Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa is generally considered the second-best quarterback in this year’s NFL Draft, even with his hip injury. A candidate for the No. 1 pick last year before the injury, Tua will still be one of the top picks on draft night, potentially as high as No. 3.
The most popular landing spot for Tua in most draft projections has been the Miami Dolphins, who hold the Nos. 5, 18, and 26 picks in the first round, plus a ton more later in the draft. The Chargers at No. 6, the Panthers at No. 7, and the Jaguars at No. 9 all are in the running, too.
But I think there’s another quarterback-needy team that we should be taking more seriously as the landing spot for Tua.
The Tom Brady-less, suddenly-rebuilding New England Patriots.
Wouldn’t it be just like Bill Belichick to swoop in and snag Tua away from the rest of the league? Wouldn’t getting Tua be the big, bold move the Patriots love, and wouldn’t it ease the sting of seeing Brady go?
By my calculations, it’s definitely possible. In fact, the stars seem to be aligning.
If the NFL Draft goes according to projections, the Detroit Lions control Tua’s future. LSU quarterback Joe Burrow should go No. 1 to Cincinnati, and Ohio State pass rusher Chase Young should go No. 2 to Washington, which would leave Tua’s fate in the hands of Lions general manager Bob Quinn and coach Matt Patricia.
The Lions are expected to be open for business with that No. 3 pick, with a coach and GM who are on the hottest of hot seats for 2020, and aren’t in the market to use a top pick on a quarterback coming off a major injury.
And that opens the door for the Patriots. Quinn spent 16 years in Foxborough, and Patricia 14. Since Quinn became Lions GM in 2016, the Patriots and Lions have made four player trades (including Kyle Van Noy in 2016 and Duron Harmon two weeks ago), and three draft-day trades. Belichick and Patricia still vacation together. And who knows? If Quinn and Patricia are fired after 2020, maybe they end up back in Foxborough.
Of course, for the Patriots to land Tua, it will take some work. Their draft capital is much worse than the other quarterback-needy teams, as they hold just the 23rd and 87th picks (plus 98 and 100). The Dolphins can trump any trade offer with their plethora of picks (six of the top 70). The Chargers, Panthers, and Jaguars all draft in the top 10.
But a trade doesn’t have to include just draft picks. The Patriots can always include veteran players, which actually makes sense for the Lions. They need players who can win now, not more draft picks. It’s not an accident that some of the players Detroit acquired this offseason — Jamie Collins, Danny Shelton, and Harmon — are guys who know how to play for Patricia and already know the defense.
One rumor circulating thanks to the Ringer’s Bill Simmons is that the Patriots could trade Julian Edelman to the Lions. What if the Patriots include Edelman in a larger deal that lands them the No. 3 pick and the opportunity to get Tua?
It’s certainly not impossible. Per one popular draft trade chart from Rich Hill of Pats Pulpit, the Lions’ No. 3 pick is worth 514 points, while the Patriots’ No. 23 is worth 245 and No. 87 is worth 45. The Patriots have some ground to make up, but throwing in Edelman and a third-round pick could help.
Per another popular trade chart from Over The Cap’s Jason Fitzgerald, the Lions’ pick is worth 2,241 points, while the Patriots’ picks are worth 1,349 and 648. This is much closer, and maybe Edelman and a mid-round pick puts the offer over the top.
There are also future draft picks that could be traded. Maybe Dont’a Hightower or Joe Thuney get included in the offer, too. The Patriots badly need salary-cap relief; trading Edelman would save more than $4 million in cap space, trading Hightower would create about $9.5 million, and trading Thuney would create more than $14 million. The Lions need smart veterans like Edelman, Hightower, and Thuney.
Trading up to get Tua certainly wouldn’t be cheap. In 2016, when the Eagles traded up to No. 2 to get Carson Wentz, they gave up picks 8, 77, and 100, a 2017 first-rounder, and a 2018 second-rounder. The Patriots may have to spend more than they prefer to fend off the Dolphins, Chargers, Panthers, and Jags. And they are likely using the next two seasons as rebuilding years, and need to collect draft picks, not trade them away.
Then again, the Patriots haven’t been without Brady before. No position is more important than quarterback, and Tua is a potential superstar. And the Patriots have an obvious need on two fronts: They need to replace Brady, and they need another body after releasing No. 3 quarterback Cody Kessler Thursday.
Forget a veteran like Andy Dalton or Cam Newton. The draft is the way to go for the Patriots. And wouldn’t you be much more excited about the future if the quarterback depth chart were led by Tua, and not Stidham, Brian Hoyer, and a mid-round draft pick?
Tua is coming off a serious hip injury, but he got checked out by all 32 doctors at the NFL Combine in February. He is posting videos of his workouts online and this week declared himself ready to play.
The Patriots, of course, will have all the inside information they need on Tua as a prospect. No one is tighter with Alabama coach Nick Saban than Belichick. And Belichick has never been afraid of drafting a player with an injury history.
The Patriots also have the inside track with the Lions, and maybe they don’t need to overwhelm the Lions to make it happen. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported this week that the Dolphins may not be sold on Tua. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said the same thing during the Super Bowl.
“I’ve been down there to see him," Ross said. “Tua is a great player. I just worry about his health.”
This year’s draft has several intriguing quarterback prospects beyond Tua: Oregon’s Justin Herbert, Utah State’s Jordan Love, Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts, Washington’s Jacob Eason, and Georgia’s Jake Fromm among them. There may be plenty of quarterbacks to go around for everyone.
But Tua is the guy the Patriots should want. And between Belichick’s relationship with Saban and his relationship with the Lions, the Patriots could have what it takes to get him.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.