NO FEAR GRIER: DOLPHINS GM HAS THE PEDIGREE & CAPITAL TO CONTROL THE 2021 NFL DRAFT
With rumours circling that the Miami Dolphins are receiving calls regarding their newly acquired #6 pick, JMR looks at Chris Grier’s tenure in South Florida to see if there are any clues to what he may do heading into next week’s NFL Draft:
The Early Days: Collecting Draft Capital
After a long career with the Miami Dolphins, with roles of increasing responsibility, Chris Grier can be described in numerous ways but never inactive or boring. In his time as GM we’ve seen almost a full rebuild, with the strategic dismantling of one roster and the building of another. With a history of moving up and down the draft board at will, acquiring future picks and trading for players during the draft itself, there is evidence to support an exciting and unexpected next seven days for the Miami Dolphins and their fans.
You could look at the trades for Josh Rosen, part way through the second day of the 2019 draft. Or the seemingly good value trade for Matt Brieda for a 5th round pick last year. But with no arguments, the trade that keeps on giving starts and ends with moves involving the Philadelphia Eagles.
In his first move, Grier traded the 2016 8th overall pick to the Eagles and in return received Kiko Alonso, Byron Maxwell and the 13th overall pick. Now the Eagles used that 8th pick to trade up again and select Carson Wentz, and Alonso and Maxwell had some nice moments as Dolphins, but they are the forgotten elements of this trade. The key component was pick 13, and an unexpected draft day fall, as Miami was able to select premier LT, Laremy Tunsil.
Laremy Tunsil: The Gift That Keeps On Giving
Tunsil was an incredible pick. Not only did he have some really nice moments as a Miami Dolphin, but in a HUGE trade with the Houston Texans, Miami traded Tunsil and Kenny Stills for a 2020 first and 2021 first and second round picks. In 2020, after further trade backs, this trade yielded high potential CB Noah Igbinoghene and starting Guard Solomon Kindley. In 2021, it left Miami with the number 3 and number 36 picks. But that isn’t where the fun stops.
In an eventful hour of activity just a few weeks before the 2021 draft Chris Grier got very busy. Initially accepting a trade from the San Francisco 49ers, giving them that #3 pick, Miami received the #12 pick, along with first and third round picks in 2022 and a first in 2023. With fans reeling and tweeting their frenzied response to such a move, another trade was announced less than half an hour later.
Grier had used a 2022 first round pick, and along with swapping mid round picks this year, traded BACK UP from #12 and into the #6 pick. Another, often overlooked, aspect to this trade, was that the 2022 pick used by Grier was not the one they gained from the 49ers, but their own. I love this move. This is a move that says, I believe in my plan, I believe in my moves and the team and staff I have built. I believe we will have a better season than the 49ers, so I want to keep their pick. Time will tell if he is correct, but I like the belief that this shows. This trade, by the way, was with the Philadelphia Eagles.
So at the start of this in 2016, the Miami Dolphins held the #8 pick. Now in 2021 we are still feeling the ripple effects of that pick which has so far turned into: 2 years of Laremy Tunsil, Noah Igbinoghene, Soloman Kindley, 2021 #6 and #36 picks, a 2022 3rd round pick, a 2023 1st round pick…and should Grier see fit, the deals may not be done.
A long story starting and ending with trades with the Eagles, showing exactly the type of GM Chris Grier is.
With this in mind, I’ve looked at five hypothetical draft scenarios that Grier could approach as we get closer, and maybe even through the 2021 NFL Draft:
1: Non-Pass Catcher at #6
The obvious move at #6 is to target a new weapon for QB Tua Tagovailoa. Last season, Tua’s WRs dropped a lot of passes in good situations. Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns opted out, and Devante Parker, despite his qualities, seems to get a lot of niggly injuries. With Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, Kyle Pitts and DeVonta Smith all potentially available at #6, it seems to be the Dolphins move.
But what if it isn’t. Miami have been rebuilding their O-Line recently. They paid Ereck Flowers a lot of money last off-season, picked up Matt Skura this off-season and drafted Austin Jackson, Robert Hunt and Soloman Kindley last year. As things stand that looks to be Miami’s starting offensive line.
However, Flowers has so far failed to live up to his wage and Skura is on a one-year deal after an underwhelming 2020 season. The rookies all showed promise, and are likely to be part of the long term plan, but their roles don’t seem to be set in concrete just yet. Throw in the reports this week that Penei Sewell, although usually a LT, has been preparing to be drafted as a RT (Tagovailoa’s blindside) and it throws an interesting possibility.
Sewell has clearly been one of the premier tackles in college football over the last two years, and with at least 3 QBs seemingly due to be taken before Miami pick at #6, there is a chance that they will have Sewell available to them. They also have the much talked about #18 pick where players such as Rashod Bateman and Kadarius Toney should be available and still get their QB a highly talented, round 1 receiver.
Drafting Sewell would allow Miami to add a long term, elite talent at RT and protect the blindside of their young franchise QB. That would allow Robert Hunt to move inside to RG with Kindley taking Flowers place at LG and Austin Jackson set as LT. With the potential to address the center position in this draft too, Miami have the chance to have a full QB and O-Line unit ready to grow together for a long time to come.
2: Addressing Running Back
Trying to understand Grier’s view on the running back position is like trying to figure out the Enigma Code. Last year, Miami’s two most impressive running backs were 7th rounder Myles Gaskin and the undrafted Salvon Ahmed. They have also rostered undrafted Patrick Laird in the last two years, who was allegedly mistaken as an intern when he first arrived at the Dolphin’s facility. In last year’s draft they were in position to draft one of Jonathan Taylor, JK Dobbins or DeAndre Swift, and passed on all three at least once. That would point towards Grier believing that value can be found in the bottom end of the draft.
However, on the opposite end of that, last year he paid Jordan Howard $10m for two years, before releasing him mid year. He then traded fifth round picks for both Matt Breida and DeAndre Washington, albeit with little success in either case. He also bid hard on LeVeon Bell when he became available, and if Bell is to be believed there was a significant amount of money on the table which nearly had him chose the Dolphins over the Chiefs at that time. So maybe Grier DOES see value in investing significant resources into the position.
So what might that mean for the draft? Well the two biggest names being heavily linked at the moment are Najee Harris and Javonte Williams, with Clemson’s Travis Etienne in the mix too. The probabilities are that Miami will look to use pick #36 on a running back, should one of those names be still available – with Williams seemingly the best fit in terms of value, play style and availability.
That said the link to Harris can’t be ignored. Tagovailoa described his and Harris’ college relationship as “the same person in different bodies”, and they played a lot of football together at Alabama. Harris is also well versed in the RPO offense Miami are developing with Tua, and Coach Brian Flores had plenty of time to get to know Harris during his time coaching the Senior Bowl. Miami may need to use their #18 pick to get him, but after what they tried to invest in LeVeon Bell, maybe they are ready to do that.
There are of course many other names and possibilities at other points in the draft, but I believe the signs are that Grier will not go another year missing out on the three best Running Back prospects.
3: Trading Xavien Howard
I will start by saying, I HATE this option. Howard was in the running for Defensive Player of the Year. He had an incredible 10 interceptions in 2020, including picks against previous Superbowl finalist Jimmy Garoppolo, rookie of the year Justin Herbert, the ever impressive Russell Wilson and an incredible one-handed grab against League MVP Patrick Mahomes. Why, oh why would you trade him?
I wouldn’t… but Grier might. Grier has shown that he won’t hesitate to trade out players who are at their maximum value. Laramy Tunsil and Minkah Fitzpatrick being two obvious examples. Arguably he would never get better value for Howard than if he traded him now. Howard has also signed to a new agent, and is rumoured to be unhappy to be earning less than his team-mate Byron Jones who has had 4 total interceptions in the last 4 years, less than half of Howard’s 2020 total alone.
With a new contract demand potentially round the corner despite being on a hefty 2022 and 2023 contract already, Grier may take the chance to reap a handsome reward whilst simultaneously eliminating any potential hold out and future cap numbers. In terms of suitors, there are plenty of people who would like Xavien Howard on their team; Miami would not be short of offers. But going to Jerry Jones at the Cowboys could be his first call. Willing to spend money, desperate to make a playoff challenge and sat on the current #10 pick, Miami could seek to tempt him.
If they were able to tempt the Cowboys out of their #10 pick, that could open the door to draft Howard’s replacement almost immediately, with Patrick Surtain II most likely available. The son of Dolphin favourite Patrick Surtain I is good value at #10 and has a high ceiling to be the ideal replacement for Howard. But picking #6 and #10 could open the options of taking an OT and WR with those two picks, with Sewell & Rashawn Slater available at OT and one of Ja’Marr Chase, Kyle Pitts, DeVonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle likely to be available too.
This would not be an option I like, I would stay well away from it. But there is both logic and precedent where Grier is concerned and it is one worth keeping an eye on.
4: Trading Back from #6
Having already traded from #3 to #12 and back to #6 again you would think Grier is set now. He must be confident of getting his guy at #6. In all honesty, that is probably true, but by now we know Grier is not afraid to capitalise if the board starts to fall his way.
It is not hard to imagine that picks 1, 2 and 3 are will be QBs. Pick 4 will be interesting, if the Falcons take a QB or trade to a team who wants a QB then that would leave 1 first round calibre QB on the board by the time Miami choose. The Broncos, Patriots, Bears and maybe a couple of surprise teams may be ready to offer a kings ransom to go get that guy, and Grier would be more than happy to listen.
Or perhaps if Atlanta DON’T take a QB, let’s say they take Kyle Pitts, and the Bengals likely take Jamaar Chase or Penei Sewell. That’s two Miami targets off the board and two QBs still available. The price for the Miami #6 pick is high and Grier would definitely be interested. Especially if he could get traction from the Broncos at #9; not only would he get more capital for the future, but he’d still be able to pick in the top 10 with DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle likely still available.
It is unlikely that Miami trade back from #6 at this stage. Grier moved to #6 with a target in mind. But is it outside the realms of possibility? Absolutely not.
5: Trading #18, In Either Direction
Pick 18… now this is one that plenty of fans claim to know what Grier will do. Every fan knows what they would LIKE Grier to do, but really, maybe not even Grier know show this will pan out at this stage. He is so adept at responding to arising situations and negotiating deals that I expect him to have multiple ideas on where this could go.
A trade back is most likely. There are teams who will likely have mid to late round targets who could get twitchy on draft night as names start to disappear of the board. Miami may feel slightly uncomfortable taking a running back at #18, so to trade back with someone like the Bears at 20 or the Titans at 22 could allow them to build future capital, and therefore feel better about a round 1 RB.
But what about a trade up? We know Grier likes his Alabama players, and we know that the NFL likes Alabama WRs. Just last year we saw Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy go in the first round. This year we are likely to see Smith and Waddle added to those names along with others like Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones. And let’s not forget that Miami’s quarterback of the future is ex-Bama QB, Tua Tagovailoa.
Now imagine a draft where Miami get Kyle Pitts, TE or Penei Sewell, OT. What if – in that scenario – Waddle or Smith drop to maybe #13 or #14. Miami have the capabilities and picks in this draft and beyond to put a tempting package together for a team to drop only 4 or 5 slots, and STILL go and get a WR for Tagovailoa, on top of their top 10 pick. That’s before we examine other non-WRs like Micah Parsons, who Brian Flores would LOVE to have in his defense. If he slips, could they be tempted to move and not risk him getting to #18? With fierce rivals the New England Patriots picking at #15, it is maybe not so far fetched that Miami tries a cheeky move up.
We live in a world where Miami most likely pick at #6 and #18 – where they most likely select a pass catcher at their first pick, a defensive player with the second and address their RB room in the second round. But Chris Grier sees past what is most likely, and is very good at keeping his cards close to his chest… Who knows, he may just try ringing the Eagles one, more, time.