The Miami Dolphins’ (potential) search for a new QB just got a lot more complicated

After losing their 2023 first-round pick earlier this week, the Miami Dolphins may not have the assets to replace Tua Tagovailoa if he struggles next year.

The Miami Dolphins failed to land a package deal of Tom Brady and Sean Payton this offseason, and the NFL came down hard on them for trying, docking the club a 2023 first-round pick in addition to further punishment. With Tua Tagovailoa heading into a make-or-break season, Miami’s 2023 draft capital — the ammunition they’d need to potentially find another quarterback — has been significantly reduced.

Dolphins’ 2023 QB options limited following loss of first-round pick

The NFL took away the Dolphins’ 2024 third-round pick — and fined and suspended club executives, including owner Stephen Ross — following its six-month tampering investigation, but Miami’s loss of a 2023 first-rounder will obviously hit the hardest.

The Dolphins previously owned two first-round picks in next year’s draft (both theirs and the 49ers’). Miami will lose its own selection as a result of the league-imposed discipline, not San Francisco’s, regardless of which pick ends up higher in the draft.

Missing out on that extra first-round pick has the potential to upend Miami’s 2023 quarterback plans. The prevailing narrative is that the Dolphins will use the upcoming campaign to evaluate Tagovailoa under new head coach Mike McDaniel. If Tua doesn’t show drastic signs of improvement in his third NFL season, Miami could look elsewhere under center.

It’s been challenging to evaluate Tua’s pro performance thus far. He entered the league with a severe hip injury suffered at Alabama, and since being on the field in Miami, he’s been forced to play behind offensive lines that ranked among the NFL’s worst. Further injuries have clouded Tagovailoa’s production and blurred his long-term status with the Dolphins.

This offseason, Miami seemingly set out to ensure Tua would have every chance to succeed in 2023. In addition to hiring an offensive whiz in McDaniel, the Dolphins acquired and extended All-Pro wide receiver Tyreek Hill, pairing him with 2021 rookie standout Jaylen Waddle in a revamped passing attack. Miami also brought in former Cowboy Cedrick Wilson Jr. to fill their WR3 void and used the franchise tag on tight end Mike Gesicki.

The Dolphins added running backs Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert, and Sony Michel to a new-look backfield, and they invested along the offensive line. Terron Armstead, one of the league’s best tackles, will take over on the left side, while Connor Williams will slot in at center.

Provided he stays healthy, we should finally see the real Tua — for better or worse. If he succeeds, Tagovailoa should be in line for a massive extension at $45 million per year or more. If he fails, the Dolphins will have to explore their options, and that lack of an additional first-round pick will prove critical.

The Dolphins are relying on the 49ers being bad in 2023

By acquiring San Francisco’s 2023 first-round pick, the Dolphins gave themselves both extra draft capital and optionality. If needed, they could have packaged those picks together and moved up in a 2023 draft that will feature far more QB talent than 2022.

How high could Miami have moved up? Well, it all depends on where their and San Francisco’s selections landed next year. In the Dolphins’ case, they’d only be searching for a new signal-caller if Tagovailoa struggled in the upcoming season. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s imagine Miami would have finished 7-10 in 2022 and ended up with the 12th overall pick in the 2023 draft.

The 49ers, meanwhile, are expected to contend again next season, even as de facto rookie quarterback Trey Lance figures things out. DraftKings has San Francisco’s win total pegged at 10. Anything could happen if the 49ers make it to the playoffs, but let’s say SF would have ended up with the 22nd selection in next year’s draft.

In his most recent 2023 mock draft, PFN’s Cam Mellor projected four quarterbacks — Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Alabama’s Bryce Young, Kentucky’s Will Levis, and South Carolina’s Spencer Rattler — to come off the board within the top 10. But no other signal-callers were selected in the remainder of the first round. Miami likely would have been forced to trade up to land one of next year’s elite passers.

According to both the Fitzgerald-Spielberger draft value chart and Chase Stuart of Football Perspective’s data, the Dolphins could have packaged their projected early first-round pick and the 49ers’ mid-to-late first-rounder to move up all the way to No. 1 overall.

Trade-ups for quarterbacks always come at a premium, so it might not be quite realistic to say Miami could have found itself at the very top of the draft. But even the classic Jimmy Johnson trade chart, which severely overvalues early first-round picks and places less emphasis on mid-first-rounders, thinks the Dolphins could have moved up to the third or fourth overall selection.

Instead, Miami now has to hope and pray that San Francisco struggles and misses the postseason next year. The Dolphins need the 49ers’ first-round pick to be pushed up as high as possible. Otherwise, general manager Chris Grier will have to consider trading future assets — the opposite of his team-building plan to this point — to move up for a quarterback in 2023.

Could the Dolphins pursue a veteran quarterback in 2023?

Miami has already tried to replace Tua twice, both with Brady and Deshaun Watson, so it probably won’t take much for the club to move on from the 24-year-old. If the Dolphins realize that they don’t have enough draft capital to secure a top rookie next year, they could conceivably turn to the veteran market in search of a better option.

The only problem? The free agent quarterback options in 2023 are severely lacking. Sure, Brady will be a free agent, but it seems inconceivable that Miami will go down that road again. Unless the Ravens somehow let Lamar Jackson get away (they won’t), the best available QBs will be Jimmy Garoppolo, Baker Mayfield, and Daniel Jones — all passers that could have been (or could still be) acquired for next to nothing this offseason.

Quarterback trades have been all the rage in recent years, but there won’t be a Matthew Stafford or Russell Wilson-esque QB available next March. Now that the Cardinals have extended Kyler Murray, Derek Carr and Kirk Cousins are probably the best quarterbacks that could be dangled in trade talks in 2023. Carr and Cousins are above-average QBs, but they’re not top-10 players at the position. They’d both represent an upgrade, but they wouldn’t solidify Miami under center for the next decade.

The Dolphins’ best-case scenario in 2022? Tagovailoa blossoms under McDaniel’s tutelage and finally fulfills the promise that he showed as a national champion at Alabama. In addition, the 49ers and Lance struggle, giving Miami an early-first-round selection in the 2023 draft to be used at a position other than QB.

Worst case? Tua either gets hurt again or definitively shows that he’s not a franchise QB. At the same time, San Francisco makes a deep playoff run, leaving the Dolphins with a pick at the tail end of the first round and few options to rectify their long-standing quarterback problem.

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