The Miami Herald’s article of a few current Miami Dolphins player’s lack of faith in starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa stirred a bit of a ruckus.
So I’m here to acknowledge those concerns, as well as address them. Because although there is some truth to what those anonymous players said, I could make a case in Tua’s defense by using examples of other NFL quarterbacks.
Yes, I believe the players totally bought into Ryan Fitzpatrick. He carried the team in 2019. As that season went on, the offense got better and better, and playing with a quarterback that had a gunslinger’s mentality; the receivers found playing with a quarterback who would let it fly and give them a chance to make a play was very exciting. Not to mention the intelligence, experience, and leadership qualities Fitzpatrick possessed.
Also, without an offseason, of course, a longtime veteran like Fitzpatrick would have the edge over the young Tua. It took some time and a couple of games for the offense to start gelling under a new OC’s playbook, but it started coming together none-the-less. Fitzpatrick finally began playing at a higher level, and the Dolphins began winning games and getting to a 3-3 record after convincing wins against the Jets and 49ers before their BYE.
If you’ve been listening to my podcast (The “Damn Dolphins Podcast” on Spotify), I’ve stated that when the Dolphins made the change, it was a change that shook the locker room.
Because if you followed head coach Brian Flores or offensive coordinator Chan Gailey’s comments at the time, they were not exactly thrilled with Tua’s performance in training camp or practice throughout the season. This was perfectly worded by Gailey’s comments when he stated that comparing Tua and Fitzpatrick’s play was like comparing “apples to oranges.”
— DolphinsTalk.com (@DolphinsTalk) January 15, 2021
The move was also confusing because it came after Fitzpatrick had two strong performances against the Jets and 49ers, which led to victories. Fitzpatrick was really caught off-guard by the news, and the players found out through social media that the team was making the quarterback change. That wasn’t a good look for Flores.
Linebacker Jerome Baker also had his comments on the move back in October. Baker stated the team was behind Tua and believed in him. But Tua also needed to earn the trust of the team.
“He still has to – honestly, he still has to prove that he’s ready. We understand that the media is going to give you all of the credit and all of that, but at the end of the day, you still have to strap on those pads and gain our trust and gain the trust of everybody that you can do it.”
Baker’s quote hints at the narrative that Tua never really leap-frogged Fitzpatrick for the starting job. And that the job was basically given to Tua without him earning it.
Even Tua was surprised by the news. And when asked how he won this job, Tua replied, “I think that’s a question for you guys to ask the coaches because really, it’s out of my control with the decision-making.”
That’s not a very confident answer. In fact, that’s the type of response of someone who feels like the job was not going to the better man.
It isn’t too hard to believe that the players had more faith in Fitzpatrick than Tua. Look at Broncos and Raiders games in Week’s 11 and 16, when Fitzpatrick came off the bench to take over a stagnant offense and bring it to life.
The optics of the situation was odd. If the Dolphins are putting in their backup to save the day over the quarterback who they deemed the starter, there is definitely something wrong.
Anyone with eyes could see that the offense was moving better under Fitzpatrick. Throws were coming out quicker, there were more aggressive shots, and even rumblings of Chan Gailey holding back the full playbook from Tua. (That isn’t something I necessarily believe, but to each their own.)
Players also felt a lack of security entering the Week 17 game without Fitzpatrick.
— DolphinsTalk.com (@DolphinsTalk) January 15, 2021
How could they not feel that way? The Bills were planning to play their starters. And if anyone has been following the Bills’ offense, they would know the Dolphins would need to throw the football if they desired any chance of staying in that game. And with a safe and conservative rookie like Tua, Fitzpatrick would likely enter that game at some point to save the day and keep the Dolphins’ chances of making the playoffs alive.
But Fitzpatrick was put on the COVID-list, so he was ineligible to play. He was gone, and so were some of the Dolphins player’s hopes because they knew he had the ability to come off the bench and sling it. But the power of Fitz-magic wasn’t an option that particular Sunday.
Even safety Eric Rowe was let down by the news of Fitzpatrick’s absence for the team’s Week 17 finale.
“It hurts. He’s a leader of our team. He brings energy, even in the Zoom meetings, so to hear it that he’s probably – it’s down for all of us, but I’m sure it’s worse for him because one, he loves the game; and two, nobody wants to catch COVID, right? But kind of with that, you just got to push forward.”
So Fitzpatrick’s unavailability took the air out of that locker room. Probably to the point where the team came into that Bills game with more doubts than the full belief of winning. Because they definitely didn’t show up to play that Sunday. Losing 56-26.
So the narrative that the locker room believes in Fitzpatrick more than Tua is definitely true, in my opinion. There are just too many context clues on and off the field to ignore that point.
The other topic I want to address is one of the player’s lack of faith in Tua’s physical ability.
And this is where I’m going to inspire the Dolphins fans’ confidence slightly.
One of the player’s in the report player questioned Tua’s arm-strength, mobility, and ability to make plays off-script. That player stated that if the team wants to be successful, they would have to go up against quarterbacks like Russell Wilson, Josh Allen, Deshaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, and Lamar Jackson— all of whom have strong arms and weaponized legs.
It’s a valid point, to be sure. Rodgers is older but still playing at a high level. Wilson is in his prime. And the rest are youngsters that will be in be starting in the NFL for the foreseeable future.
But wild legs and rocket arms are nice to have but aren’t exactly the NFL’s strict recipe for success as a quarterback. There are ways to win and produce without these qualities. And maybe Tua will never be “elite” because he lacks this top physical talent, but he can still be “good” to “very good,” maybe even “great.”
Because he’s accurate, and accuracy is more important than having a rocket arm or legs as a quarterback.
— DolphinsTalk.com (@DolphinsTalk) January 15, 2021
Do you know what else is important? Having offensive weapons that can help you out.
And here’s a key tip: Have patience in your young quarterback.
Philip Rivers doesn’t have a good arm anymore, and he’s never had the legs to run. But with a defense on the other side and his accuracy, he made the playoffs. The Colts hung with the Bills throughout that game. And if not for some questionable calls in scoring territory, maybe they pull it off.
Tom Brady has always been a stationary target. But after 2019, he moved to a Buccaneers team with weapons, a good O-line, and now he’s thrown for 40 touchdowns and won a playoff game. Again, accurate. Brady didn’t start his career off as an elite quarterback. He’s spent his first few years playing on a defensive-heavy team before he grew into an elite passer.
Drew Brees doesn’t have a great arm anymore. He’s the same height as Tua, purely a pocket passer, but he’s accurate, got receiving weapons, Alvin Kamara, protection, a defense, and he just won a playoff game. Brees also took a few years to establish himself.
Baker Mayfield — not very athletic in the mobility department. But he has a monster O-line, two monster running backs, and he just won a playoff game. Fans and media were down on him coming into this season. Look at him now.
Ben Roethlisberger— I still like him, despite people saying he’s done and doesn’t have it anymore. He was in a bad offensive system, played with WR’s that dropped a lot of passes (2nd-most), and if he wasn’t down 28-0 in the first quarter, probably throws his team back in it and wins a playoff game that the team was supposed to win. Big Ben has been less and less of a dual-threat as his career has gone on. But he still threw for 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Big Ben didn’t start his career so fast either. Bad interceptions plagued him early on, and he was groomed playing with a run-game and heavy-defense.
Jared Goff— pocket passer, good arm but not great. Made the playoffs this year and Superbowl appearance in 2018. Why? Because Sean McVay took over that 2017 Rams team and gave him weapons. Goff has had a strong defense throughout his career. By the way, Goff didn’t have a good rookie season either.
— DolphinsTalk.com (@DolphinsTalk) January 14, 2021
Kirk Cousins— good arm, but not great. He can move outside the pocket, but no one is afraid of his legs. Guess what? He always has weapons to throw to and finds a way to put numbers up every year. He made the playoffs last year and probably could’ve done something this year if his defense wasn’t so god-awful. Cousins started his career as a 4th-round pick playing behind RG3. Cousins replaced the guy with the rocket arm and legs to make everyone say RG-who?
Matt Ryan— as stationary as stationery can be. He made the Superbowl on his arm in 2016, and if not for a 2nd-half of bad play calls, he probably wins a Superbowl. He’s still a highly respected quarterback who produces, and he hasn’t had a defense since the Falcons went to the Superbowl.
Derek Carr— still has a job as the Raiders QB because he does so many things well. Like Matt Ryan, Carr’s defense has been terrible throughout his career. He didn’t impress during his rookie year either. Yet, he’s still around.
Jimmy Garoppolo — probably the quarterback I like least out of this group. But with great coaching, an elite rushing scheme, and amazing defense… he went to the Superbowl last year and had a 10-point lead at the end of the 3rd quarter. Garoppolo started his career as a backup to Tom Brady.
And Ryan Tannehill… Do I really need to talk about him? Do I really need to tell the story of Ryan Tannehill as a Dolphins fan?
Let’s say Tannehill took many years to finally find himself a way to get into a good situation. He’s got coaching, an offensive line, a big-bodied receiver to throw to, and a tight-end-sized back running the football. He finally has everything he needs, and he looks like a totally different quarterback the past two seasons.
So my point is Tua needs weapons, and he needs a little patience.
His arm is good enough, he’s accurate, he makes good decisions, and that’s all you really need as a young quarterback to be successful.
Did he disappoint compared to fellow rookies like Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert? Yes.
Was his play perfect in his rookie season? No.
But neither was the offensive talent around him. Just wait until Tua has that.
Ryan Tannehill’s rookie season in 2012 ended with 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. The Dolphins signed a speedy wide receiver in Mike Wallace, and Tannehill took a 2nd-year leap with 24 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.
In 9 games, Tua has thrown 11 touchdowns and 5 interceptions.
Imagine what Tua’s 2nd year will look like with weapons.
He’ll be fine.