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Adam Gase wanted Dolphins to draft Baker Mayfield - not Sam Darnold: sources

2019-09-10

Adam Gase was mesmerized by the young quarterback in front of him.

He had fire, zip on his throws and an uncanny accuracy that made the then-Dolphins coach juiced by the possibilities.

The private workout on March 21, 2018, left an indelible mark. The ball never hit the ground. This kid could be special.

The coach had evaluated the top few quarterback prospects, but none of them made an impression on him like this guy.

Gase was convinced: Baker Mayfield was the best quarterback in the 2018 draft class.

It was the worst-kept secret in the Dolphins’ building. Gase believed that Mayfield, who rolls into town with the Browns for a Monday night showdown against the Jets, was clearly better than Sam Darnold, according to sources familiar with the situation. In fact, people in the know revealed that Gase had more of an affinity for Josh Allen than Darnold too.

Although Gase has subsequently (and predictably) claimed after getting the Jets job that he didn’t really evaluate Darnold simply because there was little chance the former USC star would drop to the Dolphins with the No. 11 pick, that’s not actually true.

So, what was Gase’s true motivation behind not investing the same amount of time in Darnold as Mayfield and Allen in the pre-draft process?

Was it because he knew that Darnold was great and wouldn’t fall to No. 11, so why waste his time? (Miami never had any intention of trading up, by the way).

Or was it because Gase wasn’t impressed by his initial evaluations of Darnold, so why waste his time?

Sources told the Daily News that Gase wasn’t wowed by Darnold’s tape. Although he felt that the young quarterback was good in some areas, he didn’t think he was exceptional in any particular one.

He didn’t believe that Darnold had star potential. He was no Mayfield, according to people familiar with Gase’s evaluations.

Every decision maker in the Dolphins organization, including owner Stephen Ross, was fully aware that Gase wasn’t a fan of Darnold, according to sources.

“He was lukewarm on (Darnold),” said one source.

Although Darnold had highlight-reel moments by extending plays, Gase had concerns about the player’s ability to consistently win from inside the pocket, according to sources. So, he chose not invest any additional time in Darnold.

The way Gase saw it, he was busy enough trying to figure out how to improve a team coming off a six-win season. So, he saw enough of Darnold and moved on.

The Dolphins didn’t schedule a private workout on campus with Darnold or bring him in for a visit, because Gase simply didn’t think he was as good as Mayfield and Allen.

Those two signal callers grabbed Gase’s attention at the Senior Bowl. The coach was surprised at Mayfield’s velocity on his throws in person. He didn’t get a real sense of how much zip he had on his passes until he saw him up close.

The strong-armed Allen grew on Gase during the evaluation process, according to sources. He really got on board the Allen train after the Wyoming quarterback made a private visit to the Dolphins facility. (He didn’t have a workout for the team though).

Gase told people at the time that he didn’t like Josh Rosen’s makeup. Something about the UCLA quarterback’s personality rubbed Gase the wrong way, but he still had an odd fascination with him on draft day, according to sources. It’s unclear why given that Gase used colorful metaphors when describing Rosen in the building.

The Dolphins brain trust evidently disagreed with Gase’s assessment. They traded for Rosen this offseason.

In all, Miami brought three quarterbacks in for private visits: Mayfield, Allen and Washington State’s Luke Falk.

In many ways, Gase was a walking contradiction.

In one breath, he told Ryan Tannehill, who missed the entire 2017 season with a torn ACL, that he was in his corner, according to sources. Three weeks after publicly declaring that Tannehill would be his 2018 starter, Gase was in Norman, Oklahoma, being dazzled by Mayfield during the private workout.

The Dolphins believed that there was a real chance that the Heisman Trophy winner would be available at No. 11. The truth is that the Jets would have drafted Mayfield at No. 3 if the Browns took Darnold, according to sources.

But Miami didn’t know that at the time. So, they held out the possibility that Mayfield would be staring at them when they were on the clock. If he were, they’d have to think long and hard about taking him (or potentially trading down if they thought he’d slip even more).

None of that happened.

Mayfield was long gone … and Gase was left making excuses for an ineffective Tannehill last season.

Gase has learned something over the past nine months too: That USC kid might be better than what he saw on tape.

Gase’s pre-draft assessment of Darnold is more a reflection of his spotty evaluation than the player’s ability. Darnold has the skill-set to be a difference maker for a long time. There’s a reason why smart talent evaluators across the NFL viewed him as a Top 5 prospect even though Gase didn’t.

Remember, Gase was giddy about Brock Osweiler when the Broncos took him in the second round of the 2013 draft. He might be a bright offensive mind, but that doesn’t mean he can always properly evaluate quarterbacks coming out of college.

Gase, who declined multiple requests by the News to discuss his quarterback evaluations from the 2018 draft, has been impressed with Darnold since taking over in January.

There are still plenty of areas for improvement, but the Jets coach now believes the quarterback who didn’t initially jump off the tape can be a special player.

Fourteen years ago, 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy wasn’t a believer in Aaron Rodgers. He convinced then-head coach Mike Nolan to take Alex Smith with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft. Less than a year later, McCarthy took over in Green Bay and became a Super Bowl champion and perennial winner thanks to Rodgers’ greatness.

Gase can only hope that Darnold will do the same for him.