DAVIE, Fla. — The Miami Dolphins will run the 2020 NFL draft — 2021 too, for that matter — and general manager Chris Grier is set to be the draft’s kingmaker with three first-round picks to reshape the franchise to his liking.
That’s part of the reward for Miami’s roster teardown and enduring what could be one of the worst seasons in NFL history. The Dolphins are all-in on the future, and they have stockpiled a war chest of assets to bring in young talent via all avenues — draft, free agency and trade.
On Tuesday the Dolphins traded safety Minkah Fitzpatrick to the Pittsburgh Steelers in a package highlighted by a 2020 first-round pick. It was yet another decision for Miami’s front office that shows accumulating picks is the most important goal of 2019 — even over keeping a talented 2018 first-round pick, who was supposed to be a big part of the team’s long-term future.
There is now mounting pressure on Grier to take advantage of every single one of these first-round picks and reward the franchise with a complete turnaround. Getting these picks is important, but it’s only a piece of the journey. The fate of the Dolphins’ rebuild lies largely in the hands of Miami’s scouting department. It’s a position that many front office executives would love to be in, with the power and assets to mold a team from scratch. But, with great power comes great responsibility.
Miami’s own first-round pick has a 63.5% chance to be the No. 1 overall pick, and a 95.9% chance to be a top-five pick, per ESPN’s FPI. The Steelers’ 2020 pick — made worse by an 0-2 start and losing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the season — has a 29% chance to be in the top five and a 62% chance to be in the top 10, and the Texans’ 2020 pick has a 10.8% chance to be a top-10 pick, per FPI.
The Dolphins are also set to have two picks in the second and third rounds of the 2020 draft, giving them seven likely top-100ish selections next spring. That’s before mentioning Miami has two first-round picks plus two second-round picks in the 2021 draft, courtesy of the Houston Texans via the Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills trade. Miami is projected to have over $100 million in salary-cap space in 2020. That’s an insane amount of draft capital and money to spend.
“We can do anything we want, whether it’s free agency or draft,” Grier said. “We’ve positioned ourselves, we think, to do anything or get whatever player we feel that will help us as soon as possible.”
Tank for Tua?
Miami is selling the glitter of the unknown and potential for something better in a Cleveland Browns-like rebuild. For many Dolphins fans, anything other than the mediocrity they have been immersed in for the past two decades is a good plan. Many have gotten behind the “Tank for Tua” plan (Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is projected as a top pick in the 2020 draft). There are reasons to agree with the plan to draft a quarterback of the future.
What’s most important for the Dolphins moving forward are the draft picks. Grier said the quarterback position will certainly be an option in next spring’s draft. Hope always sells, and right now hope resides in Alabama.
“We’re going to do whatever we can to make our room better right away. For us, yeah, we’ve all talked about the quarterback being an important piece and it’s competition,” Grier said. “We’re not shying from that, so whoever is here, there’s going to be competition.”
Dominate the draft
There’s no guarantee the Dolphins’ bounty of draft picks will produce players who adequately replace Tunsil and Fitzpatrick. It’s just as likely future picks could end up being another DeVante Parker or Charles Harris (the Dolphins’ first-round picks in 2015 and 2017, respectively, who are trending toward bust territory) or Raekwon McMillan or Mike Gesicki (Dolphins’ second-round picks in 2017 and 2018 who haven’t proven much yet).
The Dolphins have selected eight players (Parker, Jordan Phillips, Tunsil, Xavien Howard, Harris, McMillan, Fitzpatrick, Gesicki) in the draft’s first two rounds from 2015 to 2018. Only Tunsil, Howard and Fitzpatrick have proven to be worth those picks and Howard is the only one on the current roster.
Howard stands as likely the most proven foundational piece left. His reaction to the Fitzpatrick trade — tweeting a gif of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Will Smith standing alone in an empty living room looking around — provides insight into how it feels to have yet another talent shipped away from Miami.
History tells us there’s some notable risk in betting the Dolphins will hit home run after home run — not only at quarterback but in filling the numerous holes on the team — with their new draft capital.
The good news for Grier is he added assistant general manager Marvin Allen and senior personnel executive Reggie McKenzie to his front office this offseason. Both men are well-respected talent evaluators who will assist Grier in trying to turn the Dolphins around.
But the decision-making power ends with Grier, the draft’s kingmaker, and the burden is on him to dominate in the draft realm — his area of expertise. It will be easy to forgive some of the team’s past misses if the 2020 and 2021 drafts serve as the jumping-off points for division titles and championships in 2023 and 2024. Grier has the power of the Dolphins’ future in his hands, and the organization that is preaching “trust the process” as an unofficial motto is betting on him to lead the way.
“We positioned ourselves to where we think the organization will be in a good place here shortly. We’ll be aggressive,” Grier said. “We’re not going to sit back and not do anything, we’re going to be very proactive and try to get this turned quickly.”
September through December will be painful. But joy and hope come in April, and that’s Grier’s month to shine. No pressure.