MIAMI — An associate of Dolphins owner Stephen Ross says Ross emphasized to Dolphins people, at the start of this rebuilding process, that he wants the team to get the top quarterback available in the draft. But coach Brian Flores and his players have made it far more difficult to fulfill Ross’ objective by winning two games.
There’s still a real chance Miami could end up with Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa or LSU’s Joe Burrow, but the possibility of Miami needing to look beyond those two has increased appreciably with two wins during the past two weeks.
A look at the other options if it comes to this:
— Draft Justin Herbert if Tua and Burrow are gone. Count former Dolphins executive Mike Tannenbaum, now with ESPN, among those who would take Herbert ahead of Tagovailoa or Burrow. But he’s in the minority.
“When you think about what’s going on in football right now, we are up to 51 quarterbacks who have started a game this year,” Tannenbaum said on ESPN Radio. “The (injuries for) quarterbacks is at an all-time high. Taking nothing away from Tua or Burrow, (but) of those three by far Justin Herbert is built to last. He looks like Ben Roethlisberger. Tua has been hurt. I’m putting a premium on size and athleticism.
“Burrow’s arm strength is better than I thought — he’s a better athlete than I thought — but he’s not as big as Herbert. If I am building a franchise for the next 10 years and I need a tiebreaker, the size is what’s going to do it for me.”
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr.’s view of Herbert: “As I wrote in May, Herbert just looks like a potential No. 1 pick — great size, a powerful arm to make every throw, limited interceptions, good athleticism. Yet he took a step back in consistency in 2018, and that’s why I thought he made a good decision to return to Oregon for his senior season.
“What I wanted to see this season was improved accuracy, better decision-making and him going through his reads to find open passers. So far, so good for Herbert, who has completed 69.4% of his passes with 24 touchdowns and two interceptions. He got off to a slow start in the win over USC, but he finished strong, completing all 10 of his throws off play-action for 128 yards and three touchdowns. That’s the improvement in efficiency that I wanted to see.”
ESPN’s Todd McShay says of Herbert: “Tagovailoa is the most natural passer in this QB class, and Herbert comes with the best combination of size and arm strength, but Burrow belongs in the conversation atop the class. One thing is for sure: NFL teams looking for a new quarterback will have plenty of high-end options.”
But draft analyst Tony Pauline said last month, of Herbert: “People are starting to get a bit turned off by the play of Justin Herbert. It’s not that Herbert has played poorly. Rather, it’s been uninspired football and not the type of play one needs to see from a draft prospect graded as a potential franchise quarterback coming into the season. Herbert seems to play to his level of competition rather than really lifting up that Oregon offense.”
— Take Georgia’s Jake Fromm or Washington’s Jacob Eason with the Pittsburgh first-round pick due Miami, which stands 22nd at the moment or Houston’s pick due Miami (26th). Both quarterbacks would be too high for Miami’s first-rounder.
Kiper has Eason 22nd overall, noting “he has a huge 6-6 frame and the arm to match it, but he has, frankly, looked a little rusty this season. Eason, if you recall, started 12 games for Georgia in 2016 and showed some flashes. There were a few throws that made me inch closer to the screen. But he was injured in 2017, lost his job to Fromm then transferred back to his home state and has waited two years to be able to start again. I think he could use another year at Washington in 2020. He needs more time, but he has the ‘wow’ factor.”
Eason has 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions and completed 63.7% of his passes but comes off a terrible game against Oregon State (16-32-175, two picks).
Fromm isn’t in Kiper’s top 25 or McShay’s top 32, and his numbers have been modest most of the year, including 13 for 29 for 173 yards and two touchdowns against Missouri on Saturday. He has 13 TDs, three picks and a 67% completion percentage and seldom throws more than 30 times a game. He doesn’t have a 300-yard passing game this season.
— Bypass a quarterback with Miami’s first-round picks and circle back to quarterback later in the draft. Though Ross would like to get a franchise quarterback in 2020 and that has been the plan all along, he would presumably listen to Grier if Grier doesn’t have a strong conviction about using a first-rounder on Herbert or Fromm or Eason. Fact is, Grier would be making a mistake if he selects a quarterback who he has serious doubts about.
Travis Wingfield, the astute host of the Locked on Dolphins podcast, said: “I’d rather spend the 34th pick on (Oklahoma’s Jalen) Hurts, see if they can build an offense around him, than take Herbert in the top 10. If Hurts quickly flames out, try again in 2021 with that loaded class. I’d also include (Utah State’s) Jordan Love in this conversation.”
Hurts has put up impressive numbers in Oklahoma’s high-octane offense (24 TDs, four INTS, 73.3% completion and 2,742 yards passing). Love has regressed statistically (11 TDs, 12 picks) after producing a 32-to-6 TD-to-INT ratio last year and was 15 for 30 for 130 yards and three picks in a 42-6 loss to LSU last month.
Among all draft-eligible quarterbacks, Kiper ranks Fromm fifth, followed by Stanford’s KJ Costello, Love, Oregon State’s Jake Luton, Hurts and Washington State’s Anthony Gordon.
— Find a veteran quarterback through free agency or the trade market. This is less likely but an option in March if Miami determines it doesn’t love any quarterback it’s in position to draft. Teddy Bridgewater tops the list of free-agent QBs who are realistically available to Miami, and this Dolphins regime likes him. (Tom Brady and Phillip Rivers aren’t realistic free agent options).
Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota would be second and third on that realistic free-agent list, but neither would seem to make sense here.
The Cowboys likely will place the franchise tag on impending free agent Dak Prescott, keeping him off the market.
As for trades — if it comes to that — Cam Newton, 30, would be the most logical option, but health is the question there. He’s due $18.6 million next season in the final year of his contract, and there’s speculation the Panthers could move on. He had right shoulder surgery last January, recovered in time to start this season, but hasn’t played since Week 2 (and is now on injured reserve) with a foot injury.
It’s unlikely Miami would view a trade for Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton as a long-term solution.
Incidentally, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen are under contract next season.
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