Tyreek Hill hadn’t even been a Dolphin for an hour when the narrative predictably turned to – who else? – Tua Tagovailoa.
“If Tua doesn’t become the same dude we saw at Alabama, it’s time to move on,” former NFL safety Ryan Clark bellowed.
Former Dolphins executive Mike Tannenbaum said “it’s reasonable to think by Halloween, [you could see] Teddy Bridgewater taking over for Tua if there are any bumps in the road.”
Multiple local columnists announced that Tagovailoa is “out of excuses.”
And why, exactly, is any of this news?
Everybody knows that Tagovailoa must be better in Year three to be viewed as a longterm franchise quarterback. The Dolphins’ augmenting the offense around him doesn’t change any of that, or increase the pressure on Tagovailoa, or stop any “excuses” that Tagovailoa himself has never made.
We understand ESPN zeroing in on the Tagovailoa angle in analyzing the Hill trade. Quarterback talk – and drama – is what ESPN believes drives viewership on studio shows.
Tannenbaum, who has done excellent work transitioning to a broadcasting job, was particularly tough on Tua.
“Outside of Davis Mills and Mitch Trubisky, I’m not sure what other quarterback Tua would be in front of in the AFC,” Tannenbaum said. “Tua has missed 10 games. His play has been average at best. He has trouble seeing the middle of the field and can’t get the ball downfield consistently.
“With [Jaylen] Waddle and Hill, he has no excuses. Of all the quarterbacks in the NFL, he has more pressure on him [than anyone] and Bridgewater is a very capable quarterback. It’s not unreasonable to think he could be playing sometime by midseason,… sooner than later if Tua hits any bump in the road given everything he has to work with. My concern is Tua was he was 23rd in the NFL last season in yards per pass attempt. He struggles to get the ball down the field consistently.
“Coach [Mike] McDaniel will probably try to move the pocket, cut the field in half, have a lot of plays for Waddle and Hill that are catch and runs that play to Tua’s strength and try to maximize Tua’s ability that way. There are no more excuses. They’re giving him everything a quarterback could want and then some.”
Clark chimed in: “The Dolphins will know by the end of the season if Tua is their franchise quarterback. There are no more excuses. Everyone will be saying, ‘What’s the excuse now, Tua?’”
But again, where is this “excuse” narrative come from? Tagovailoa has never blamed his inconsistent play on anybody else. Some Tagovailoa supporters cited the lack of a sturdy offensive line and a substandard running game, and that’s justified.
Beyond a handful of elite quarterbacks, who exactly would have thrived with an offensive line that yielded 247 pressures and a running game that averaged 3.5 per carry?
Tagovailoa hasn’t been great. But he hasn’t been awful, either.
He’s 13-8 as a starter, and his first 16-start passer rating topped those of Baker Mayfield (88.9), Tom Brady (88.3), Matt Ryan (87.7), Kyler Murray (87.4), Kirk Cousins (81.7), Carson Wentz (79.3), Derek Carr (76.6), Ryan Tannehill (76.1), Matt Stafford (75.8) and Josh Allen (70.8).
Tagovailoa’s 66.7 completion percentage in his first 16 starts (it’s 67 percent if his two games off the bench are included) ranked second among arguably the NFL’s top 20 current quarterbacks, behind only Dak Prescott (67.8).
Tagovailoa threw only 11 interceptions in his first 16 starts, which is tied with Ryan and Justin Herbert for fifth fewest picks among those 20 QBs.
In his first two years, he has been much better (88.8 rating) than Trevor Lawrence in his first season (71.9), and nobody is subjecting Lawrence to the type of scrutiny that Tagovailoa endures.
Tagovailoa converted third downs into first downs 46 percent of the time last season, which was fifth best in the league.
Of course, Tagovailoa must be better. But I’m not sure why it’s being framed in such a negative light, as if he’s a borderline bust, when he’s nothing close to that.
“If this season is a disaster and I hope it’s not, Tua is likely gone,” NFL Network’s Kyle Brandt said. “We already have doubts about your ability to stay healthy and your arm strength. He was a nice little side story in the NFL for a couple years. Now he’s pivotal, he’s part of the massive conversation. If you can’t drive this Ferrari, we can’t keep going with you.”
Heck, NFL Net’s Cynthia Frelund went as far as to say the Dolphins should trade for Jimmy Garoppolo.
“Tua has what he needs,” former Patriots linebacker and ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi said. “All this does is shorten the leash. Conclusion time is coming. If you don’t show me what you got with all the pieces we’ve given you, they might be thinking, ‘is this guy not the one to do it for us?’
“We’re building our team for the next guy that’s going to come in. That I’m sure is the thought process for Miami. The pressure is on. It’s show us what you got, kid. We’ve put everything around you.”
I doubt the Dolphins are thinking that they’re “building our team for the next guy” to come in. If Tagovailoa fails, then Miami has the draft ammunition (two first-rounders, a second-rounder and third-rounder in 2023) to move up and draft a quarterback.
But enough with the “excuse” narrative. He’s the most talented quarterback this franchise has had since Dan Marino and his first two years were strong enough to earn a third.
Acquiring Hill and Terron Armstead and the other new offensive pieces doesn’t raise the pressure on Tagovailoa; there was already the understood expectation that he would either improve in 2022 or the Dolphins would look elsewhere for a quarterback.
So can’t Dolphins fans enjoy the addition of one of the NFL’s best playmakers without it being all and always about Tua?
This story was originally published March 25, 2022 1:49 PM.