NFL offseason change benefits the Miami Dolphins and the team’s desire for secrecy

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Barry Jackson
·6 min read
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A six-pack of Miami Dolphins notes on a Friday:

The Dolphins, under Brian Flores, have been as secretive as any team in football.

They refuse to say when a player is out for the season, admonish personal trainers who reveal such information, decline to confirm the hiring of an offensive coordinator three weeks after the information was leaked to two national networks, and fume when lineup decisions are revealed a day before a game.

(Let me be clear that all of that is their right, and the Dolphins actually have an excellent media relations staff with Jason Jenkins, Matt Taylor and Brett Brecheisen. So this is not a complaint.)

Why do I bring this up? Because one of the NFL’s rule changes involving COVID-19 very much helps the Dolphins in their attempt to conceal information.

In past years, teams could summon 30 non-local draft prospects to team headquarters, and I made it a mission to uncover those clandestine visits. Miami often drafted or later signed players that visited.

But this season, there are no 30 visits permitted because of COVID. And there is no limit on the number of players that any team can interview virtually.

According to an NFL spokesman, teams can interview an unlimited number of players but can do no more than five video sessions with any one player.

So unlike past years, you won’t be seeing reports — here or anywhere — that Miami has displayed interest in a draft prospect by flying him to team headquarters because there will be no such visits.

And while that might curtail the type of pre-draft fodder that many fans love, that helps the Dolphins’ in their perpetual attempt to keep their business out of public view.

We hear there has been discussion inside the Dolphins about whether to clear out a lot of cap space and be very aggressive again in free agency.

At least one person is the Dolphins upper brass supports another spending spree, but a decision must still be made. Miami can go from $26 million to more than $60 million in cap space by restructuring some players and cutting others.

Ultimately, the Dolphins will telegraph their moves in the days or hours before the start of March 15 free agency. If they restructure the deals of their highest paid veterans and cut a handful of players, you’ll know they’ll be willing to spend significant money.

The Dolphins’ chances of acquiring Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson hinge largely on whether he’s made available before the draft (decent chance before, poor chance after). And at this point, it’s dubious whether the Texans will make him available before the draft, with NFL Network reporting Thursday that Houston isn’t considering any offers and changing the topic when teams asked about Watson.

As one NFL official told me: Texans general manager Nick Caserio “doesn’t want to be known as the guy who trades Deshaun Watson.”

And as NBC’s Peter King wrote this week: “I’m told [Caserio is] categorically opposed to trading Watson, period — either in the next nine weeks before the draft (when he’d clearly get the best deal to start the Texans’ post-Watson lives) or ever. It’s easy to say that, of course, when the deadline is far away. It’s easy to say that too, when you know that trading a 25-year-old franchise quarterback is crazy, and when fresh in the memory of all Houston fans is the warm-and-fuzzy press conference just 24 weeks ago when a grateful and emotional Watson was so thrilled to sign a $156-million contract extension with the Texans.”

So what could change Caserio’s position? Perhaps if Watson makes his trade request public — so far, he and his agent haven’t addressed the matter publicly — and if he insults the Texans publicly. Of course, Caserio also could call Watson’s bluff and see if he would actually go through with his threat of never playing for the Texans again.

Though Tua Tagovailoa seemingly does his best work in the shotgun — with the field spread — his passer rating in the shotgun (87.5) was only slightly better than his passer rating under center. He finished at 87.1 overall.

His passer rating was best when he had only two receivers (91.4), though I wouldn’t read much into that.

King noted that an “NFL personnel man who is scouting quarterbacks heavily” said that three among presumptive No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence, BYU’s Zach Wilson, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance and Ohio State’s Justin Fields will be taken in the first four picks and that “the Eagles [at six] will be lucky to have a good one fall to them.”

If that proves to be the case on draft day, then the Dolphins should have a decent chance of moving down from No. 3 and pick up a future first-rounder or multiple second-rounders.

The Jets pick No. 2 and reportedly want to finish their analysis of Wilson/Lance/Fields before deciding whether to trade Sam Darnold. The Atlanta Falcons, picking fourth, have said that Matt Ryan will be their quarterback in 2021 but haven’t ruled out drafting a successor, and Kiper predicts that in his latest mock draft by having the Falcons move up to the Jets’ spot at No. 2 to take Wilson.

Cincinnati, at No. 5, won’t be picking a quarterback but could move down a few spots if one of the top QBs is on the board when the Bengals pick.

An associate of receiver Albert Wilson said the Wilson camp isn’t expecting the Dolphins to automatically plug him into a significant role in 2021 and aren’t even sure whether he even makes it to training camp.

Releasing Wilson would clear out $2.9 million in cap space, with $2.3 million in dead money. But $1 million of his $2.1 million base is guaranteed. His status with the team is tenuous.

Names that most often continue to be linked to the Dolphins’ pick at 18: Michigan edge player Kwity Paye, UM defensive ends Greg Rousseau and Jaelan Phillips, Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Alabama running back Najee Harris and UF receiver Kadarius Toney. Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons would be difficult to pass up if he very surprisingly slips to 18th.

NFLdraftscout’s Matt Miller, now appearing regularly on ESPN, opts for Paye in his latest mock draft, with this explanation:

“Running back Najee Harris has been a popular pick at this spot in my previous mock drafts, but securing an edge-rusher with the speed-to-power traits head coach Brian Flores wants is too juicy to pass up.”

Kiper has Miami selecting Owusu-Koramoah in his latest mock, explaining it this way, adding: “I’m interested to see what Miami does in free agency. With a deep class of free-agent receivers, it’s possible this team could find its No. 1 wideout there instead of using the No. 3 pick on one.

“In that case, I’d still suggest drafting a receiver with one of these picks and thinking defense with the other. I mocked Owusu-Koramoah to the Dolphins in January; he could be an instant starter with Elandon Roberts and Kamu Grugier-Hill hitting free agency. General manager Chris Grier and coach Brian Flores have built a solid foundation — this is an ascending team.”