Is Tua Tagovailoa Miami’s Answer?

Tua Tagovailoa #1 of the Miami Dolphins.  Mark Brown/Getty Images/AFP

Tua Tagovailoa #1 of the Miami Dolphins. Mark Brown/Getty Images/AFP

 

The Miami Dolphins are banking on Tua Tagovailoa in 2021, but whether he’s the long-term answer for the Miami Dolphins is impossible to tell after his first year in the league left much to be desired.

With Ryan Fitzpatrick headed to the nation’s capital after signing a $10 million dollar deal with the Washington Football Team in free agency, it raises the question whether Miami has found its answer at the quarterback position. Simply put: is Tua Tagovailoa the answer in Miami?

Certainly, Miami hopes he is the future of the franchise. The quarterback that will bring about a renaissance in Miami, replicating the success and glory of yesteryears. Otherwise, why else would they let go of a capable veteran quarterback like Ryan Fitzpatrick, an inspiring leader on and off the field who proved to be the consummate professional and mentor to Tagovailoa last season.

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 Super Bowl 56 betting markets.

For instance, Draftkings has Miami installed as the +2800 bet in SBLVI futures, which puts them on a par with the Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots. That’s pretty solid company, to say the least.

Whether that’s down to an exaggerated optimism surrounding Tua Tagovailoa, who is slated to be the starter in 2021; or whether the encouraging outlook is based purely on Miami’s overall 2020 campaign that ended on a promising 10-6-0 SU mark despite missing the playoffs, remains to be seen. What is certain is that expectations are pretty high for Miami and, therefore, by extension, for Tagovailoa as well.

 

Tagovailoa, The Chosen One

A lot of hype and buzz preceded Tagovailoa in the 2020 NFL draft and he might have gone first overall but for the hip injury he suffered late in his last season with the Alabama Crimson Tide. In the end, he went fifth overall in the draft to the Miami Dolphins, who actually had had their eye on the left-handed signal caller all along and were absolutely delighted he was still on the board when their turn finally came around.

Tagovailoa started nine games for the Dolphins in 2020, going 6-3 straight up in those starts. That said, his record comes with a caveat as he was benched twice during that span for being outmatched and utterly ineffective.

Tagovailoa didn’t start until week 8 of the season, when Brian Flores surprised all with the decision to bench Ryan Fitzpatrick, despite the veteran’s inspired performance up to that point. Fitzpatrick had carried the Dolphins to a 3-3-0 SU start on the season, capping Miami’s modest start with a 24-0 win over the Jets before a week 7 bye.

As far as rookie seasons go, Tagovailoa, in his limited starts, enjoyed a decent enough stint but he didn’t exactly light up the field or wow the football world. Considering the hype that preceded him, he was underwhelming.

By the stats, he had 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. The knockbacks that emerged against the rookie included going for under 100 passing yards in three games, never throwing for more than two touchdowns in a game and at times looking to be out of his depth entirely

Moreover, twice during the season, Tagovailoa was benched in favor of Fitzpatrick. Arguably, the most illuminating occasion came in week 16 against the Las Vegas Raiders, when Flores benched an ineffective Tua for Fitzpatrick and it proved to be the right decision. Ballsy, but the right move nonetheless as Miami’s season hung in the balance.

Fitz came in late in the game and orchestrated one of the most impressive come-from-behind wins, lifting the Dolphins to a pivotal 26-25 win over the Raiders that kept their slim playoff hopes alive. Unfortunately, Miami’s season came down to Tagovailoa in the end as Fitzpatrick was ruled out for the final game following a positive test for coronavirus. Tale told, Tagovailoa was thoroughly outplayed, outmuscled and outshot by the Buffalo Bills in a 56-26 beatdown.

Although Miami finished the season with a respectable winning record, the season was a bit of a let down in many ways. In particular, Tagovailoa’s patchy performance raised more questions than answers about his ability to execute passing plays at the NFL level and lead his team to victory. He was a solid frontrunner when things were going to plan, but he showed little ability to be able to turn things around when things were going tough.

Granted one can look at the supporting cast and point the finger at the lack of an elite run game or offensive weapons, but that’s a simplistic view. Not to mention it flies in the face of the 10 wins they did pull off and stands in stark contrast to Fitzpatrick’s ability to rally the team.

Miami is Tagovailoa’s team now but that in of itself is no guarantee of it being so by season end. If there’s a lesson to be learned from 2020, it’s that Brian Flores isn’t averse to running a two-quarterback system. That in itself puts a lot of pressure on Tagovailoa to perform. He might not have Fitzpatrick breathing down his neck anymore, but the Dolphins picked up veteran Jacoby Brissett in the offseason. So, he’ll face competition regardless.

Brissett is a journeyman quarterback that has made the rounds in the league. On paper, he’s not an obvious threat to Tagovailoa. However, sometimes it’s a nuanced matchup issue: the organization, the coach-quarterback relationship, the playbook and scheme, so on not aligning ideally.

Indeed, Miami cast-off, Ryan Tannehill is a perfect example of that. Tannehill was absolutely ineffective in Miami, but a second chance in Tennessee proved the making of him. Quarterbacks like Brissett hope to be the next Tannehill, and you can bet he will be chomping at the bit to get his shot in Miami too. Worst-case scenario for all concerned, things don’t go to plan either way and the Dolphins find themselves in a position where neither quarterback proves to be the short-term or long-term answer for Miami.

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