There’s a narrative going nationwide that the 2022 season will be the last chance Tua Tagovailoa will have as the starting quarterback of the Miami Dolphins and —quite possibly— a starting QB of any NFL team in the future.
And it’s just bogus, man.
Consider Tua is 13-8 as a starter in his first two seasons with a 66.2 average completion percentage. That’s a better record than LA Charger’s Justin Herbert’s 15-17 and an equal completion percentage. Tua had also beaten Herbert in 2020 during their first meeting as rookies.
And neither of the two has yet to make the playoffs. (FYI: Herbert went 1-3 down the stretch to finish the season. Tua went 3-1.)
Herbert may have the better statistical numbers on the field. Still, he’s also been playing with a superior offensive supporting cast consisting of WR Keenan Allen, WR Mike Williams, and RB Austin Ekeler. Not to mention an organization and GM that has provided him with weapons and protection since Day 1 and is still piling on top of those additions to make a push for the AFC West and a Super Bowl.
Tua may be going into his 3rd season. Still, he was just beginning to get some capable weaponry when the Dolphins drafted Jaylen Waddle in the 1st round of 2021 and was supposed to be paired with free-agent acquisition Will Fuller. But Fuller was non-existent throughout the season due to injury and other issues.
Mike McDaniel — the new head coach of the Miami Dolphins — knows Tua hasn’t had the supporting cast that would statistically lead the quarterback to great numbers or the team offense be competitive in the NFL. And that’s why he and general manager Chris Grier have tried to acquire new running backs, WRs (including Tyreek “the Cheetah” Hill), and offensive linemen during the 2022 offseason.
Suppose this was Tua’s “last chance” with the organization. In that case, I doubt Mike McDaniel would have had such inspiring words to the quarterback shortly after he was hired via a recorded phone call that McDaniel knew was being recorded, but Tua didn’t.
“One thing I know about you is you have the ambition to be great. My job is to coach you to get all that greatness out of you,” McDaniel told Tagovailoa. “I’m gonna make sure that when you look back at this day, you’re gonna be like, ‘Damn, that was one of the best days of my career, too.'”
It’s one thing to say you’re excited to work with your new QB (whether he’s good or not), and it’s another to speak words that verbally commit to getting “greatness” out of him. Those words that McDaniel said verbally tied Tua and him together, especially since he was willing to do it on camera.
If general manager Chris Grier thought Tua was the problem, then why collude to fire Brian Flores and keep Tua? Why not keep Flores and trade for the quarterback he truly wanted in Deshaun Watson?
Because Tua is not the problem, he never was the problem. His supporting cast, a coach that favored a journeyman veteran and was too impatient with his rookie quarterback, and an offensive staff that consistently overturned annually throughout the Flores regime were the problem.
Flores may have been a defensive genius, but he demonstrated throughout his first stint as a head coach that he was more interested in building a defense than he was in an offense.
As I mentioned, Flores changed coordinators, QBs coaches, and OL coaches each season. He promoted Tua midway during his rookie season in 2020 when the quarterback was coming off a significant hip injury, and veteran Fitzpatrick was hitting his stride in the formerly-retired Chan Gailey offense (an offense Fitzpatrick played in a handful of times before throughout his career). That move not only caught Tua off-guard but Gailey and Fitzpatrick as well. Coming from the Patriots, it was almost like Flores expected Tua to replace Fitzpatrick, much like Tom Brady replaced Drew Bledsoe. Flores expected immediate success, and his impatience turned into frustration when Tua went through some hard learning experiences and rough patches and eventually yanked Tua for Fitzpatrick on multiple occasions and started venturing for Watson.
Under Flores, the Dolphins neglected to draft a running back in the Top rounds of the 2020 and 2021 drafts. To this day, we’ve seen the Dolphins fail to have a respectable rushing attack since the 2016 days of Jay Ajayi. Meanwhile, we’ve witnessed draftees of the past two seasons like Jonathan Taylor, Najee Harris, and Javonte Williams become stars.
Over Tua’s days as a Dolphin, we’ve seen him get hurt, yanked, and we complain that he isn’t doing enough on the field compared to Herbert or Joe Burrow, his fellow peers of the 2020 draft.
But with what?
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— a wide receiving corps that’s always hurt?
— running backs like Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed, and Gerrid Doaks that were either 7th-round selections or undrafted?
— a poor offensive line that can’t get any push for the run-game and forces Tua to run for his life and dink-n-dunk down the field?
Tua has played, he’s started, but he hasn’t had a real chance.
Yet, players like Mike Gesicki and new arrival Tyreek Hill rave about his ball placement and accuracy.
Yet, despite having a rushing attack that ranked 30th in YPG, Tua helped the Dolphins have a 17th-ranked passing attack.
Yet, despite not having much of a supporting cast, Tua converted 3rd-downs into 1st-downs 46% of the time last season, which was 5th-best in the league. This proves to the extent that Tua can put an offense on his shoulders and still move the ball.
Tua’s football IQ also allows him to process coverage and moving parts of the field quickly after the ball is snapped, and his feel for pocket awareness prevents him from taking more sacks than he should (20).
These are key elements to a QB’s game that will keep coaches intrigued about Tua’s potential. It’s the reason why the Dolphins are still moving forward with Tua because they believe that with his natural gifts and better weaponry, they can get even more out of him.
Mike McDaniel said as much on that phone call. He’s even made it understood to his locker room and the media that Teddy Bridgewater would be the backup. And by all accounts, Tua is still the Dolphins’ sure-fire starter heading into training camp.
And unless Tua falls flat on his face or gets a significant injury in 2022, the Dolphins will stick with him.
And if they decide to move on, another team will pick him up and have him compete for a starting job.
Do you know why?
Because (although people don’t want to admit it) he can do the most important a quarterback can do— throw the football.
If Carson Wentz and Teddy Bridgewater can go from team to team each year with their shortcomings and be still be starters — so can Tua.
And if Daniel Jones can head into his 4th season, still be on the same team, still be a starter with a 12-25 record, while playing worse and worse and WORSE each year….
So can Tua Tagovailoa.