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Franchise QB or bust? How Dolphins will handle NFL draft smokescreens

INDIANAPOLIS — The Miami Dolphins are expected to target a franchise quarterback in the 2020 NFL draft, sources told ESPN. Miami has publicly kept its options open at every position, and that’s the best move to protect leverage. One of the challenges for Dolphins general manager Chris Grier and coach Brian Flores over the next couple of months will be navigating smokescreen season to determine what is the best way to obtain their desired quarterback without giving up unnecessary draft capital.

“There’s a lot of smokescreens out there from ‘trade this, trade that,'” Flores said. “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.”

The Dolphins, who have three first-round picks (Nos. 5, 18 and 26), should be considered the favorites to land Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. But if his medicals look good — and early indications are positive there — other teams might make efforts to trade up ahead of Miami to get him. Therein lies the dilemma of navigating what’s real, what’s fake, determining whether a trade up for Miami is necessary to land Tagovailoa and what it would cost to do it.

“It’s a conversation. Sometimes it happens before you talk and then sometimes they happen right when you’re on the clock on draft day. Again, it’s weighing — you look at what’s available, how many players at that position are available as you’re looking at your board,” Grier said about deciding whether to trade up. “It’s a lot of conversations. It’s nothing that’s ever done quickly.”

Welcome to smokescreen season.

Let’s take a look at every team that is slated to draft in the top five, the trade-down buzz around that team, Miami’s potential interest in a trade up and the smokescreen level for each team. For this exercise, we’ll proceed as if Tagovailoa is Miami’s preferred choice.

The favorite: Joe Burrow, QB, LSU

The buzz: Burrow threw cold water on the speculation that he wouldn’t play for the Cincinnati Bengals this week at the combine.

Miami’s interest: Grier said the Dolphins haven’t ruled out any trades yet and have enough capital to make any move, including a jump to No. 1. But the Dolphins also value their picks and it might take both of their extra first-round picks to move up here. Plus, Cincinnati doesn’t look willing to pass on an Ohio-born quarterback who can be a franchise-changer.

Smokescreen level: Low. Once Burrow made it clear he wouldn’t object to playing for the Bengals, it seemed like that locked up the pick here.

The favorite: Chase Young, Edge, Ohio State

The buzz: Coach Ron Rivera says the Redskins are bringing in Burrow and Tagovailoa for pre-draft workouts and that it’s not “just due diligence.” Rivera said he likes Dwayne Haskins, but noted that “everything is an option” for the No. 2 pick, including taking a quarterback.

Miami’s interest: Ideally, the Dolphins wouldn’t want to move this high if it wasn’t necessary. Their draft capital is plentiful, but important to the team’s rebuild. If Washington truly wanted Tagovailoa, there probably isn’t much Miami could do to trade up with the Redskins.

Smokescreen radar: Sky high. It would be one of the biggest shocks in recent draft memory if Washington passed on Young to take Tagovailoa after seeing just seven starts of Haskins. This feels like the perfect example of smokescreen season. Washington seems likely to take Young, and more likely to trade down than take Tua.



Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah can cover, catch, hit and tackle and is being called the most complete cornerback in the 2020 NFL draft.

The favorite: Best available defensive player (Jeff Okudah, Derrick Brown, Isaiah Simmons) or trade down.

The buzz: Multiple league sources believe the Lions aren’t a serious contender to draft Tagovailoa despite being called co-favorites to land him by oddsmakers. Lions general manager Bob Quinn said “he’s open to any trades” for the No. 3 pick and the Lions appear set to hold an auction for the right to take the left-handed signal-caller.

Miami’s interest: This feels like the most likely trade-up position for Tagovailoa. Many people in league circles believe the draft will officially start at pick No. 3 with Burrow and Young projected to fill the top two spots. If the Dolphins really want Tagovailoa, they might have to go get him here. Compensation could be the No. 26 pick or multiple second-round picks, along with the No. 5 pick.

Smokescreen radar: Medium. The Lions taking Tagovailoa definitely feels like smoke. There appears to be a win-now edict for coach Matt Patricia and the Lions’ front office, and it’s not financially conducive for them to move on from Matthew Stafford this year. That doesn’t sound like a team in the Tua market. The Lions’ apparent willingness to trade down feels real.

No. 4: New York Giants

The favorite: Best offensive tackle available or Isaiah Simmons, OLB, Clemson

The buzz: Giants general manager Dave Gettleman said he’s “open for business” in regard to the No. 4 pick. It’s a new regime under coach Joe Judge, which leaves the Giants more unpredictable than in previous years. One source said trading back makes sense for the Giants, but wondered whether Gettleman would actually do it.

Miami’s take: If Tagovailoa is available at No. 4, the Dolphins might be tempted to stay put and let him fall to No. 5. The Giants aren’t likely to draft a quarterback, so the dangers would be others teams such as the Los Angeles Chargers or Carolina Panthers trading up. That’s where the Dolphins’ skills to discern smokescreen versus real interest will come in handy.

Smokescreen radar: Medium. Gettleman has never traded down in the first round during his career as a general manager. So, there’s reason for skepticism, but moving down one spot would allow the Giants to still be in play for a top-tier offensive tackle or a dynamic chess piece such as Simmons. The real smokescreen radar would come in determining whether other teams are trying to jump them.

The others — Chargers (No. 6), Panthers (No. 7), Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 9), Indianapolis Colts (No. 13)

All of these teams in the top 13 could be in the market to draft a first-round quarterback. Oregon’s Justin Herbert or Utah State’s Jordan Love could find a home here, but if any team falls in love with Tagovailoa, they could attempt to leapfrog Miami to nab him.

There has been increased talk at the combine surrounding Carolina making a move for a quarterback. The Panthers, along with the Chargers, seem to be the biggest threats.

If the Dolphins are all-in on Tagovailoa, Miami might have to play offense and defense while navigating the smokescreens leading up to draft day.

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