This week, we’ve learned that part of the Miami Dolphins’ decision to start rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is based on their stockpile of draft picks in the 2021 NFL Draft. Miami cannot afford to wait for Tagovailoa to show if he’s a star in a few years; if Tagovailoa struggles as a rookie, Miami should look at drafting another first-round quarterback.
Last season, Miami traded away many of its top players in order to receive a haul of high draft picks. Perhaps the largest of such trades was trading star left tackle Laremy Tunsil to the Houston Texans in exchange for two first-round draft picks and a second-round pick, among other trade pieces. Houston has struggled this season and is currently slated to have the fourth overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, which would go to Miami.
With quarterback prospects such as Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields and Trey Lance presumably entering the draft this spring, Miami will need to know if it can rely on Tagovailoa going forward. If Tagovailoa fails to show he can be a franchise quarterback over the remainder of the season, Miami should consider attempting to draft one of the top quarterbacks in this year’s draft. After giving up so much talent in players like Tunsil and all-pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, Miami cannot afford to waste these draft picks on non-quarterbacks unless it knows for certain it has a franchise quarterback.
Historically, teams would wait to see if former first-round quarterbacks could turn things around in their second season before potentially selecting their replacements. In 2016, the Tennessee Titans traded out of the number-one pick in the draft in order to allow their 2015 first-round pick, Marcus Mariota, to develop. That pick and the subsequent pick, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, have struggled this season, but both have also led their teams to Super Bowl appearances. Meanwhile, Mariota currently serves as the backup quarterback on the Las Vegas Raiders after being benched for former Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill in 2019. Examples like this are why teams are increasingly hesitant to give their young quarterbacks time to show that they can develop into stars when they have the opportunity to draft other, potentially better college prospects to fill the position.
Rookie quarterbacks are entering the NFL increasingly ready to play. In the past, rookie quarterbacks often struggled to adjust to the speed of the NFL after college. Even Peyton Manning, one of the best college and NFL players ever, threw 28 interceptions in his rookie season in 1998. Today, however, rookies are coming from much more complicated college offenses and have been capable of playing at a high level on their first day in the league.
The two other quarterbacks taken in the first round last year, Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert, have both been lighting up opposing defenses and are the clear front-runners for Offensive Rookie of the Year. While treating quarterbacks as multi-year projects, as Kansas City did with Patrick Mahomes, is still a sound strategy, Miami’s draft capital and lack of an alternative quarterback beyond 37-year-old journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick requires it to know whether Tagovailoa is the future of the franchise by the end of the season.
Miami would not be the first team to bail on a highly drafted quarterback in favor of a high draft pick if Tagovailoa fails to show star potential. In fact, it would not be Miami’s first time doing it. In 2018, the Arizona Cardinals selected UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen 10th overall. In his rookie season, Rosen struggled across 13 starts, and Arizona finished as the worst team in the NFL, landing it the number-one pick in the 2019 draft. With Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray fitting perfectly into newly hired coach Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid offense, Arizona gave up on Rosen, trading him to Miami and drafting Murray. After Rosen failed to show flashes of ability in his time in Miami, the team cut him and selected Tagovailoa fifth overall. Today, Murray is playing like one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and has led Arizona to a 5-2 record.
Having an elite quarterback is all but required to win in the modern NFL. With so much draft capital this year, Miami cannot afford to wait to find out if it has an elite quarterback in Tagovailoa or if it needs to use that capital in search of one.
Austin Barish is a sophomore in the College. The Armchair Analyst appears online every other week.