Trust the Porpoise? Exploring the Dolphins' Options In Complicated QB Search

Photo: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

It is the worst kept secret in all of football: the Miami Dolphins would like a new franchise quarterback. The writing has been on the wall going all the way back to last January and early February, when the Dolphins were searching for their new head coach and general manager Chris Grier was solidifying his sales pitch to team owner Stephen Ross as to why he was the man for the job of elevating the Dolphins from the doldrums of NFL mediocrity. In the months that have passed since, the Dolphins traded away veteran quarterback Ryan Tannehill (who has since taken over as the starting QB of the Titans) -- as well as just about every other high value asset on the team's roster.

The carnage has been exceptional to watch unfold, unlike anything we've seen in recent memory from a roster deconstruction standpoint. And, again, it all came in the name of aligning this team with the assets necessary to target a top quarterback in the 2020 NFL Draft. Gone are DE Robert Quinn (8.5 sacks in 8 games this season for the Dallas Cowboys), WR Kenny Stills (averaging over 15 yards per catch for the first time since 2016), OT Laremy Tunsil (arguably playing as a top-3 offensive tackle in football this season), DB Minkah Fitzpatrick (an NFL high 5 interceptions and 2 defensive touchdowns since being traded to Pittsburgh in Week 3) and many more talented players, such as RB Kenyan Drake (traded at the deadline), OT Ja'Wuan James (allowed to walk in free agency in favor of a compensatory pick in 2020) and others.

For the most part, Miami's master plan has worked. The Dolphins now sit at 2-8 and with three 1st-round picks in the 2020 NFL Draft (plus two more in 2021). The world is their oyster -- the team can generally speaking attack the NFL Draft (and their roster rebuild) however they so choose.

There's just one little problem. The Dolphins' "process" suddenly veered off course this weekend with the news that Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has suffered a dislocated hip and is undergoing surgery this morning in Houston to repair the damage. The injury has ended Tagovailoa's season -- and could potentially have future implications on Tagovailoa's pro football career. The good news? The early indication from statements from those involved with Tagovailoa's injury suggest a full recovery is expected.

But what does Tagovailoa choose to do in the meantime? Make the jump to the NFL in 2020 regardless and bet on his recovery process? Elect to return to school and redshirt before making a triumphant return to the Tide in 2021? That's a very complicated proposition -- one Tagovailoa needs to collect as much information on as he can before making what he and his family feel is the best decision for him.

The development has thrown Tagovailoa, the pro prospect, on ice -- because recovery from the injury is the only thing that matters right now.

For the Dolphins, this process and rebuild will continue in 2020 no matter what -- and the team cannot forgo their own franchise future for a single player, that's just not realistic. And so with Tagovailoa's availability for the 2020 NFL Draft now uncertain and, to be fair to Tua, on the back burner, the question begs to be asked:

Where in the hell do the Dolphins go from here at quarterback?

All of this preparation, planning and positioning wasn't done for nothing, but in surveying the current landscape of the 2020 quarterback class, the Dolphins' options all now present unique challenges. There are no shortage of options to explore. But which of these options brings the most appeal for Miami? Which one presents the best alternative to what has for so long been an assumed conclusion for the Dolphins? If we are to "Trust the Porpoise", which "Porpoise" brings the most appeal?

That's a great question. And it's one that has a lot of layers.

Option A: Roll with Josh Rosen in 2020

Well, if the Dolphins are looking for a quarterback, why don't they start with the one on their roster? The Dolphins traded a 2nd-round pick to the Arizona Cardinals during Day 2 of the 2019 NFL Draft to acquire Rosen, who was the 10th-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. It's been a pretty rotten start to Rosen's career, playing on the 2018 Cardinals and the 2019 Dolphins.

But the best thing that could have been done for Rosen is to avoid the field and focus on mental reps with tasks and assignments that he's unfamiliar with -- like making checks, audibles and protection calls before the snap. Rosen has plenty of physical gifts as a pocket passer. But his inexperience with the mental side of Miami's offense became such a hindrance to the team's overall performance that head coach Brian Flores pulled the plug on Rosen as the starter after just 2.5 games. He was playing slow and you could tell he was thinking -- not ready for the role.

It was apparent -- though the decision was made worse by Flores definitively calling Miami's quarterback situation "settled" the week before making the change, stating that Rosen would be the starter for the rest of the year.

With a full year of tutoring under his belt and the potential return of Jim Caldwell to the coaching staff (he's on a leave of absence this season for personal matters) in 2020, Miami could decide to build around the UCLA product this offseason and see how things go. If Rosen, with a year of exposure to the system, picks up the verbiage and protections, Miami may have skipped the line for a quarterback. Or, alternatively, Rosen flounders and the Dolphins are in position to draft a quarterback again in 2021, when Ohio State's Justin Fields and Clemson's Trevor Lawrence headline as potential targets.

If Miami opts to go this route, I'd love nothing more than for the team to manufacture a 3rd 1st-round pick in 2021 by trading back in the 2020 Draft...you know, just for insurance in a trade-up scenario.

Porpoise Appeal: 5.0 out of 10

Option B: Trade/Draft Joe Burrow, no matter what

This plan of attack is...complicated. Because it only works one of two ways: if the Dolphins land a pick higher than the Cincinnati Bengals or if a team other than the Cincinnati Bengals finishes with the top pick. There's a lot of moving parts in this plan. The Bengals are now 0-10 after a close call against the Oakland Raiders and Cincinnati is committed to starting QB Ryan Finley the rest of the way to "find out what they have" there.

Spoiler alert: Ryan Finley isn't very good and just about everyone knows it. (Including the Bengals)

And so with just the Washington Redskins sitting at 1-9 and every other team trailing the Bengals by 2 games in the loss column with just 6 games left on tilt, this is pretty shaky ground to build your house upon. Could the Dolphins entice the Bengals to trade out of the top pick with Joe Burrow on the line? Perhaps -- it depends on if Cincinnati manages to fall in love with Chase Young (an Ohio kid) or Justin Herbert (a big, sexy, prototypical quarterback product with elite physical tools). But that's going to result in a massive overpay for Miami, in all likelihood.

The Dolphins will have the ammunition to outgun anyone bidding for the top pick with someone other than the Bengals in the pole position -- but how much are they willing to give up? A trade from 4 to 1 could hypothetically cost Miami their pick, the Texans' pick, their 2nd-round pick, and a top pick in 2021. That's a pretty penny for Broadway Jeaux -- but in my opinion it'd be worth it if Tagovailoa isn't in the field. Burrow looks to be the real deal and markedly better than every other available quarterback in this scenario.

This is an attractive/expensive option, but an unlikely one given the Bengals' leverage on the rest of the field. That is, of course, unless they prefer the ceiling of Justin Herbert over the mental aptitude of Joe Burrow.

Porpoise Appeal: 6.5 out of 10

Option C: Draft a high ceiling, low floor QB (Justin Herbert, Jordan Love)

Speaking of ceilings: Justin Herbert and Jordan Love? These dudes are a blast to watch throw the football around. The ball explodes off their hands, they make eye-popping throws, show elite arm strength and high promise with their legs to extend plays. But with all that boom comes a fair amount of bust -- for different reasons. Love is more of a "playground" passer when he's at his best: he thrives in off-schedule situations when he can extend plays and allow coverage to break down in the secondary before uncorking big throws. His work within the structure of pass drops and timing routes is something that will need work -- you'll have to tame the wild stallion of you want to commit to Jordan Love. The good news? Love won't command a top-5 pick in the NFL Draft, so Miami could draft a blue chip talent with their first pick and target Love later in the round with one of their two other 1st-round picks.

Herbert? He's not really been asked to do a whole lot this season from a passing perspective. A lot of screens, a lot of quick game. And when he's asked to hold the ball in the pocket, you see some pretty significant questions from his comfort to extend plays with his feet or invite the chaos of a broken play. It isn't really his style and he appears to lack some of the intrinsic feel for the game that the great ones all have. And he's going to come with a top-10 overall price tag: he's got physical tools like Josh Allen (who was drafted 7th overall in 2018 and is making many, like myself, eat crow with stretches of his play this season) but he plays at Oregon, not Wyoming.

The good news for the Dolphins is they've preached developing talent during the dawn of the Brian Flores era -- and the team has gotten the message. Players like EDGE Vince Biegel, CB Nik Needham, DL Christian Wilkins, WR Preston Williams, IOL Evan Boehm and others have all shown notable improvement from the start of the season to now. Drafting a high ceiling player offers its fair share of upside if the Dolphins are capable of actually developing him. Early indications from this coaching staff suggest that's not only possible, it's expected.

Porpoise Appeal: 7.5 out of 10

Option D: Draft a high floor, low ceiling QB (Jake Fromm)

Don't panic. Jake Fromm hasn't had the sexiest of seasons in 2019. He's not exactly a world beater from a physical talent perspective and his arm will certainly limit his ceiling as a passer. He's smart like Burrow, who also lacks a top arm, but he's not as good under duress, he's not as accurate down the field and he's not as athletic.

BUT!

Fromm gets rave reviews for his mental aptitude and ability to handle the playbook and for constantly making the right decisions with the football. Ball security is kind of his thing. And those qualities are what put Fromm right in the Dolphins' wheelhouse: they want to play smart, disciplined football and they want a quarterback who can serve as the CEO of the offense on the field and make sure this team is fully completely aligned for success on each and every play. Fromm can do that. He's an A+ prospect from an intangibles perspective and his decision making will make him an attractive option to the Dolphins' management.

The Dolphins' plan involving a decision to draft Fromm will place more emphasis on his receiving supporting cast than any of the other options on display: Fromm will need a strong supporting cast to elevate his game to the point of constant contention. But the decision to draft Fromm would also allow Miami's offense to ensure they're checking the boxes that held back Josh Rosen when he was brought into the fray.

An added bonus? Fromm, like Jordan Love, wouldn't require a top-10 pick in all likelihood, either.

Porpoise Appeal: 7.0 out of 10

Option E: Draft a Day 2 Quarterback (Jalen Hurts)

Oh man, I LOVE this song. Heard it plenty of times before. You want a laundry list of the Miami Dolphins' quarterback investments for 2nd-round picks since the retirement of Dan Marino? Are you sure?

...okay, you asked for it.

  • 2019: QB Josh Rosen (trade)
  • 2009: QB Pat White (44th overall pick)
  • 2008: QB Chad Henne (57th overall pick)
  • 2007: QB John Beck (40th overall pick)
  • 2005: QB A.J. Feeley (trade)

This isn't a typo: the Dolphins really, REALLY invested picks in three consecutive seasons to draft John Beck (107 pass attempts and 8 turnovers in 5 games over two years with the Dolphins), Chad Henne (he was viewed as comparable to Matt Ryan according to then "football czar" Bill Parcells) and Pat White (0 for 5 passing in his NFL career). It's so bad you can't help but laugh. Or cry. Or maybe a little bit of both.

Here's the good news: I like Jalen Hurts -- a lot. I think there are some accuracy issues to be aware of and Hurts' game has shown some cracks in recent weeks. But as this past weekend' big comeback against Baylor has reminded us, Hurts has *it* from a clutch gene perspective. He's mobile, he's comfortable scrambling and creating off script, he's got a good enough arm to make all the throws.

So why isn't he a top of the 1st-round talent, Kyle? He might be for some. But for Miami's offense, I'm not sure they're going to provide Hurts with the kind of field spacing, passing concepts and wide open, aggressive attack that Hurts will need to really maximize on his best qualities.

Porpoise Appeal: 6.0 out of 10

Option F: Sign a free agent quarterback

The good news: Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers are scheduled to be a free agents this offseason. And as Charles Dickens and Justin Bieber once said, 'never say never'. The bad news: none of them provide a long-term solution to Miami's quarterback woes and the only thing they're going to do is position Miami out of alignment to address the position in the long-term starting in 2021. (They're also definitely not leaving their teams so let's go ahead and pound sand on any of these options, anyway.)

Other notable free agents include the 2015 QB class: Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota.

But let's be completely transparent here: the Dolphins prioritize smart football and ball security. Jameis Winston has thrown 76 interceptions (and lost 22 fumbles) in 66 games through his first 4.5 seasons in the NFL. That mark ranks 25th all-time among quarterbacks for most interceptions thrown in their first five seasons and Winston has 6 games left to play.

AS A MATTER OF FACT...Winston's current rate of pass attempts and interceptions per attempt project him to throw an additional 11 interceptions through Tampa's final 6 games -- which would give him 87 interceptions in his first 5 NFL seasons. That number would be 10th worst all-time since 1950, trailing only the following quarterbacks:

  1. Joe Namath (104 interceptions)
  2. Jim Zorn (104)
  3. Steve Grogan (102)
  4. Peyton Manning (100)
  5. Norm Snead (96)
  6. Vinny Testaverde (96)
  7. Jake Plummer (94)
  8. Richard Todd (91)
  9. Drew Bledsoe (88)
  10. Jameis Winston (87 - projected)

Hard pass -- he doesn't protect the ball at a rate anywhere near where Miami would require him to. Marcus Mariota? He just got beat out by the quarterback Miami traded away this spring for not being good enough to elevate the franchise. Thanks but no thanks all around.

Porpoise Appeal: 2.0 out of 10

Option G: Trade for an established veteran player

The obvious callout here is Carolina's Cam Newton, who has endured some injury troubles over the past 12 months (throwing shoulder and foot) and will end the season on injured reserve. Again. It sucks, because Newton is a stellar player when he's healthy -- but we've reached the point of uncertainty that Newton will ever play a season fully healthy ever again. Or at least healthy enough to resemble the NFL's Most Valuable Player in 2015.

Trading for Newton would accomplish several things: it would bring star power to Miami. It would avoid the growing pains of a young quarterback. And it would also effectively cut the Dolphins' Super Bowl winning window (don't laugh -- they're rebuilding for a reason) in half, if not less. Depending on the compensation of a trade, this could be an avenue that could move the needle. But we've seen three quarterbacks change teams in similar windows of their careers over the last decade: Sam Bradford to the Vikings, Carson Palmer to the Raiders and Jay Cutler to the Bears.

Each commanded at least a 1st-round pick, including Bradford, who missed 27 games over the three seasons before being traded to Minnesota and a quasi-retired Carson Palmer.

Newton won't be cheap, even in a contract year in 2020. Even then, he's not the long-term answer and if he comes in and plays like anything close to his potential, the Dolphins will be a super young team with a quarterback playing on borrowed time.

Right kind of talent, wrong time.

Porpoise Appeal: 3.5 out of 10

Option H: Draft Tua Tagovailoa, no matter what

...you didn't think we were going to dismiss this all together, did you?! Tagovailoa's health/well-being and short-term prognosis are all question marks. But if Tagovailoa undergoes successful surgery and ultimately makes the decision to enter the NFL Draft with the confidence persisting that a full, 100% recovery is on the table for Tua? Terrific. The nature of his injury seems to indicate that he'll need some time beyond the immediate timetable to fully alleviate concerns about damage to his hip joint in the long-term.

Modern medicine is a pretty incredible feat of humanity. Tagovailoa? He'll be given the absolute best of the best as he looks to bounce back from this adversity and return to the field. Tagovailoa is a pretty special talent: he's got a plenty good arm, he's super sharp, he's quick-footed and nimble within the pocket. He's got A+ intangibles. And a healthy Tua Tagovailoa is no consolation prize: he'd be a game-changing quarterback for any franchise. If Tua ends up in the draft pool, full steam ahead with drafting him seems like a no brainer decision for the Dolphins -- provided they get the chance.

Tagovailoa will make the decision that he feels is best for his personal situation. No one can possibly dictate that to him -- it's his right and his choice. And if he chooses to enter the 2020 NFL Draft pool as he collects more intel on his injured hip, he's still probably the Dolphins best bet. Forget about draft stock, pick ranges and red flags for now -- it's not important until Tua makes the decision for what his future holds.

Porpoise Appeal: Incomplete

In the meantime, every possible avenue has been laid out above. Which "Porpoise" do you choose to trust? The Dolphins will be ready for anything as the 2020 NFL Draft's pivotal team. You should be, too.

Written By:

Kyle Crabbs

Director of Content

Director of Content & Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Co-host of the Draft Dudes podcast. Former NDT Scouting Overlord.

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