Walking off the field after the Week 2 win last season, Tua Tagovailoa had to feel good.
He led the Miami Dolphins to a comeback victory over the Baltimore Ravens after his team fell behind by 21 points. He threw for 469 yards and six touchdowns. The previous years have not been easy. He suffered a devastating hamstring injury that ended his college career at Alabama. He was up and down his first two seasons. It wasn’t fair to decide what Tagovailoa was at quarterback after 21 starts, but last offseason the names most associated with Tagovailoa were Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert, the other two top quarterbacks in his draft class who were instant stars. Tagovailoa was far behind them. He was written off by many.
That day in Baltimore, Tagovailoa seemed to arrive as a star. He was only 24 years old, with his entire career ahead of him. The hip injury and criticism no longer mattered.
“I think it was a moment he’ll never forget and he can use it moving forward,” Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said after the game, via the Associated Press. “I couldn’t be happier for him. His teammates learned a lot about him and I think he learned something about himself.”
In three games, Tagovailoa excelled. The Dolphins, who had moments of regret after passing on Herbert in the draft, were 3-0. Then came the first shock.
Maybe it was the second shock. In week three Tagovailoa tripped and nearly collapsed after a hit, though he wasn’t officially diagnosed with a concussion. There was no question about that in Cincinnati.
Tagovailoa rolled and crashed into the ground, and a national audience saw his hands get into the fence response. It was scary. He was carted away and taken to hospital. Tagovailoa returned after two games out and played well, but then suffered another concussion, likely on a hit late in the second quarter, against the Green Bay Packers on Dec. 25. It went unnoticed and Tagovailoa finished the game. That was it for his season.
It’s impossible to talk about the Dolphins’ season, or seasons to come, without worrying about Tagovailoa moving on. Tagovailoa had just finished his third true season, and when he turned 25, he considered retirement.
“I thought about it for a while, after I sat down with my family, sat down with my wife and had those kinds of conversations, but it’s going to be hard for me to walk away from this game at how old I am,” Tagovailoa said. this offseason, via CNN.
Tagovailoa said he did jiu-jitsu training during the offseason to learn to fall in a way that could prevent him from hitting his head, and hopefully that helps. But everyone who understands football knows that you can’t eliminate the risk of concussions, especially at quarterback.
The Dolphins also have to worry about Tagovailoa and their football team. A decision on a long-term extension for Tagovailoa is nearing. He looked like a franchise quarterback when he played last season. The team went 8-3 in the games he played and suffered no concussions. McDaniel was a great fit, as was new receiver Tyreek Hill. The future is bright and could completely change with every shot Tagovailoa takes.
This should be a fun time for the dolphins. If healthy, they are a Super Bowl contender with an exciting offense led by a highly protected quarterback coming off a big season. The new coaching staff was immediately smitten. It’s been a while since Dolphins fans could feel this good, especially about their quarterback.
Hopefully the Tagovailoa concussion story doesn’t come up again.
For the second straight offseason, the Dolphins made a big trade to acquire a superstar. Unlike the bold move to acquire Hill last offseason, the Dolphins didn’t have to spend as much capital to acquire cornerback Jalen Ramsey from the Los Angeles Rams. The Dolphins gave up a third-round pick and tight end Hunter Long, a steal for a six-time Pro Bowl corner. That was the big move and free agency was quiet. A two-year, $11 million deal with linebacker David Long was their biggest move. A two-year, $8 million contract with backup quarterback Mike White was necessary given Tagovailoa’s health concerns. The Hill and Ramsey trade left the draft class weak. Cornerback Cam Smith was the team’s second-round pick and De’Von Acane was selected in the third round. Acquiring Ramsey at a good price was what the Dolphins’ offseason will be remembered for.
It’s too bad Tagovailoa didn’t play 17 games, because his burst would have been appreciated even more. He might as well have been in the MVP discussion. Tagovailoa led the NFL with a 105.5 passer rating and 8.9 yards per attempt. He had 3,548 yards, 25 touchdowns and eight TDs in 13 starts. He missed most of one start and possibly played through a concussion for the entire second half of another. Even if we add just four starts at those rates, he would have had more than 4,600 yards with about 33 touchdowns. It was a great season.
BetMGM Odds Breakdown
I like the Dolphins roster. They were very good last season with Tagovailoa and at least competitive without him. But we all know it’s hard to fund 17 games for Tagovailoa. The win total for the Dolphins at BetMGM is 9.5. Given the concern over Tagovailoa and a tough schedule in a deep AFC East, I have to take stock.
Yahoo’s fantasy takeover
From Yahoo’s Scott Pianowski: “There’s risk and reward with almost every fantasy pick, but I’m staring down the bottom if I pick Tua Tagovailoa. He’s missed a lot of starts in four straight seasons dating back to his time at Alabama, and last year’s concussion issues were scary. So despite having two absurdly talented players and a wide-ranging draft pick, if they need a good show. or as their de facto starter. If you put Tagovailoa as Your QB1, be the first team in your league to target a high-level backup.”
Statistics to remember
Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle were excellent last season. They finished with 3,066 combined yards, the third most by a pair of teammates in NFL history according to ESPN Stats and Info. The Dolphins decided that getting the ball to Hill and Waddle almost every time they passed was the right play; Hill had 170 targets, Waddle had 117 and no one else on the Dolphins had more than 52. Hill set Dolphins records with 119 catches and 1,710 yards, Waddle led the NFL with 18.9 yards per catch. They put up those numbers despite Tagovailoa missing time.
Hill said on his podcast he wants 2,000 yards and another Super Bowl this season. Given how the Dolphins want to get Hill the ball as much as possible, he could hit that 2,000 yard goal. A Super Bowl title is also not out of the question.
How big of an impact will Vic Fangio have?
Fangio had mixed results when he finally got a chance to be a head coach with the Denver Broncos. But his defensive acumen has never been questioned. Fangio is considered one of the best coordinators in the NFL, and hiring him was a big move for the Dolphins. He won’t blitz a lot, but has a sound scheme that will confuse quarterbacks in different coverages. The one area in which a mediocre Dolphins defense could greatly improve is the utility stuff. They had just 14 last season, tied for 30th in the NFL. It’s pretty amazing that a playoff team can force so few turnovers. There is a lot of talent on defense, especially after the addition of Ramsey. When Fangio was introduced to the media, he singled out running backs Jaelan Phillips and Bradley Chubb, defensive tackle Christian Wilkins and safety Jevon Holland (who will be a big part of the scheme). Fangio should lead to a big improvement.
Best case scenario
It’s easy to get excited about dolphins. The offense looked unstoppable when Tagovailoa was healthy last season. The defense added a proven skill at coordinator and perhaps the best cornerback in football, so that side should be better. The Dolphins were a great team when Tagovailoa was healthy, and everyone in the NFL is hoping he plays all 17 games this season. If he does, it’s not too hard to buy the Dolphins being a top five offense and defense. This team can win a Super Bowl.
Of course we know this revolves around Tagovailoa’s health, and we’ve discussed it at length. Other than that, there aren’t many big questions. Maybe the NFL makes adjustments to McDaniel’s offense in year two, but it’s hard to see McDaniel getting the hang of it. Maybe the defense will just be mediocre, like it was last season. And the AFC East is so tough, the Dolphins could finish in last place even with a good record. Considering how good the roster looks, that would be a huge disappointment.
The crystal ball says…
The Dolphins are a tough team to predict because it’s not like we know if Tagovailoa will stay healthy. The Dolphins could win a Super Bowl, or have a terrible season and look at new options at quarterback next offseason. It all depends on one variable that cannot be predicted. If Tagovailoa plays most of the season, the Dolphins will be in the playoffs. There’s a lot to like on both sides of the ball. We’ll put it this way: It would be great, in every way, to see what the Dolphins look like with a full season from Tagovailoa.
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