Miami are doing little to hide their strategy of losing in order to secure the No1 pick in next years draft. But history shows there are no sure things in the NFL
The Tank For Tua Bowl on Sunday moved the Miami Dolphins a step closer to their goal the No1 overall pick in next years NFL draft and a ticket to salvation, likely through Alabamas star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
Despite almost blowing the whole deal with some late and unadvertised Fitzmagic against Washington, the Dolphins successfully progressed to 0-5 and remain on track to be the best at being the worst. However, Sundays other games offered a cautionary note for the Dolphins.
Entering the 2015 draft, neither the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans could lose, thanks to losing a whole lot. With two electrifying Heisman Trophy-winning QBs up for grabs, the Bucs took Florida States Jameis Winston first overall, while the Titans selected Marcus Mariota of Oregon with the second pick. After months of debate over which sure thing should go No 1, both teams had surely locked down the games most important position for a decade. So, hows that working out in final year of both players rookie contracts?
Well, Mariota was benched during a 16-0 shutout loss in Denver where he mustered seven completions from 18 pass attempts for 63 total yards and two interceptions. He was replaced by veteran Ryan Tannehill the same guy Miami finally gave up on last off-season. Tannehill will start on Sunday. Winston fared little better, turning the ball over six times during a loss to the Carolina Panthers at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Theres very little talk of a new contract for Winston, who has amassed three seasons with 10 or more losses out of four thus far in his NFL career. Winstons Bucs have never made the playoffs. Mariotas Titans have one playoff win in one postseason appearance, an AFC wild-card game win over Kansas City in 2017. With both teams currently owning 2-4 records, the likelihood is that both re-enter the QB market in 2020.
Yet losing in order to draft your franchise quarterback is considered a worthwhile strategy for the Dolphins at least in a league where such abject failure is rewarded. Just look at all those young QBs lighting up the league right now. They all picked in the top three too, right? Well, not exactly. Lamar Jackson was picked 32 in 2018. Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson were selected 10th and 12th respectively in 2017, when the Bears traded up to No 2 to get Mitch Trubisky. Dak Prescott was way down at 135 in 2016.
In 2012, Russell Wilson dropped to 75. Incidentally, the same year Indianapolis used Peyton Mannings neck surgery to Suck for Luck and other teams believed Robert Griffin III, Tannehill, Brandon Weeden and Brock Osweiler were better options than Wilson. Want to go back further? Tom Brady was a sixth-round pick, and now has six Super Bowl rings.
Repeat after me, Miami: You do not need to be first in line to land a franchise QB. In fact, the stats line up against it. In total, 14 No1 picks have been spent on quarterbacks this century. Only one has Super Bowl wins to his name the esteemed Elisha Nelson Manning IV. Of the others, only Jared Goff and Cam Newton have even played in one (Alex Smith was part of the 49ers team that reached Super Bowl XLVII, but did not start the game).
The NFL isnt like the NBA, where selecting a star can be truly transformational to a teams fortunes. This years No1 pick cannot have the same impact on the Miami Dolphins as Zion Williamson can have on the New Orleans Pelicans, for instance. There are too many other variables.
Lets say Miami does strike gold with Tua considered a great, but not guaranteed prospect. Then they actually have to look after the guy. The Colts successfully Sucked For Andrew Luck and then absolutely sucked for Luck. From 2012 to 2016, he was the most hit and most pressured QB in the NFL, as GM Ryan Grigson drafted only three offensive linemen before the 7th round from 2012-2015. Now Luck is retired, physically broken by the game at just 29 years old.
Tanking for the No1 is a crutch for underperforming organizations like Miami; a team with issues far beyond the ability to drop lucky on a quarterback. This speaks to a deeper dysfunction with hiring the right people to hire the right people. It speaks to an inability to see something in players other teams dont and develop that talent to its fullest. Would Pat Mahomes, for all his unspeakable ability, be having the same impact on the Miami Dolphins as he is with the Kansas City Chiefs? No.
The leagues reigning MVP was afforded a year to learn behind Smith, under the guidance of the Chiefs offensive-minded head coach, Andy Reid. In 2018, he had an offensive line ranked seventh in the NFL in pass blocking efficiency: he was only sacked eight times all season. He had Pro Bowlers Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce to throw to. He had dual-threat running back Kareem Hunt hauling in seven TD catches and running in seven more, prior to his release. How much of that is already in place in Miami? Precisely none of it.
Its not about the highest pick, its about having a plan and building for thatmoment, not starting from scratch when you draft the QB with a destitute, demoralised playing staff and fanbase. Its environment, its culture, its coaching, its synergy with the front office. Even if the pick is a cant miss prospect, its about putting the best people and pieces around him to ensure he has a hope in hell in the NFL.
Regardless, any QB drafted by the Dolphins is going straight into the firing line with a team still undertaking a multiyear roster construction project. The team has amassed 12 draft picks for 2020 and three first-rounders, sacrificing some elite talent in the process. However, even if those all picks land (Miamis recent front office record suggests they wont), those players will also be rookies making a transition to the pros. With free-agent signings also likely, Miami will be fielding a brand new team in 2020.
For those established Dolphins players unfortunate enough to remain on the team this season this is another lost year. Its clear the players are not in on this tank; theyre trying to win with a roster gutted of its playmakers. Morale is crushed, theyre tired of being embarrassed in half-empty stadiums and outnumbered by visiting fans every other week. Faith in the organisation may be irrecoverable. And, when the blighted 2019 stat sheets are thrown down on the negotiating table, their next contract with another team mightnt look so good either.
And theres also no absolute guarantee this tanking project will yield what appears to be the desired result. Eli Manning and John Elway refused their draft assignments and held out for trades elsewhere. Tagovailoas former Crimson Tide teammate Minkah Fitzpatrick, is one of the lucky ones. Miamis first-round pick in 2018 immediately facilitated a trade after a 59-10 Week 1 loss at home to Baltimore. Its no stretch to believe Fitzpatrick would have have been on the phone to Tua, explaining what caused him to flee to Pittsburgh. Its unlikely, but theres an outside chance Tua could look to do the same as Manning and Elway. And then what?
The No1 pick is not the golden ticket the Dolphins franchise is moving towards. The smart money isnt on that approach yielding the glory that owner Stephen Ross whose team has the distinction of hosting this years Super Bowl, while also being farthest away from it seeks so badly.