Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores last week made the point that he doesn’t like comparing players or “look at other situations and make decisions off of what other people are doing.”
And general manager Chris Grier has in the past complained that sometimes reporters and others compare the drafts of one team to another, going so far as to suggest in hindsight the Dolphins should have picked different players over their choices.
Well then, perhaps both men had better look away.
Not everyone agrees that comparing players or situations is off limits. And they’re doing comparisons that involve the Dolphins on national TV.
You knew this was coming when the Dolphins were one of three teams that picked quarterbacks within the top six selections of the 2020 NFL draft.
You knew the Cincinnati Bengals picking Joe Burrow first, the Dolphins picking Tua Tagovailoa fifth, and the Los Angeles Chargers picking Justin Herbert sixth was going to draw comparisons whether Flores and Grier liked it or not.
So here we are.
After the New Orleans Saints defeated the Chargers 30-27 in overtime and Herbert had something of a national telecast unveiling on Monday Night Football, ESPN analyst Ryan Clark said something that might make the Dolphins and their fans cringe.
“This dude is a star,” Clark said of Herbert. “I didn’t think he was last year when I watched him in person [against] Arizona State. But to see what he’s doing now, I’m starting to ask the question, ‘Did the Miami Dolphins make the wrong pick?’ “
Herbert, making his fourth NFL start, played well Monday night. For a while there I wondered if I was watching the “QBs the Dolphins Should’ve Had Bowl,” as Herbert and Brees battled it out.
Herbert completed 20 of 34 passes for 264 yards against the Saints. He threw four touchdown passes, including a 64-yarder in the fourth quarter with 3:40 to play that gave the Chargers a 27-20 lead.
He also drove the Chargers from their 20-yard line to the New Orleans 32-yard line in regulation’s final 47 seconds to give kicker Michael Badgley a chance to win the game on a 50-yard field-goal attempt.
Badgley, the former University of Miami kicker, missed. He also missed an extra point following Los Angeles’s first score, which obviously proved important later.
That’s not the point.
The point was stated by ESPN game analyst Louis Riddick who noted that while other people are speculating about Herbert’s ceiling once he gains experience and understands his own offense and opposing defenses better, he views it through a different lens.
Riddick says he’s marveling at Herbert’s floor.
Because, he said, Herbert has admitted everything is still “a blur” to him. The NFL game is still foreign to him.
And yet at that rock bottom ... four touchdown passes without an interception against the Saints.
Herbert has nine TDs to three interceptions in his four games. And his losses have come to Drew Brees in overtime, Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes in overtime and Teddy Bridgewater.
So if this is the floor, the bottom from which Herbert is going to improve, the Chargers might be onto something special.
They are losing and feeling frustrated because of that. But somewhere, ownership has to be encouraged it has found its quarterback of the future.
That’s how it sometimes works, folks. There is pain necessary on the front end to enjoy some gain later on.
You will recall in 1983, Dolphins coach Don Shula was frustrated with starting quarterback David Woodley. And down, 27-0 at the Los Angeles Raiders in that season’s third game, Shula pulled Woodley and inserted rookie Dan Marino.
The Dolphins lost the game 27-14 after Marino threw two fourth-quarter touchdowns. The story goes that Shula was grinning ear to ear for much of that long plane ride home after the loss.
Shula realized he had a special player that was about to change things for the franchise.
My guess is the Dolphins enjoyed a happy flight home from Sunday’s 43-17 whipping of the San Francisco 49ers. But that victory won’t go down as a milestone in club history like that Raiders loss did. It might help Miami get to .500 eventually but a franchise-defining quarterback was not discovered in Santa Clara.
Because Tagovailoa didn’t move from the Miami sideline all game. He has not played all season. So we have no idea if the Dolphins’ future is bright or not yet.
While Herbert is impressing the national pundits with his play, Tagovailoa has not been able to beat out Ryan Fitzpatrick.
This isn’t a criticism of Tagovailoa. For all we know, if he were given the opportunity, he might show himself to be the best of the three rookie quarterbacks picked in the top 10.
But he has not been given the opportunity the other two have.
This also really isn’t a criticism of the Dolphins. They have decided they know better than the Bengals or the Chargers so they’re following their conscience in handling their quarterback situation as they seem fit.
History will judge them right or wrong.
This is simply a recounting of the reality now. Only two of the three rookie quarterbacks picked in the top 10 of the 2020 NFL Draft are playing. And both are generally playing well.
And the third player who hasn’t been allowed off the bench is Tagovailoa. And, yes, people are starting to wonder if the Dolphins got it right or not as a result.
Is this judgment based on a comparison? You bet.
Comparisons are a fact of life in sports.