The Miami Dolphins head into next week's NFL scouting combine armed with more than $90 million in salary-cap space and 14 draft picks, including three first-round selections. Talk about ammunition to rebuild a franchise.
NFL free-agency decisions will happen in mid-March and the NFL draft kicks off in late April, but the early imprints of the Dolphins' moves will be made at the combine in Indianapolis. There, the smoke screens will be thick among NFL circles because many executives will attempt to hide their teams' true draft intentions in an effort to ward off other teams' interest in their targeted draft prospects.
Here are the most important questions lingering as the Dolphins soon head to Indianapolis:
What do Tagovailoa's medicals look like?
This is the single most important question for the Dolphins between now and April 23. If Tua Tagovailoa's medicals check out, the Dolphins should be considered the favorites to land him as their franchise quarterback with their No. 5 pick or via a trade up. Oddsmakers already have Miami and Detroit (No. 3 pick) as co-favorites to land Tagovailoa.
There are early, positive reviews about Tagovailoa's recovery from his hip injury, but the Dolphins' doctors will be sure to evaluate further. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross visited Alabama last season to watch Tagovailoa play, and a few weeks ago he had this to say on the former Crimson Tide quarterback: "He's a great player. I just worry about his health."
Tagovailoa and the Dolphins are a perfect fit for one another -- if his medicals check out. A big step toward finding the answer will come at the combine, where the quarterback isn't expected to participate in on-field drills but will go through interviews as well as the medical evaluations.
Who are the Dolphins' alternative picks at No. 5?
There has been a lot of speculation that if Tagovailoa's medicals come up positive, then he could move up to become the No. 3 pick behind Burrow and Ohio State defensive end Chase Young. Whether it's Detroit or a team outside of the top 5 trading up with the Lions, the Dolphins could have competition for Tagovailoa. So, Miami must prepare for a scenario in which it cannot get its intended prospect.
Finding a franchise quarterback is priority No. 1 for Miami, and the top alternative appears to be Oregon's Justin Herbert. If for some reason the Dolphins pass on a quarterback at No. 5 and focus on an offensive tackle or a defender at No. 5, then Utah State quarterback Jordan Love could become an option at No. 18 or No. 26.
Which players should Miami target in its pursuit of starting offensive linemen?
There is no Dolphins unit that needs more of an overhaul than the offensive line, and the goal this offseason should be to find multiple long-term starters via free agency as well as the draft. Expect Miami to be aggressive in free agency by targeting offensive tackles and/or guards.
Tennessee Titans free agent Jack Conklin leads the offensive tackle market, and would be a plug-in right tackle for the next five years (potentially protecting Tagovailoa's blind side). Quality offensive linemen always get paid, and Conklin is probably looking at the deals that Ja'Wuan James (four-year, $51 million deal) and Trent Brown (four-year, $66 million deal) received as comparable contracts. There are more starting guard options, but they won't be had at discount prices with the Patriots' Joe Thuney and Washington's Brandon Scherff leading that class. Green Bay's Bryan Bulaga, Detroit's Graham Glasgow, Seattle's Germain Ifedi and New England's Ted Karras could be fits at more palatable prices.
There seem to be five offensive linemen who have separated themselves as first-round draft prospects at this point (Wills, Georgia's Andrew Thomas, Iowa's Tristan Wirfs, Louisville's Mekhi Becton and Houston's Josh Jones). An ideal Dolphins draft could be landing one of those O-linemen at No. 18 or No. 26.
Which top-tier defensive talent best fits in Miami?
Though Miami is flush with cap space, don't expect a wild shopping spree this offseason. Instead, the Dolphins could make selective splashes for players who fit well in coach Brian Flores' scheme.
Edge rusher is one of the Dolphins' biggest needs, and it seems like a smart bet they will find at least one starter on the free-agent market. Jacksonville's Yannick Ngakoue, Seattle's Jadeveon Clowney, Tampa Bay's Shaquil Barrett, Pittsburgh's Bud Dupree and Baltimore's Matthew Judon are expected to land massive deals. A few edge players will likely receive the franchise tag, but for now it's a deep class that Miami should be very interested in.
A few other non-edge defenders who would be good fits in Miami include Titans cornerback Logan Ryan, Patriots defensive tackle Danny Shelton, Texans defensive tackle D.J. Reader and Broncos safety Justin Simmons.