The Dolphins’ front office can’t afford to make the same mistakes with Tua Tagovailoa that the Texans did with Deshaun Watson.
If the Dolphins want to see a prime example of how not to build around a young, franchise quarterback, they need look no further than the Houston Texans.
Fortunately for Miami, the Texans have gifted them a prime asset that should allow them to avoid such a disastrous fate.
Bill O’Brien’s parting gift to the Texans is the Dolphins will take ownership of the team’s potential top-five pick before next April’s draft. That’s a critical blow for a Houston team that desperately needs to add high-end young talent to what is quickly becoming an aging roster. In sharp contrast, it presents the Dolphins with a golden opportunity to build a legitimate contender in South Florida.
The key for the Dolphins will be to maximize the value of such a premium draft pick. They’ll be no short of quality options when they finally go on the clock to make the selection.
The pick hinges on Tua Tagovailoa
The Dolphins’ brain trust needs to be careful not to overreact to Tagovailoa’s struggles last week. Head coach Brian Flores deserves credit for benching the rookie quarterback and turning to Ryan Fitzpatrick when his team desperately needed a spark. That should not serve as an indictment about Tua’s long-term future in Miami.
The reality is Tagovailoa’s overall numbers on the season look pretty good for a rookie. It’s fair to point out that Justin Herbert has dramatically outperformed Tagovailoa in 2020, but that doesn’t mean the former Alabama star has played poorly.
There’s no shame in going 6-2 as a starter while completing 65 percent of your throws with a touchdown ratio of 10:2. It’s true the Dolphins’ coaching staff has gone to great lengths to make life easy for Tua as a rookie, but there’s still plenty of reason to be optimistic about his future with the franchise.
The challenge for the Dolphins moving forward must be arming their young signal-caller with the weapons he needs to be successful.
That means the Top-5 pick must be used on an offensive star
There’s a natural temptation for the Dolphins to use the Texans’ pick on a freakishly-talented defender who can lead that unit for the next decade. There’s a great deal of temptation in the symmetry of building around Tua on offense and a premium prospect like Micah Parsons on defense at the same time.
Making that kind of pick would be entirely defensible if the Dolphins believe they’re selecting the best prospect available.
It would still be a mistake. The Dolphins need to gamble on an offensive weapon to help make Tagovailoa’s life easier with what will likely be the highest draft selection they make in the foreseeable future.
This may be the last time Miami really gets an opportunity to select a player with a chance to blossom into an All-Pro at an offensive skill position while Tagovailoa is still in his ascendancy as a player.
That means the Dolphins need to spend the vast majority of their scouting resources on the top receivers in this class. In the end, their draft-day decision should come down to selecting between the two best wide receiver prospects in this class: Devonta Smith and Ja’Marr Chase.
Which wideout should Miami choose?
The Dolphins may not enjoy the luxury of choosing between Smith and Chase depending on what pick they ultimately end up with. It’s possible, but not probable, a wideout will go off the board before Miami walks up to the (virtual) podium.
They still need to be prepared to choose between Smith and Chase. There isn’t a ton to distinguish the SEC stars from the other. Smith has been exceptionally productive this season for Alabama, but he’s also surrounded by a ton of elite talent.
Chase hasn’t played for LSU due to concerns about COVID-19. His decision may have been impacted by his understanding of just how limited his team’s passing attack was going to be this season.
Given the razor-thin difference between the two prospects, the Dolphins should give the advantage to the player who comes from the same college system that produced Tagovailoa. That represents the slightly safer play, but Smith still has the upside to blossom into an All-Pro wideout on the outside.
Combining him with DeVante Parker would give the Dolphins the type of wide receiving duo required to take the shackles off Tagovailoa. It’s imperative that Miami throw the ball down the field more often in 2021. Smith would give the team an advantageous mismatch to utilize any time he’s opposed with single coverage.
What will the Dolphins actually do?
There’s a third avenue available to Miami that might actually be the team’s most likely course of action. Instead of spending a top-five pick on a premium player like Parsons, Smith, or Chase, the Dolphins could elect to trade back while acquiring additional draft capital.
Remember, they still have their own first round pick which can be used to fill a need in the 20s. Grabbing a wideout like Kadarius Toney or linebacker such as Azeez Ojulari in that spot could give the franchise solid value. The key for the Dolphins is how much draft capital they can extract from a team wanting to move into the top-five to select the quarterback of their dreams.
Expect Miami to find a trade partner willing to give up real value for the privilege. It will be a calculated gamble for the Dolphins to move down, but it might be the key to them adding multiple potential starters on Day One of this year’s draft.
This team is poised to learn from the Texans’ mistakes and benefit from Houston’s poor front office work no matter what.