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Welcome to smokescreen season

TSV Prolactal Hartberg v SK Rapid Wien - tipico Bundesliga Photo by Markus Tobisch/SEPA.Media /Getty Images

The Miami Dolphins love quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and will select him with the fifth overall pick. Or they will trade up to the second-overall selection. Or third-overall. Or fourth.

But they prefer Justin Herbert over Tagovailoa. And Jordan Love is now their top choice.

Of course, that is all if they do not go get their actual target, Joe Burrow, with a trade into the top overall spot. But Burrow’s small hands could make it impossible for him to grip and throw a football.

Welcome to smokescreen season, where everyone loves everyone, the Dolphins will select everyone, and tomorrow’s report will be completely different from today’s story.

Suddenly there is talk that the Washington Redskins, with the second-overall pick, could be interested in drafting Tagovailoa. Amazing is it not? After all the hand ringing about when to play 2019 15-overall pick Dwayne Haskins, the Redskins are interested in Tagovailoa. That is unless a team that wants a quarterback would be willing to send multiple draft picks to Washington for the selection.

In fact, the Dolphins may not even take a quarterback with the fifth overall selection, waiting for their other two picks in the first round to come up before they grab their passer. No need to rush into anything. Or at least make it sound like they are not interested to drive down the price of a potential trade up. Or back. Or something.

You see, everything is a smokescreen. If you are talking up a player too much, it is a smokescreen. If you are not talking up a player, it is a smokescreen. If you want to trade, it is a smokescreen. If you want to stand pat, it is a smokescreen.

Four years ago, Aaron Sutton wrote here on The Phinsider, an article breaking down smokescreens. Included in it, he wrote:

Normally, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. During NFL smokescreen season, where there’s smoke, there’s a big steaming pile of poo poo. I know what you’re thinking: that’s not mutually exclusive, SUTTON, couldn’t the pile of poo poo be in a bag and lit on fire like in Billy Madison? You know what I mean, smart ass. Here is a small list of other things (some of which were taken by my smokescreen article 2 years ago) to consider during smokescreen season:

If you’re pigeonholed into a specific need (e.g. QB), smokescreens aren’t very effective. NFL teams will see through that in a heartbeat.

The more detailed a GM, coach, or NFL executive is in talking about a player, the more likely it is they are NOT selecting that player. One of the cardinal rules of smokescreen season is to not talk about specific players that you actually like. Put another way: don’t connect yourself with someone you actually like. Teams initiate smokescreens, they don’t respond to them - unless they WANT to. If they do respond, it’s highly likely they are lying through their teeth.

Televised interviews with NFL personnel about a team’s approach to the draft or about specific draftees are usually scripted, or kept intentionally vague, as to avoid the discomfort of being asked a direct question about a player a team might actually be targeting. Actual information puts a team at a competitive disadvantage, and putting your team in that situation might get your ass a pink slip. When information leaked about the Redskins desire to draft Jason Campbell, there was a full in-house investigation.

Don’t read into GM “non-speak”. They have to meet with the media. Most of what they say are blanket statements, or so vague that it can be interpreted a million different ways. If they are looking “to improve every position on the club and get the best 53 players we possibly can”, that does NOT mean they are skeptical about Jarvis Landry’s ability.

He also included a couple of quotes from scouts, including:

On April 24, 2012, a former St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams scout, Russ Lande, gave an interview on ESPN’s Bob and Groz. Lande is now one of the few resident experts on smokescreens, as he is no longer a scout or NFL personnel, but coincidentally, a blogger and draft analyst for the Sporting News. Here is the radio segment in its entirety.

“Teams are constantly trying to [feed reporters and media bad information]. I mean, the perfect example, this morning, I got a text message from someone that works for a team saying, ‘Hey, just finished final meetings - if Michael Brockers is there, he is definitely our pick.’ No one’s going to tell anybody that! And clearly, I know this guy, and I consider him, not a friend but an acquaintance, and [Groz: And he’s using you!]... They all are!”

Continuing, he wrote:

When you think about it, the media probably cares very little that they’re getting played: they still get to generate clicks and traffic, despite the near certainty that the information is false. It’s really a win-win for both parties. Although fans complain about the limited scope and accuracy of national sports media publications, we still go right on clicking, hoping that we’ve stumbled upon an actual nugget of truth. But what intrigued me is that smokescreens can be leaked for other reasons, namely to save face in the age of “group think”:

“They do everything they can to get names out there. And, sometimes teams also put stuff in the press so if they want to take a guy higher than everybody projects him to go, they won’t get killed in the media because someone will put the name out there. That’s one of the rumors that everyone says about when the Chiefs took Tyson Jackson a few years ago, out of LSU, most teams had him as a 3rd, 4th rounder, a lot of people believed that the Chiefs put the word out there that he was an elite prospect so when they took him 3rd overall, they wouldn’t get a lot of backlash. Except, the fact that he’s been a flop now, now they can get punished for it.”

This year, Dolphins head coach Brian Flores discussed smokescreens, and trades, during his media availability at the NFL Scouting Combine. He explained, “I think it’s entirely too early to kind of talk about how aggressive – there’s a lot of smokescreens out there from trade this, trade that. We have some capital; but again, it’s not just one position. Not in this game. There’s 22 guys on the field at a time, so we’re trying to build a talented roster. Depth is important in this league as you know, and there are injuries every week, so we want to build as talented a roster as we can.”

We are definitely in that time of the year where the Dolphins - and every team - will be linked to every prospect at every position with every trade possibility explored. It is smokescreen season, and it is just getting started.