.