NFL

The Honeymoon Between Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins May Already Be Over

The Miami Dolphins took superstar Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa with the fifth pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, hoping he would bring the franchise to the top of the AFC East. His first season has not panned out as everyone expected, with the Dolphins just missing the playoffs. Worse, not all of his teammates are convinced that Tagovailoa is Miami’s quarterback of the future.

Tension in the Dolphins’ locker room

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According to the Miami Herald, “at least three” Dolphins, who spoke under anonymity, were not impressed with Tagovailoa’s efforts during the 2020 season. Their doubts about the quarterback go all the way back to training camp, and one was “caught totally off-guard” when head coach Brian Flores named Tagovailoa the starter in the seventh week.

While they acknowledge Tagovailoa’s passing accuracy, they have expressed concerns with his ability to improvise and make plays on the run, a must for any NFL quarterback in this era. They made negative comparisons to his AFC counterparts, such as Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and fellow rookie Justin Herbert.

“Those are the boys we got to beat, right?” said one player. “It looks right now like that’s going to be a big challenge.”

Worse still, the players who spoke to the Herald were frustrated when the Dolphins were forced to go with Tagovailoa over their other quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, for their season finale against the Buffalo Bills. Fitzpatrick was on the COVID-19 list that week. The Dolphins’ 56-26 loss cost them a trip to the playoffs.

“We always think next man up no matter what,” said one player. “But I saw Tua as the next man up because Fitz was better.” It’s not a good look when some of your teammates are openly calling you inferior to a 37-year-old who’s never made the Pro Bowl.

Do these anonymous Dolphins have a point?

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Those who watched the Dolphins’ season finale two weeks ago will understand where these anonymous players are coming from.

Much of the blame for Miami’s crushing loss can fall on Tagovailoa’s dismal performance. In his team’s most important game of the year, he threw three interceptions, one of which was a pick-six by Josh Norman. Tagovailoa did pass for 361 yards, although much of that was due to the Dolphins playing catch-up for the majority of the game and throwing constantly. This was one of only four games where Tagovailoa surpassed the 200-yard mark.

By contrast, nearly all of the 2020 Dolphins’ finest achievements came under the direction of Fitzpatrick. The week prior to their season-ending loss to Buffalo, Fitzpatrick conjured a heroic game-winning drive against the Las Vegas Raiders on the road. Were it not for Fitz, Miami would not have had a shot at the postseason to begin with.

Comparisons between Tagovailoa and fellow rookie Justin Herbert are not flattering, either. Despite going one spot after Tagovailoa in the 2020 draft, Herbert outshined him in just about every passing category. Herbert is a strong candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year and may have a bright future ahead of him.

The same cannot be said of Tagovailoa. Whether it was due to a lack of playing time, loss of confidence, or poor offensive supporting cast, he clearly deteriorated late in the season.

What does the future hold for Miami?

Miami Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa
Tua Tagovailoa of the Miami Dolphins looks to throw a pass | Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

Whoever these players are, they should get used to Tua Tagovailoa being their starting quarterback. Unless things take a serious nosedive in the 2021 season, he has the full support of the Dolphins’ inner circle. General manager Chris Grier has said, per NBC Sports, that Tua will definitely be the team’s starting quarterback in 2021.

“I think Tua has made a lot of improvement, really developed over the course of the year, so we’ll just continue to try to make those improvements,” said head coach Brian Flores, per the Herald.

As mentioned above, Ryan Fitzpatrick is 38 years old and may not have much “Fitz-magic” left in the tank. There will possibly be options for veteran backups available in free agency should Miami choose to go that route. Whether his teammates like it or not, though, Tagovailoa is the quarterback of the future. It will be hard to tell just long that future is.

Statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.