Ryan Fitzpatrick is already safely ensconced in the nation’s capital after signing a one-year, 10 million dollar deal with the Washington Football Team in free agency. Miami decided to part ways with the bearded veteran signal-caller and fan favorite, choosing instead to focus exclusively on Tua Tagovailoa and his development as the franchise’s future. So, if you’re a Miami Dolphins fan, there can only be one question rattling around inside your head right now.
Is Tua Tagovailoa the answer for the Miami Dolphins?
Certainly, the organization and head coach Brian Flores and his staff hope he is. After all, they’ve had their eye on the Alabama Crimson Tide product way before he hit the market in the 2020 NFL draft. Ever since the new regime in Miami took over from the ill-fated Adam Gase period, they’ve closely followed Tagovailoa’s college career. And when he finally did announce his intention to go pro, the Dolphins were – as luck would have it – in possession of the No.5 draft pick.
Tagovailoa was a highly sought-after college prospect, with many projecting him going No.1 overall until an unfortunate hip injury ended his final college season prematurely. In a matter of speaking, it was a fortuitous twist in Miami’s favor in the end because – yes, as luck would have it yet again – Tagovailoa’s stock value fell sharply in draft rankings. Thus, due to his decline in the eyes of the teams ahead of Miami in the draft, he practically landed in Miami’s lap to their undisguised delight. Happy days.
— DolphinsTalk.com (@DolphinsTalk) June 10, 2021
It’s worth mentioning here that multiple sportsbooks are taking a rather optimistic view of the Miami Dolphins’ chances in 2021, going so far as to install them as potential contenders in NFL Futures.
Last season, Fitzpatrick and Tagovailoa combined in a double-act quarterback carousel employed by Brian Flores to lift the Dolphins to a 10-6 SU (straight up) mark. Although the pair successfully doubled Miami’s 2019 win total (5), it was not enough to send the Dolphins into the playoffs. They were a victory short of making the cut, alas.
Fitzpatrick started the team’s first six games as the No.1 starter and went 3-3 SU in those starts, capping Miami’s modest start to the season with a 24-0 win over the Jets before a week 7 bye. At this point, Flores decided to flip the script and promote Tagovailoa into the starting position, to the chagrin of fans that weren’t in support of the move.
Tagovailoa started nine starts thereafter and went 6-3 SU to his credit. However, his account unfortunately also included arguably the most important game of Miami’s season. The week 17’s defeat to the Buffalo Bills, or rather a 56-26 decimation to be exact, in which Tagovailoa was practically mauled by the Bills for the season-defining loss that ended any hope of postseason action.
In a vacuum, one might be able to forgive Tagovailoa’s ineffective performance in the final game of the season. After all, it was a massive occasion for the inexperienced gunslinger in his rookie season. Allowances can be made. Not to mention the fact that overreacting to the defeat and the horrible manner in which the Dolphins lost can have long-term consequences that could affect the quarterback-team relationship on and off the field: their joint progression, development, and maturation in the years to come. And yet, Tagovailoa’s lackluster performance wasn’t a one-off. Was it now?
To look at his entire 2020 account is to spot several glaring issues in his game that, in his case and to his benefit, were fortunately masked by solid coaching and stellar team play. Nonetheless, it didn’t stop Flores from occasionally benching Tagovailoa. On a few occasions, Flores acted swiftly and ruthlessly when he’d seen enough. Case-and-point, week 16 against the Raiders.
The only reason why the Dolphins were even in a position to ultimately challenge for a playoff spot in the final week of the regular season was because FitzMagic had rescued Miami’s fading hopes by leading the charge and orchestrating the last-gasp, game-winning field goal.
Flores had seen enough of Tagovailoa’s struggles and inability to generate any meaningful offense against the Raiders in what was a must-win game in week 16. So, he bravely benched Tagovailoa in favor of Fitzpatrick – a decision that proved to be genius as it paid out beyond expectations. In fact, it was singularly one of the most inspired moments of Miami’s 2020 campaign that predictably sent Miami fans into a right tizzy.
Sadly, Fitzpatrick never got to complete the job. He was prevented from finishing what he’d started when he was ruled out due to covid-19 from the pivotal season-ending game. Thus, the onus reverted to Tagovailoa. But without FitzMagic as a fallback plan to turn to when the going got tough, the Dolphins were forced to endure four quarters of complete and utter humiliation at Orchard Park in Buffalo. Without a shred of mercy, the Bills systematically tore the Miami defense to shreds, all the while rendering Tagovailoa a moot point. It wasn’t a pretty picture. And, to be fair, it left an indelible impression with fans and neutrals alike.
If Tagovailoa expected to throw down the gauntlet in a statement win to cap his season, especially after Miami fans went berserk over Fitzpatrick in the previous game, he certainly didn’t deliver. Quite the opposite, it was a new nadir for Tagovailoa and his worst-ever performance in a football game with just one TD and three interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) for a woeful 20.2 QBR.
— DolphinsTalk.com (@DolphinsTalk) June 10, 2021
Importantly, it showed just how wide the chasm between good and great is in the league. How far Tagovailoa has to go to close the gap on his counterparts around the league. It also showed that the Dolphins all together still have some way to go too before they can be genuinely considered a competitive team with legitimate playoff potential.
To sum up, Tagovailoa’s rookie season – limited edition as it were – in a few words: it didn’t blow anyone’s socks off. It was decent and measured in contribution. But it lacked sorely in the wow factor, which considering the hype that preceded him, felt underwhelming. The areas of concern include: going under 100 passing yards in three games, never throwing for more than two touchdowns in a game, and frequently looking to be out of his depth in the offense. Overall, he finished with 11 touchdowns and five picks while completing 64.1 percent of his passes. He also added 36 rushing attempts for 109 yards and three touchdowns.
So, whether Tua is the answer for Miami remains to be seen. Short of a crystal ball, it’s impossible to say for certain. But, if he’s not, he won’t be the first young quarterback that fails to live up to expectations. Heck, somebody once thought Johnny Manziel was a future franchise quarterback. But, look how that went…epic fail. Mitch Trubisky, Dwayne Haskins, Marcus Mariota…the list goes on, starters sitting on the subs-bench if not out of the league. The quarterback carousel moves along in perpetuity bringing with it one after another hopeful quarterback looking to make it in the NFL. It’s the cyclical nature of the game, the business of the NFL. But, let’s not be so ominous. Tagovailoa was a top college prospect, and he is only entering his second year in the league. So, he has the foundation and the opportunity before him with at least a couple of years to establish himself. And he has every chance to improve in the coming season and beyond. Hope springs eternal, so they say.