Despite suffering a concerning hip injury late in the college football season, Tua Tagovailoa is still expected to go somewhere in the top 10 of April's NFL Draft. His medicals came back with no red flags at the combine, so this outcome is all but assured barring unexpected developments on that front. The Dolphins have long been pegged as a suitor for Tagovailoa, even before the season; they have no long-term prospects at quarterback and traded all their best players this year to attempt to reload through the draft.
But they weren't as bad as everyone expected, ending up with the fifth overall pick instead of a top-two selection like most pundits and fans predicted. The Bengals finished the year with the worst record in the league, but Tagovailoa's injury (combined with Joe Burrow's historic season) takes him out of the running for the first overall selection. The Dolphins got a bit lucky in that the three teams after Cincinnati (Washington, Detroit, and the Giants) all have the quarterback position filled with either a vet or a high draft pick. But as the draft draws closer, it's clear Miami needs to trade up with one of these teams to ensure they get their man.
All three potential suitors have made it clear they're open to discussion. Ron Rivera said Washington is looking at every option, and revealed the team met with both Joe Burrow and Tagovailoa at the combine already. Bob Quinn said a trade is certainly on the table for Detroit. When he wasn't diagnosing himself with thick, rhino hide, Dave Gettleman told media yesterday that the Giants were open for business. This is obviously good news for the Dolphins if they do decide to trade up, but it also complicates things for them because any particularly enterprising franchise could jump ahead of the five slot to nab Tagovailoa.
The Dolphins should be able to outbid any potential trade partner in the 2-5 zone, at least when it comes to this year's draft; they have two first-round picks other than their own, as well as two second-rounders. The Lions or Giants may prefer a godfather offer from a team like the Chargers in the form of future draft picks, but if Miami is willing to offer up one of their two additional first-rounders, they'll be in pole position for a potential trade.
That's a valuable place to be in, because teams will be calling to trade up. If the top two go as expected (Burrow to Cincinnati, Chase Young to Washington), it's widely assumed the Dolphins will take Tagovailoa at No. 5 after Detroit and New York take non-quarterbacks. But all it takes is one enthusiastic organization to give one of those two teams enough incentive to move back a few spots. The aforementioned Chargers are looking for a new face of their franchise and it wouldn't be a surprise to see them throw away future assets to land Tagovailoa. The Raiders aren't enamored with Derek Carr and Jon Gruden won't shy away from a home run swing, although Mike Mayock might. The Panthers seem committed to Cam Newton now, but that can always change.
The Dolphins could sit tight and hope Tagovailoa falls to them. All things considered, that's the most likely outcome; they can easily outbid the other teams in the top 10 with an interest in a QB (Los Angeles and Carolina), and it would take an enormous offer to convince Gettleman or Quinn to drop out of the top 10. But what if Washington decides to go the same route the Cardinals did last year, taking an elite talent and shipping out their second-year quarterback? Or if the Lions or Giants decide to take whatever the Chargers or Panthers will offer without giving Miami a chance to match?
The margin of error is extremely slim when it comes to the fortunes of NFL franchises. Tagovailoa could be very good for a long time in Miami, an organization that has been searching for their next signal-caller since Dan Marino hung up the cleats. They could roll the dice and hope Tagovailoa survives until the fifth pick, and that very well could work out. But the cost of an extra pick or two, even if one is a first-round selection, to ensure he comes to Miami is a small price to pay when considering the payoff Tagovailoa can give them. Trading up is their only route if they truly believe Tagovailoa is their future.