Miami Dolphins on pace to pick early, grab coveted franchise quarterback

After 11 years of watching mostly stopgap, short-term quarterbacks, Dolphins fans will need to tolerate that predicament for only more 11 more games — if owner Stephen Ross gets his way and if whoever is running this team next spring follows his orders and can acquire a quarterback to build the franchise around.

The Dolphins’ next quarterback likely will come from the 2012 draft, though don’t discount the possibility of a trade if St. Louis lands the No. 1 pick and if the Dolphins also have a high choice. If you’re already looking ahead to next season, some points to consider:

• In the unintentional “battle” for the No. 1 pick and the right to take Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, keep in mind that the Dolphins’ remaining schedule appears to be the most difficult of the three winless teams – slightly tougher than the Colts and clearly more challenging than the Rams. Five teams have only one win.

On paper, the Dolphins’ easiest remaining games are Sunday against Denver and Nov. 6 at Kansas City, with future home games against three very-much improved teams (Washington, Buffalo and Oakland).

The Colts’ best chance for wins, on paper, would be home against Jacksonville and Carolina, home against Tennessee and the season finale at Jacksonville. The Rams have two games left against 1-4 Arizona, two against 2-3 Seattle, a game at Cleveland and home against Cincinnati.

• NFL.com reported this week that some in league circles are concerned Luck and his father, West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, might say Luck won’t play for the team with the worst record and try to force a trade. Luck has one year of eligibility left but is widely expected to turn pro.

• If two teams finish tied for the worst record, the No. 1 pick goes to the team whose opponents have the worst combined winning percentage. It’s obviously too early to sort that out, but the Dolphins are at a disadvantage because they’re in a division where they are the only team below .500. The tiebreaker helps the Rams, if Arizona and Seattle finish with poor records.

• The Colts have suggested that if they get the No. 1 pick, they would see the merit in picking a top young quarterback (Luck) to sit initially behind Peyton Manning.

If the Dolphins don’t get the No. 1 pick, one of the next-best draft scenarios would be for St. Louis to get it, and the Dolphins to pick second. If that scenario happens, the Dolphins could have a choice of trading a bundle for Sam Bradford (if the Rams opt to go with Luck) or drafting another Oklahoma quarterback (Landry Jones). Carolina (1-5) obviously has its quarterback in Cam Newton, but it’s difficult to see the Panthers being bad enough to get the No. 1 pick again.

• Jones is widely considered the draft’s second-best quarterback, ranked fourth overall on Mel Kiper’s Big Board, behind Luck, North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples and Southern California tackle Matt Kalil.

Jones “has been a big numbers producer, and I like the way he’s battled in some tough games so far in 2011,” Kiper said. “He has good size and a strong arm and fantastic accuracy.” Jones has completed 67.6 percent of his passes for 2177 yards, with 16 touchdowns and six interceptions.

• One quarterback on the rise is Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, who has completed 78 percent of his passes (114 for 142) for 1950 yards, with 22 touchdowns and two interceptions.

Kiper placed Griffin in his Top 25 Big Board for the first time this week, at No. 19. He could move much higher if he plays well in upcoming games against Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Texas.

“What has changed,” Kiper said on ESPN.com, “is an improved delivery and the demonstration that he can throw the deep ball accurately. Combine Griffin’s overall growth with his brilliant athleticism, leadership and smarts, and you have a prospect on the rise. Smart kid who will shine during interviews. He now has some showcase games to back it up.”

• Besides Luck, Jones and Griffin, the only other quarterback with a potential first-round grade is USC’s Matt Barkley, who is rated 10th by Kiper but 17th by ESPN.com’s Scouts Inc.

According to the Scouts Inc. evaluators, Barkley “does not have prototypical capabilities to drive the ball and stretch the field vertically as a Joe Flacco or Ben Roethlisberger. Arm strength is adequate. Processes information quickly.” Barkley is completing 68.2 percent of his passes, with 16 touchdowns and four picks.

• The Saints’ Drew Brees is by the far the best quarterback with an expiring contract, but if the sides do not agree to an extension, it’s very likely New Orleans would place the franchise tag on him. Buffalo’s Ryan Fitzpatrick also could become a free agent, but the Bills are expected to re-sign him.

None of the other potential free agents are viewed as the franchise-type quarterback that Ross covets — a group including Jason Campbell (supplanted by Carson Palmer in Oakland), Kyle Orton, Alex Smith and Vince Young.

Source: Miami Herald