The Miami Dolphins’ 2020 offseason may be one of the most significant periods of transition in franchise history. Heading into their 55th season, the Dolphins will be looking to start rebuilding a club that was torn down to the studs this past offseason, resetting the franchise in terms of youth, salary cap space, and draft capital. The team is looking to build “the right way” rather than spending on stop-gap, band-aid free agents and throwing as much money at a roster than cannot compete as possible in the futile effort of winning now.
Taking a step back and resetting should be good for Miami. It has them positioned to quickly rebuild the franchise that, despite two decades of mediocrity, is still sixth in terms of all-time winning percentage (Dallas Cowboys (.573), Green Bay Packers (.568), Chicago Bears (.565), New England Patriots (.564), Baltimore Ravens (.559), Dolphins (.552)). But, the Dolphins have a big question to answer this offseason. It may be the biggest one they ever have to answer.
What do they do at quarterback for 2020?
In 1966, the Dolphins needed a quarterback as they headed into their first season. They selected Kentucky’s Rick Norton with the second-overall pick, having used the first-overall pick on running back Jim Grabowski.
In 1967, the Dolphins again looked at quarterback in the first round, selecting Purdue’s Bob Griese.
In 1983, Don Shula did not want a quarterback, but he wanted Dan Marino.
In 2012, the Dolphins needed a quarterback and selected Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill.
The Dolphins are entering their 55th season. They have four times used a first-round pick on a quarterback - and two of those came in their first two seasons. Now, it appears the team could be on the verge of their fifth first-round quarterback.
Is that the right choice for 2020? There are a lot of possibilities for Miami this offseason when it comes to quarterback, especially if they use the fifth-overall pick on the quarterback most analysts assume the team is selecting - Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa.
For much of the season, Tagovailoa was widely considered the quarterback who would be selected first overall this spring. He was the player every fan base of a team in search of a quarterback wanted, with #TankForTua becoming a thing. Then, a hip injury and play by Joe Burrow slid Tagovailoa down the draft boards, but, he could land perfectly at the Dolphins’ feet in April. The first four picks in the Draft are currently held by the Cincinnati Bengals (quarterback needy with Burrow as the likely target), the Washington Redskins (not quarterback needy after selecting Dwayne Haskins last year), the New York Giants (not quarterback needy after selecting Daniel Jones last year), and the Detroit Lions (believed to still be comfortable with Matthew Stafford who has three years remaining on his contract (plus a void year)). That leaves one quarterback needy team in front of Miami, with Tagovailoa likely still being on the board - unless a trade happens - when Miami is on the clock.
Should Tagovailoa be Miami’s 2020 selection? There is plenty to debate. Tagovailoa has had surgeries on both of his ankles and now has had his hip surgically repaired, with plenty of questions remaining as to his recovery timeline and ultimate return to football. He has health concerns that could scare off teams. It has some fans ready to see Miami skip him.
Miami could pass on Tagovailoa and use a first-round pick, or even a later pick, on the rookie quarterback they are expected to select. Players like Justin Herbert, Jordan Love, and Jacob Eason could all be in consideration for the Dolphins.
For this exercise, we will assume Tagovailoa is Miami’s target and they add him with the fifth selection. Now what? He probably will need to continue to sit as his hip recovers from what was a nasty looking injury. The Dolphins cannot head into the 2020 season with Tagovailoa as their number one quarterback - at least to start the year - because they do not know for sure he will medically be available.
Which brings us back to the question: What do they do at quarterback for 2020?
Again, there are options. Miami could select Tagovailoa and keep current starter Ryan Fitzpatrick as the 2020 opening-day starter. Fitzpatrick has the locker room. He has the players on the roster believing in him and he has a year in Miami’s offensive system. He could be asked to come back and start after a 3,529 passing-yard, 62.0 percent completion rate, 20 touchdown, 13 interception, 85.5 passer-rating season.
Miami could move to Josh Rosen, who backed up Fitzpatrick for much of this season, giving the youngster a chance to prove he can be an effective starter or backup in the league. If Miami had a quarterback room of Rosen and Tagovailoa, they would have a room with a 23-year-old and a 22-year-old in the top two spots when the season begins. They would be young, but the coaching staff would have a chance to develop two (presumed) top-ten draft picks. It could be an intriguing option for Brian Flores and the staff.
The Dolphins could also look to free agency to sign a veteran starter, moving on from Fitzpatrick and/or Rosen. That starter could be 2020’s top quarterback while mentoring a rehabbing Tagovailoa. Names that could be in consideration for that kind of role include Eli Manning and Philip Rivers, both of whom could be looking to extend their careers a year or two more.
Miami could also look to players like Teddy Bridgewater, Ryan Tannehill, Jameis Winston, Case Keenum, or Marcus Mariota, all of whom are scheduled to be free agents - though some will likely be re-signed or franchise tagged (cough, Tannehill, cough). There are also potential players who should be veteran backups, but could be asked to start until Tagovailoa is ready, with names like Chad Henne, Drew Standton, Colt McCoy, Matt Moore, and Blake Bortles in that group.
Then there are two names that could become major players in free agency if they get to that point. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and New England Patriots passer Tom Brady both have contracts that void this year. Brees likely will either return to New Orleans or retire, though he could look to see what is available. Brady has said he plans to play another three years, but it feels like his time with the Patriots is over. Could Miami target the quarterback that has led their division rival for 20 years? With a coaching staff led by former Patriots assistant coach Flores, there are at least ties for Brady in Miami. There are reasons a move to South Florida for Brady would make sense, but it seems unlikely the Dolphins would be his top choice, given he would likely look to win immediately, rather than accept a rebuilding team and a mentor-type role.
Which brings us back to the question for the Dolphins one more time: What do they do at quarterback for 2020?
If I were in a position to answer the question for the Dolphins, I would make it fairly simple. Fitzpatrick works as the Dolphins starter, so leave him there. Rosen has potential and can develop still, so leave him as the backup. Then draft Tagovailoa and either keep him as the third string quarterback until his hip is 100 percent, or even consider putting him on a non-football injury list to start the season. There is no reason Miami could not keep all three players on the roster, and it probably makes the most sense. If Tagovailoa proves he is Miami’s franchise quarterback, Fitzpatrick moves on from Miami after 2020, and the team can look to keep Rosen as the backup.
Of course, that all assumes Tagovailoa is actually Miami’s target. If he is not, the team will have a decision to make on Fitzpatrick and Rosen. Keeping one of the two, either as the starter until a rookie is ready or as the backup to a day-one starting rookie, would make sense. But that could also be where Miami looks to free agency to snag a veteran backup with the intention of starting a rookie from day one.
There are so many options for the Dolphins, with many of them at least having some positives for a franchise trying to put the dry-wall on the studs now. Which will play out? Which makes the most sense?
What do they do at quarterback for 2020?