DAVIE — On a night when everything seemed to be lining up for the Dolphins to grab a top quarterback in the NFL Draft, they walked out of the first round without one.
They ended up with Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick at No. 11, and maybe in a year or two the phrase “ended up with” will look foolish. Miami already has big-money safeties in Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald, and Fitzpatrick will have to outplay them over time and force them out to make this a smart choice.
But everyone knows the Dolphins need a prized rookie quarterback, and it was a turbulent night waiting to see if one fell to them.
Months ago it looked like 11th was high enough, and in most years it would be. As teams maneuvered and draft boards shifted, Miami’s chances dwindled.
Then came a jolt of hope. The Giants opted for running back Saquon Barkley, and the Broncos veered for defensive end Bradley Chubb at No. 5. That left Josh Allen and Josh Rosen to tumble through the next five picks since none of those teams were in the market for a quarterback.
The Dolphins must’ve been thrilled. They were in line for more than mere leftovers. They’d actually get their choice of Allen or Rosen, and they’ve loved Allen and Baker Mayfield throughout the process.
“Really, the way it all played out, we didn’t think any of the quarterbacks would make it to us,” general manager Chris Grier said. “For us, we talked to a couple of teams about maybe moving up or down, but nothing real serious. For us, at the end of the day, if one of those guys was there, we would have talked about it. But we just didn’t think anybody would be there.”
Grier’s been around long enough to know that luck rarely smiles upon the Dolphins.
The problem was they couldn’t afford to sacrifice anything from their supply of picks as they try to build the roster into a contender over the next two years. They made that decision before the draft and, a credit to them, didn’t give in impulsively amid the frenzy taking place with the picks ahead of them.
They watched helplessly but calmly as the Bills traded two second-rounders to jump to No. 7 and take Allen. Then, on the brink of Miami landing Rosen, Arizona swooped in at No. 10 by giving up a third and fifth to move up from No. 15.
Well in advance of the draft, the Jets ponied up three second-round picks to go from sixth to third to ensure they got a quarterback. They chose Sam Darnold.
Mayfield was the quarterback they coveted, particularly coach Adam Gase, and that dream died immediately when Cleveland stunningly took him No. 1. The Jets took Sam Darnold third, and he’ll be a problem for the Dolphins for years if he’s as good as people think. Many analysts had him as the best overall quarterback in the draft.
Losing out on these quarterbacks will sting even more if Darnold and Allen turn out to be stars and haunt the Dolphins from within the AFC East. The only thing worse than wandering without a franchise quarterback would be watching the Jets and Bills find theirs.
Whether this was as unlucky as 2005, when the Dolphins happened upon a precious No. 2 pick but the best player available was Ronnie Brown, hinges on how good Fitzpatrick becomes. He’s a certified talent from a program that’s as close to the NFL as a college operation can get, so there’s good cause to believe he’ll be an instant contributor.
But nothing’s ever as important as quarterback, and Miami’s rolling toward the upcoming season with Ryan Tannehill coming off knee trouble that’s kept him out since December 2016 and a pair of unproven backups in David Fales and Brock Osweiler.
Ideally, this would have been the time to bring in a top-shelf rookie who could be the No. 2 quarterback this year and put Tannehill on the clock for the long term. In a dream scenario, someone like Mayfield would have come in and immediately challenged for the top job.
“Ryan is our guy,” Grier said, echoing what seems to be the Dolphins’ offseason motto. “We believe in Ryan. He’s going to be our starter.”
He is because he has to be, especially now. The Dolphins might truly believe in Tannehill, but even if they didn’t, they don’t have a choice. They’re committed to however that goes, just like they were when they stood firm at No. 11.
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