If it weren’t for an injury-plagued stretch run of the 2019 college football season, combined with the meteoric ascension of one Joseph Lee Burrow from the Bayou, most people assumed — at least back in the late summer and early Fall of 2019 — that the central story line of the 2020 NFL Draft was going to be the quarterback-needy teams jockeying for position to draft quarterback Tua Tagovailoa from the University of Alabama.
But before we dive into the more timely stuff surrounding Tagovaila, let’s get some disclaimers and disclosures out of the way:
- I’ve been a huge fan of his since the day he arrived in Tuscaloosa, having been absolutely captivated by him during Trent Dilfer’s Elite 11 quarterback competition (where he won the MVP award over another strapping quarterback prospect named Trevor Lawrence).
- Being married to an Alabama alumna, I’ve watched almost every Alabama Crimson Tide game in which Tagovailoa was on the team (deliberatey skipping out on the Tide’s annual shit-kicking of hapless victims like New Mexico State or Western Carolina or Arkansas State).
- Even as Jalen Hurts was leading the Tide to a 13–1 season in 2017, I told anyone who’d listen back then that Hurts wasn’t even the best quarterback on his own team:
- I remain firmly belief that if Tagovailoa was two inches taller and 15lbs heavier, NFL Front Offices would have rousing arguments (that border on violence) about whether to take Tagovailoa or Burrow with the #1 overall pick.
- Tagovailoa’s combination of accuracy, anticipation, and ability to process the defense in front of him is as good as any quarterback prospect we’ve seen since Andrew Luck in 2012.
- Meaning yes, at least in regards to those specific traits, I believe he is a more desirable prospect than Burrow. Yup, I said it. Come at me, bro.
And yet, with all of that having been said, when it comes to Tagovailoa’s injury history in Tuscaloosa?
The hip injury is one thing (and a downright terrifying one to boot). But don’t forget the high ankle sprain on his right foot that hobbled him in November and December of 2018, and the severe high-ankle sprain on the same leg in late October of 2019 — an injury requiring a surgical procedure so unique that his own team physician described it as being “like voodoo.”
That type of injury history, comprising those types of injuries, is the type of stuff that should scare the bejeezus out of anyone whose job security is tied to this decision.
And that’s very likely why someone “leaked” the story about Tagovailoa’s current rehabilitation progress — specifically, that he’s sufficiently recovering from said injury, to the point where he could be ready for football activities after a month or so.
Admittedly, the source of this information is very likely Tagovailoa’s agent, who would be doing exactly what he’s hired to do: get his client the best possible selection, translating into the most possible money.
But if the questions around Tagovailoa’s health end up being diminished in the eyes of NFL-types amidst this report, and if teams use this new health development to re-assure themselves into using a a selection very, very high up in the 2020 NFL Draft on Tagovailoa (thereby making him their new franchise cornerstone), then we could be in for an absolute slamboree between a large handful of NFL teams trying to jockey for position among the top 5 selections in this year’s Draft.
The aforementioned (potential) slamboree would be based on two key premises:
- The interest shown in Tagovailoa by the Miami Dolphins — who currently own the 5th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft — is very real.
- NFL teams looking to move up and leapfrog the Dolphins and secure their quarterback of preference, will find very motivated trade partners in the Detroit Lions (at #3 overall) and/or the New York Giants (#4), either (or both?) of whom could be very motivated to sell said picks.
(Personally, I think the odds are substantially more in favor of the team that trades out of the top 5 being the Lions, because I just can’t see Giants’ General Manager Dave Gettleman passing on the chance to badly reach for an offensive lineman in a draft class where the position has been described as “a mixed bag, at best.” But, I digress.)
Regardless, the Dolphins simply cannot stand pat and expect that their guy (let’s continue to assume it’s Tagovailoa) will simply fall to #5. In that same vein, the Los Angeles Chargers simply cannot stand pat and hope that their guy (the signs point to Oregon’s Justin Herbert for the Chargers) falls to them at #6.
So, if we use the NFL Draft Pick Value Chart:
- Miami has the “easiest” road to get to #3. They could send #5 overall plus the better of their two 2nd-round picks (#39 overall) to the Lions, which would be enough ammunition for a trade, at a palatable price for the Dolphins.
- It would potentially cost Los Angeles their 1st, 2nd, and 4th round picks in this year’s draft, meaning they’d be trading away three of their seven total selections. But if the Chargers want Tagovailoa, that’d be the price. Of course, the Chargers could try and strike a deal with the Giants instead, if they really do covet Herbert, which would cost them their 1st and 3rd. That feels a bit less painful, especially if Miami moves up to #3 with the intention of taking Tagovailoa.
But the above scenarios don’t account for any of the other obvious or potentially quarterback-needy times trying to move up and grab either one of those guys:
- If the Carolina Panthers offered their 1st, 2nd, and 4th this year, and 3rd next year, that would be enough to move up to #3 overall to get Tagovailoa. Cam Newton’s tenure is Carolina is tenuous at best, and while that’s one spicy compensation package, new owner David Tepper could continue to put his stamp on this new iteration of the Panthers by snagging their next cornerstone quarterback.
- What if the Jacksonville Jaguars are quietly ‘playing possum’ this whole time, throwing everyone off the scent of any quarterback pursuit by publicly declaring they’ll stick with Nick Foles? Trading their pick (#9 overall) and the pick they acquired from the Los Angeles Rams (#20 overall) in the Jalen Ramsey trade matches perfectly with the cost of the #3 overall pick. The Jaguars could be willing to move both their first round picks knowing they still have at least one pick in every subsequent round, and that there would almost certainly be a market for Gardner Minshew, if they suddenly made him available.
- What if Jon Gruden finally turns heel on Derek Carr, dumping the embattled quarterback — thereby enjoying the near-$12M in salary cap savings such a move would provide — and using the caché of draft assets belonging to the Oakland Raiders to move up for Tagovailoa? The likely price — Oakland’s pick at #12, their other first round pick (coming from the Khalil Mack trade) at #19, and the least valuable of their three 3rd-round picks (coming from the Gareon Conley trade) —to move up to #3 would be quite steep, but would that really bother Gruden, considering he’d still have 7 picks in this year’s draft even after such a deal?
- And my favorite darkhorse scenario: What if the Indianapolis Colts throw their hat in the quarterback race? General Manager Chris Ballard publicly stated that “the jury’s out” in regards to quarterback Jacoby Brissett’s remaining the team’s starting quarterback, and Ballard has built the Colts into one of those teams that’s got (almost) everything else in place outside of the quarterback position. Indianapolis could package their 1st round pick (#13) overall plus both their 2nd-round picks (theirs at #44 plus the #34 pick they got from Washington in the Montez Sweat trade), and that would also match up with the cost of trading with the Lions.
All of the above, of course, assumes the top of the draft indeed goes Joe Burrow to Cincinnati and Chase Young to Washington, as many currently surmise.
(And for the record: if my beloved Washington Redskins somehow find a way to talk themselves out of drafting Young, my rage will know no bounds).
But if the first two picks do remain chalk, when you add it all up, literally 25% of all NFL teams could potentially be involved, at some direct or indirect level, in the pursuit of Tua Tagovailoa.
Which means that, one year after there were exactly zero trades among the top 9 selections in the NFL Draft, we could be in store for the literal opposite end of the spectrum in that regards — except with the “Tank for Tua” sweepstakes having morphed into the “Trade for Tua” free-for-all. ■