MIAMI — On Nov. 3, one day after the NFL’s trade deadline expired, Miami Dolphins general manager Chris Grier walked briskly into a small room filled with as many reporters as the league’s COVID-19 protocols would allow.
This was his first time speaking to local media in an official capacity since the 2021 NFL draft, and while he can be described as quiet and reserved, he has been anything but as GM. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Grier has orchestrated the second-most trades (26) in the NFL since the start of 2019. He has traded All-Pros, such as safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and left tackle Laremy Tunsil; dealt quarterback Ryan Tannehill; and added polarizing players, such as quarterback Josh Rosen.
But after all the wheeling and dealing, it’s unclear if Grier’s aggressive moves will pay off.
Miami is 40-49 since Grier became GM in 2016, and most of his deals have been to acquire draft capital to build for the future. He stripped down the roster prior to the 2019 season, shedding salary and accumulating draft picks, and it led to a promising 10-6 finish in 2020.
But in 2021, the year everything was supposed to come together, Miami has sputtered to a 2-7 start as it prepares to host the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday (8:20 p.m. ET, Fox/NFL Network).
There are no indications Grier’s job is in jeopardy, but that could change if Miami can’t turn its season around and finish strong.
“We’re all frustrated,” Grier said. “We’re trying to turn this thing around in the second half of the season. But we’ve added good, young players.
“We’re happy with where they are, and we think they’ll keep developing.”
Grier has had 13 top-90 picks in the past three drafts, but his moves at quarterback and offensive line could define his Miami legacy.
Tannehill, traded in 2019, has helped lead the Tennessee Titans (7-2) to the AFC’s best record. And Grier used the No. 5 overall pick in 2020 to select quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. With a 7-7 record, 18 TD passes and 10 interceptions, the verdict on Tagovailoa is incomplete.
ESPN NFL draft analyst Jordan Reid said the Dolphins’ picks looked good on paper prior to each draft under Grier, but noted his use of four top-90 picks over the past three drafts on offensive linemen (Liam Eichenberg, Austin Jackson, Robert Hunt and Michael Deiter) has not panned out. Miami has the worst pass block win rate in the NFL at 44.6% and has allowed the most pressures in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.
“The offensive line is just something he’s missed on consistently,” Reid said. “I think that’s really what’s set this rebuild back.”
As Miami tries to turn its season around in the second half, here is a look back at Grier’s six drafts.
Starting for Miami: Howard
Reid’s take: “[Tunsil] ended up being a successful player for them before the trade happened. … I think [Howard is] one of the bigger hits that they’ve had over the past six drafts.”
Overview: Grier’s tenure as GM got off to an excellent start, trading down and still getting an eventual Pro Bowler in the first round (Tunsil) and landing Howard in the second. Grier even added Drake in the third round and future second-team All-Pro return man Grant in the sixth. From this eight-man draft class, however, only Howard remains on the team. Grier traded Tunsil to Houston for a 2020 first-round pick that became QB Jordan Love (Packers), a 2021 first-round pick that became QB Trey Lance (49ers) and a 2021 second-round pick Miami used to take safety Jevon Holland. Grier also sent Grant to Chicago for a 2023 sixth-round pick. Drake signed with Arizona in free agency, and third-round pick Carroo, whom Miami traded up to select at No. 86, was out of the league by 2019.
It seemed to be a promising time for the Dolphins, who went 10-6 in 2016. Considering guard Joe Thuney (78) and safety Justin Simmons (98) were taken after Drake, they can be counted as misses, but they are not nearly as egregious as what took place the following year.
Starting for Miami: None
Reid’s take: “[Passing on Watt] was a big-time miss. A lot of people were surprised that Charles Harris even ended up going in the first round — he didn’t have a lot of production coming out of Mizzou. … I think that was a big-time reach for Miami, it’s one of the worst picks that they’ve had.”
Overview: This was a chaotic season for the Dolphins as Tannehill tore his ACL during training camp, Hurricane Irma forced them to move their home opener and starting linebacker Lawrence Timmons temporarily went missing before Week 1.
All that aside, this was without a doubt Grier’s worst draft class. It started with his selection of Harris over Watt, the 2020 Defensive Player of the Year. Grier also passed on All-Pros White and Ramczyk, but the Harris decision really stung because the Dolphins were locked on to the pass-rusher for nearly a month leading up to the draft.
“This was a player that everybody in the building — from personnel to coaches — if you see the video of the room, everyone is going crazy,” Grier said following the pick.
The draft did not get better from there. McMillan was eventually traded to the Raiders in 2020 after three injury-riddled seasons, and Tankersley started 11 games as a rookie but tore his ACL in 2018 and never recovered, eventually being released in 2020. Only seventh-round pick Ford remains with the team.
Picks: DB Minkah Fitzpatrick (No. 11), TE Mike Gesicki (42), LB Jerome Baker (73), TE Durham Smythe (123), RB Kalen Ballage (131), DB Cornell Armstrong (209), LB Quentin Poling (227), K Jason Sanders (229)
Starting for Miami: Gesicki, Baker, Sanders
Player they passed on: QB Lamar Jackson (32)
Reid’s take: “Lamar wasn’t going to be for everybody — and what I mean by that is you have to invest totally in Lamar from a personnel standpoint. … I just don’t know if Miami was able and willing to do that like Baltimore was able to do.”
Overview: Probably Grier’s best draft class. He netted three current starters and a future All-Pro in Fitzpatrick, whom he traded in 2019 for picks in the first round (Austin Jackson) and fifth (DE Jason Strowbridge) in 2020, and a sixth-round pick (traded away) in 2021. Baker played well enough to earn a three-year extension in 2021, and Gesicki has arguably been Miami’s best player this season. He can become an unrestricted free agent after the season.
However, a solid draft did not translate to the field, as the Dolphins missed the playoffs for a second consecutive year. Passing on Lamar Jackson stands out because of his MVP season in 2019 and Tannehill’s departure from Miami that same year.
Starting for Miami: Wilkins, Gaskin, Van Ginkel
Players they passed on: DE Brian Burns (16)
Reid’s take: “Wilkins has been a good player, but whenever you’re talking about adding a player at a premium position like [Burns], I just don’t know how you could pass on that. … I thought [Burns] should have been a top-10 pick, easily.”
Overview: The Dolphins were almost completely devoid of talent in 2019 after Grier gutted the roster, and he did what he could with limited picks. He traded the team’s second- and fifth-round picks to Arizona for Rosen, who spent one season in Miami, started three games and was waived the following year after Tagovailoa arrived. Wilkins and Deiter have been solid, but after passing on Burns the Dolphins have tried repeatedly to add edge rushers.
This regular season kicked off Miami’s two-year plan to purge high-priced talent from its roster and load up on premium draft picks. It was also the first year under head coach Brian Flores, who led the team to a 5-11 record, which was better than expected considering the limited talent.
Picks: QB Tua Tagovailoa (No. 5), OL Austin Jackson (18), DB Noah Igbinoghene (30), OL Robert Hunt (39), DL Raekwon Davis (56), DB Brandon Jones (70), OL Solomon Kindley (111), DE Jason Strowbridge (154), DE Curtis Weaver (164), C Blake Ferguson (185), WR Malcolm Perry (246)
Starting for Miami: Tagovailoa, Jackson, Davis, Hunt, Ferguson
Reid’s take: “Austin Jackson, I thought that was a reach. Noah Igbinoghene definitely was a reach. I don’t think he had any business being a first-round pick just because of how raw he was coming out.”
Overview: This could be Grier’s defining class because of who he passed on. “Tank for Tua” was a popular slogan among Dolphins fans after the team jettisoned talent in 2019 to load up in the 2020 draft. They got their guy, along with Jackson and Igbinoghene, who seemed like reaches in real time but didn’t look nearly as bad then as they do now.
Because of his poor play at left tackle, Jackson was moved to left guard four games into the season — a position he hadn’t played since the U.S. Army All-American game in high school. Igbinoghene has been inactive for six of the team’s nine games and played zero defensive snaps in two of the games he was active for this season.
But this draft class will be determined by Tagovailoa, because Grier passed on Herbert — the 2020 Rookie of the Year — to draft him.
Multiple reports that the Dolphins entertained trading for Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson suggest they aren’t completely convinced in Tagovailoa’s long-term future with the franchise. Before the trade deadline, ESPN NFL analyst Louis Riddick said he would consider a trade for Watson “irresponsible” in part because the Dolphins have not set up Tagovailoa to succeed over the past year and a half.
“Tua has not been healthy,” Riddick said. “When you look at Herbert’s situation, he had great mentors in the early part of his career … and then on top of it, a guy like Herbert has had great weapons in guys like [receivers] Mike Williams and Keenan Allen.
“Tua has had none of that. He hasn’t had the help, he hasn’t had the mentors, he hasn’t been in the same kind of offensive system that would lead to him having the kind of success that Justin Herbert has had. I just don’t know how you can make a true, definitive declaration as to what he is when you haven’t really set the table for him.”
Grier said his pursuit of Watson was not a reflection of his feelings about Tagovailoa and denied a report Flores preferred Herbert and Grier selected Tagovailoa against the wishes of his coach.
“At the end of the day, we went through our process with everyone, and it was a process and we felt good about Tua,” Grier said last week. “There were a lot of things we liked about Tua. We liked Justin, too. … [Tagovailoa is] developing, and we’re happy with where he’s at right now.”
Starting for Miami: Holland, Waddle, Eichenberg
Reid’s take: “There’s this weird thing that goes on in the NFL where whenever you spend a first-round pick on a player, you have to exhaust all possibilities to make that player work out. I think that’s what happened with Austin Jackson. They pretty much penciled him in at left tackle and were determined to get some type of value out of him, no matter how he looked.
“They mismanaged that, because they could have selected a Penei Sewell or a Rashawn Slater — even if you didn’t play them at tackle, just having them in your offensive line would have been great. Jaelan Phillips is going to end up being a good player, but you invest a high pick in Tua Tagovailoa, I would rather have the offensive linemen protecting him as opposed to that defensive end.”
Overview: Grier looked like a genius once the 2020 regular season finished. Not only did the Dolphins overachieve to a 10-6 record, but the pick he acquired from Houston in exchange for Tunsil wound up being No. 3 overall. He traded that pick to San Francisco for the No. 12 pick and first-round picks in both 2022 and 2023.
He made another bold move that same day, sending the No. 12 pick and Miami’s first-rounder in 2022 to the Eagles for the No. 6 overall pick — which he used to select Tagovailoa’s college teammate, Waddle. It’s too early to grade this year’s class, but Miami’s 2022 pick is currently slated at No. 3 overall, while San Francisco’s (which Miami owns) is currently No. 9. The Dolphins could have potentially owned two top-10 picks in 2022 if they had stayed at No. 3 in the 2021 draft and selected Ja’Marr Chase — who is third in the NFL in receiving yards for the Cincinnati Bengals.
On the bright side, this class yielded Holland, who has formed a promising safety tandem with 2020 third-round pick Brandon Jones.
“It’s good,” Flores said of Holland’s and Jones’ development. “We’ve got a lot of young developing players getting playing time, getting a lot of experience, and I think those two guys are probably two of the hardest working guys we have.”
The 2021 season has been a drastic step back for the Dolphins considering the hype surrounding the team entering the year. Grier sold a long-term plan with sustained success, but Miami is on pace for a fourth losing season in five years.
However, there are rays of hope. Three of Miami’s losses this season have come on field goals on the game’s final play, suggesting the Dolphins are not as bad as their record. They are projected to have nine draft picks in 2022, including a top-10 selection and two more first-round picks in 2023. And they are projected to have the most cap space in the NFL (more than $93 million) this offseason.
Grier will have the resources to do most anything he wants to the roster. First on his to-do list will be settling the quarterback situation. Speculation about Watson is certain to ramp up again as Grier mulls whether to make a move for a different QB or keep building around Tagovailoa.
It figures to be his most important decision yet.