Teams Finding Out Who Can Adjust
Tua time in Miami
The big news this week came as a surprise to most when the Miami Dolphins, at 3-3, elected to change course with their quarterback situation. Miami, who is in the playoff hunt, was being led by QB Ryan Fitzpatrick but they made the decision to install first-round pick Tua Tagovailoa as their starting quarterback going forward. The Fins are on a bye this week so Tua has two full weeks to settle into his new gig. Obviously, Fitz took the news hard but he’s a seasoned veteran and when a move like this gets made, he took the high road. There are things that can’t or won’t be said for the good of the team. Here’s my take on what it meant:
I think that the Dolphins decision-makers think Tua is, quite frankly, better than Fitz for them, right now. Head Coach Brian Flores and GM Chris Grier do not think this is a step back. They see this as a move forward and think the move to Tua gives their offense more options and flexibility in their playoff drive.
Most think this decision is one for the long haul, which obviously it is. However, in my opinion, it’s a move to shore up the short term as well. Tua has clearly made a favorable impression on the head coach and the general manager in practice since Day 1. Sure, there will be a learning curve. I have never seen a rookie QB without one, but my belief is that by Week 10 or so, they feel that Tua will be comfortable enough to lead them down the stretch to a playoff berth. Yes, this year.
Ngakoue on the move again
In another somewhat surprising move, former Jaguar DE Yannick Ngakoue, who was traded to the Minnesota Vikings before the start of the regular season (for a second-round pick and another conditional pick) was traded again. This time, after only six games, the Vikings have sent him to the Baltimore Ravens for a third-round pick (and a conditional pick). In the end, the Vikings were willing to take back less than what they gave up to acquire him. A decision like this is not normal in the NFL and definitely isn’t the norm after only six weeks.
Most fans and even media are viewing this as the Vikings waving the white flag on their 1-5 season. I really don’t see it that way. Sure, he registered five sacks in those first six games, but the Vikings were getting gashed against the run. This goes against every fiber in Head Coach Mike Zimmer’s body. If they don’t find a way to shore up a run defense that is hemorrhaging yards, this season will even get longer. To that end, I commend the Vikings for cutting their losses. I see Yannick as a nickel or sub-package rusher, not necessarily an every-down player. My take is that they may have mis-evaluated his skill set in August and then realized they wouldn’t be able to pay him (he’s a free agent at the end of this season) or keep him for the price he was seeking for 2021. The decision was to get what we could for him.
As we approach the trade deadline
Various NFL GM’s phone lines should be busy over the next couple of weeks. With 4pm EST on Tuesday November 3 being D-Day, the trade deadline, there may be something else happening that day. I’ll have to check my calendar. For years, club executives in the NFL pushed to move the trade deadline back. For as long as I can remember, it was always on the Tuesday after Week 6. The debate for when the NFL trade deadline should be always centered on, from the league standpoint, not wanting teams to have a fire sale if they were clearly out of the playoff race. By keeping the deadline date relatively early in the season (after only a third of the games had been played), it discouraged trades. Teams would argue that they didn’t really know our own team’s strengths and weaknesses at that point during the year.
I always thought I really needed about seven or eight weeks to assess my team before my ability to barter to make it better was cut off. I love the way the league operates the trade deadline now. It’s really similar to what happens in baseball and really allows team decision-makers some flexibility to make adjustments to their rosters due to injuries or perhaps scheme changes in the first half of a season. They can really evaluate where they are in the current year and where their fortunes might be going forward.
We have seen both ends of the spectrum so far. The New York Jets, who most consider to be the worst team in the league, have already acquired three late-round draft choices for future years by trading two veteran defensive linemen, one who was a captain, Steve McLendon. McLendon went to Tampa Bay and the other, Jordan Willis, to San Francisco to help shore up the 49ers pass rush. Time will tell if the draft picks they get in return are converted into players. At the opposite end is the Ravens move to acquire the aforementioned Ngakoue. As is the same case as the 49ers, who have been devastated by injury, the Ravens’ pass rush needs a shot in the arm.
I just like the fact these moves are allowed and teams have more options to tinker with their rosters later into the season. I think it’s great for fans to speculate and evaluate these moves as well. Of course, I’m not in the crosshairs of running a team like current general managers, but if they are confident and good at their job, the early November trade deadline is a great tool to improve a team whether it’s for the short term or long term.