The 2020 NFL Draft will no longer be held in Las Vegas, but that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of gambles to go around.
The NFL's 32 franchises are all primed to sit down at their virtual poker tables and try to bluff, deceive and bully their way to acquiring all of their preferred picks in next month's draft. There will be no more high-risk game than the proposition of selecting Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who will need to do everything in his power over the course of the next 24 days to convince decision-makers he's well on his way to a full, unimpeded recovery from November's dislocated hip. Tagovailoa's process of doing so already started last week when he shared several videos of a throwing session on social media.
The buzz from the public court was, unsurprisingly, overwhelmingly positive. But a video of a handful of tosses isn't necessarily something that is going to be able to sell general managers, and teams may be even more apprehensive about medical red flags than they would have been otherwise. This is all compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the country. With shelter-in-place mandates across much of the country and NFL teams barred from hosting prospects, there will be no stamp of approval from team doctors on Tagovailoa's medicals or the medicals of any other flagged prospect, for that matter.
Tagovailoa will apparently have the opportunity to provide his updated medical scans to all 32 franchises before the draft arrives. But will that be enough? Will a team's doctor sign off on such a high risk without the chance to tangibly inspect the player for themselves?
These are the pressing issues for teams in need of a quarterback, specifically teams that don't hold the first-overall pick and have the luxury of penciling in LSU's Joe Burrow.
The team most heavily impacted by this dilemma is the Miami Dolphins. Miami has been tied to Tagovailoa for over a year now, and with just three weeks until the draft, he's there for the taking. But at what cost? And at what risk?
The Dolphins have been rumored to be investigating trade-up scenarios over the course of the past few months. The Detroit Lions and Washington Redskins have both portrayed interest at some point in Tagovailoa, presumably to imitate leverage in trade negotiations with Miami, Los Angeles and any other quarterback hungry teams.
But if the Dolphins were to trade assets for a quarterback, the only one they should be coughing up picks for is a mega-deal to coax the Cincinnati Bengals out of the top spot. Even then, the question has to be asked if Burrow is worth more than the sum of presumable three first-round selections this year with one being a different quarterback.
But to trade up in any other conditions inside the top five? Good luck. If the Dolphins swing and miss on Tagovailoa at No. 5, that will hurt but it won't cripple their rebuild quite like coughing up multiple top-100 picks to jump up two or three spots; especially if the cost comes at multiple first-round picks.
Miami is arguably armed to the teeth with enough to take a trade up for Tagovailoa in stride, but no team should be chomping at the bit to sink multiple players into moving a few spots for one with this kind of unknown risk.
This isn't about the caliber of the player on the field. Tagovailoa, generally speaking, can do it all. He ran a vertical, wide open passing offense in 2018 and more of a West Coast and RPO heavy scheme in 2019. He's quick in the pocket, a good decision-maker and has pinpoint accuracy. That's what makes this such a complicated and risky proposition.
Tagovailoa will have a chance to control the narrative in the court of public opinion. He and his camp have already begun to move on that front with the throwing highlights from last week. His medicals aren't of consequence to the public, as no one on the outside has a job on the line if their opinion of Tagovailoa’s long-term health comes up snake eyes. But to those behind the curtain who fall on the sword when decisions like this don't work out? The medicals are the only thing that will make or break the decision to draft him.
Without the black cloud of the unknown hanging over him, Tagovailoa is almost assuredly locked into the second-overall pick and someone is paying a handsome price to get there. But there will be no public throwing session, no team meetings with team doctors to decipher the risk for each respective team.
Make no mistake. For all of his wonderful gifts as a passer and all of the upside he presents, Tagovailoa is the wildcard of this year's draft. He's going to have to find a way to convince someone to go all-in on him as a player without the typical cards in their hand to exude confidence in doing so. And even then, that team is going to need one hell of a poker face along the way to make the leap and hope they and Tagovailoa alike are able to cash out in the end.