Dolphins' reported interest level in Clowney says more about their 2020 QB plans

The Miami Herald delivered a heck of a one-two punch with a report on Wednesday.

Shot: It doesn’t sound like Jadeveon Clowney will be a Miami Dolphin this season.

Chaser: The reported reason why doesn’t reflect all that well on Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen.

The Herald’s Armando Salguero wrote that that Dolphins “will not” be pursuing Clowney, the Houston Texans pass rusher who remains at loggerheads with his current team over a new contract.

For one, the draft-pick cost is too high. And are the Dolphins really one pass rusher away from contending right now? Even a mild skeptic likely would scoff at that idea.

But the biggest news is the real reason why, per Salguero. They are saving up all their draft capital to be able to draft a quarterback in the 2020 NFL draft.

Now, that’s not exactly shocking to read. After all, Miamifolk in some corners have been chanting “Tank for Tua” and “Suck for the Duck” for a while now.

Still, this doesn’t reflect all that well currently for Rosen, the second-year quarterback whom the team traded for this offseason. The price Miami paid — second- and fifth-round picks — did not cripple the team that much, but Rosen was, after all, the 10th pick in the draft less than 18 months ago.

Surely his stock has not fallen that far, has it?

Josh Rosen not only has to win the Miami Dolphins' starting QB job this season, but he might have a 2020 NFL draft rookie battling him next year. (Getty Images)
Josh Rosen not only has to win the Miami Dolphins' starting QB job this season, but he might have a 2020 NFL draft rookie battling him next year. (Getty Images)

Dolphins locked in on 2020 NFL draft QBs?

Salguero writes that the Dolphins are dialed in on finding “the best [quarterback] they can find in the first round. And it feels like it’s in ink the way the report is written.

“it’s a real thing now. It’s a practical certainty.”

How real? The Dolphins reportedly have made plans to attend “nearly all the games” this season of what appears to be the Big Three of 2020 draft quarterbacks — Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, Oregon’s Justin Herbert and Georgia’s Jake Fromm.

That’s notable. That the Dolphins have already made such drastic measures to chart those three quarterbacks suggests that it’s pretty darned likely they’ll be in on one of them next spring.

Even if the Dolphins are not a great team this fall, we don’t expect them to tank either. We’ve spoken to former coworkers of first-year Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, and to a man they’ve painted the picture of a coach who will do everything in his power to win games in Year One and start building a new culture where losing is not accepted.

That doesn’t mean they’re going to the playoffs, of course — far from it. Miami’s talent is substandard. The QB situation is unsettled. There’s a lack of defined playmakers. The offensive line might need continued work. Defensively, there are pieces but far from a complete picture. You get the idea.

But even if the Dolphins aren’t a bottom-five team in the standings this season, everything in this report suggests it would not at all dissuade them from making a move for the right passer.

What it might cost to land a QB in 2020

The Dolphins have loaded up on draft picks next spring. They might need several to move up for a QB.

Miami currently has extra picks in Rounds Two (from the New Orleans Saints), Four (from the Tennessee Titans), Six (from the Dallas Cowboys) and Seven (from the Kansas City Chiefs). The Dolphins also have all of their original picks save for the fifth-rounder they sent to Arizona to land Rosen.

They also stand to get some help via compensatory picks, with Over The Cap’s Nick Korte currently projecting the Dolphins to receive third- and fifth-round picks. (That could change, however, depending on whether a few free agents Miami let go make other teams, etc.)

But right now we’re talking about Miami having a dozen picks or more. This is also a team that could be picking in the upper half of each round. The war chest of assets isn’t overflowing, but it’s respectable.

The majority of teams drafting a quarterback in Round 1 in recent years have done so via a trade up. Prior to this year’s draft, there had been a streak of 10 out of the 11 previous quarterbacks going in the first round landing with teams that traded into that spot. Baker Mayfield was the exception as the top pick in 2018, but three more — Kyler Murray, Daniel Jones and Dwayne Haskins — went to original-pick teams in 2019.

Still, that appears to be an outlier. It was not considered a banner year for quarterbacks, and our scouting sources believe that the 2020 draft QB crop will be much more highly sought after.

That means the Dolphins will have to prepare to move up if they’re not counting on punting on the 2019 season.

As the New York Jets moving up for Sam Darnold in 2018 showed us, the cost of doing business can be high. The Jets sent a first-rounder and three second-rounders to the Indianapolis Colts to move up three slots — from No. 6 overall to the third pick. And doing so didn’t even guarantee the Jets to get the QB they wanted; they were going blind without knowing what the New York Giants’ plans were with the second overall choice.

It appears the Dolphins are prepared for paying market price now. But will that change?

Giving up on Josh Rosen already?

This doesn’t feel like a strong show of support for Rosen, who is battling Fitzpatrick for the starting job this season. The early indication was that Fitzpatrick was leading the QB battle, but Rosen appears to have stacked a few more respectable performances together, even with a somewhat up and down preseason debut last week for Miami.

So Rosen still has a chance to change the Dolphins’ minds, even if he doesn’t win the starting job out of the chute. Fitzpatrick could be the Week 1 starter and face the opening four-game gauntlet (vs. Baltimore and New England, at New England, vs. Chargers) and then make a call on how to proceed.

But not winning the job in Week 1 shortens that timetable for Rosen to prove that he’s a better option for the team in the long term. Is 12 games, hypothetically, enough to do so?

The wheels might be set in motion to draft a QB next spring, but no team worth its salt is going to chisel it into stone now. Does it feel like a very likely possibility? Sure — but calling it a certainty feels a but premature.

Even still, this report coming out is serving as a warning to Rosen that the team isn’t going to be super patient when it comes to his development. After all, his salary — cap hits of less than $2.1 million and $2.8 million in 2020 and 2021, respectively — is such that the Dolphins can easily keep him and a first-round quarterback on the roster the next few years, if needed.

Kyler Murray, the No. 1 overall pick of the Cardinals this spring, will have cap hits in his first four seasons at roughly $6.9 million, $8.0 million, $9.6 million and $11.2 million. That’s peanuts in QB bucks.

The Dolphins could do the same. And right now, it appears they’ve dialed in on Tagovailoa, Herbert and Fromm as quarterbacks who could be in the mix, either with Rosen in the picture or not.

Don’t dismiss this report as early draft nonsense. The Dolphins would be foolish not to consider any of them if the Rosen experiment doesn’t work out. And right now, that’s all it is — a dart throw.

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