Every NFL transaction has a butterfly effect. On Friday, the Dolphins bounced around the 2021 draft’s order, trading the no. 3 pick to the 49ers for their no. 12 pick, then trading with the Eagles for the no. 6 pick. A draft-altering trade flurry is not your average Friday news dump. Miami’s move out of the top three signals that coach Brian Flores and Co. are committing to second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, and the move arms the franchise with premium picks to continue building in the future. Still, the rush of NFL trades felt so bewildering that one might forget how the Dolphins got here, and how they’ve built a war chest of draft capital off one of the best trades in recent history.
Minutes before the 2016 draft began, former Ole Miss tackle Laremy Tunsil’s social media accounts were hacked and a video showing Tunsil smoking from a bong while wearing a gas mask was posted to his Twitter account. Shortly afterward, a text exchange was posted to Tunsil’s Instagram account in which he asked an official in the Ole Miss athletic department for money. Tunsil, a projected top-10 pick, slipped to 13th, where the Dolphins snatched him. Three years later, in August 2019, Miami shipped Tunsil, receiver Kenny Stills, and a fourth- and sixth-round pick to Bill O’Brien and the Texans. The heist-like transaction benefited both the Dolphins and, in a significant monetary way, Tunsil. Miami received a 2020 first-round pick (no. 26), a 2021 first-round pick (no. 3), and a 2021 second-round pick (no. 36)—and they haven’t stopped dealing since.
The Laremy Tunsil trade for Miami has now netted them: the 26th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the 12th, 36th and 102nd picks in the 2021 NFL Draft plus a 2022 first-round pick and 2023 first-round pick.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) March 26, 2021
Quite a deal.
The Dolphins traded the 2020 draft’s no. 26 pick to the Packers—who selected QB Jordan Love—in exchange for that year’s 30th pick and a fourth-round pick. Miami selected cornerback Noah Igbinoghene, who had an up-and-down rookie season, with the first-round choice. The Dolphins had already drafted Tagovailoa fifth and offensive tackle Austin Jackson 18th, the latter chosen with one of the picks they’d received from the Steelers after trading star defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick. On Friday, Miami stretched its return on the Tunsil trade even further with its dealings with San Francisco and Philadelphia. Here’s a rundown of the deals:
- 2021 first-round pick (no. 12 overall)
- 2022 first-round pick
- 2022 third-round pick
- 2023 first-round pick
San Francisco receives
- 2021 first-round pick (no. 3)
- 2021 first-round pick (no. 6)
- 2021 fifth-round pick
- 2021 first-round pick (no. 12, via 49ers)
- 2021 fourth-round pick
- 2022 first-round pick (via Dolphins)
In case you’re still scratching your head, the Dolphins ultimately turned the no. 3 pick into the 2021 draft’s no. 6 pick, the Niners’ 2022 first-round pick, the Niners’ 2022 third-round pick, and the Niners’ 2023 first-round pick. That’s a haul! And it’s an example of Miami general manager Chris Grier positioning the franchise to compete for the long haul, while also maintaining aggressiveness in the current window. The Dolphins still haven’t finished reaping the benefits of the Tunsil deal, which will allow them to assemble a playoff-caliber roster around Tagovailoa as they continue to assess him.
There’s been rampant speculation about whether the Dolphins would draft a quarterback with the no. 3 pick following Tagovailoa’s underwhelming rookie season. Tagovailoa dislocated his hip and suffered a posterior wall fracture during his junior season at Alabama, and didn’t play a competitive game again until he made his NFL debut during a Week 6 win against the Jets. Even after Flores named him the starter, he never made the starting job his own: He platooned some with veteran journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick and was even benched for Fitzpatrick in Week 11. Tagovailoa finished the season 29th in completion percentage (64.1 percent), 30th in yards per attempt (6.3), 26th in QBR (52.6), and 28th in adjusted net yards per attempt (5.40). “I would describe my rookie season as below average,” Tagovailoa told Mad Dog Sports Radio’s Adam Schein in early February.
In January, Flores told ESPN’s Cameron Wolfe that he thought the first-year passer had shown enough improvement for him to feel “excited about a future with him,” and urged patience. “I think this is a big offseason for him,” Flores said. “That Year 1 to Year 2 jump will be important, like it is for all rookies.” Grier affirmed Flores’s sentiment when he told reporters in January, “Tua, we’re very happy with. He’s our starting quarterback.” Sure, no one believes NFL personnel anymore when they make those types of statements (see: Kliff Kingsbury and Josh Rosen, Les Snead and Jared Goff, and John Lynch and Jimmy Garoppolo). But the Dolphins backed up the talk, even if they had a prime opportunity to sniff around elsewhere.
The Dolphins, who barely missed the playoffs at 10-6, were reportedly one of the teams expected to “be in the mix” for Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. They were one of the only teams touting the resources necessary to potentially pull off a blockbuster deal for Watson, and were rumored to be one of his preferred destinations. However, Friday’s trade seems to indicate Miami is no longer in pursuit of the Texans’ quarterback. Watson faces numerous civil lawsuits—as of last week, the number was 16—filed by women who say he sexually assaulted them or engaged in inappropriate conduct. Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, said in a statement last week that “any allegation that Deshaun forced a woman to commit a sexual act is completely false.” According to the Houston Chronicle’s John McClain, the Texans had planned on trading Watson before the draft. However, McClain recently wrote, “teams have put their pursuit of Watson on hold until they get more information on his legal issues and see how they’re resolved.”
As for the Dolphins, they’ve begun reshaping their roster and staff to suit Tagovailoa. They hired former third-round pick Charlie Frye, who worked closely with Tagovailoa during an Elite 11 camp in high school, as their quarterback coach. Tight ends coach George Godsey, who worked with Tagovailoa on game days while QB coach Robby Brown missed time because of COVID-19 issues, was promoted to co–offensive coordinator alongside running backs coach Eric Studesville. The in-house hires ensure familiarity for Tagovailoa, whose professional onboarding was delayed until late July last year because of his recovery from injury. On the field, Miami has added former Ravens center Matt Skura, former Texans speedster Will Fuller V, and former Rams tailback Malcolm Brown. It’s not the flashiest bunch, but it’s a very solid group, and they could accentuate the playmakers that Miami already boasts in wideout DeVante Parker and tight end Mike Gesicki.
The Dolphins aren’t done yet. For whatever reason, they felt the need to move back into the top 10 of the upcoming draft order after initially moving out of it Friday. Perhaps Miami is targeting one of the draft’s premier receiving talents. The Ringer’s Danny Kelly recently projected the Dolphins to select LSU receiver Ja’Marr Chase with the sixth pick. He’s previously paired them with Alabama’s DeVonta Smith, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner who played with Tagovailoa for three years. Drafting either player would only further reaffirm the notion that the Dolphins are focused on building around Tagovailoa. Even if they’re not, they’re at least setting themselves up to get a complete idea of how good he can be and seamlessly transition if he’s not up to par. Over the Cap projects Miami to remain in the top half of salary cap space through the next three seasons, meaning Grier will be able to invest as he pleases before needing to make a firm decision on Tagovailoa. If Grier’s savvy trades over the years are any indication, though, the Dolphins will keep thinking several steps—and possibly several years—ahead of their competition.