One story is dominating the NFL news cycle. It isn't the recently completed draft's effect on the league's balance of power. Or a prominent free agent searching for a new home.
No, the story looming large over all others is the possibility that the reigning NFL MVP could change teams.
With Aaron Rodgers reportedly so upset with the Green Bay Packers that he would sooner retire than play another game in the green and gold, sportswriters and fans of approximately 31 other teams have spent the past week-plus postulating about who could be interested in the three-time MVP (anyone with a brain) and what it could take to acquire him (everything that isn't nailed down).
However, while there is no shortage of clubs that would love to add the 37-year-old, one stands out as an optimal fit. A team that has everything it takes to appeal to both Rodgers and the Packers. A team that would shoot right to the top of the list of AFC challengers. A team that has a boatload of draft capital to use as trade bait. A team that even has a young quarterback it could offer as part of a deal.
Of all the franchises that would like to take a run at Rodgers, the one best positioned to do that just so happens to have done more to remake itself over the past couple of years than anyone.
The Miami Dolphins.
Less than two years ago, Bleacher Report's Brad Gagnon wrote that the Dolphins could be in the opening stages of the worst season in league history. He wasn't wrong, either. Over the first month of the 2019 campaign, opponents outscored Miami by a staggering margin (163-26). The Dolphins lost their first seven games that year and were having a fire sale that saw prominent players like safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil traded.
However, those Dolphins rallied to win five of their last nine games to end the season 5-11. The draft capital acquired in the Tunsil and Fitzpatrick trades helped accelerate the franchise's rebuild. By the end of Brian Flores' second season as head coach, the Dolphins were a 10-win team that narrowly missed the playoffs. In the post-draft set of 2021 NFL Power Rankings here at B/R, the Dolphins checked in 10th.
Miami should be in the thick of the playoff chase in 2021. But with Rodgers under center, the Dolphins would be right there with the Buffalo Bills as the primary threat to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Offensively, the Dolphins took major steps to upgrade the passing-game weaponry in both free agency and the draft. After setting career highs across the board in his fifth season, wide receiver Will Fuller V signed with the team.
Miami traded the third overall pick in the 2021 draft (obtained from Houston in the Tunsil trade) to San Francisco for a package that included three first-rounders. It then shipped a package to Philadelphia that included first-round picks in 2021 and 2022 to move back up to the sixth overall selection to take Alabama's Jaylen Waddle—another blazingly fast field-stretcher.
Combined with veteran wideout DeVante Parker and rising tight end Mike Gesicki, Waddle helps give the Dolphins a stable of pass-catchers as good as any in the division. Quite possibly better.
Defensively, the Dolphins used their second first-round pick in 2021 on Miami Hurricanes edge-rusher Jaelan Phillips. The front seven may be a little short on star power, but the secondary features arguably the league's best one-two punch at cornerback in Xavien Howard and Byron Jones. Miami quietly ranked sixth in scoring defense in 2020 and third in turnover differential.
The totality of the supporting cast that would surround Rodgers in Miami may not quite be what he has in Green Bay, but if it isn't, the gap isn't especially wide. Rodgers would be exchanging the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field for the sun of South Beach. And the lack of state income tax in Florida would put a fat chunk of extra cabbage in Rodgers' pocket.
Yes, the Dolphins have a young quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa, who won six of nine starts and threw 11 touchdown passes against just five interceptions as a rookie. But with all due respect to his talent and potential, Tagovailoa ain't Rodgers—and all but certainly never will be.
While Tua was barely breaking 180 passing yards per game last year, Rodgers was averaging just under 270. Throwing a career-high 48 touchdown passes and just five picks. And posting a ridiculous passer rating of 121.5—almost 35 points higher than Tagovailoa's.
With Tagovailoa, Miami's ceiling in 2021 is a postseason trip and maybe a playoff win before getting bounced in the divisional round.
With Rodgers? Confetti raining down at SoFi Stadium as the Dolphins pass around a Lombardi Trophy. Rodgers would be easily the best quarterback Miami has had since Dan Marino in his prime.
This isn't just some pipe dream, either. In terms of draft capital, the Dolphins are better positioned than most to take a real run at a Rodgers trade. The move up to No. 6 this year cost Miami its shot at three straight years with multiple first-rounders, but the 'Fins have three extra picks next year and will be right back to having multiple first-rounders in 2023.
Four teams have an extra pick in the first round over the next two drafts. Three of those teams are in the NFC, though, and one is in Green Bay's division.
Flipping Rodgers to Detroit would kick this soap opera into Melrose Place-esque levels of melodrama. But Jared Goff's presence in the Motor City makes that all but financially impossible, and the New York Giants are tighter against the cap than Miami. The Philadelphia Eagles could have three first-round selections in 2022, but they are a rebuilding team with no cap space.
Granted, plenty of teams would like to take a run at acquiring Rodgers. Something about landing a surefire Hall of Famer is appealing for some reason. ESPN's Bill Barnwell recently offered up more than half-a-dozen suitors, from established contenders like Cleveland and Tennessee to teams like Denver and Las Vegas looking to wedge their way into the Super Bowl conversation.
But most of those potential deals involve either young players the Packers may not necessarily even want or picks spread out over more years. Those squads can't turbocharge a Green Bay rebuild like the Dolphins can.
Tagovailoa could also be used to sweeten the pot. With Jordan Love (whose selection in Round 1 last year rather started this kerfuffle) in Green Bay, the Packers may not have much interest in the fifth overall pick from 2020. But more than a few teams in the league (Denver, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh) would—especially with Tagovailoa on an affordable rookie deal for the next several years.
Add another Day 1 pick to the pot by involving Tagovailoa and a third franchise, and the Dolphins could essentially offer the Packers four first-rounders over two years for Rodgers.
If he really is hellbent on leaving, that offer is probably about as good as it's going to get.
The reality is that this is probably more thought exercise than actual possibility. In the history of the NFL, a reigning MVP has never been traded. The Packers have insisted from the get-go that they have zero intention of being the first team to do so. The most likely conclusion to this saga is mended fences, a new contract with a nice chunk of guaranteed cash and Rodgers playing for the same franchise in 2021 that he always has.
But if he truly is dead-set against playing another game for the Packers, then the Dolphins make sense (for both sides) as a trade partner.
Miami has a good enough roster to both appeal to Rodgers and justify mortgaging the future for the sake of a Super Bowl run or two. And it has the draft capital to both assemble an enticing package for the Packers (a Packer package, if you will) without gutting later for now's sake.
Of all the teams mentioned for Rodgers' second act, Miami's in the best position to actually pull it off.
That groan you just heard came from the general vicinity of Buffalo.
Salary-cap figures via Over the Cap.