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The Dolphins Are Trusting the Process

In trading left tackle Laremy Tunsil to the Texans for a haul of draft picks, Miami is valuing the future more than the present. As recent history has shown, it’s a strategy that could pay massive dividends down the line.

NFL: New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins Photo by Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports

The NFL season has yet to begin, but #TankForTua is already underway, and one team is lapping the field.

The Dolphins, already projected by many to be the worst team in the NFL, just traded away left tackle Laremy Tunsil and wide receiver Kenny Stills, and fleeced the GM-less Texans for a whopping package that includes two first-round picks and a second-rounder:

Tunsil is the centerpiece of the trade. He’s the player the Texans were trying to exchange Pro Bowl edge defender Jadeveon Clowney for earlier this week. Instead, the Texans sent Clowney to the Seahawks for virtually nothing and are now selling their future for Tunsil. Houston was never able to adequately protect Deshaun Watson in the passer’s first two seasons in the league, and the team has chosen to pay an astronomical price to finally give him a starting-quality left tackle. Houston is trying to maximize the team’s window while Watson is on a cheap rookie deal.

Through three seasons, Tunsil has been nothing more than a decent offensive lineman. The former 13th overall pick has never made a Pro Bowl and is generally an average player at his position: Tunsil ranked just 36th in Pro Football Focus grade last year among tackles. The Texans may believe the 25-year-old to grow has room to grow, and for what it’s worth, he’s a better pass blocker than run blocker, and Houston has a far greater need for the former. But it feels like the Texans were desperate for any kind of upgrade at tackle and were out of options, and the Dolphins leveraged them for all that was worth.

But let’s return to Miami. Normally teams don’t tank, or don’t make their tanking obvious—but there is almost no other way to interpret this move for the Dolphins. The tank is obvious, especially when there is a star quarterback on the line. Sitting at the top of 2020 draft boards is Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay called “a special talent” earlier in August. Even if the Dolphins aren’t specifically targeting Tua—and a lot would have to go perfectly for both Miami to end up with the no. 1 pick and Tua to be the no. 1 player by the 2020 draft—Miami is following the Browns’ plan of tanking. The Dolphins are now flush with draft picks for the next two seasons:

This haul isn’t unlike what Cleveland just pulled off by turning extra firsts from the Texans (via the Deshaun Watson trade) and Eagles (via the Carson Wentz trade) into the young core that makes the Browns the most intriguing team in football entering 2019. But Cleveland’s stunning rebuild wouldn’t have been possible without their 1-31 stretch through the 2016 and 2017 seasons, which ultimately netted the team the prized jewel in their rebuild: 2018 no. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield.

In that area, the Dolphins too are primed to succeed (or, uh, fail). This roster has few standouts, including Pro Bowl corner Xavien Howard, but little else to get excited about. Following the Tunsil trade, the Miami offensive line is made up of former undrafted free agents and longtime ineffective starters. The defensive is being held together by duct tape. The Dolphins may not pull off the Browns’ 0-16 disaster, but they’ll lose plenty of games and are easily the early favorite for the top pick in 2020. Even if another team beats Miami to the top of the draft, there is always the possibility the Dolphins tank extends another season and they get Clemson passer Trevor Lawrence, the way-too-early top prospect for the 2021 draft.

It wasn’t too long ago that the Dolphins seemingly had no plan. Now their path forward is clear: Miami is the latest team to adopt the Process.