The absolute worst thing people can be doing right now is buying into the idea that the Miami Dolphins, and specifically quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, were a failure in 2020.
There are too many articles, social media posts, and respected members of the media that have created this false sense of urgency around the Dolphins and the position of quarterback, that I hate to add to the number of people focusing on it, but here we are, adding to the list of articles surrounding this senseless topic.
The easy way out would be to bring up the fact that Miami surpassed its Vegas win total (6) by four games, tell you that they went 10-6 and just narrowly missed out on the playoffs, and give you the spiel about how Tua is a rookie and he’s going to take time to develop.
While I will dive into the last point a little bit, this article is going to take a deeper dive into why now is not a time to panic over the Miami Dolphins, and why it’s absolutely not the time to punt on Tua as the team’s franchise signal caller.
2020 & 2021 Offseasons
Just one season into their rebuild, the Miami Dolphins have hit on draft picks, free-agent acquisitions, and are set up brilliantly heading into both 2021’s free agency and NFL Draft.
Here’s a glance at what was accomplished last offseason purely from a personnel standpoint:
- Shaq Lawson brought consistency at EDGE, both as a pass rusher and run stopper, contributing 32 total tackles and four sacks in 14 games played
- Emmanuel Ogbah led the team with nine sacks (tied for 14th in the NFL) and proved to be very reliable at setting the edge; something Miami has craved at the position for years
- Kyle Van Noy, while his stats aren’t eye-popping, is widely recognized as the quarterback of the defense. Statistics don’t paint the picture of what Van Noy brings to the team, but rather, he’s a multi-function player who is good at nearly everything he’s asked to do
- Byron Jones finished the season with two interceptions, and while this number seems unimpressive compared to teammate Xavien Howard’s 10, you can argue that Howard had as many attempts at interceptions as he did due to the tight coverage Jones provided on the other side
- Raekwon Davis, while not a stat stuffer as a defensive tackle, proved that he belonged as a starter on the team’s defensive line for the foreseeable future. Routinely praised by Pro Football Focus as one of the league’s highest-graded rookie defensive tackles
- Brandon Jones, while not needing to be relied upon as a weekly starter due to Eric Rowe and Bobby McCain, was consistently around the ball and making tackles for the Dolphins’ defense. Big hits, few missed tackles, and not allowing opposing team’s wide receivers to beat the defense deep are all positive aspects to take away from Jones’ rookie season
- Adam Shaheen, widely considered a bust after his time in Chicago, was a pleasant surprise for the Dolphins providing three touchdowns and routinely making productive plays when his number was called
- Tua Tagovailoa, I’ll get into more detail regarding him later, but yes, Dolphins fans, you landed your franchise quarterback
- Lynn Bowden Jr., in limited action, provided a 28-211-0 stat line and showed multiple flashes as a multi-use player with very good after-the-catch ability
- Solomon Kindley, Austin Jackson, Robert Hunt, Ereck Flowers and Ted Karras, all besides Flowers and Karras being asked to contribute from day one of their first NFL season, and provided significant improvement compared to last season’s NFL-worst unit
This was all accomplished in one offseason. An offseason following a season that had NFL analysts calling the team “the worst in NFL history” and “dangerous to even step on the field as a member of this team”.
Now look at what’s available for the Dolphins heading into the 2021 offseason…
- Four draft picks within the first 50 selections of the draft (3, 18, 35 & 50)
- $26.4M in estimated salary cap space (7th-most in NFL)
- Free-agent & NFL Draft class that features high-quality players at positions of need (WR, RB, LB, OL to name a few)
Here comes the fun part. The part that I can’t believe I’m even writing about; but since you’d think Tua was throwing right handed with his eyes closed if you log onto Dolphins Twitter right now, here’s what you need to know.
Should the Dolphins consider drafting a quarterback at No. 3 in the 2021 NFL Draft?
This will be the most overplayed, dramatic, lazy and quite honestly useless and incompetent question you’ll hear any news station, beat writer, guy at your local bar, etc, ask all offseason.
If you haven’t realized by now, every single decision that Brian Flores and Chris Grier make has a direct purpose. Selecting Tua with the No. 5 pick in last year’s draft wasn’t a move to make Miami a Super Bowl contender in 2020. This front office and coaching staff knows that he’s intended to be the long-term solution at the position, and that the experience he received in ’20 was due in large part to two reasons. First, they truly believe he gave the team the best chance to win games, and second, to get in-game experience to help further along his progression as the team continues to build around him.
Do you truly believe that Flores and Grier are going to punt on their plan after one season? And also, why would they?
All of a sudden we’re judging quarterbacks off of nine starts? If you’re drawing your conclusion on Tua based on this extremely limited sample size, I suggest you go find yourself a Buffalo Bills fan and have a conversation about Josh Allen; because I’m assuming they’re pretty happy they didn’t cast him off after a rookie season that featured 10 passing touchdowns, 11 interceptions, a completion percentage of 52.8% and eight fumbles.
Grier and Flores are not in a position where their jobs are on the line and they need to make drastic changes to save their future with the team. It became quite obvious that Tua wasn’t being given the full playbook and that offensive coordinator Chan Gailey was calling fairly conservative play calls while Tua was the team’s QB. We’ll address that later in the article.
Miami screwed up last year’s draft, Justin Herbert should have been the pick at No. 5
These two players, along with Joe Burrow, will forever be linked the same way that Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers are.
Can you make the argument that Herbert should have been the pick for Miami over Tua? Sure, you absolutely can. Herbert had a phenomenal rookie season and 100% looks the part for the LA Chargers. However, both players can be good, hell, even great. Their individual success is not dependent on each other.
Herbert is taller, has a stronger arm, and is a more accomplished runner than Tua, so if you want to play devil’s advocate and say Miami should have taken Herbert, go right ahead, there’s a case to be made there.
But before we go and say 100% that Herbert is and will be a better pro quarterback than Tua, let’s consider a few things.
The Miami Dolphins were in a very different position than the LA Chargers for the majority of the 2020 NFL season. While the Chargers finished the season with a record of 7-9, keep in mind that they were 3-9 prior to their four-game win streak to end the season. What does this mean? This means that while the Dolphins were playing for “now” (basically in the mix for the playoffs from the moment Tua took over as the team’s starting QB), the Chargers had the luxury of trying out their new toy, essentially handing the reigns over to Herbert and letting him play 100% free of worry, because if they lost, who cares, they’re in a developmental season with a rookie quarterback.
The two quarterback’s games against New England is a perfect example of this situation. While Tua was in the thick of a playoff run, throwing for 145 yards with a 77% completion percentage while adding two rushing touchdowns in a 22-12 victory over New England, Herbert completed just 49% of his passes for 209 yards with two interceptions in a 45-0 shutout at home.
Did anyone question Herbert about his accuracy? Were there concerns that the team failed to score a single point? Did Chargers fans and media bring up the idea that the stage was too big for their rookie QB?
The word NO is the answer to all of these questions. And the reason the answer is NO is because the result of the game really didn’t matter. For the Chargers, it was an exhibition to get your rookie QB in-game experience against a team with a good defense. Now compare that to the magnitude of the game that Tua played in against New England and you’ll find the difference to be very significant. Without a win against New England, Miami wouldn’t have been in the situation it found itself in heading into Week 17 when a win locks up the No. 5 seed in the playoffs.
Long story short, Miami didn’t have the luxury of turning an entire playbook over to its rookie QB and not worrying about the result.
Why you’re going to hear rumors regarding Miami selecting a QB early in the 2021 Draft
Because for the first time in a long time, it appears that Miami’s front office and coaching staff (hate to use the cliche, but I’m doing it anyways) is playing chess, not checkers.
Remember leading up to the 2020 NFL Draft when rumors and reports had the Dolphins tied to the likes of Burrow, Herbert, Tagovailoa, Jordan Love, Jonathan Taylor, and J.K. Dobbins (to name a few)? How many of those players did the team come away with? And more importantly, given the fact that every NFL team knew Miami was in the market to take a QB, the front office kept their intentions a complete mystery by tying itself to numerous players at multiple positions.
Expect to see the same from Miami this offseason as well. The team will tie itself to numerous players at multiple positions once again. Yes, even quarterbacks. Why would they do this? Well it’s because they understand the value of the third-overall pick in the NFL Draft. Creating a belief that you’re interested in numerous players increases the likelihood that other teams will be interested in trading up to get “their guy”. So while Miami may sit at No. 3 and take a tackle such as Penei Sewell or a wide receiver such as DeVonta Smith, why not create some buzz and see what a competing team may have to offer?
You have a golden opportunity this offseason to support Tua with protection via the offensive line and playmakers at the positions of wide receiver and running back; the No. 3 overall pick is NOT going to be used on another quarterback.
Ask yourself, would Grier and Flores utilize this asset on another quarterback that they’d likely coddle as a rookie; essentially eliminating themselves from a year of being a true contender in a league where they know your window to compete is typically pretty small? If you have the ability to answer YES to that question, you my friend, possess a very brave soul.
All Tua does is check down and the team doesn’t trust him to throw downfield
Were there examples of Tua opting for a safe check-down route rather than taking shots downfield this season? Absolutely; there were numerous examples of this that come to mind. However, in my opinion, I believe this was in large part due to two reasons. First, Tua, knowing he’s a rookie and not fully understanding the complexity of NFL defenses, opted to play it safe in an attempt to limit turnovers. And second, it became very obvious that the goal of the offense was to possess the ball with 9-13 play drives and rely on their defense to win games. So obvious, in fact, that Gailey admitted this philosophy to the media following the team’s game against Las Vegas.
The No. 1 thing that the crowd that doesn’t support Tua is saying right now is, “well that’s because the team didn’t trust him to throw the ball downfield.”
While my personal belief is that the offensive philosophy should have been to spread receivers out, four or five wide, and let Tua pick defenses apart from the very beginning of games in an attempt to score early while letting their opportunistic defense play to its strength. That was clearly not the case as Gailey preferred to essentially do the opposite of what I just described. This strategy and philosophy, in my personal opinion, is the backbone as to why this “QB debate” is even a thing among fans and members of the media.
Go back to Tua’s film from his days at Alabama. Bama routinely has a solid defense that featured several early-round draft picks on a yearly basis. Did the Crimson Tide think it would be best to handcuff Tua and ride their defense to victory? Absolutely not. They treated Tua as the conductor of a high-flying, up-tempo offense, because that’s where he excels. Think of Tua as a card dealer in the game of blackjack. He’s 100% in control, he reads things quickly, and it doesn’t take him long to get into a routine once things get going. For examples of this, please refer to his games against Arizona and Kansas City.
The one reason, and it is a big reason, that I believe Gailey and the coaching staff opted not to be more aggressive late in the season with Tua is because of the lack of skill players surrounding him.
Drops happen. It’s a thing every single team in the NFL deals with at some point in the season; but when you mix droppable passes into the offensive equation that consists of the likes of Mack Hollins (failed Philadelphia Eagles draft pick), Malcolm Perry (converted QB out of Navy), Lynn Bowden Jr. (played some QB in college; drafted by the Raiders to play RB), and Isaiah Ford (a player traded earlier in the season, just to be re-signed later after being cut by New England) it becomes an equation where you may ultimately believe that you’re better off eliminating some of the variables in order to find your solution.
It’s of my personal belief that if Tua would have had a healthy DeVante Parker, Preston Williams and Mike Gesicki, while having the luxury of strategically sprinkling in plays designed to incorporate Bowden and Perry rather than relying on them as every-down targets, that the play calling wouldn’t have been quite as conservative for Tua and the Dolphins over the last quarter of the season.
The things around Tua that will change & prove why he’s a franchise QB
Don’t be surprised when you see a “new” version of Tua Tagovailoa in 2021. There are several key components as to why this will be the case (and people will realize this talk of selecting a QB at No. 3 was complete nonsense), but here are a few of the most important reasons.
First, it’s likely just a matter of time before the Dolphins announce that Gailey will not return in 2021 as the team’s offensive coordinator. If there was one move that the team made last offseason that I absolutely questioned it was the hiring of Gailey.
What did you expect an offense to look like that featured a rookie quarterback when a 68-year-old Gailey, who was out of the league for a couple years prior to rejoining the Dolphins, was the one calling plays? Offenses evolve, NFL defenses evolve, and most importantly, the position of quarterback has evolved to the point where Gailey shouldn’t be spearheading an offense that features a new-age quarterback as its signal caller.
Look for Miami to do everything possible to find a creative play caller that has experience working with quarterbacks with similar skill sets to that of Tua.
Second, it’s fairly safe to say that you’re going to see a number of new players in a Dolphins jersey at the running back and wide receiver positions in 2021. The free-agent class of wide receivers is loaded (featuring the likes of Kenny Golladay, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chris Godwin, Allen Robinson, Corey Davis and Will Fuller, and the Dolphins (as noted early) have the seventh-most cap space entering the ’21 offseason. Additionally, there are several highly-regarded running back prospects in the upcoming NFL Draft including a handful of players projected to come off the board anywhere between the first and fifth rounds including Najee Harris, Travis Etienne, Kenneth Gainwell, Rhamondre Stevenson, Michael Carter, Trey Sermon and Javonte Williams; and we all know the amount of draft capital Miami has.
Additionally, keep in mind that Preston Williams should be full recovered from the surgery he had earlier this season; and he and Tua showed solid chemistry (albeit a small sample size) against Arizona as Williams posted 60 yards and a touchdown on four catches before exiting in the second quarter with his leg injury.
Last offseason Flores and the front office focused on solidifying the defense, and I believe the focus will shift to the offensive side of the ball this upcoming offseason. The team obviously has some young/proven talent in the form of Parker, Gesicki and Myles Gaskin, but you couldn’t have possibly watched the 2020 version of the Miami Dolphins and been content with the quality of skill players that were surrounding Tua.
That last sentence is exactly what this all boils down to. The focus of the offseason should be finding a mix of veterans and rookies to surround Tua with and help him reach his full potential as he grows as the face of the franchise.
Were there bumps along the way his rookie season? Sure. Is Tua blameless for the late-season struggles of the Miami Dolphins? Absolutely not. But there’s absolutely no reason for any discussion regarding whether or not Tua should be the starting QB heading into 2021.
Dolphins fans, don’t panic, but rather, buy a pair of sunglasses… the future is bright.